Immediately after a car accident it is tough to think straight but avoiding these 10 post accident blunders could save you from making a bad situation worse.
1) Leave the Scene of the Accident
Sounds like a no brainer, right? But you’d be amazed at how many cases we handle each year where one of the drivers fled the scene. Regardless of the situation, knowingly leaving the scene after a car accident without first giving your name, residence and the registration number of your motor vehicle to the other driver is a crime and your chances of being caught and prosecuted are high. The reasons people leave the scene are many but some of the more common reasons are the driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, is operating without a valid license, the car they are driving is stolen or they just panicked. Whatever the case may be leaving the scene almost always makes the situation worse for the fleeing driver. If you are involved in a car accident be sure to stay calm, get to a safe area out of traffic and exchange information with the other driver(s). If you are the victim of a hit and run you may still be able to recover for your injuries under the uninsured motorist coverage of your own car insurance.
2) Not Call the Police
We handle many cases where people involved in car accidents have simply exchanged information with the other driver and never called the police. We believe this is a mistake. It makes good sense to always call 911 after a car accident regardless of how serious the accident was. Police are trained and can provide a calm presence at an accident scene to help the parties properly exchange information and assess whether any laws have been broken. Police are also good at collecting witness information from anyone who may have been present at the scene. This is all information that you may need later should you decide to pursue your legal rights. Witnesses will be more likely to speak to a police officer and provide him or her with their personal information than they are to provide strangers involved in the accident.
3) Let Your Emotions Get You in Trouble
After an accident, our adrenaline is flowing, and we are not always capable of rationale decision making. Tempers can flare, and things can go from bad to worse quickly. We have seen our share of otherwise strong cases ruined because a client made some bad choices immediately after the accident. There are few things worse for a personal injury case than when a jury gets to hear how your client completely lost his temper and either verbally or physically accosted the at fault driver. It’s hard to ask a jury to award your injured client money if they think he is guilty of road rage of some sort. Keep your cool, do what you need to do at the scene and take care of yourself if you are injured. Road rage at best can cost you your injury case, at worst it could cost you your life.
4) Fail to Get All Relevant Information at the Scene
Almost everyone now has a cell phone with a camera in it. It can be your best friend after a car accident. If conditions permit, use it to photograph what you would otherwise have to write down such as the other party’s license, registration, plate number etc. This eliminates the possibility of making an error capturing this data in writing. Also take photographs of the vehicles in the position they are in immediately after the accident. Once the vehicles are moved their resting position after the collision (which may be very important for determining who was at fault) is now subject for debate. Photograph all damage to the vehicles, skid marks, road signs, lighting etc. Once you leave the scene of an accident you'll never be able to fully re-create the conditions unless you have properly documented the scene through photographs.
5) Admit That the Accident Was Your Fault
After an accident many people instinctively apologize for the accident whether they were at fault or not. This a mistake for several reasons. First, our ability to properly assess fault after an accident is greatly diminished by the excitement of the events, the trauma we may have suffered and the fear we may have at the moment. Second, I can't tell you how many times we have seen police reports that note one party made damaging apologetic statements which are later used against the other party. It is perfectly fine (in fact recommended) to be polite and to provide any assistance possible to someone who might be injured at the scene. You can do all of that without making statements that implicate you. The determination of fault is much more complicated than most people believe and should not be assessed and apologized for at the scene.
6) Ignore Post Accident Paperwork
After a car accident there are many administrative tasks that need to be dealt with promptly and correctly in order to protect your legal rights. People are busy, and they often fail to do the things they need to do soon after an accident to preserve their rights. For example, you will need to fill out a motor vehicle accident form and get a copy of it to your insurance carrier, your local police department and the Registry of motor vehicles. If you are injured, you will need to complete a Personal Injury Protection application that will be submitted to your car insurance company so that you can collect benefits for your medical expenses and lost earnings caused by the accident. One of the best things you could do if you are injured is to promptly speak to an experienced personal injury lawyer who will take the hassle of these administrative tasks off your plate so that you can focus exclusively on getting better.
7) Speak to the Other Driver’s Insurance Company without a Lawyer
I want to be very clear here: NEVER SPEAK TO THE OTHER DRIVER’S INSURANCE COMPANY UNTIL YOU HAVE CONSULTED A LAWYER!! Your best interest is not their concern and they are looking for any way to minimize or deny your claim. That’s their job. Your job is to protect yourself. Given that competent personal injury lawyers almost always offer a free consultation, you have nothing to gain and everything to lose by having a discussion with the insurance company BEFORE talking to a lawyer.
8) Attempt to Settle Your Case without the Advice of an Attorney
Whether your injury case is small or large (a determination that should be made after consulting an attorney) you should not attempt to settle your case without a lawyer. There are very few situations in which you will be better off not retaining an attorney for a personal injury case after car accident and settling the case on your own. Insurance companies when dealing with unrepresented car accident victims will not offer you a reasonable settlement. That’s just a cold hard fact. I have been practicing law for 29 years and I have yet to see a case where a client got an offer prior to us getting involved that was not dramatically increased after we were retained. In those cases, the client netted more money even after our fees were taken into account. Insurance companies train their adjustors how to deal with (and in my opinion take advantage of) unrepresented injury victims. In fact, Allstate once hired a consulting company in an effort to boost profits, and that consulting company found that Allstate was paying represented victims 3 times more than unrepresented victims with similar injuries. The point here is to be very careful with insurance companies, their goal is profit, not full compensation for victims. Finally, to effectuate a settlement, insurance companies require you to sign a release. A release is a document that extinguishes certain legal rights you may have had once you accept a settlement. You never want to extinguish legal rights without speaking to an attorney first.
9) Hire the Wrong Injury Lawyer
Some people mistakenly believe any lawyer can handle a car accident case. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Experienced car accident lawyers understand the law that is specific to motor vehicle claims as well as the practices employed by insurance companies to minimize payments to injured victims. When you have a medical problem, you want to see a doctor who handles just your problem, not a general practitioner. The same rationale should apply if you have been injured in a car accident. You will be better served by having an attorney who is experienced in handling car accident cases. We have several cases now that came to us after a prior lawyer, who did not focus exclusively on injury work, realized the case was getting too complex and needed to refer the case to us. Sometimes the delay in getting your case to the right lawyer can hurt your chances of ultimately recovering your claim for damages. Do your homework and make sure year you hire the right injury lawyer from the beginning.
10) Put Photographs and Comments about Your Accident or Injuries on Social Media
People love their Facebook and Instagram and love to post pictures of everything! And I do mean everything. You are as likely to see a photo on social media of somebody's breakfast bagel as you are of their damaged car or the injuries they sustained in a car accident. We've had a client who was truly injured in a car accident post photographs of their ski trip a week after the accident. It didn't matter that they were only able to ski for 10 minutes before their back pain caused them to sit the rest of the day out. Sure enough, during their lawsuit don't you think those photographs came out and hurt our client’s case? They sure did. Anything you post on social media can and will be used against you. So post a picture of your kids, your dog or your delicious new recipe but please do not post pictures of anything that relates to your accident or your injuries.
Our Best Advice
The best thing you can do if you are injured in a car accident and want to be fairly compensated is to understand your legal rights before you make any decisions. Before you speak to an insurance company adjuster, sign or submit any paperwork or hire a lawyer, you owe it to yourself to get as much information as you can, so you can make a smart decision on what you need to do next. At Spada Law Group, we offer free consumer guides and videos that answer many of the questions car accident victims have. Take a look, download our free information or contact us for a free consultation. Learn what Spada Law Group is all about and how we might be the right personal injury lawyers for you.