This legal guide will help injury victims from making mistakes others have made. It will also provide helpful tips for documenting your case better, which may lead to a better settlement or verdict.
In most cases, the individual or company responsible for your injury will have all the resources of an insurance company and perhaps others, including investigators and attorneys, working on their behalf from the moment the incident occur. These individuals will investigate the circumstances surrounding your injury and do everything necessary to limit or prevent you from obtaining just compensation for your injuries.
Contact an attorney as soon as possible after a collision or incident occurs. In almost every case there are a number of steps that have to take place immediately after a personal injury. Some steps include the following:
- Interviewing witnesses
- Gathering & preserving physical evidence
- Obtaining photographic/videographic evidence
- Hiring experts or investigators
- Contacting insurance companies
It is vitally important that you take certain steps to protect your rights. The most important thing you can do is at least seek a free consultation.
Don't Discuss Your Case with Insurance Companies or Their "Investigators"
In the case of a car accident, after a collision occurs you will be contacted by a representative from the at-fault party's insurance company or its investigator. They may inform you that they are merely gathering information about the incident or claim and that you "need" to talk to them in order to evaluate the claim. DO NOT DISCUSS THE INCIDENT OR ANYTHING ELSE WITH THESE INDIVIDUALS. 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 tell you. If such a person contacts you, inform them that you will not discuss anything with them, but that if they provide you with their name and phone number you will have your attorney contact them directly.
Note that this rule does not apply to your own insurance company. Under most policies issued in the U.S., you have an obligation to cooperate with your insurance company, and that includes providing them with a statement about the incident.
Don't Sign Anything Without Consulting an Attorney
In an effort to take advantage of injured victims of collisions, insurance companies and others will often try to get you to sign releases or waivers after you have been injured without fully explaining the effect of the document. As a general rule, you should never sign any document about a collision or incident until you have consulted with an attorney so that the document can be carefully reviewed and explained to you.
Generally, Do Not Try to Negotiate with an Insurance Company or At-Fault Party Without an Attorney
Whenever someone has been seriously injured, it is imperative that you consult with an attorney before trying to negotiate a settlement with an at-fault party or their insurance company. Often times, victims will attempt to negotiate with an insurance company before consulting an attorney because they believe an attorney will cost too much money and that they can recover more on their own. In general, this is a dangerous misconception.
Almost without exception, an insurance company will refuse to pay the full value of your case until an attorney is involved who will thoroughly evaluate the responsibility of those who have injured you and the extent of your past and future damages. Often times, additional medical care will be needed in the future and experts may be needed to evaluate the costs of this treatment. In addition, your ability to return to work may be affected by a collision, and you are entitled to recover for any future lost wages that you may incur.
Seek Legal advice
Without the advice of an attorney, you will be at a significant disadvantage when dealing with an insurance company, and the best protection is a skilled and professional attorney. Negotiating with an insurance company before consulting with an attorney can hurt your case in a number of ways. First, information may be provided to the insurance company which should not be given. Second, the insurance company will try to discover how much you believe the case is worth, when that evaluation requires significant study and examination based upon the nature of the injuries and the misconduct of the at-fault party. Finally, the insurance company will often try to take advantage of the fact that you do not have an attorney by offering you significantly less that you deserve, and stating that no more can be offered.
Document/Photograph Important Evidence
When a serious injury occurs, there are often many issues that require immediate attention of the victim and their family: medical treatment and recovery, medical bills and expenses, lost time work, etc. It is important, however, that someone -- a friend, a family member -- try to take responsibility for documenting the immediate effects of the collision for use down the road. In most cases, the immediate injuries will heal over time. Trying to convey the seriousness of the injuries to a jury months or years later without photographs or video is an extremely difficult task. In addition, photographic evidence of property damage, vehicles, collision scenes, etc. are of vital importance to your case. Please photograph or otherwise document physical injuries and other evidence as quickly as possible after a collision occurs. Adjust the lighting to ensure the best possible results.
Write Down Important Information, Names, Dates, Times, Events, etc.
It is important that you record information about the event that you are likely to forget months or years later. Names, times and dates, events and statements often blur with time. These facts are often the most important pieces of evidence in a case. Attempt to obtain statements about what happened, when it happened, who said what, etc.
Save Important Documents
Depending on the type of case you have, there may be important correspondence or other documents that you have that must be kept and preserved. Some examples include:
- Medical bills
- Documents from doctors and hospitals
- Letters from individuals responsible for your injury
- Letters from insurance companies
- Emails or other correspondence from witnesses
- Police reports or witness statements
- Hand written notes
Each of these documents should be kept together in a safe place. Make sure that the folder or box containing these documents is well marked and that access to those documents is limited. Ensure that you store these documents in a location that is easy for you to remember and get to, and let someone close to you (spouse, parent, etc.) know where these records are kept. I sincerely hope this information is helpful.