If you have been hurt in a car accident there are certain things you should do immediately following the collision to ensure that you have the best chance of receiving full compensation for your injuries. Below is a ten step list that will protect your rights and help you when seeking a recovery from the insurance company.
1. Make sure to call law enforcement and have a report made. It is important to alert the authorities to an accident once it has occurred. This holds true for several reasons. First, law enforcement will do a preliminary investigation, interview the parties, interview third party witnesses, examine the scene of the accident, inspect the vehicles, and provide a determination as to who was at fault in the accident. A law enforcement report that sets forth who was at fault is the single most persuasive piece of evidence in proving liability.
Without a law enforcement report, you expose yourself to a “he-said, she-said” situation. Although the other driver may say they were at fault at the scene and offer to take care of it informally, his or her story could change later. The other driver could even deny that the accident occurred altogether, leaving you in a position of asserting a claim against an insurance company that takes the position that its insured driver was not involved. Do not let this happen to you. Always call law enforcement and have a report made following a car accident.
2. Obtain witness contact information. If there are witnesses to the accident and your injuries do not prevent you from talking to them, you should obtain their contact information. Often times, third party witnesses will not wait at the scene of the accident until law enforcement arrives. As a result, by the time law enforcement makes it to the scene, important witnesses may have left leaving you in a situation where it is just your word versus the other driver’s. By obtaining witness information you can help law enforcement determine who was at fault.
In addition, often times, police reports do not list witnesses with enough detail to contact them later. A police report may simply list a witness’s name without a phone number or other identifying information. If a witness has a common name like John Smith, it may be impossible to track him or her down later. In the event you need a witness to testify at trial, you will need his or her information. Make sure you obtain witness information at the scene of the accident if you are able to do so.
3. Seek out immediate medical treatment. If you believe you were injured as the result of a car accident, you should receive medical attention immediately. This is not the time to worry about medical expenses and hope that the pain will go away. To the contrary, the longer you wait to receive medical attention, the more likely the insurance company will argue that you were not hurt as a result of the accident. This is the defense that the insurance companies repeatedly raise.
Insurance companies often claim that if you did not take an ambulance to the hospital for treatment, or that if you waited a few days for the pain to go away before seeking out treatment, that you were not really injured. The insurance companies also argue that your injuries were caused by some event that occurred following the accident and before the time you first sought out treatment. The insurance companies will also suggest that you did not seek out medical treatment until you were told by an attorney to do so. In other words, if you do not receive medical treatment immediately following a car accident, the insurance companies will use this as an opportunity to claim your injuries are either fake or not caused by the accident. Do not make this mistake. Always seek out medical treatment for your injuries immediately following the accident.
4. Describe your injuries in detail. When receiving initial medical treatment following an accident, it is important to describe your injuries thoroughly and in detail. The medical providers will be documenting your complaints and injuries in their medical records. As a result, these medical records will be relied upon by the insurance companies when they evaluate your injury claims later. If you later claim an injury that is not reflected in your initial medical records, the insurance company will argue that the injury is not genuine or related to the accident.
A slight pain in a certain area that you did not believe was worth mentioning could intensify over time and become a serious injury. Your failure to describe it at your initial medical appointment could make it difficult to prove it was related to the accident. This is not the time to prove how tough you are or how high you pain tolerance is. Make sure you tell your medical provider about any part of your body that you feel was even slightly affected by the accident. Do not assume that it is going to get better. Let your medical provider know and create a record that preserves your right to receive compensation for the injury later.
5. Get Comprehensive Diagnostic Tests. Make sure that you request and receive all necessary diagnostic tests and examinations when receiving treatment for your injuries following an accident. Again, this is not the time to worry about medical expenses and costs savings. Your only concern should be your health and making sure that any injuries you may have sustained are discovered and documented. Make sure you reinforce this with the medical providers you are seeing.
Do not let reluctant doctors talk you out of the appropriate tests. You must be an advocate for yourself and your health. As such, make sure you receive the necessary x-rays, MRIs, scans and other tests that will allow your medical providers to diagnose your injuries and rule out others. The closer in time injuries are diagnosed following an accident, the easier it is to prove they were caused by the accident. Do not create a situation where you allow the insurance companies any wiggle room to argue that your injuries were not related to the accident. Obtain all the necessary medical tests when you first receive treatment.
6. Don’t give any statements to any insurance company even your own. Never give a statement to any insurance company following an accident-even your own! Agents of the insurance companies will surely try to contact you and represent that they are there to help you and have your best interests in mind. You may believe that your insurance company is on your side and the other side’s insurance adjusters are the only ones you need to take caution with. However, this is not the case.
