Medical CareThe first priority after any car accident is to seek appropriate emergency and follow-up medical care. This is a must. No one involved in a car accident should ever make the tragic mistake of assuming they are okay and skipping medical care that could save their lives. There are so many reasons this is important, they're almost too numerous to count. But here are the three most important ones:
- Your health depends on it. Obviously. Only a doctor can tell you with any degree of certainty whether you have sustained injuries in a car accident, and if so what treatment is appropriate. You cannot trust yourself to be your own doctor. Some injuries do not show immediate symptoms. Others have symptoms that could be mistaken for something else. Do not run the risk of making an injury worse by failing to seek appropriate care.
- Your insurance coverage depends on it. Florida is a so-called no fault insurance state. An owner of a car registered in Florida must carry no fault insurance coverage that includes “personal injury protection.” This is the insurance coverage you must turn to first to pay for medical expenses related to a car accident injury. And, to get the benefits of this insurance, you must seek medical attention within 14 days of the accident in nearly all cases. Failing to get care can not only cause you to lose your “no fault” coverage, it could result in you losing all insurance coverage and other legal rights you have to compensation.
- Your legal rights depend on it. Setting aside insurance considerations, seeing a doctor is also critical to preserving your ability to seek compensation from the person(s) who caused your car accident injury. Seeing a doctor generates medical records. Those medical records become crucial evidence of the connection between your car accident and your injury.
InsuranceAs we said above, after a Florida car accident you must seek medical care within 14 days to preserve your rights under your mandatory “no fault” insurance coverage. That should be your first insurance-related priority. In addition, you may have obligations to put insurance companies on notice of an accident. You likely carry collision damage coverage on your car, and may have an obligation to notify your insurer of any damage done to your vehicle and any covered personal property. If you carry health insurance, it is a good idea to notify your carrier that you have received medical care. Many health insurance plans will cover your medical care for car accident related injuries as “secondary” insurance that takes effect if your medical expenses exceed the limit of your primary “no fault” coverage. Some people also carry long-term disability insurance, such as AFLAC, that covers certain expenses if a car accident injury causes you to miss work. You may also need to put that insurance carrier on notice of any disabling injury. If a car accident injury happened while you were driving a vehicle for work, you will need to notify your employer right away about your injury, so that your employer can in turn report your injury to the workers' compensation insurance carrier that covers you at work. Virtually all Florida employers must carry workers' compensation insurance, which covers medical expenses for work-related injuries. In conversation with all of the insurance carriers above, avoid saying anything that someone could interpret as you taking the blame for your injuries. Communicate only the fact that an accident happened and the nature of your injury. Leave any discussion of “fault” out of it for now. Finally, a representative from an insurance company that insures someone else involved in the accident may contact you. Be very careful if that happens. The only reason an insurance company covering someone else would reach out to you is to try to limit its financial exposure to the car accident. The representative who calls from that company is not your friend, and does not have your interests at heart. Decline to speak with anyone else's insurance carrier and seek the advice of an attorney (see below).
FinancesCar accident injuries often cause immediate, severe financial crises for victims and their families. The accident may destroy the victim's sole mode of transportation. It may leave the victim out of work for an extended period of time. And it may generate large expenses the victim has no ability to pay. In the long term, insurance may cover some costs. So might compensation from “at fault” parties. But in the immediate time period after suffering a car accident injury, it is important to take stock financially. What resources do you have to pay needed expenses immediately? How long can you hold out money-wise if a car accident injury keeps you or your loved out of work for a week/month/more? What bills do you absolutely need to be able to pay to avoid total disaster, and which can you leave unpaid for now without serious consequence? Taking a financial snapshot as soon as possible after a car accident injury helps in these ways:
- Protects your priorities. The aftermath of a car accident is a chaotic time. Taking stock financially ensures you pay the bills you need to pay, and don't regret paying expenses that weren't critical.
