Top Five Things to do After an Accident
Top five things to do after an accident seems a bit simplistic but, as a personal injury lawyer in Los Angeles, CA with almost 20 years of experience representing accident victims, I will say that these will do more to help your case than many other things you can and should do. While it is certainly not everything, it gives you a “checklist” to go by in the event of a mishap. The problem is that most people don’t leave home thinking, “I’m going to get in an auto accident , trip and fall at the store , be assaulted in a parking lot , or suffer some other type of calamity today !” We expect to live our lives without incident but, we all know that catastrophe can strike at any moment so, it is always better to be prepared!Five Things You Can Do To Maximize Your Chances of Not Being A Victim of Negligence and Having to Pay for Someone Else’s Wrongdoing
- Do NOT Discuss The Incident Any More Than Legally Required: One of the biggest mistakes I see people make especially after an auto accident, fall or some other event where other parties and witnesses are involved, is to make statements at the scene of the accident which are later used against them if and when they decide to bring a claim. We all know that when you get hit in the middle of the road on your bike or rear ended by a truck, the last thing on your mind is a claim for personal injuries. It is human nature to want to say: “I’m O.K.”; “I don’t think I’m hurt”; “I don’t need any help!”; “I don’t need an ambulance”; “I’m sorry if I didn’t see you coming through the intersection”, …. Under the Rules of Evidence in civil cases, statements made by a person who later becomes a “party” to a lawsuit, may very well be used against them later if the statements or conduct appear to be inconsistent with the position that party is taking at a trial. (See California Evidence Code 1220-1227 ). This is NOT to say that you should not, as required by law, stop at the scene of an accident, provide your name, address, driver’s license and insurance information and provide information to law enforcement BUT it is to say that the more you say beyond the “basics” at the incident site, the more chances you have to be misquoted or misinterpreted. This is especially important when dealing with insurance representatives of other parties. They are in the business of trying to eliminate the liability of their insured or drastically reduce this exposure by obtaining “facts” in their favor. Providing a written or recorded statement to any insurance representative is NEVER advisable without the assistance of an attorney. (See #5 below).
- Seek Immediate and Thorough Medical Attention: Documentation of injuries is key to recovery of damages in personal injury claims. This begins at the scene of any accident with reports from paramedics or EMTS, and continues all the way through the end of any treatment a party may receive from any doctor, nurse, therapists in a hospital or doctor’s office or any other medical facility. Procrastination in seeking medical help will ALWAYS hurt the value of the claim because it provides a very convenient excuse for insurance companies to say, “If they were really hurt, why did it take so long to for them to see a doctor?” Furthermore, failing to fully ascertain the extent of physical damage including obtaining X-rays, MRIs, CT Scans or other diagnostic testing can mean that you are trying to resolve a claim without really knowing what it is worth.
- Preserve the Evidence: It is human nature for people to deny responsibility for their negligence or wrongdoing. It is also second nature for insurance companies to deny claims or reduce the value of them. This is most often done through “revisionist history” (i.e. changing the fact to fit an argument or “recalling” the facts differently than what they were). How can you preserve the truth? Easy answer: preserve the evidence! This has become much easier now that most everyone has a camera and a video recorder in their pocket at all times (i.e. your smart phone). In the case of a traffic collision: Take pictures of the property damage to your car AND any other vehicles involved in the crash. Take a small video of the accident scene. Photograph where the vehicles came to rest after the incident. Take a picture of the driver and passengers in the other car if you can as well as their license plate. In the case of a fall or other mishap on a commercial or residential property: Photograph the condition of the property that caused the fall (e.g. liquid spilled on a floor, a concealed hole in the middle of a ground, something stick up that caused a tripping hazard, etc.). Also take pictures of the immediate area surrounding where the injury occurred. WRITE DOWN the names, addresses and phone numbers for witnesses. For ANY incident: Take photos of your injuries and continue to photo-document these physical conditions as they heal and change including photos of bruises, cuts or scars.
- Memorialize the Sequence of Events As Soon As Possible: When you have had time to calm down, sit down and write a memo of what happened while it is still fresh in your mind. Use as many details in describing the events as you possible can. Memories fade over time. It may take a year, two years or sometimes longer to get to the point where you have to provide deposition or trial testimony as the “exactly” what happened. Having notes that you made very close in time to the event in question can help a lot. NOTE: These should be turned over to your ATTORNEY and not shared with anyone else (See Advice #5).
- Retain the Services of A Quality Personal Injury Lawyer: No matter what your friends, family or other persons like insurance representatives tell you, asking for money for being the victim of negligence is a FORMAL LEGAL PROCESS from start to finish! This means that if you decided to begin speaking with insurance adjusters, providing medical records and other information, giving written and recorded statements, turning over information and, in general, “going it alone”, you are essentially acting as your own lawyer in a LEGAL PROCEEDING. According to statistics provided by the Insurance Research Council (an organization paid by the insurance industry to research insurance claims related issues), the average gross settlement of a personal injury claim where theparty had no lawyer representing them was $5,228 compared to $19,803 as the average gross for those who had legal counsel. (See: “Insurance Research Council: Paying for Auto Injuries – A Consumer Panel Survey of Auto Accident Victims “). There is a reason why those with attorneys receive almost FOUR TIMES more. The reasons is that a quality legal representative can obtain and preserve the evidence, ensure that all injuries are properly diagnosed, and present the evidence in a way that maximizes the value of the claim. A personal injury attorney can also file a lawsuit, go to court and demand justice if unreasonable settlement offers are being made. A good accident lawyer also knows the true value of claim based upon years of experience in litigating cases and seeing real world results like jury verdict amounts on same or similar facts and injuries. Therefore, MUST DO #5 is the MOST important of all!