In the event that the other driver is uninsured or has inadequate insurance to cover your injuries, then you will need to pursue your own insurance company for coverage under your uninsured or under insured motorist policy. Once you do so, then you are in a direct confrontation with your insurance company. You will be seeking the maximum payout possible and your insurance company will be looking to pay you the lowest amount they can get away with. Insurance companies owe a duty to their shareholders to maximize their profits and stock prices. They do this by collecting insurance premiums and paying out as little as possible when claims are made.
Insurance companies always try to contact injured individuals shortly after a car accident to obtain a statement of what happened. One reason they do this is because they know that the injured individual will have not had time to consult with an attorney. The insurance company will seek to obtain a statement that they can later use against you when you are seeking compensation for your injuries. As such, you should not give a statement to the insurance company regarding how the accident happened or the extent of your injuries. You may notify your insurance company that the accident occurred, but you should tell them that you do not want to give any statement until you have consulted an attorney.
7. Obtain an experienced attorney. If you were injured as a result of a car accident, you should hire an experienced attorney to represent you. Unlike the insurance company, your attorney will have your best interests in mind and will fight to see that you receive maximum compensation for your injuries. An experienced attorney will be able to provide you with guidance throughout the entire process. Your attorney will be able to assist you with: settling your property damage claim, getting your vehicle repaired, getting money or coverage for a rental car, seeing that medical providers provide you with treatment, maximizing monetary recovery for your injuries (by filing a lawsuit or through negotiations with the insurance company) and negotiating and reducing medical liens.
Studies and surveys show that individuals who are represented by attorneys receive 2-3 times more compensation than individuals who are unrepresented. Even though part of your settlement will be paid to the attorney representing you, the amount you will be obtaining will be substantially higher than if you took on the insurance company yourself. In other words, an experienced attorney will pay for himself. Make sure you hire an experienced attorney as soon as possible following a car accident.
8. Keep a diary detailing your injuries, experiences, medical treatment and expenses. It is a good idea to keep a diary following an accident to help you recollect important events and experiences. In your diary you should record details regarding the events of the accident, the pain and symptoms associated with your injury, the medical providers you received treatment from, any time missed from work and any out of pocket expenses for co-pays and prescriptions. In the event your case requires a lawsuit, it may take two to three years from the time of the accident until you have your day in court. As such, you can use your diary to help you recollect details that may have become fuzzy or forgotten over time.
The details following an accident may be clear immediately following it, but chances are you will not remember the details the same way two to three years later. You should write down all the details surrounding the accident shortly after it happens. This may include: what you were doing the day of the accident, where you were heading, the weather conditions, the traffic conditions, how the collision occurred, conversations you had at the scene, etc. In addition, you should record how your injuries affected you. This can include the pain you experienced, the inability to do normal daily living activities, the people you needed to burden and rely upon and how this made you feel.
You should also keep track of your medical providers and appointments as well as any time missed from work and expenses incurred. Your attorney will be required to provide the insurance company with comprehensive medical records to support your injury claim. This will help your attorney obtain this information later. Any time missed from work and expenses spent on medical treatment are recoverable. As a result, you will want to make sure that these items are well documented so you can claim them as well. It is much easier to document these items at the time they occur, than try to sort it out two to three years later. Make sure you keep a diary after your accident to assist you in advancing your injury claim.
9. Follow through with therapy and all medical appointments. It is important to follow through with all prescribed medical treatment and physical therapy following an injury accident. Physical therapy and subsequent medical appointments can be time consuming and burdensome. Nevertheless, they are necessary to help you recover from your injuries and restore you to optimal health.
If you fail to attend prescribed medical appointments and complete all assigned physical therapy, the insurance company will argue that you were not injured. The insurance companies will also argue that you failed to mitigate your damages. In other words, the insurance companies will claim that you are at fault for increasing the extent of your injuries and any permanent side-effects by not following through with your prescribed medical treatment. The insurance companies will then look to reduce the recovery to which you are entitled as a result. Do not give the insurance companies any way to attack your injury claim. Always, complete all recommended medical treatment and attend all appointments.
10. Be patient During the Process. It is important to remain patient during the process of seeking a recovery from the insurance company. Generally, a recovery may not be obtained until you have completed all necessary medical treatment and completely recovered from your injuries or reached a point where your injuries are as good as they are going to get. This process could take several months or even years. In addition, if a lawsuit is required, this could take several more years depending on several different factors, including the complexity of the case, the court’s schedule, witness availability, etc. Do yourself a favor, be prepared for the long haul and remain patient when seeking a recovery for your injuries.