If you have been injured or have lost a loved one in an automobile accident it is important that you know your rights. You may be entitled to recover monetary compensation including past medical expenses, future medical expenses, lost wages, diminished future earning capacity, physical pain and suffering, as well as psychological and emotional distress. Without an attorney, accident victims may be taken advantage of by insurance companies and are often inadequately compensated for their injuries.
- Call the police. Documenting the accident with a police report is a crucial factor in protecting your rights. In fact, many insurance companies will try to deny your insurance claim if there is no accident report. Having police on the scene is also beneficial should you require medical attention as the officer can radio for an ambulance. When the police arrive on scene report any pains or discomforts you may be experiencing and give a statement to the officer about how the accident happened.
- Seek medical attention. Whether you are transported from the scene of the accident to a hospital by ambulance or you make an appointment with your family doctor, seeking medical attention as soon as possible after an accident is crucial to protecting your rights. Medical records and bills are the best evidence to document your injuries. These same records will also help to establish your other damages, such as pain and suffering.
- Take photographs. The short time that you are at the accident scene may be your only chance to obtain certain evidence before it is lost forever. Photographs of vehicle positions and damage to the other vehicles involved are of paramount importance. Many people focus on photographing their own vehicle at the scene, which causes them to miss out on properly documenting the damage to the other vehicles involved. Once those other vehicles leave the accident scene, the odds of obtaining photographs of them is very low. You can always take photographs of your own vehicle. Therefore, we recommend focusing your attention on the other vehicles, the scene, and any additional things that may be important, such as street signs, traffic signals, and anything that may have obstructed your ability to see.
- Never admit fault or apologize. Anything you say can and will be used against you in your lawsuit. We have all heard that famous line in movies and television shows when a police officer makes an arrest, but most people only think of it in the context of criminal matters. Although automobile accidents do not usually involve a criminal arrest, the general idea is the same. Anything you say at the scene of the accident is admissible evidence that can potentially be used to undermine your case or discredit you as a witness. Saying things like “I’m okay,” “I’m sorry,” or “It was my fault” will surely be used against you if you file a lawsuit seeking compensation for your injuries.
- Talk to witnesses. Independent witnesses are invaluable to building a successful case, especially if the insurance company is claiming you are at fault. It is important to get the name and phone number of any person who witnessed the accident so that the police officer at the scene can interview the witness, and so that your attorney can do a thorough investigation, which includes obtaining sworn witness statements. Be sure to ask every witness if he or she has any photographs or videos of the accident.
- Document everything. Focusing on evidence gathering may be difficult, but the information obtained can be tremendously helpful to building your case. Obtain information from the other driver such as the automobile insurance company and policy number, license plate number, and anything the other driver may say to you. Gathering evidence does not end when the accident scene is cleared. Throughout the claims process you will be presented with a lot of information from numerous sources. Maintain a file with all the paperwork and correspondence you receive relating to the accident, your injuries, and property damage. We find that many people forget to document out-of-pocket costs such as prescription medications, medical devices, and travel expenses. Keeping a detailed file will help ensure that you obtain the best result possible for your claim.
- Don’t give a recorded statement. Insurance companies pounce quickly while you may not be thinking clearly, before you have a chance to realize the extent of your injuries, and before you are able to consult with an attorney. Do not be fooled by an insurance adjuster who tries to offer you money immediately following an accident. This tactic is employed by many insurance companies to “settle” your claim as quickly as possible for as little money as possible. This also applies to requests for recorded statements made by your insurance company. Do not give a recorded statement until you consult your attorney.
- Never cash a check or sign anything without consulting your attorney. The fastest way to damage, compromise, or even destroy, your case is to sign a release in exchange for a check from an insurance company. A release is a contract that creates a legally enforceable agreement whereby you agree to settle your claim against the insurance company and the at-fault driver in exchange for a certain amount of money. A signed release marks the end of your claim. Even if you don’t sign the release, cashing the check that accompanies a release has the same effect. Never underestimate the ability of an insurance company to take advantage of a someone in a desperate situation. Insurance is a business. What is good for the insurance company is rarely in your best interests.
- Assume you are being investigated. Insurance companies will investigate an accident victim as thoroughly as the accident itself. This includes criminal background checks, insurance claims history searches, and canvassing social media for posts that will lead a jury to believe you are not seriously injured, or in some cases, not injured at all. More and more we see otherwise successful claims damaged by victims posting photographs or videos on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Your posts on social media sites are potentially discoverable evidence that will be used against you if you file a civil lawsuit seeking compensation for your injuries. It does not matter if your account is set on private. Before posting anything take a step back and consider how a jury might view that post, or better yet, just don’t post anything.
- Consult your attorney. Having an experienced personal injury attorney on your side is the best thing you can do to protect your rights. At George∙Gesten∙McDonald our Personal Injury Practice Group represents only accident victims, NEVER insurance companies. We are well-versed in the entire claims process from pre-suit investigations to jury trials. Battling with an insurance company is an intimidating hassle that leaves victims frustrated, under compensated, and defeated. We navigate the claims process for our clients through comprehensive representation. From communicating with insurance adjusters regarding property damage and rental cars to tracking your medical treatment ensuring your claim is properly documented and fighting for the compensation you deserve, George∙Gesten∙McDonald has your back.
How do I get started?
Call us toll free at (833) 346-3587 to speak with a member of our Personal Injury Practice Group for your free consultation. Do not delay! There are important deadlines associated with every personal injury case, including a Statute of Limitations. Long delays, large gaps in your medical treatment and unsecured benefits may damage your case if you file a lawsuit seeking compensation for your injuries.