Even the most minor accident can be a stressful occasion. The shock of the impact can trigger panic, even if you’re normally clear-headed. The addition of noticeable property damage, or worse, physical pain, can make a difficult situation even harder. Although it’s not easy, try to stay calm. Take a deep breath – and then get help.
Notify the Authorities
After an accident, call for help immediately. If you, a passenger, or another person involved in the accident seems to be seriously hurt, make sure you ask for an ambulance. It doesn’t matter how big the bill will be or how much time an emergency room visit will take – there is nothing as important as getting the appropriate medical care when you need it. If there is no sign of injuries that require immediate care, take the time now to document the accident with the authorities. When you begin pursuing your claim, you’ll be glad you did.
In the case of a vehicle accident, call the police. Even if there are witnesses to the crash, don’t assume that the other driver or a witness will call unless they tell you they are doing so. Wait for the police to arrive and speak with them regarding how the accident occurred. Police officers on the scene will typically ask for your driver’s license, registration card, and insurance policy information, so make sure you have all of these important documents on hand. Explain to the police where your vehicle was when the accident happened and what you witnessed when the collision occurred. Show the officer any visible property damage, and mention if you are feeling hurt. Of course, you don’t know the details of what injuries you have sustained at this time. Simply let the officer know that you are feeling some pain and where you are noticing the pain. You should also get the other driver’s name, contact information, and insurance information. Taking this step while the police are present can help you make sure the other driver won’t brush off your request or try to avoid giving you their information.
Don’t let the at-fault driver convince you not to call the police. You have the right to notify the police, and the other driver is required to wait until they arrive. Photo Credit: Flickr (Creative Commons license).
In the case of premises liability accidents, let the owner or maintainer of the property know of the situation immediately. On a commercial property, that may mean notifying the store or restaurant manager. Staff should complete an incident report. You may be asked to sign the report, but there is no obligation to do so, and signing such a document doesn’t benefit you. On a private residence, you presumably know your host, and he or she should be able to provide you with either the insurance policy information or the contact information for the landlord who owns the property. Though many people aren’t aware of it, you have the option of calling the police to report an accident, even if it’s not vehicle-related. The officer may or may not come into the store or private residence, but at least by notifying the police, you have the incident documented.
If the injury took place on public property – such as a park or sidewalk owned and maintained by a government entity – there may not be a contact person immediately available. In this instance, you should call the police just as you would in the event of a car accident. Particularly in outdoor settings where no surveillance cameras exist, it is too easy for an insurance company to argue that the fall for which you seek to obtain compensation didn’t happen as you reported it, or never happened at all, particularly if there are no witnesses. By notifying the police at the time the accident occurs, you have documented the event, and that will help you later on.
Collect the Evidence
When you prepare your demand for compensation, you will have to provide evidence that supports your claim. Though you don’t need to prove negligence, as you would if the case were to become a lawsuit, you will need to persuade the insurance adjuster that your version of events is truthful and that you suffered losses that entitle you to compensation. At some point, you will want to collect evidence – and there’s no time like the present, when the scene is still fresh.
What kind of evidence are you looking for?
- Photographs: Photographic evidence can be very persuasive. Take pictures of the damage to your automobile. If you or a passenger has any visible injuries, photograph those wounds, too. For future reference for both yourself and the insurance adjuster who will be assigned to your claim, take pictures of the accident scene. You want to be able to show the adjuster what your view was as you approached the site where the collision took place as well as where your car ended up after the other vehicle struck it. Take as many pictures as you can, because you may not have the opportunity to do so later. A road condition, the level of natural light, and even road hazards may no longer be the same the next time you return to the scene. If there is visible debris, like broken glass, at the scene of the accident, photograph that, too. Take pictures of any sight that may help you make the point to the insurance company that you suffered damages or that the other driver caused the collision.
