WHAT TO DO AFTER A CAR ACCIDENT
IF YOU'VE JUST BEEN IN AN ACCIDENT
If you've just been involved in a traffic crash, the following information outlines what to do after an auto accident:
What information should I obtain?
It is important that you seek immediate medical attention if you are seriously injured in an automobile accident. After everyone is out of danger and any medical and police help has been summoned, obtain the following:
The full names of the drivers of all of the vehicles involved
The driver's license numbers and addresses of all of the drivers
If any of the driver's appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, notify police or other emergency personnel immediately
The full names and addresses of any passengers in any of the vehicles
The full names and addresses of any pedestrians or other parties involved
The full name, address, and phone number of any witnesses to the accident.
What information should I obtain? (cont.)
In addition, you should make observations and record notes about the following:
Did any person involved in the accident report any personal injury shortly after the accident?
Was medical assistance rendered at the scene of the accident?
What personal injury did the injured person report? Did anyone say "I'm not hurt"?
What was the actual location of the accident?
In what direction were the vehicles traveling just prior to the accident?
At what time of day did the accident occur?
What were the weather conditions at the time of the accident?
Was there anything "wrong" with the vehicles before the accident, such as a broken headlight or brake light?
Was there any damage to the vehicles as a result of the accident? What parts of the vehicle were damaged?
Who are the registered owners of the vehicles (names and addresses)?
Were all vehicles involved in the accident insured? What are the names of the insurance companies and the policy numbers?
Did any of the vehicles need to be towed from the scene of the accident?
How did the accident occur?
Did anyone accept responsibility for the accident, or make a comment such as "It was my fault, I am sorry. I was speeding / not paying attention / not wearing my glasses / distracted / tired / late for work / in a hurry / my coffee had just spilled / I should have seen you but I was on my cell phone / I've been taking these pills / my eyesight isn't what it used to be after dark, etc"?
Did the police come? If so, did they issue anyone a ticket? Which officers were present? What are their names and badge numbers?
Was any of the drivers involved driving while working, or driving a company owned vehicle?
SHOULD I CALL THE POLICE?
Yes! It is important to contact the police immediately if you are involved in an accident. Doing so will provide proof of the accident, and will allow for an immediate investigation of the scene of the accident. In addition, police will take statements of witnesses, and will examine the other driver to check for drug or alcohol use. The police can also be valuable witnesses to your injury at the scene, and they can assist in securing an admission of fault from the negligent driver. Even in minor accidents, resist the temptation to "keep things simple" by "settling up" with the other driver on the spot. You should make sure that you have not suffered injuries which do not develop symptoms until days or even weeks after the accident, and you should always consult with your doctor and an experienced attorney to make sure that you are aware of all of the avenues of recovery available to you.
WHEN SHOULD I CONTACT AN ATTORNEY?
After leaving the scene of an accident, or while still there if you are safely able, you should immediately contact an attorney who is experienced in handling personal injury matters. At Ardoin Law Firm P.C., we will promptly arrange for an attorney to consult with you free of charge so as to enable us to immediately take action on your behalf, while all of the evidence is still "fresh". If necessary and feasible, we will have an investigator conduct a thorough analysis of the accident scene so that no evidence goes undetected.
SHOULD I CONTACT MY OWN INSURANCE COMPANY?
Most auto insurance companies require their policyholders to promptly report every auto accident. Your insurance company will want to gather all of the basic information concerning the accident for its records - whether you are at fault or not. Sometimes the insurance company will want your authorization to make a recorded statement concerning the accident. We suggest that if you or your passengers were injured in the accident, or if you believe the insurance company might try to claim you are not covered or you have any concerns about the adequacy of your coverage, you should contact an attorney before you go any further, and certainly before you give the insurance company permission to record your conversation (NOTE: You should never give a statement to the other driver's insurance company without consulting with an attorney). However, bear in mind that failure to provide information to your insurance company on a timely basis - your policy will set forth how quickly you must notify the company - could result in loss of coverage for the accident, without it constituting bad faith by the insurer.
SHOULD I GO TO THE DOCTOR?
Never hesitate to get checked out by medical professionals even when you feel okay. Many times the onset of physical complaints begins 12 to 24 hours after an accident. Even if you did walk away only feeling "shaken up" after being rear-ended by a truck, tomorrow morning when you get out of bed it may be a different story.
It is also important that you get medical attention if you feel any pain or discomfort. Many people hope that their pain will go away on its own and wait for several weeks before finally succumbing and going to the doctor. Waiting to get treatment is not only not good for your health - it will hurt your chances of obtaining an appropriate settlement for your injuries, since there will be no medical record of your injury at the time of the accident. Seeing a doctor following the accident will insure a preliminary diagnosis and perhaps minimize the discomfort and future treatment you may need later.
