IF YOU ARE EVER IN A CAR ACCIDENT, AMONG THE MANY THINGS YOU WILL FEEL IS CONFUSED. THAT'S NORMAL.
However, there are steps you will need to take immediately to protect yourself legally and financially. Failing to do any of these important things could create a lot of stress for you later on.
1. CALL THE POLICE IMMEDIATELY TO REPORT THE ACCIDENT AND INJURIES
The police will come to the scene and prepare a report, which includes taking your statement and issuing a traffic citation to the at-fault driver. The insurance company will often deny claims if there is no police report. Instead, they will rely on their driver's statement, which might say the accident was your fault.
2. GET CONTACT INFORMATION FROM THE OTHER DRIVER AND ANY WITNESSES.
It is best that all witnesses stay until the police arrive at the scene so that all statements can be taken. However, you should try yourself to get the name, address and telephone number of any witness to the accident. You may need this information later to prove the other driver caused the accident. If the officer's report does not say who was at fault, a witness could help in your case. Insurance companies will often deny the claim if the police report does not say who was at fault or if there were no witnesses. So, again, get all witness contact information before you leave the accident scene.
3. PHOTOGRAPH THE VEHICLES INVOLVED AND YOUR INJURIES
If it is possible and safe, leave the vehicles where they are until an officer arrives so that the officer can accurately document the scene. Be sure to take pictures of the damage to your vehicle and the other vehicles involved. This may be necessary to prove what damage and injuries were a result of the accident in the event that damage or injuries occur after the accident.
4. AVOID POSTING ON SOCIAL MEDIA ABOUT THE ACCIDENT OR YOUR ACTIVITIES AFTERWARD
You may be anxious to let your friends know what happened, ask for prayers, or even vent about the situation on social media, but it is best not to.
Adjusters and insurance defense attorneys will often check these sites for any discussions and/or pictures about the accident to see if they can gain information that was not reported to them. They may also be looking for evidence that your injuries are not as severe as you claim. Even if your accounts are set to private, they can be found and used against you in your case. Even though we are in the habit of documenting our lives on our social media accounts, this is one situation that the risk is too great.
5. BE HONEST ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED
This seems obvious but it is often overlooked. You should always tell the truth whether you are talking to your lawyer, your doctor, a witness, the insurance company, or in a deposition. Any wrong or inconsistent statement you make can be used against you.
6. VISIT YOUR DOCTOR AS SOON AS POSSIBLE AND REPORT ALL OF YOUR INJURIES
You might be tempted to give the pain a few days to get better before seeing a doctor. Though doctor visits are expensive and time-consuming, it could be a huge mistake to wait.
Whether it is the emergency room, your family doctor or a referral, try to get checked out as soon as possible. You must tell the provider about the accident and your injuries, and be specific about where you hurt, how often, etc. You must do this every time you go for treatment.
If you say nothing about either the accident and/or your injuries, that information will not be included in your medical records. The insurance company will often deny claims because the injured victim did not tell their doctor about the accident and/or the injuries. Please do not make this mistake.
7. FOLLOW YOUR DOCTOR'S ORDERS
To a tee.
If you are prescribed medication, then take it as directed, even if you feel like you can do without it. If you are scheduled for a follow up appointment, do not miss that appointment. Not following your doctor's recommendations can drastically reduce your claim against the insurance company.
8. AVOID GIVING A STATEMENT TO OR SIGNING DOCUMENTS FROM THE INSURANCE COMPANY
The insurance companies will call you almost immediately after the accident. They will want your statement about what happened and will ask about your injuries.
Although this seems innocent, it is not.
Insurance companies have highly skilled professionals who know what questions to ask and how to get the responses they need. Their purpose is to get you to say things that will hurt your case.
Please consult a car accident lawyer before giving any statements to the insurance company. Your lawyer can deal with the insurance companies for you so you can focus on recovering.
The insurance company will also ask you to sign a medical release so they can get your medical records. This may seem reasonable. But be careful because most insurance companies will send a document created by their attorneys which greatly helps them. Also, the releases are usually “blank,” meaning that no health care provider was included on the release. This blank release gives them access to your whole medical history. Most of it will be irrelevant to your car accident case.
However, the insurance company will be looking for any pre-existing injury/condition or accident mentioned in your past medical records. If they find you have suffered from a pre-existing injury/condition, they will likely try to deny your claim.
The release should be specific and related to only medical providers you have seen after the car accident. Also, the release must have language in it that does not give the insurance company an advantage. Your lawyer can help you avoid these tricks so that you are not a victim twice.
9. KEEP TRACK OF YOUR OUT-OF-POCKET EXPENSES
Towing fees, rental expenses, medical bills, prescriptions- the extra costs will come quickly. Be sure to keep a record of these because they can be recovered once your case is settled.
10. CONTACT A CAR ACCIDENT LAWYER AS SOON AS POSSIBLE
Your focus after an accident should be on getting back to normal, not avoiding the schemes of insurance companies and worrying about the future. A lawyer can take care of the stress of the legal fight while you focus on recovery.
While the insurance companies will definitely be in a rush to get statements, settlements, and signatures from you, they will be in no hurry to let you know that there is a deadline for taking action against them. In Louisiana, suit must be filed within one year of the date of the accident. Your lawyer will handle making sure this deadline is not missed so that you are not left financially responsible for someone else's mistake.
11. DO NOT SETTLE WITH THE INSURANCE COMPANY WITHOUT A LAWYER
It might seem convenient and less stressful to go ahead and take whatever the insurance company is offering you. However, insurance companies know how to settle claims cheaply with injured victims who do not have a lawyer.
We at Andress Inzina know their strategies and techniques of how they take advantage of injured victims because we spent years representing them. There are few guarantees in life, but you will almost always get a higher and fairer settlement when having a lawyer on your side. In fact, studies done by insurance companies themselves have found that car accident victims usually get 3.5% more when represented by a lawyer. Hopefully you will not need to use these steps anytime soon or ever. However, the average person is involved in about four car accidents in their lifetime. So do yourself a favor and print this list. Keep it in your glove box with your registration and proof of insurance.
If you find yourself in an unfortunate situation, having this bit of guidance will help you sort through the confusion and keep yourself protected legally and financially.