- Feeling in control. So many aspects of life immediately after a car accident can feel out of your control. Deciding what bills you can pay and preparing a clear picture of your finances gives you something to focus your energy and attention on.
- Clarifies needs. Knowing how long you can hold out and when your financial condition may become extremely dire helps you and (eventually) your lawyer decide on a course of action that best meets your needs.
Emotional HealthSuffering an injury in a car accident is stressful for the victim and the victim's family. In the aftermath of a car accident, it is important to take steps to maintain a healthy frame of mind. Spend time with friends. Get exercise. To the extent possible, take time out of your day for yourself. If it helps, see a mental health professional. In short, do what you need to do to remain grounded and able to make potentially important decisions.
WorkStay in contact with your employer about what happened. Do not risk losing a job you might otherwise have kept if only your employer knew why you didn't come into work in the days after an accident. If you can line up someone to cover for you, all the better, but obviously that's not always possible. The important thing is not to leave your employer in the dark about your accident (and obviously, if the accident happened during work, tell your employer about it for workers' compensation reasons).
Evidence PreservationLots of websites will tell you to become a forensic detective at the scene of your car accident, taking pictures of tire marks and vehicle damages, and collecting contact information from other motorists and eyewitnesses. If you can do this, then do. But if you can't, the priority should simply be to make sure evidence that could disappear, doesn't. Here are some items of evidence you can ask friends or family to help you preserve:
- Security camera footage. These days, many businesses have security cameras. Those cameras frequently capture car accidents that happen on the street outside of the business, even though the cameras' purpose is not to watch for accidents necessarily. This footage can provide valuable evidence of the cause of an accident, but only if someone acts quickly to preserve it. Ask someone to go to the business and to request the footage doesn't get deleted or destroyed.
- Accident scene features. Some characteristics of an accident scene might prove crucially important in proving who caused your injuries. Send someone to take some shots with their phone in the days after the accident, at the time of day the accident occurred, paying close attention to tire marks, visual obstructions, and any damage to barriers or other road features caused by the accident.
- Vehicle damage. You need your car, obviously. But after a car accident, your car may also constitute a critical piece of evidence pointing at who has fault for your injuries. At a bare minimum, it is critical to have the damage to the vehicle fully photographed and documented before making any repairs. If possible, it's better still not to repair the vehicle at all, at least not until you have spoken with an attorney.
- Paperwork. You will likely start to receive a flood of paperwork in the mail or by email after you sustain injuries in a car accident, mostly related to your medical care and insurance. Keep all of it in a safe place. It's great if you can organize it, but just making sure nothing gets thrown away is the top priority.
Legal HelpSpeak with a lawyer as soon as you can after a car accident. An initial consultation with an experienced Florida car accident attorney is free, confidential, and comes with no obligation on your part. There is no such thing as talking to an attorney “too soon.” The purpose of speaking with an attorney as soon as possible is to make the most of your potential legal rights to compensation for your car accident injuries. With every day that passes, the chances rise that critical evidence will disappear, memories will fade, and parties with legal liability will go out of business or try to avoid their obligations to you. Find an attorney with the following characteristics:
- Commitment to client service. Life after a car accident injury is difficult enough. You don't need to make it worse by contending with an attorney who lacks a “personal touch.” Go with someone who inspires trust, responds to your questions, and makes you feel comfortable.
- Reputation as a trial lawyer. To obtain the maximum compensation you deserve for your car accident injuries, hire an attorney with a reputation for winning in the courtroom. Most cases never go to trial. But if defense attorneys and insurance companies think your attorney would prefer to avoid the courtroom, then the size of the settlements they are willing to offer will decline. Trial attorneys, in contrast, can make a stronger case for top-dollar settlements.
- Track record of success in car accident cases. You wouldn't hire an eye doctor to do foot surgery. Insist on an attorney who can demonstrate a history of successfully representing clients in car accident cases like yours. There are no guarantees in car accident cases, but a track record of success gives you peace of mind that your legal team has the experience and resources to get you paid every penny you deserve.