Blog post written by Attorney Philip Adams
Bam! You’ve just been in a vehicle accident. Perhaps you were hit from behind or hit from the side. You are full of adrenaline. Your heart is racing; your breathing is heavy; and your eyes are big with fright. After a few tense moments of trying to figure out what just happened, if you are lucky, you are able to muster some strength to open your driver door and exit your vehicle. You stumble out of your vehicle and look around. You see your damaged car, and you see the other driver and his car. Through no fault of your own, you now find yourself in a serious situation wondering what to do next.
If you ever find yourself unfortunate enough to be involved in a vehicle accident, and you still have the physical capacity right after the accident to follow some crucial steps, you can help yourself have a potentially stronger legal case in the future. First, it may help if you contact law enforcement and/or emergency medical services as soon as possible. When you are full of adrenaline, you are in a physical state in which you may not yet fully realize the degree of any bodily damage that you may have sustained because of an accident. Trained and qualified personnel can help assess your physical damages, document the scene of the accident, question witnesses, and look for evidence. These personnel often have extensive experience in responding to vehicle accident scenes and will likely be more knowledgeable than you about how to properly assess the scene and deal with the situation.
Second, it may help if you also document as much of the accident scene as possible. Unfortunately, not all law enforcement officers and/or emergency medical personnel who respond to the scene of your accident will be as thorough as needed. These personnel are often overworked, and some of them may cut corners in what is documented and/or forget to record crucial information in connection with your case. They may forget to turn on body cameras, forget to turn on dash cameras, forget to take witness statements, forget to obtain insurance paperwork, forget to take photographs, etc. Fortunately, however, in an age of smart phones, if you have one, you can help mitigate the effects of any shortsightedness, laziness, or forgetfulness on the part of any responding personnel by taking action into your own hands. You may benefit your legal case down the road by taking photographs and/or video footage of the accident scene, including street signs, vehicles involved, license plates, insurance papers, driver licenses, and people involved. If you are lucky, you may even be able to get the other driver to give a witness statement that you can record with your cell phone and/or a voice recorder. Importantly, a few minutes of your time upfront right after the accident will help to objectively document what the scene of the accident is immediately like. This immediate documentation may prove significant because a tow truck and/or police may later get involved and change the scene. You should document as much information as possible and not solely rely on other people. Your case may later benefit from the evidence that you obtain.
Third, after you have contacted police and emergency medical personnel and documented as much of the accident scene as possible, you may benefit by contacting your automobile insurance carrier. In fact, most carriers require their insureds to notify them of an accident or risk possibly forfeiting coverage for a lack of notice. By contacting your insurance carrier, you help it to immediately start working on your behalf to assist in accident documentation, property damage appraisal of your vehicle, obtaining of a rental vehicle if your policy provides for one, assisting with medical payments, etc. However, it bears mentioning that because insurance companies have a strong incentive to minimize claim payouts to maximize their profits, even after you have fully cooperated with your insurer, you may benefit from the next recommendation.
Fourth, after notifying your insurance carrier of the accident, it may be a good idea to immediately contact a personal injury attorney to assist you in evaluating the legal merits of your case and in working on your behalf to secure compensation for your damages. A personal injury attorney can work to recover money on your behalf for multiple damages stemming from your accident, including past and future pain and suffering, past and future lost income, past and future medical bills, etc. An experienced attorney can help you maximize compensation and ensure that you walk away from your case with deserved and full compensation, as opposed to a lower amount that an insurance carrier may offer you to pacify you.
Fifth, after following all of the above steps, you may need to obtain medical treatment on a regular basis to assist you in recovering from your injuries. It is important to be diligent in following the advice of your healthcare providers, not only for your personal health and long-term recovery but also for your case settlement down the road. If you avoid healthcare meetings and/or ignore the advice of your healthcare providers, you may open up defenses that the other side can use against you to minimize the value of your claim. Even more importantly, if you shortchange yourself in medical treatment, no amount of money may make up for the diminished quality of life that you may find yourself in because of an exacerbated or unhealed injury.
In summary, you may help your car accident case by contacting law enforcement and medical personnel, by documenting as much of the accident scene as possible, by notifying your insurance carrier of the accident, by contacting a personal injury attorney, and by obtaining the medical treatment that you need. Diligence on your part may improve any eventual outcome in your case.