Follow the doctor's advice to the letter and never miss a doctor's appointment. Do not substitute your judgment for that of an experienced medical professional. If you do, it will be used against you in court.
If you have been in a serious accident, chances are that someone has already made a record of what has happened to you. There already is a police report, an on-the-job worker's compensation report, or the like. If your condition required immediate medical care, hospital records will confirm your injuries. Make sure you promptly follow-up with treatment from your regular doctor or an appropriate specialist following hospitalization.
IS THERE ANYTHING SPECIAL I SHOULD TELL MY DOCTORS?
When you are reporting your injury to police, paramedics, hospital staff, and doctors, take extra care to identify specific complaints, and do not omit any complaint you may have, no matter how minor. If something does not feel "right" your doctor needs to have this information order to render an informed medical opinion.
Even if you feel it is "no big thing" or not related to your accident, you still should recite all of your complaints. A dry mouth, a light headache, and a little dizziness may be evidence of something more serious. Anything that is out of the ordinary is a symptom and should be reported to assist your doctor in making an informed diagnosis.
For example, a patient who has very slight tingling in the fourth and fifth fingers and a minor crick in the neck, may not report the tingling sensation, which could be the sign of major disruption to a cervical disk. If that disk becomes a complete rupture that requires major surgery, it would have been far better to have had the initial medical diagnosis at the time of the accident in order to prove when the onset of the fracture to the outer wall of the disk occurred. Otherwise, the defense will argue that it could just have well occurred picking up a bag of groceries three weeks after the accident.
DO I NEED TO TAKE PICTURES OF THE ACCIDENT SCENE?
Absolutely. Even if the police take photos, you should try to take several rolls of pictures if possible. Always take multiple rolls of film of the accident location, the vehicles involved, various approaches to the accident scene, and of the persons involved, particularly if they have suffered an injury. Plan on taking three times as many photographs as you think you might need, taking shots from multiple angles and locations. By moving around as if on the points of a compass, you will enable an accident reconstructionist to construct a more accurate diagram of the collision.
A good quality camera is obviously preferable, but even a small disposable camera is better than nothing, and they are normally widely available in convenience stores and gas stations if you do not have one in your vehicle.
DO I HAVE TO TAKE PHOTOS RIGHT AWAY OR CAN I WAIT?
It is very important to take photos as close in time as possible to the time of the accident. This is particularly important when it is necessary to photograph "impending" skid marks. Tires do not immediately lock-up and change from rolling tires to skidding tires. During the braking process, a tire begins to leave an imprint on the roadway before actually skidding. These marks are "impending" skid marks and are faint marks that can normally be seen on the roadway for only 24 to 48 hours after a collision. An impending skid and a skid mark, when taken together, give a more accurate record of the actual speed of a car before braking. Lay a shoe or other easily measured item next to impending skid marks while photographing them so an accident reconstructionist can later compute actual distances based on the photographs.
WHAT ABOUT PRESERVING OTHER EVIDENCE BESIDES PHOTOS?
In many cases, even though it may not seem important at the time, it later becomes vitally important to have access to the physical evidence of an accident. For example, in cases where a passenger is ejected from the vehicle, it is necessary to examine the seatbelt to determine if it was functioning properly. If the seatbelt is lost because the car which contains it is sold or destroyed, it may be impossible to bring a claim against the seatbelt manufacturer and/or the car manufacturer - something which can make or break the recovery of damages in cases where there is little or no other adequate insurance coverage available.
If the evidence is removed to another location, it is important to put everyone on notice by certified mail, including owners, tow operators, wrecking yards, police impounds, and the like, that they must take every step to preserve important evidence, and the failure to do so will subject them to being sued for allowing evidence to be destroyed. In some cases, we are required to go to court quickly to get a restraining order and preliminary injunction in order to avoid alterations or destructive handling and testing of potentially incriminating evidence.
SHOULD I TALK TO THE OTHER DRIVER'S INSURANCE COMPANY? WHAT IF THEY CALL ME?
Never give an oral statement to the other side's insurance company. If you do, you will regret it. If you are contacted, be polite, but decline to talk. Insurance companies' claims adjusters are professional negotiators, with extensive experience in using every psychological technique to maneuver you into giving information which can hurt your claim, including discouraging you from using the professional services of a lawyer.
Claims adjusters are hired because they sound good over the telephone, but they are well trained by insurance company lawyers to ask questions in a manner designed to hurt you and help them. You cannot beat an expert at their game. Do not try it. Simply say "thank you for calling but I am not prepared to discuss this matter with you at this time."