How to Set the Stage for a Fair Recovery in a Motor Vehicle Accident

Richard L. Armstrong

Written by

Personal Injury Lawyer - Plano, TX

Posted October 06, 2009

Don't Apologize

Even if you think you caused or contributed to the accident, never say so or apologize to the other party at the accident site. It's a nice sentiment to feel sorry, and you should certainly render assistance to those injured, but saying your sorry can be misconstrued as an admission of fault. If you weren't at fault and don't find out this fact till later, making an admission of any kind can and will hurt your case, especially if there are no witnesses (often the case). Even if you are at fault, admitting as much--whether directly or indirectly--can come back to haunt you where the injuries are severe. The best policy is to stick to the facts. Let the facts speak for themselves. You may ask "Are you all right?" and swap legally required information. Beyond that, mum's the word.

Always Call the Police

Yes, yes I know, some police departments say not to bother calling them unless the damage exceeds an arbitrary dollar amount. The problem is, even a scratch today usually costs over $1,000 to fix, and many folks don't realize they've been injured until they awaken with unbearable pain the next morning. In the vast majority of most motor vehicle accidents, witnesses don't bother to stop or stay around. Since in the immediate aftermath of the accident you usually don't know about any witnesses, play it safe and call the police. Granted, the police aren't eyewitnesses (the best kind), but are trained in accident reconstruction and interviewing parties involved. The lack of a written police report of the accident can really hurt your case in later negotiations with the insurance adjuster. The worst the police can say is "No". I promise you, they will never say no to showing up if you suspect there may be bodily injury or if you opine the damage to the cars is several thousand dollars.

Obtain all Witnesses' Names, Addresses, and Phone Numbers

Do this even if they appear not to be friendly to you or sympathetic to your version of events. It's better to know who they are later on so your attorney can attempt to neutralize their testimony.

Write Down Everything You Recall About the Accident

Do this as soon afterward as possible. If you are physically able, do so right away, while your memory is still fresh. If you don't recall something, it is okay, finish it up later.

If in Doubt, See a Medical Doctor, Immediately if Possible

Even if it's a weekend or holiday, if you can drive, go to a Primacare or comparable primary care facility. If you can't drive, accept the offer of an ambulance and let the hospital check you out. The reasons for this are both medical and legal. Medically, even if you're in a fender bender, wouldn't you want at a bare minimum to have a cranial X-Ray series done to check for hair line fractures? What a relief to know everything is in tact, or to be promptly treated if everything isn't! Legally, it never carries as much weight to wait for two weeks or more before deciding to see a physician. This is especially true if you see an attorney before you visit the doctor. Imagine the cross examination question from the defense attorney, "So, Mr Johnson, you only chose to visit the doctor, coincidentally, after you hired Attorney Armstrong!" Even if it ain't so, the defense will clearly imply that you only saw the doctor because your attorney told you to, and that you're not really injured.

Do Not Go To the Chiropractor

Don't misunderstand: I have nothing against chiropractors, and properly done, chiropractic treatment can be very beneficial. However, insurance adjusters tend to frown on such treatment when not done under the care of a medical doctor, for at least two reasons. First, chiropractic treatment has been known to make some spinal condition worse, rather than better, by vigorously adjusting the neck and back when a protruding, bulging or otherwise compromised disc is evidenced. An orthopedic physician can guide the administration of any chiropractic treatment to take necessary precautions. Second, the repetitive nature of most chiropractic treatment (usually weekly or more often), combined with its expense, often accumulates a large unpaid balance of medical bills before the case is brought to an attorney. Many chiropractors render these services expecting to receive payment out of eventual legal settlement. This reduces the value of the settlement unnecessarily, without correlative benefit.

What About Going to a Doctor of Osteopathy?

I have encountered no problems in clients using such doctors. The same admonitions apply to O.D.'s as to all medical professionals, that is, try to pick one who is reputable and not known for saying what an attorney would like him to say.

Keep a Daily Journal

I counsel personal injury clients from the very first day they enter my office to begin keeping a daily written record of their aches and pains, therapy, recovery and limitations on what they can do since their accident. This has actually helped me settle cases, or get an extra few thousand dollars with certain insurance adjusters who doubted the pain my client was claiming. There is something inherently more persuasive about someone who takes the trouble, day in and day out, to chronicle their daily experiences following an accident. An added advantage is that, in the event we take the case to trial, the notes can be used to reflect the injured victim's recollection of events on the witness stand. The human mind was created to tend to forget pain. That is a good thing for most applications, but in personal injury it is a bad thing: we tend to forget how awful the pain really was when we are sitting in a court room years after the accident. That's why it is so important to keep notes.

Take Color Photographs (Preferably Digital) of Your Car and Any Injuries

The sooner this can be done, the better it will be for your case. I guarantee you, the insurance adjuster will be doing it very soon, and you want to have this evidence before he does. The car may be towed to a wrecking yard or body shop where you don't have easy access, so get the pictures while you can. Take a whole roll of film from several angles, inside and outside of the vehicle. Take pictures (or have them taken) of your wounds before they begin to heal. It may be gruesome, but will help later on. Video is not a bad idea, particularly if the injuries affect your normal functioning, i.e., walking or standing, talking, etc. Preserve the film or tape carefully for your attorney.

Never, Ever, Speak To An Insurance Adjuster Without Your Attorney Present.

I have talked to countless accident victims who unknowingly sabotaged their own claim by speaking to an insurance adjuster who just wanted "a moment of your time to get some facts." Most such statements are tape recorded, and are usually the second piece of evidence the attorney gets, after an incident or accident report. The problem is that savvy insurance adjusters are trained to get this statement almost immediately after the accident, when most injury victims have not yet consulted an attorney. Sometimes there is no harm done, if all the facts are on the victim's side. Just as often, however, the facts are ambiguous or against the victim. In such cases, critical but unknowing admissions are made which cannot be taken back. If the tape is later played to a jury or in a deposition, it will be difficult or impossible to refute the statement, which was made when the accident was so fresh in the victim's mind. An attorney's presence discourages the adjuster from taking advantage.

Additional Resources

Rate this guide

About this lawyer

Richard L. Armstrong
Richard Armstrong has been practicing law for 34 years and has been on Avvo since 2009.

Related Topics

Types of personal injuries

There are many types of personal injuries for which financial damages can be awarded, including physical, emotional, and psychological injuries.

Featured Legal Guides

Questions? An attorney can help.

Ask a Question
Free & anonymous.
Find a Lawyer
Free. No commitment.