After an Injury-Involved Accident What Should You Do?
No one wakes up in the morning and expects to get in an accident. Even minor accidents can cause a great deal of stress, loss of work, and costly medical bills. After an accident, you might be wondering what to do next. In this article the auto accident attorneys at Stewart J. Guss will explain the proper steps you need to take to get yourself back to where you were before the accident.
The way you react at the time of the accident and after the accident MATTERS. Knowing what to do, and sometimes more importantly, what NOT to do, can make all the difference in a personal injury case. While minor accidents may be nothing more than an annoyance, accidents involving injuries are serious. So, what exactly should you do after you’ve been in an accident?
1. Stay at the Scene
First and most importantly, DO NOT LEAVE THE SCENE of the accident unless you are severely injured, and NEED MEDICAL ASSISTANCE IMMEDIATELY. Even if you don’t think you are going to file a claim, never leave the scene of an accident. Number one, leaving the scene of an accident is illegal and can get you in trouble, especially if anyone was injured.
In most states, leaving the scene of an accident without stopping and checking for injuries is against the law. It is critical that you stay where you are, call the police, and allow them to conduct an investigation. In an accident involving injuries, evidence will be a critical component in determining not only fault but also the value of a claim. If you leave the scene of an accident, the police will not have an opportunity to investigate and provide the evidence needed to establish fault. Don’t jeopardize your case before it even gets started!
If it is safe to do so, move your car to the side of the road following an accident. Don’t stay out in the middle of the road. Not only are you annoying drivers who must try to get around, but also, in such a position, you may be creating a risk for a secondary collision.
2. Check All Parties for Injuries
If there are passengers in your car, check to see if there are any injuries. Next, go to the other car (if you can safely do so) and check with all passengers. If there are any serious injuries, call 911 right away. Either way, you should report the accident to the police.
3. Talk to the Other Driver
If there are no life-threatening injuries, this is a good time to exchange information with the other driver. The quickest and most efficient way to do this is to pull out your smartphone. Take a picture of the front and back of the other driver’s insurance card. Make sure you get the company name, policy number, and contact information for the company. Other than the simple exchange of information though, you should limit small talk. NEVER apologize or accept blame in any way.
Don’t forget to get the other driver’s personal information as well. The name on the insurance card may not be the name of the person driving the car. Get the driver’s first and last name as well as his or her phone number. Storing the number on your phone is a great way to make sure the information doesn’t get lost; in most cases, you’ll be VERY HAPPY YOU DID THIS.
4. Gather as Much Information as You Can
The idea of collecting evidence may make it sound like you are at a crime scene. While we won’t go to that extreme, you must remember that a personal injury case is a LEGAL CLAIM. If you are filing a claim for damages for an injury or you think the other party might, evidence will be a critical part of your case.
Even if you don’t think that anyone will make a claim, collect evidence. Injuries may not be apparent at first, but symptoms can appear hours, or even days later. Therefore, you should always make sure you have everything documented. This won’t require bagging up evidence CSI-style. The best way to document the scene of the accident is by taking photos of the damages with your phone.
So, why exactly is this needed? If a legal claim does come out of the accident, you’ll need evidence that will prove when, where, and how the accident happened. Think about how you would prove what happened to a complete stranger because there’s a good chance your attorney will HAVE TO DO EXACTLY THAT! Absolute must-haves include:
- Pictures of vehicle damage: Make sure you get pictures of both cars. Comparing the damage to each car can show how the accident happened. They don’t have to be professional quality pictures but make sure the photos are clear enough to be able to tell what they are. Try to get pictures of the whole car as well. This will protect you in case additional damages appear after the accident.
- A picture of the other driver’s license plate: You wouldn’t believe how many people claim they weren’t driving their car or that their car was never in an accident. Although, it’s hard to deny pictures of a damaged car combined with pictures of the license plate. Bonus points if you can get the license plate and damage in the same picture.
- Names and contact information of witnesses: People LIE, especially when it comes to money. When a driver sees an increased insurance bill staring them in the face, they may quickly remember the events of the accident much differently than you do. If you have witnesses to support your claim, the other party will have a harder time getting away with their lies.
- Other physical evidence: Are there any skid marks? Was there any property damage? Is there a stop sign lying on the ground? Take a picture of anything that you think might help your case.
5. Get Medical Care
The first, and most important reason to seek medical care after a collision is because NOTHING is more important than your health and wellbeing. If you think you have a broken bone, a concussion, or a brain injury, you will likely be directed, or even transported by ambulance, to the ER. Even if you don’t need an ambulance, make sure you go to an emergency room or urgent care center to at least get checked out.
In addition to getting treatment, there is one important thing you should remember about seeing the doctor. This is the first time that your injuries and your side of the story will be documented. This information will be used by insurance companies. Be 100 percent truthful about your injuries. Don’t overstate or understate the degree of pain. Mention everything. This is also not a time to talk about blame. Whether or not you think you contributed to the accident, this would not be the proper time to discuss that. Take care of your injuries and wait to sort that out later.
