What would you put in the above caption? “I’m soooo sorry! It was all my fault!” Or perhaps, “What were you thinking! This is all your fault!” The steps taken immediately following an accident can have far reaching consequences for an injured party. The following article is a list of Do’s and Don’ts for anyone involved in an accident.
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(The following information is courtesy of the Illinois Bar Association)
If you are injured because of someone else’s negligence or a product malfunction, it’s important to know what to do and what not to do at the time of the injury and beyond. The following Do’s and Don’ts will guide you as you build your case for full financial recovery.
- Exchange insurance information with others involved. Also, try to gather names, phone numbers and addresses for all potential witnesses. Give this information to the investigating officer as well as your personal injury lawyer, and keep a copy for yourself.
- Take photos or videos of your injuries, any property damage and the scene of the accident. The burden is on you in a personal injury suit to prove all of the elements of your case, and every bit of evidence you collect can be helpful. Remember also to continue taking photos as your treatment progresses.
- Preserve evidence; keep copies of everything. Preserving evidence is your responsibility, and a good photograph can make all the difference in your case. Remember that as time passes, evidence can disappear and witnesses’ memories can fade. It may be months or sometimes years before your case gets to court, and trying to convey the seriousness of your injuries to a jury without photographs or video can be an extremely difficult task.
- Obtain names, phone numbers and addresses for all potential witnesses. It may also be necessary to have your friends, neighbors or co-workers testify regarding your disability, pain and suffering. Give this contact information to your lawyer, and be sure to keep a copy for yourself.
- Report your accident immediately to your insurance company and, where appropriate, call the police. Failure to report an accident or injury in a timely manner can cause your injury claim to be denied.
- Seek immediate medical attention. It is in your best interest to tell your doctor everything, so that all injuries can be diagnosed and treated properly. Also, be sure to provide your lawyer with a complete list of all doctors that have treated you, as well as all prescriptions and medications you have taken, related to the accident.
- Consult an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. Your lawyer will guide you through the important steps to take at every stage of injury and recovery to maximize your right to financial compensation. Lawyers bring in-depth knowledge and experience with legal doctrines, insurance contracts and regulations, as well as court room procedure. He or she will use this knowledge to protect your interests.
- Keep a journal. This will help down the road to remember details of your complaints, as well as your recovery process. Be sure to keep an accurate record of all dates lost from work due to your injuries.
- Get estimates on any damaged equipment or property from the accident. Give these estimates to your lawyer, who will share them with the negligent party’s insurance company.
- Maintain accurate tax returns. If you claim lost income because of the accident, your past tax returns must be in good order. If not, you could put yourself in a bad position, not only with the IRS, but with your credibility on the witness stand.
- Delay medical treatment. This tends to undermine your injury claim. If your injury is not serious enough to see a doctor, then it likely will not be viewed as serious enough to warrant financial compensation.
- Exaggerate or misrepresent your accident, injuries or activity level. If your doctor’s records vary from the way the accident or injuries are described in the police report or other statements, the insurance company can use this discrepancy to make you appear untruthful. Additionally, insurance companies are very knowledgeable about the types and severity of injuries from various accidents. If you exaggerate your injuries, it can cast a shadow of doubt on your entire case, and make it very difficult to pursue.
- Ignore your doctor’s advice. If you miss too many doctor’s appointments or stop treatment altogether, you appear as though your injury is not worthy of serious consideration.
- Delay seeking legal advice. The first few days after an accident are the most important. You may be bombarded by calls from insurance adjusters and investigators. It is at this time when many people say or do something that could hurt their case. A lawyer can handle the opposing side’s questions, while you focus on recovery.
- Give written statements or recorded interviews, except under the advice of your lawyer. One of the first things insurance adjusters do is try to obtain recorded statements from the injured claimants. Know that you are not required to provide information or give a written or oral statement to an insurance company or investigator who represents the party that injured you, despite what they may tell you. It’s better to have your lawyer contact them directly.
- Note: This does not apply to your insurance company. You have an obligation to cooperate with your insurance company, and that includes providing them with a statement about the incident.
- Sign documents or medical authorizations. Many times the insurance adjuster will ask you to sign a medical authorization permitting access to your medical records. As a general rule, you should never sign anything until you have consulted with a lawyer so that the document can be carefully reviewed and explained to you.
- Settle your case until you know the extent of your injuries. You, and sometimes your spouse, are entitled to compensation of all medical expenses resulting from your injury, and some symptoms or conditions may not appear right away. For example, if you have a concussion, you should not settle for at least six months.
- Lie or hide evidence or past accidents from your lawyer. Share all relevant information about your medical history, any previous accident claims, and anything that might (in any way) affect your case, so your lawyer can be prepared to address any issues that may come up in your case.
- Discuss the accident with the opposing side, their attorney or an insurance agent, adjuster or investigator, until you know your rights. Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. Do not allow your words be taken out of context.
- Post pictures or comments about your case on Facebook, Twitter or other social networks. The other side’s attorneys might request these postings. You are better off keeping the details of your case between you and your lawyer.