The steps that you should take following a car accident depend on the severity of your injuries. If you are severely injured, you should not move, even if you think you can, as you could cause more injuries or exacerbate your current injuries.
However, if you feel comfortable moving, you should first check on others involved in the accident and call first responders if necessary, even if you believe the accident was the other driver’s fault. Just ask how the other individuals are doing; do not say anything that may lead others to believe you are admitting fault for the accident, even if you really think that you caused it. Let your attorney handle the issue of fault, which requires an analysis of the totality of the circumstances.
Many states require individuals who have been involved in a car accident to move their vehicles to the side of the road if possible (assuming no one has any serious injuries). Before anyone moves anything, however, be sure to get photos of the accident from all angles. If there are skid marks on the road, be sure to take several pictures of the skid marks. Only after you take photos should you move your vehicle. As always, if it is too dangerous to take photos, and you can move your vehicle, then move the vehicle first. The last thing you need is to suffer more injuries while trying to photograph the accident scene.
You should get a name and phone number from anyone you think might be a witness to the accident.
You should get the following from all other involved drivers:
- Full name
- Insurance information
- Registration information
- Phone number
- Driver’s license number
You should also any passengers that were riding in vehicles involved in the accident for their contact information.
Speaking to the Police
When the police ask you what happened, tell them exactly what you saw and remember. However, even if you believe the accident is your fault, never admit fault. If the police ask about fault, let them know that your attorney will determine that. Be sure to ask how and where you can get a copy of the police report.
Get Medical Attention
Even if you think you are not injured, always seek medical attention. Some injuries may not manifest until hours or even days later. It is a good idea to let emergency medical technicians check you at the scene of the accident, then head to your doctor or the emergency room. When you go to the doctor or emergency room, tell the nurses or doctors that you were in a car accident, and you need to be checked out thoroughly, especially if you hit your head.
Find out how to get copies of your medical records. Some hospitals have an online portal where you can access most of your records. You can start with that. If the facility does not post enough of your medical records via the portal, we’ll let you know what you need to get so that you can put in a request for medical records pertaining to the accident.
Working With Your Insurance Company
Call your insurance company to let it know that you were in an accident. However, you should only give them your name, policy number, and phone number, as well as the date, time, and location of the accident, and your attorney’s contact information. Do not answer any questions about the accident. Instead, tell the representative that your attorney will contact the insurance company shortly.
If the other driver’s insurance company contacts you, refer the insurance company to your attorney. Keep in mind that insurance companies are in business to make money. Even your own insurance company will twist your words in an attempt to deny your claim or to pay out an amount that might not cover all of your medical expenses.
Preparing for a Consultation
While you do not need to bring anything with you to a consultation, you will get more out of it if you come prepared. Write out a list of questions that you would like to ask the attorney. This way, you won’t forget to ask a pertinent question.
If possible, you should also bring copies—not originals—of the following documents, if you have them:
- Your driver license
- Your vehicle insurance card
- Your vehicle registration
- Any relevant medical records that you already have
- The police report
- Any photos that you have of the accident scene
Providing your attorney with this information will allow him or her to get started on your case right away if you decide to retain the firm.
Choosing Settlement or Litigation
Settling a claim is the easiest way to recover compensation if the insurance company will offer a reasonable amount. However, in some cases, you might have to litigate. If the insurance company refuses to pay a reasonable amount based on your past and future medical bills and lost wages, along with non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering and emotional distress for injuries that caused long-term disabilities, you might choose to litigate your case to maximize your ultimate compensation.
Additionally, if the defendant’s actions or inactions were grossly negligent or intentional, the court might award punitive damages. However, as the accuser, you must prove that the defendant’s actions or inactions were intentional or grossly negligent before the court will agree to issue a punitive damages award.
Recovering Non-Economic Damages
In most cases, you can only recover non-economic damages if you suffer injuries that cause long-term disabilities. While your insurance company might have its own definition of long-term, the Social Security Administration defines a long-term disability as one that doctors expect to last longer than 12 months or a disability that will result in your death. You might also recover some non-economic damages if you lost a loved one in a car accident. In this case, non-economic damages may include pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of use of a body part or function, loss of consortium and/or companionship, and inconvenience.
If you sustained injuries or lost a loved one in a car accident, contact an experienced car accident attorney for a free consultation.