You had your last hot dog and hamburger from the grill and hit the highway this Labor Day weekend. The last thing we are thinking about is a car accident, yet according to estimates from The National Safety Council, tens of thousands of accidents will happen over the weekend, more than 52,000 people will seek medical attention for injuries sustained in a car accident this weekend and nearly 500 will, unfortunately, suffer fatal injuries.
What you do immediately after getting into an accident, whether a fender bender or something far more serious, will determine if you compound or minimize your loss. As an attorney practicing in 18 states and having counseled thousands of victims over nearly three decades of legal practice, a few key steps at the scene of an accident are critical.
The truth is, when a person gets into a car accident, our first thought is to flee and get past it. Most people think that this feeling is about convenience, but this reaction is actually built into our DNA as a survival instinct.
When something traumatic happens our heart rate rises. We start pumping more oxygen into our blood and our pain receptors drop. That is why sometimes, even after getting seriously injured, we are able to walk away from an accident and do not feel the extent of the pain until later.
Car accidents are scary and chaotic. In their aftermath, everything seems to move very quickly, and many things can be forgotten. Because our minds will be racing, it may be a good idea to create a checklist to store in your glove box in case you get into an accident. This is why it is critical to be aware of some of the procedures you should follow if the worst happens.
1. No matter how small the accident, make sure to collect information and evidence.
Use your phone’s camera to take pictures of literally everything. That includes, but is not limited to, the other person’s license, insurance card, license plate, the damage to both cars, any injuries you sustained, and even some pictures of the surrounding area. It might sound excessive and even a little impolite, but without insurmountable evidence, the other driver’s insurance company has a better chance of denying responsibility, and trust me, they will try to.
2. Make sure to contact the police department, even if the other driver does.
One of the most common mistakes people make immediately following a car accident is thinking that the “honor system” is in place, and if the other driver admits fault at the scene, they and their insurance company will take responsibility for the damages. Having a police report generated at the scene will mean that there is an official record of the accident including where the officers found the vehicles, the damages observed by responding authorities, and in many cases, the reports even include the initial statements from the drivers involved. Getting the cops involved is just another way to make sure that the truth is protected and on the record, both for your insurance company and the responsible party’s.
3. Do not wait to seek medical attention.
Getting immediate medical attention isn’t just important for your health, but it’s also important for compliance with various states’ laws. In the immediate aftermath of an accident, it’s common to have elevated levels of adrenalin which might mask symptoms, causing you to think you are okay when you may have serious injuries. There are even times when it can take weeks to discover the true extent of an injury. Getting properly assessed immediately following the accident by a physician is not only important for your health and future care but also creates a backtrail of evidence that can keep the responsible driver’s insurance company from denying your claim.
4. Contact an attorney.
Too many times people call attorneys after trying, and usually failing to succeed, in representing themselves.
I usually compare it to being their own dentist — “While pulling a baby tooth is probably within your abilities, performing a root canal is definitely not.”
Insurance companies are first and foremost financial institutions with paid professionals devoted to protecting them from needing to pay out hefty claims. They will take advantage of your lack of understanding, probably push you to take a lower offer, and will try to get you to give vague, unnecessary recorded statements that could damage and compromise your potential case later on.
Your own attorney on the other hand is a dedicated experienced professional who is committed to representing you.
Many times, we feel bad about pursuing legal action against another driver, even if the other driver was at fault. What the majority of people do not realize is that the person who caused the accident will most likely only get a bump in their insurance premiums. The multi-billion-dollar insurance companies are the ones responsible for paying the costs of current and future medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other costs that were not the fault of the injured driver.
If you ever get into a car accident, make sure to first stay calm and focus on making sure that you are safe. After that, take pictures and gather evidence, contact the police, seek medical attention immediately, and make sure to contact a lawyer to help you navigate insurance companies and claims.
Unfortunately, car accidents are very common. They can cause serious injury and even death, not to mention the hassle of dealing with insurance companies. I hope this piece helps you understand what you need to do after getting into a car accident to make sure you are fully protected and compensated. Stay safe out there!
Jeff Kaufman is an Orlando-based personal injury attorney.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Labor Day is one of the worst for traffic accidents. Are you ready?