AT THE ACCIDENT SCENE
1. Remember the three C’s of safety: Be Calm, Be Clear and Be Careful. Check on all drivers and passengers to determine the extent of injuries. 2. Get medical attention for anyone who may need it. Call the police. If you are not sure whether medical personnel or police are needed, it is better to be safe than sorry: so call them. Many times people do not think they are hurt at the accident scene only to wake up the next day in tremendous pain. Also, property damage that appears minor can be a lot more extensive and expensive than it first appears. In both those situations, the lack of a police report regarding the accident could be detrimental to your insurance claims. 3. Make a mental note of the location of the vehicles and any other physical evidence such as skid marks or gouge marks. Look for landmarks that you can reference such as street signs, posts, road markers, reflectors, etc. As soon as possible you may want to sketch a rough diagram of the accident scene indicating the location of the physical evidence. Also, if possible you may want to try to get photographs of the accident scene. 4. Try to identify witnesses to the accident. Get the name, phone number and address of anyone who may have witnessed the accident. 5. Exchange information with the other driver. It is generally advisable to limit your conversation with the other driver to basic information such as: Name, address, phone number, driver’s license number, tag number and basic insurance information. 6. Tell the investigating police officer what happened and make you sure you tell him or her about any pain complaints or problems you may be experiencing. Also, ask the officer when the accident report will be ready and how you go about getting a copy of it. 7. Photograph and/or video the scene and vehicles. Make sure to photograph skid marks, gouge marks, etc that might be helpful in establishing the point of impact.
WITHIN 24 HOURS OF THE ACCIDENT
1. Notify your insurance company of the accident. Under most insurance policies you have a duty to timely notify your company of an accident, even if you think the accident is the other driver’s fault, and you must cooperate with your insurance company as they investigate and/or process any claim. Get the name and phone number of each person you talk to and write down the claim number assigned to your claim. 2. Get a copy of the police report as soon as it is ready. Review it carefully for accuracy. If you find an error or disagree with the conclusions, write the investigating officer a letter indicating the errors and/or explaining why you disagree with the conclusions. If you have the name of a witness who is not referenced on the report, provide that information to the officer. Date your letter and keep a copy for your file. 3. If you think the other driver was at-fault or responsible for the accident, notify his or her insurance company of your claim. When dealing with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, remember they have no obligation to tell you what your rights are or how to best use the available insurance benefits. Also, be very cautious as to what you say about the accident or injuries. Your conversation may be being recorded or in the very least the adjuster will be taking notes about everything you say. (Note: In Alabama it is not illegal for one party to a conversation to record the conversation without telling the other party that the conversation is being recorded.) Your initial conversation should simply be enough to establish that a claim is being made and to find out the process for property damage and/or bodily injury claims. Get the name and phone number of each person you talk to and write down the claim number assigned to your claim. 4. Take pictures. Many times accident victims do not get pictures because the insurance company has taken photographs. Those photographs are the property of the insurance company and they are not obligated to share copies with you unless they are requested during a lawsuit, by which time the photographs may have been lost or destroyed.
- Take pictures of the damage to your vehicle. Don’t forget to get photographs of interior damage such as broken seats.
- Take pictures of the accident scene and any physical evidence such as skid marks. (Note: Pictures of the accident scene should only be done if it can be done safely without danger to you or other drivers.)
- Take pictures of any noticeable physical injury such as cuts, bruises and/or abrasions.
5. Find out about your rights and what types of insurance coverage may be available to you. This usually requires consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney. Most experienced personal injury attorneys do not charge for consultations and the mere fact that you consult with an attorney does not obligate you to hire or retain an attorney. Many times car accident injury victims are reluctant to consult with an attorney because they do not want the insurance adjuster to think they are “being greedy.” Also, insurance adjusters are trained to discourage claimants from consulting with an attorney. Remember, a claimant that does not know his or her rights is at a great disadvantage when trying to resolve a claim.
INJURY CARE AND TREATMENT
Please remember, if you have been injured in an accident, the most important aspect of this matter is not your financial recovery, rather the most important issue is your health and your physical recovery from your injuries. No amount of money will “undo” the injuries you have suffered and your goal should be to do everything you can to limit the long term consequences of your injuries. To that end we suggest the following: 1. Tell your treating healthcare provider about all pain complaints or problems you believe are related to the incident in question. 2. Follow the treatment schedule prescribed by your healthcare provider. Remember your doctor wants you to make a good recovery from your injuries and he or she has been trained to get you back to normal as quickly and efficiently as possible. Many times injury victims will begin to feel a little better and decide to quit receiving treatment even though they have not completed their full treatment schedule. Medical studies have clearly shown that incomplete treatment can result in long term physical consequences. As you can understand, the law will not hold an at-fault party responsible for future problems related to the injury if the victim’s own actions contributed to those future problems. 3. Make sure you tell your doctor of any improvements in your condition and if your condition gets worse, please notify the doctor immediately. 4. If you cannot keep a scheduled appointment with your healthcare provider, please notify his or her office as soon as possible. Failure to report in advance may result in a N/S (no show) being marked in your chart. Remember, the insurance adjuster will be reviewing your treatment records and a N/S in the file may be used against you. 5. Follow any restrictions or limitations prescribed by your healthcare provider. We recognize that there is no such thing as a convenient time to be injured; however, if your doctor limits your activities please follow those limitations. Again, the treatment schedule and procedures have been established for the purpose of getting you back to normal as quickly as possible. A few days off of work after an injury may be financially difficult now but it is better than having a lifetime of chronic pain and disability because you didn’t adhere to the restrictions imposed by your healthcare provider. Also, remember more and more insurance companies are using surveillance techniques to determine the true nature of a claimant’s injuries. Surveillance tape of an injury victim failing to follow physical restrictions or limitations can be devastating to the claim. 6. Full disclosure to your healthcare provider is important. Report prior similar injuries to your doctor. We recognize that on initial in-take forms prior similar injuries are often inadvertently left off or forgotten; however, in the hands of a crafty insurance defense lawyer such an omission can be used against you. Also, remember the insurance company has access to your entire health insurance claim history and may already know about a prior similar injury. As a rule, if you are not sure whether or not it’s important…disclose it and let the doctor decide.