Unsure Whether You Are Injured?
After an accident, it’s normal for people to ignore signs of an injury. Some people accept a little pain because of the accident. But “a little” pain can be a sign of a more serious injury. If you are suddenly experiencing pain after an accident, even if it’s a couple of days later, you really should be evaluated by a medical professional. PLUS, the sooner you are seen after an accident, the more seriously the insurance company will take your claim.
Here are a few common injuries after an accident:
- Soft Tissue Injuries: Soft tissue injuries are often mocked as a “made-up” injury after a fender bender. However, soft tissue injuries are very much real – just ask anyone who has experienced neck and back pain after a car accident. A soft tissue neck or back injury is most often the result of a rear-end accident. When you are sitting in your car, your head and your back are aligned parallel to the seat. But when you are hit from behind, your head swings back and then violently forward. If this sounds painful, IT CERTAINLY IS. Soft tissue injuries can strain the muscles in your neck and back and cause substantial pain for weeks or months following an accident. Serious cases of soft tissue damage can result from traumatically injured bulging or herniated discs.
- Traumatic brain injuries: Any brain injury is serious. Most of the time, these injuries happen when your head is slammed against an object in the car. This may include the window, the seat, the steering wheel, or the airbag. In severe accidents, a penetrating wound to the head can cause a brain injury. Unless an object enters your skull or you lose consciousness, you may not immediately realize you have a brain injury. You should seek medical care the moment you start to develop any symptoms that could be caused from a brain injury. Better yet, get checked out if you even think you may have hit your head. Common symptoms of a brain injury include headaches, dizziness, changes in mood, changes in sleep, memory problems, and difficulty concentrating.
- Spinal cord injuries: Sometimes spinal cord injuries are obvious, and sometimes they are more subtle. The biggest concern is paralysis. If you can’t move any part of your body, have someone call 911. This is a medical emergency. But like traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries don’t always appear right away either. Symptoms may occur as the cord swells or bleeds. Be alert for symptoms that may indicate a spinal cord injury. This includes numbness, tingling, difficulty moving, or loss of sensation. Other symptoms include difficulty breathing and loss of bowel or bladder control.
- Broken bones: Broken bones are painful. And once again, they aren’t always obvious. Unless you have an open fracture where the bone sticks out from the skin (YES, it happens), you won’t be able to see your break. However, you will likely feel it. Do not attempt to put weight on a broken bone or use it. Seek medical treatment right away. Delaying care can make your injury even worse.
What if I cannot afford medical care?
It is true that medical care is very expensive. Whether it is an ambulance ride to a full-fledged hospital emergency room, a visit to an urgent care center, or simply a visit to a doctor or chiropractor, treatment costs money. Many people do not have health insurance, and even when they do, the prospect of deductibles or co-pays still leave medical care expensive or out of reach.
One IMPORTANT way an attorney can help you in such a situation is the ability in many instances to help you obtain medical care under a lien, or letter of protection. Often times an attorney can provide a promise to pay to a medical provider AFTER a case is settled or otherwise resolved, so that YOU can obtain the medical treatment YOU need, WHEN you need it, at no up front “out of pocket” cost to you. Often, attorneys can even negotiate reductions on these medical bills when necessary, ensuring that you still obtain the maximum “net” recovery possible.
6. Hire an Attorney
You may be wondering: Why on earth would I pay someone to talk to the insurance company when I can do it for free? First off, most personal injury attorneys work on a contingency basis. This means that they don’t get paid unless and until you do. The amount you pay will be a set percentage of your final payout, and the initial consultation is almost always free.
Furthermore, you should also hire a personal injury attorney after an injury because insurance companies are not your friends. They don’t care about making sure you have enough money to cover your injuries or making sure you are prepared in case something happens. Their number one priority is moving on from your case as quickly and cheaply as possible!
What this means is you’ll probably get a lowball offer at the beginning and hear nothing after that. You can try to increase the offer, and you may or may not succeed. Bringing on a lawyer forces the insurance company to take your claim seriously. They cannot get away with lowballing you.
Still not convinced? Here are a few things an attorney can do for you:
- Talk to the insurance companies
- Coordinate medical care
- Defer medical payments until you receive a payout
- Collect and organize evidence
- Schedule appointments (mediation, depositions, court meetings, etc.)
- File a lawsuit
- Pay your bills
To sum it up, a personal injury attorney will do all the work to get you a higher settlement. Remember, we don’t get paid unless you do. Injuries can quickly become expensive. That is not a cost you want to shoulder on your own. It’s important to understand that there is a time limit on when you can file a claim, so you need to make sure you promptly take care of your injuries. If you have any questions, reach out to us to make sure you know how to protect your rights.