Every day, people find themselves injured due to the negligence of another, whether it be in an auto accident, at the grocery store, or walking into an office building. Illinois law allows an injured person to be compensated financially for his or her damages under those circumstances. Unfortunately, the incident that causes the injury may be traumatizing, and the injured person may find himself or herself overwhelmed and uncertain what to do next. Often, he or she does not know whether they can or should make a claim for the injuries, and does not know what steps to take to do so. Consulting with an attorney can help.
Ideally, your attorney would prefer that you, (or someone you know), takes contemporaneous photos of the scene of the accident, and jots down pertinent information, including the names and contact information of witnesses to the incident. If the accident involved motor vehicles, photos of the vehicles and the area where the accident occurred can be very helpful in evaluating a claim of negligence and presenting evidence at trial, if that becomes necessary.
However, the most important thing for you, the injured party, to do is to address your physical injuries. If your injuries require immediate medical treatment, go from the scene to the emergency room of the nearest hospital as soon as possible. If a responding law enforcement officer asks if you need an ambulance, and you feel you do, say "yes." Your health is of paramount importance; the gathering of information and evidence for a liability claim is secondary to taking steps to treat your injuries.
Gather information and evidence
For most, the question of how to proceed with a claim against a negligent party arises after initial emergency room treatment. Again, the most crucial thing to do is to obtain appropriate continuing additional medical treatment for any injuries you have suffered. If you have a physician you trust, seek treatment from that doctor and follow his or her instructions and referrals. If you do not have one, find one.
While obtaining appropriate medical treatment, you can begin to obtain information and documents that may assist you later in making a claim. The most important document, if it exists, is "the report." In the case of an auto accident, "the report" is the Illinois Motorist Report--the document provided to all parties involved in an auto accident, which must be completed and mailed to the Illinois Secretary of State. You should always keep a copy of the Illinois Motorist Report; it includes identifying information for all involved parties and witnesses, as well as insurance information for the drivers involved in the accident. Incidents other than auto accidents will not always result in an official "report." However, many businesses and property owners, (such as grocery stores or parking structures), will generate an Accident Report in some form or another. You should always ask if a report was (or will be) generated, and if so, for a copy of that report.
If you miss work as a result of your injuries or treatment, keep a log of missed time, or paid leave utilized to account for those absences. You should keep a record of other economic losses, such as cancelled vacations, plane or hotel reservations, etc.
You should also locate relevant insurance documents. In the case of an auto accident, this would include your own auto insurance policy and declarations page. If the triggering incident was not an auto accident, you should locate a copy of your homeowner's or renter's insurance policy and declarations page(s). These documents will help an attorney identify possible sources of recovery, particularly if the party at fault does not have sufficient coverage to compensate you properly.
Take periodic photos of your injuries as they heal over time, including cuts, bruises, scrapes and scars. Be prepared to deliver these photos to your attorney for his initial review of your case.
All of this information has a bearing on your claims and will assist an attorney in evaluating your case to determine whether he can assist you in obtaining fair compensation for your injuries. However, even if you are unable to obtain some or all of the documents and information discussed here, you should consider consulting with an attorney sooner, rather than later, in the process. There are significant deadlines for making negligence claims, and the sooner an attorney can review your situation, the more capable he will be to provide you with direction.
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