What to do After an Accident
The time after an accident can be confusing. Injuries and other damage caused by the accident can upset your life, making a return to normal life seem like a daunting task. The following tips will help you look after your health and protect your legal rights, putting you in a position for the fullest possible recovery.
1. Steps to Take
Obtain prompt medical attention for any injured parties, including you. If the injuries require emergency care, call an ambulance for transport to a hospital. If not, visit an urgent care center or arrange to be seen by your regular doctor as soon as you leave the accident scene. Some injuries – often serious ones – may not be apparent to you right away, especially when your body has been traumatized, so be sure you are examined by a medical care provider without delay.
Report the incident. If you have been hurt in a vehicle crash, call 911 and have the authorities come to the accident site. The police will write up an accident report. Be sure to get a copy of this report for your records. This document will have information about the crash, including contact information for witnesses, details of how the police believe the crash happened, and when and where it took place. If you are hurt in a business, like a shopping mall or store, inform management immediately. The business should also write up an accident report. Again, make sure to get a copy of this report and keep it for your own records. Accident reports are important because they prove that the accident happened, that you were hurt, and can help show that another party caused the accident.
Gather information at the accident scene. If you are able, you should take photos of the accident site and obtain the names and telephone numbers of any witnesses. Photos can be taken with a cell phone camera. Remember, anyone involved in a vehicle accident is required by law to exchange contact and insurance information.
Don’t speak to insurance companies. Do not give statements to the insurance companies’ representatives about the accident, without first speaking with a personal injury lawyer. The information you give the insurance companies can be detrimental to your case.
Act quickly. Prompt action after an accident is an important step in protecting your case. You should meet with and retain a lawyer soon after the incident. An experienced personal injury lawyer will investigate the case immediately. This means the attorney will locate and interview witnesses, collect important pieces of evidence, and determine the parties who may be responsible for the accident. Your lawyer can also help you receive medical care for your injuries and file cases before court deadlines expire. Failure to meet deadlines can mean that you may lose the ability to receive compensation from parties later in the future.
2. Information to Collect
After attending to the immediate needs of yourself and others, but while still at the scene, take down notes about the accident. Write down as much other information as you can, including:
Witnesses. Write down information about any witnesses to the accident, their names, addresses and telephone numbers. Ask witnesses to speak with either the police or those in charge, such as building management. If witnesses must leave the scene, ask them what they saw and write it down.
Vehicle accidents. When you are involved in a crash on the road, it is important to get all of the information from all of the parties involved. That means writing down the types of vehicles they were driving, their license plate numbers, and the drivers’ information (contact number, address, and insurance information). It is important to note any other involved vehicle’s identification number, make, year, model, license plate number, and expiration date. If the other driver is not the car’s owner, make sure you get the name, address, telephone number and insurer of the registered owner (such as a rental car agency).
If police are involved, write down the name and badge number of the police officer who reports to the accident scene. Ask the officer where and when you can get a copy of the accident report.
Premises accidents. If you are hurt in a commercial establishment, such as a store, a supermarket, or a mall, you should report the injury to management right then and there. It is very important to document your accident in this way. Incident reports contain useful information about the accident, including the date and time, the names of witnesses, and the circumstances of the injury. Most importantly, incident reports help establish that the accident actually occurred, preventing a property owner from later claiming that the incident never happened.
Faulty products injuries. After being hurt by a defective product, make sure you keep the product in a safe place. Do not return it to the manufacturer, throw it away, or modify it in any way. Your lawyer will have experts examine the product to determine how it caused your injury. If for some reason the product is in another person’s possession, your attorney can file for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to ensure that the item isn’t altered or destroyed.
On the job accidents. Immediately after being hurt on the job, you need to inform your employer of the accident. It is best to do this in writing. Keep a copy of this document. After doing this, file a claim for workers’ compensation. Both of these steps are necessary to make sure that your benefits start as soon as possible. There are filing requirements with time limits for workplace injuries, just like other injury claims, that you must meet in order to protect your right to benefits and compensation.
Diagram the scene. Draw a quick diagram of the accident scene, showing where the accident happened and where the different parties were at the time of the accident. If you have a camera, take photos of the scene from different angles and from close up and far away. Note important facts that may have caused or contributed to the accident.
Do not admit liability. Cooperate with the investigating authorities at the scene, but do not admit to any liability or blame. Anything you say may be used against you later.
Accident injuries require the immediate help of an experienced personal injury lawyer. The best attorneys can quickly review your case and lay out all options available to you. Your lawyer will be able to maximize the amount of compensation that you are owed for all available damages.
3. Protecting Your Personal Injury Case from Insurance Companies
Contrary to popular belief, your insurance company is not always your friend in a personal injury case. In fact, the main interest of the insurance company is to avoid or minimize the amount of payment the insurer must make for your claim. Everything the insurance company does is motivated by the desire to reduce your monetary recovery, and not necessarily by the desire to help you recover. It is not always easy to see behind this smokescreen. Fortunately, your attorney is there to help protect you against actions by the insurance company that may oppose your own interest in a healthy recovery.
Insurance companies try to limit your recovery. Most personal injury claimants will call their insurer after the accident and find the representative helpful and friendly. However, this surface charm cannot disguise the fact that while you want as much compensation as possible for your personal injury claim, the insurance company would rather not pay. Insurance companies would like claimants to settle quickly, because quick settlements early on in the case often are cheaper. At the outset of a claim, injury victims have not had much opportunity to consult with their attorney. They may not fully know the extent of their injuries and of their medical bills, lost work time, and disability. Some of the tactics that insurance companies use against personal injury claimants can seem shocking. These tactics include:
- “Sweet-talking” the claimant on the phone, and making an early but cheap settlement seem easy and fair.
- Trying to get the claimant to admit fault for the injury.
- Minimizing the duration of the victim’s disability, or the person’s need for ongoing medical or psychological care.
- Using a soothing, friendly approach aimed at getting the victim to drop his or her guard, trust the insurer, and sign away their rights.
- Making small talk that is essentially a ploy to get the injured person to understate the extent of the injury for the record.
- Trying to delay the victim from consulting with an attorney or filing a legal claim.
- Trying to get the claimant to sign forms that compromise the claim.
- Suggesting that a conversation about the injury is “off the record,” when in fact the insurance adjuster is taking notes that may harm the claimant.
All of these tactics are designed to damage the claimant’s case, and thus diminish the insurance company’s obligation to pay. But any verbal promises the insurance company makes concerning your personal injury case are worthless. An experienced personal injury lawyer knows that the insurance company’s interests are adverse to yours. Your attorney can point out the insurance company’s tactics and guide you accordingly.