STEPS TO TAKE AFTER A SERIOUS CAR ACCIDENT
Every year, 4.4 million people in the United States suffer injuries from car accidents that are serious enough to require medical attention. An additional 38,000 people pass away due to car accidents annually. Even with improvements in safety technology, anyone on the roads can be in a serious accident at any time.
With this in mind, it’s important to know what to do if you find yourself on the wrong side of these statistics. Taking the proper steps can protect your health, rights, and financial security. Here are five things you should do immediately after a car accident.
1. Call 9-1-1 and Continue Getting Medical Care as Needed
In the immediate moments following a car accident, you should check yourself and others for injury and call 9-1-1. Be sure to tell the operator where you are and if you believe anyone is hurt. If you do not have a phone with you, see if someone nearby does and have them call 9-1-1.
Not only can calling emergency services save your life, but it can also protect your legal and financial interests. Although states all have different laws regarding accident reports, all states require drivers to report serious accidents immediately, if they are physically capable of doing so. The police report and your medical records can also serve as vital evidence if you need to file a lawsuit.
If and when emergency medical personnel arrive at the scene, you should take their medical advice seriously. First, refusing medical treatment can put your health in danger. Furthermore, insurance companies may use your refusal as evidence that your injuries weren’t serious, which lowers the value of your claim.
2.Exchange Information and Document Everything
As soon as someone has contacted 9-1-1, it’s time to start the process of documenting everything related to the accident. If both drivers are able, they should exchange insurance and contact information. Do not speak to the other driver much beyond exchanging information, and you should never admit fault of any kind.
If you are not seriously injured, you should start collecting any evidence you may need from the scene of the accident. If anyone saw the accident and stuck around to help, be sure to get their contact information before they leave. They can serve as witnesses if you need to prove who is at fault or the severity of the accident.
Other evidence you can collect includes pictures, video, or written descriptions of:
- Your car
- The other person’s car
- The scene surrounding the accident
- The other person’s license plate
- Circumstances surrounding the accident, such as bad weather
- Name and badge number of responding police officers
The process of documenting everything does not stop when you leave the scene of the accident. You should also keep files on anything related to the accident, such as:
- Doctor’s notes
- Receipts for medical care
- Receipts from traveling to and from medical care
- Notes from conversations with anyone about the accident
- Letters or other correspondence from the insurance company
In the early stages of a car accident claim or lawsuit, you can never be sure exactly what piece of evidence will turn out to be key in your case. As such, it’s better to over-collect documentation than risk missing something important.
3. Hire a Personal Injury Attorney
It is highly advisable for anyone who has been involved in an accident to contact an experienced personal injury lawyer. As you may know, injury attorneys typically work on a contingency fee, so they don’t get paid unless you get compensated. Furthermore, as consultations are typically free, there’s no risk associated with discussing your case with an attorney. A lawyer can help you:
- Make sure you have all the documentation you need
- Notice and avoid insurance company tricks
- File a claim for your maximum claim
- Negotiate against insurance companies and other involved parties on your behalf
- File appropriate lawsuits if necessary
While you can legally do all of this without a lawyer, an experienced attorney can make it a lot easier. Having legal aid on your side may also increase the chances of getting the compensation you need.
4. Determine What Insurance Policy Applies and File a Claim
Your personal injury attorney can help you understand which insurance company should cover your claim. This will depend on several factors, including your state laws and what exactly happened during the accident.
For example, if you live in a no-fault state, you will need to file a claim with your own insurance company if your accident was not particularly serious, even if the other driver is clearly to blame. In at-fault states, you need to determine who caused the accident.
Depending on the facts of the case, you may want to file claims against other entities as well. For example, if a drunk driver caused your accident, you may be able to hold a bar financially responsible for overserving the driver.
5. Vigorously Defend Your Rights with the Help of a Personal Injury Attorney
It’s in the financial interest of the insurance company to pay you as little as possible or deny your claim completely. Denying claims whenever possible is basically part of the business plan. You need to be prepared to fight just as hard for your interests.
You and your attorney may be able to negotiate with the insurance company and get the settlement you need to cover your expenses. However, in some cases, the insurance company may simply refuse to make an adequate settlement offer. When this happens, you may need to file a personal injury lawsuit in order to obtain the compensation to which you are entitled.
Such a lawsuit can end in a settlement or by going to trial. No matter how the negotiations go, it will be important to have honest, aggressive representation on your side. It’s best to hire a personal injury attorney as soon after your accident as possible.