Posted on April 9, 2019 in Personal Injury
What you do in the moments and days after an accident can affect not only your health but also your legal case. You are not helpless, and I want to empower you with steps you can take to improve your chance of succeeding in your car accident injury claim.
Steps to Take Within Seconds, Minutes, and Hours of the Crash
- Determine if you or your passengers need medical attention.
- Call 911 to request assistance from the police and first responders.
- Take pictures of the vehicles involved in the wreck if they have not been moved off the roadway yet. (Also, take pictures of debris in the roadway such as glass or other car parts, as this can come in handy to prove where the vehicles first made contact.) Make sure to take pictures of the at-fault driver’s car, not just your car. Sometimes, damage to the other vehicle is much worse than the damage to your car.
- Make sure police arrive. Follow the directions given to you by the officer. Don’t let the at-fault driver try to convince you that police aren’t necessary and that he/she will handle the claim with you personally and without insurance. It never works. You must have a police report.
- Collect information from the other driver, including the driver’s name, address, phone number, license plate number, and insurance policy number.
- If there are any witnesses who stopped to render aid or tell you how they saw the wreck occurred, get their name, phone number and address. Do NOT assume that the police officer will write down their information on the police report. Typically, officers want to get the basics for their report, and if the case appears cut and dry, and they won’t write down all the witness information. Or witnesses won’t stay for the officer to arrive because they are busy. GET THAT INFORMATION! Even better, if you can have the witness text you the information at the scene, then you’ll have a time-stamped record of the witness being present. This way, the insurance company can’t say, “How do we really know the witness was there? She wasn’t on the police report!” (Yes, they take this position, repeatedly.)
Steps to Take Within Days of the Wreck
- If you were injured in the collision but didn’t go to the emergency room after the accident, make an appointment with your doctor. Injuries that look and feel minor usually worsen within a day or two of the crash, causing increased pain and discomfort. This is because the adrenaline following the wreck acts as a natural painkiller. But when the adrenaline wears off, the pain receptors in your body reactivate and you start feeling the painful symptoms from the injuries you sustained. WARNING: Many doctor’s offices don’t want anything to do with car accident injuries – if your doctor won’t get you in within 5 business days, an experienced car accident attorney can help you find a qualified healthcare professional who specializes in car accident injuries. An attorney-recommended doctor will provide you with the care you need and will make sure to fit you into his/her busy schedule. NOTE: Insurance companies love to reduce the value of an injury claim by saying that you had a “gap in treatment” where you did not seek medical treatment immediately after the wreck. I’ve had cases where the adjuster says that my client had a gap in treatment of 3 days following the wreck. For a wreck that happened on a Friday night. And the client called her primary care physician on Monday and got her appointment on a Tuesday. I cannot make this up.
- Follow-through with any treatments prescribed by your doctor. For example, if the doctor refers you to a physical therapist, you should follow those instructions and keep those appointments. Insurance companies and their defense attorneys love to blame the injured victim. They like to argue that the victim couldn’t be that hurt if he or she didn’t go to all of the scheduled appointments or had a few weeks between physical therapy visits. There was a recent case in South Carolina where the jury rendered a verdict less than the Plaintiff’s medical bills, even though the Defendant admitted he was 100% at fault for the wreck. The reason the jury didn’t award all the medical bills? The Plaintiff had “gaps in treatment” between doctor appointments and didn’t follow up when he was instructed to do so.
- Immediately seek legal advice, but if you don’t… If you don’t seek out a qualified car accident attorney to help you, then it will be up to you to report the accident to your own insurance company. All you are obligated to do is report the accident and explain who was involved. Make sure to let them know what parts of your body are hurting you. If you try to be nice and not sound like a whiner, they will use it against you later and say that in the days following the wreck you told them you were “okay”, so that means you weren’t hurt. (We tell people we’re “okay” all the time even if we’re not, because as a society we’re trained to not complain to strangers.)
- Do NOT give a recorded statement to the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Send them photos of the vehicles at the scene of the wreck that you took. Send them a copy of the police report. DO NOT GIVE THEM A RECORDED STATEMENT. I have yet to have a case in all my experience where an adjuster said that my client’s recorded statement before he was represented really added value to his claim. Recorded Statements are taken to reduce the value of your claim, to use your words and your manners and niceties against you to save the insurance company money. I know. It’s hard. I’m a rule follower. I like to make people happy and give them things they ask for when it appears reasonable. But this is not a give and take with the insurance company. Even if the at-fault adjuster seems nice on the phone, ask if he or she will give you the at-fault insured’s recorded statement in return for your recorded statement. (They won’t. They will probably laugh at you.)
- Do NOT entertain any settlement offers from the at-fault driver’s insurance company until at least a month after the wreck. You need to be positive that you do not have any lingering injuries. Too often, insurance companies push victims to take a quick settlement, piling on the pressure to wrap up the claims process as soon as possible. Settling for a small amount now can prove very costly down the road, especially for those who have injuries that have not been addressed or haven’t fully revealed themselves. Settling before you understand the extent of your injuries – how long the injuries will last and how much the future medical treatment will cost – will be a huge detriment to you. That’s because once a settlement is reached, there is no way to open up the injury claim again, even if you discover new or worse injuries. In my opinion, this is a borderline epidemic as I receive calls on a weekly basis from accident victims who have been bamboozled because they don’t totally understand how the law works. Insurance companies would rather close their claims and save themselves money than educate the victim as to their legal rights in a case. Here’s an article I wrote about it.
- Do NOT write about the accident on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other social media. This includes information about your doctor and the injuries you sustained. Defense lawyers often dig through social media profiles looking for something to use against the person hurt in a car wreck. (I used to be an insurance defense attorney, and Facebook-stalking plaintiffs I was going up against helped me win many cases.) I have been in trial for my clients where even the most innocent-seeming posts were twisted and used against them by the Defense. Sometimes the jury believed the Defense, and sometimes they didn’t. My point? Don’t provide any ammo.
In summary, Car Accident Claims are not as simple as one would think. After handling thousands of these claims, I know all the pitfalls and all the tricks that insurance companies have used against unrepresented victims. I hate to see people being taken advantage of by powerful insurance companies. If you have questions, please call us at (864) 485-5555, or fill out our online information request form. You can also use our chat feature. It doesn’t cost you anything to talk to us.