- Witnesses: Did anyone other than you and the at-fault driver witness the accident? It’s common for passersby on foot or in other vehicles to notice a car crash. If so, enlist their help. Ask them to tell the police what they saw, and try to get a statement from them yourself. While these individuals are not required to get involved in your claim, many witnesses will be kind enough to help you if you ask nicely and don’t take up too much of your time. If at all possible, get witnesses to write down what they saw right after the accident happens, to prevent their memories from fading over time. Make sure you get some kind of contact information from them, such as their phone numbers or addresses as well as their full names. This will help you show that these witnesses are real people if the insurance adjuster questions the validity of your witness statements.
Not all evidence concerning how the accident occurred will be immediately available at the time of the accident. You can ask authorities on the scene when and how you can go about getting copies of police or incident reports. It’s important that you have access to all reports regarding the accident. The police report can help validate your claim in the eyes of an insurance adjuster. If the other driver received a ticket for violating the law, it strengthens your claim that he or she was at fault.
Getting a hold of police reports should be relatively simple. You can request a copy from the police department that responded to your accident. You may be able to do this in person, over the phone, or online. Be aware that you may have to pay a small fee to get a copy of this report.
If you filed a report with someone other than the police – for example, a store or dining establishment after a slip-and-fall – you may have more difficulty getting ahold of the incident report. You probably will be told that you cannot have a copy. Ask anyway. If the company refuses, send them a written demand for a copy. Unfortunately, the business may still be reluctant to provide you with the copy, but at least you have the letter for your records, showing that you requested the report and that your request was denied. If you absolutely cannot get a copy of the store’s incident report, send another letter demanding that the company preserve the incident report and all other evidence in the case.
You’re probably wondering if it’s a waste of your time to demand that a business preserve evidence that it has already refused to give you. There’s a legal reason that it’s not. If your claim were to ever go to court, the company – or defendant – would have to make its evidence available for a trial. If the defendant hasn’t preserved the evidence and you can show that you demanded it to do so, the judge or jury may make what’s called an “adverse inference,” or infer that the reason the defendant failed to preserve evidence as requested is because it would be harmful to their case. However, if you never make this demand in writing, you have no way of proving that you ever asked for evidence to be preserved. The business could then play dumb, arguing that they didn’t know the report, video surveillance tapes, or physical evidence was supposed to be saved.
Don’t Wait to Get Medical Treatment
Waiting to get medical treatment is one of the biggest mistakes that our potential clients make, and if you’re handling the claim on your own, it can dramatically decrease the amount of money you recover. If you don’t think you suffered an injury that requires urgent care, you may feel that taking an ambulance to the emergency room is unnecessary, if not downright embarrassing. It’s fine if you feel that way – but see a doctor anyway. Call your primary care provider. If he or she will not see you, which is often the case, ask for a recommendation of a doctor who does treat accident victims. Realize now that any pain you feel is likely to get worse over the days that follow. If you wait for that to happen, you not only risk exacerbating your injuries, but you could be putting your chances of recovering compensation at risk, too. To an insurance adjuster, waiting weeks to seek medical attention signifies that you were not seriously hurt and do not really deserve much compensation. So instead of trying to “tough it out” and causing yourself more problems in the long run, take care of yourself now.
How to Handle an Accident Checklist
To recap, the most important actions to take after an accident are:
- Call an ambulance for immediate medical attention (if necessary)
- Call the police or notify the property owner
- Get the other driver or at-fault party’s name, contact information, and insurance information
- Take photographs of the accident scene and all evidence
- Talk to any witnesses to get their contact information and statements
- Get medical treatment as soon as possible
- Don’t forget to get copies of the police report or request a company’s incident report
Unfortunately, the accident itself is just the start of your stress. By handling the situation calmly, alerting the right authorities, gathering evidence, and seeking medical attention early on, you are setting yourself up for making the best possible recovery and finding success in your personal injury claim.
In the confusion of an accident, victims make five common mistakes that can hurt their claim for compensation. To find out if you’ve made one of these mistakes and how you can fix the situation if so, check back soon for the next installment of How to Handle Your Own Personal Injury Claim.