Every day, across Washington State, motorists sustain injuries in car accidents. The lucky ones “walk away” from their accidents with nothing more than minor cuts and bruises. But lots of Washingtonians are not so lucky. Their injuries inflict serious physical, emotional, and financial pain that keeps them, at least temporarily, from living their lives to the fullest.
In this blog post we offer some advice about what to do if you are in a car accident that injures you or someone you care about. This is not legal advice, but following the tips below could help you protect your rights to recover damages as compensation for the harm done to you. (Many of the tips below are adapted from the Washington Driver Guide, available online here.) For more specific legal advice contact the trusted car accident attorneys at Boohoff law to discuss your case.
If someone is hurt, call 911 immediately. Try to stay calm and explain the situation as best you can. Be prepared to tell the responder where you are, how many vehicles are involved, how many people are injured, and (to the extent you can tell) how serious the injuries are. If someone is burned or there is a fire, be sure to tell the responders so they can dispatch firefighters. Also, alert the dispatcher to any other potentially hazardous situation the emergency responders may encounter, such as someone who appears to be under the influence of drugs and alcohol, or a dangerous road condition that could affect the responders’ ability to reach the accident scene.
Police who arrive on the scene will most likely prepare a collision report. But in the unlikely event that does not happen, it is your responsibility to ensure a report gets filed. You can obtain a collision report form here or call 360-570-2355.
Do not leave the accident scene. You must stay there to speak with first responders and to obtain medical care. If your car can still move, pull over to the side of the road and out of the flow of traffic, and then shut it off. If it does not move, shut it off and, if you can, get out and move to the side of the road and out of harm’s way. If you have emergency flags or other signal devices to warn other motorists of an accident, then use them, but only if you can deploy them without putting yourself or others in danger. Do not smoke anywhere near the damaged vehicles, as they may have spilled fuel and could pose a fire or explosion risk.
Moving a person injured in a car accident could make their injuries worse. Do not move anyone unless their car is on fire or they are in danger of being hit by traffic. Instead, render basic first aid without moving the person. Apply pressure directly on any wound that is bleeding. Cover the person with a coat or blanket to help prevent them from going into shock. Do not give anyone injured anything to drink, not even water. Be prepared to tell first responders what you have observed about a person’s injuries as soon as they arrive.
Even if you feel “fine” after an accident, let an emergency responder give you a once-over. Adrenaline runs high after a car accident, potentially masking pain and other symptoms of an injury. Plus, some car accident injuries do not show symptoms right away, but can be diagnosed with simple tests. Err on the side of caution at the scene.
Even if a first responder declares you okay, always follow up with your primary care physician the next day. EMT’s are there to make sure no one is about to die, not to diagnose potentially complicated injuries that begin to show symptoms days or weeks later. Following-up with your doctor has the added benefit of generating medical records that document how the car accident caused your injuries. Those records may prove useful later on if you need to prove someone’s liability for causing the accident.
Put your smartphone camera to use by documenting the accident scene. Be as thorough as possible. Take pictures or footage of the vehicles involved from as many angles as possible. Take close up and far-away pictures of damage, and include surrounding objects to establish a sense of scale. Capture images of any skid marks, again close up and at long distance. Get shots of the area surrounding the accident scene, including any road signs, street lights, security cameras, traffic signals, or visual obstructions (such as vegetation, hills, or road curves). You cannot be too thorough. Get images of everything you can think of.
That said, remember that emergency responders have a job to do. Their priorities on the accident scene come first. Do not get in their way or do anything that might make it more difficult for them to tend to the injured, restore traffic flow, and otherwise keep everyone safe.
Virtually everyone knows to obtain contact and insurance information from the “other driver” in a car accident. But your job doesn’t end there. If you can, obtain contact (and, if applicable, insurance) information from everyone at the accident scene, including other vehicle passengers, eyewitnesses, and even first responders. Collecting contact information makes life vastly easier for your insurance adjuster and any attorney you hire who needs to investigate the accident. If you do not collect contact information, you risk losing potentially critical eyewitness evidence forever. Like photographing the accident scene, this is a task in which you cannot be too thorough.
Notify your auto insurance carrier that you have had an accident, so that they can open a claim file. Provide only the minimum information necessary, however. Do not get into an extended discussion of “fault” for the accident or of your own injuries (or lack thereof). You cannot be sure to have a thorough-enough understanding of the accident to give an opinion about fault, and it is best to wait to make statements about your health until you know, for sure, you have not sustained any hidden injuries.
If anyone else’s insurance company reaches out to you, beware. The only reason an insurance company other than your own would contact you after a car accident in which someone gets injured is to limit its financial exposure. Insurance adjusters sometimes call accident victims in hopes of getting the victims to say something, anything, that calls a potential future insurance claim into question. Alternatively, insurance companies sometimes make low-end settlement offers to accident victims, hoping the victims will jump at “quick” money in exchange for giving up important legal rights. In either case, the best response if someone else’s insurance carrier calls you is to decline to talk and to put the caller in touch with your attorney.
These days, people live a substantial portion of their lives online. Social media posts represent a timeline of our lives, but not necessarily an accurate one. It is common, and understandable, to portray a positive and happy image of one’s life on social media, even when *real* life feels difficult and overwhelming.
At Gomez Trial Attorneys, we encourage our clients to stay off of social media after getting hurt in a car accident. In our experience, insurance adjusters and defense attorneys lurk on social media looking for a post or picture that might undermine a damages claim. Something as innocuous as posting a happy-looking, smiling picture, or writing a comment as simple as “I’m okay!” could harm your rights. Better to avoid making an inadvertent mistake.
The tips above constitute sensible and important advice to follow after you get into a car accident that injures you or someone you know. But you will not find answers particular to your situation in a blog post. Every car accident has its own unique facts and circumstances. When questions arise about your legal rights after an accident, seek the advice and counsel of an experienced car accident attorney.
What can a car accident attorney do for you? Here are some reasons to speak with an attorney right away.
These are just some of the tasks attorneys routinely perform for car accident victims. To start speaking with an experienced attorney, schedule a consultation and plan to sit down with the attorney in person to discuss your accident and injuries. Do not sweat the cost. Initial consultations with attorneys are always free, and most attorneys represent clients on a contingency fee basis in which clients pay nothing up-front and attorneys only recover fees out of any settlement or jury verdict they obtain on their clients’ behalf.
There is nothing fun or easy about sustaining injuries in a car accident. It’s a traumatic experience that may stay with you for a while. Go easy on yourself. Do not expect life to feel “normal” again immediately or put pressure on yourself if you find that you struggle with feeling better physically or emotionally. Take time with your family and friends. Trust in your attorney to have your back, to explain decisions you need to make in clear and understandable language, and to pursue maximum compensation for you so that you can move forward from your accident.