Steps to Take in a Car Accident's AftermathBeing in a car accident is a scary experience. But the sad fact is most people will be in at least one accident during their lives. According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were 402,592 accidents in Florida in one recent year. Of these, 2,958 crashes resulted in at least one fatality, and 166,881 involved injuries. You will want to take the right steps when it comes to your recovery and a car accident claim—they can make all the difference. If you have questions about a recent accident, contact an experienced car accident attorney.
What to Do Immediately Following an Accident: At the SceneWhen it comes to car accidents, the whole process or experience can be broken down into three stages. Before the accident, i.e. making sure you have the right coverage and avoiding accidents, at the scene of the accident, and after the accident. Today, we focus on what to do at the time of the injury and the days and weeks immediately following the accident. At the scene of the accident, your safety and gathering evidence will be your top priorities.
Move Your Vehicle Over, It's the LawIt seems like common sense, but to many drivers, it's not. The first thing you should do after an accident is remove your vehicle from the road, assuming that you can safely do so. You may think you're preserving evidence or showing the police who's at fault by keeping your car in the road, but the truth is, you're severely increasing your odds of being involved in a secondary accident. It's always important to prioritize your safety above all else. With that being said, do not leave the scene of the accident. Not only do you have a moral responsibility to check on the occupants of the other vehicle(s), but leaving the scene without checking with the other driver(s) can get you in serious legal trouble. Florida law requires all drivers involved in an accident involving property damage to pull over as close to the scene of the accident as possible.
Check for Car Accident InjuriesAccidents involving injuries accounted for over 40 percent of all accidents in Florida in 2018. Knowing this, it's important to check all occupants for injuries. If anyone has noticeable injuries or is unconscious, contact 911 right away. After you have moved your vehicle to the side of the road, check the other vehicle if you can safely do so. In a serious accident, there is no way to know whether the occupants of the other vehicle can call for help on their own.
Survey Your Surroundings and Get Information on the AccidentAfter you have made sure that everyone is okay, take a look around. Are there any hazards that may pose a risk to you or the other driver? Are you on a curve or a hill? Are you near a flammable substance or electrical line? What are the weather and lighting conditions? Once you have made sure the scene is safe, you will need to exchange information with the other driver. Information you need to get from the other driver includes:
- Contact information, at a minimum, a telephone number
- The driver's insurance information, including the policy holder's name (if different from the driver), the name of the insurance company, the policy number, and a contact number for the insurance company
- The names of any other occupants and/or witnesses
Gather Evidence on the Car AccidentEvidence will be one of the most important components of your car accident case. As a civilian, you will not be bagging evidence or asking questions. Instead, the evidence you gather will be more geared to what you would need to reconstruct an accident. The best way to do this is through photo evidence. If you have your phone on you, this means you should take pictures. A strong car accident case relies on the right pictures. You should take photos of the following:
- Damage to both vehicles
- Other property damage, including skid marks, broken or damaged barriers or signs, grooves in dirt or pavement
- The other vehicle's license plate
Contact the AuthoritiesIn Florida, the law requires you to report an accident any time that there is an injury, death, or property damage of at least $500. If you call the police, they may or may not show up at the scene of the accident. If the police come to the scene, then they will take a written report. If the police do not take a written report, then you will need to file a police report within 10 days. This report will be an important part of your car accident case, so you should request a copy from the police.
After the Accident: Once You Leave the SceneWhat you should do after an accident is just as important as what you should not do. One of the things you should not do: admit guilt. It's easy to say “I'm sorry,” or “that was my fault.” DON'T DO THIS! Doing so will make your attorney's job that much harder. Even if you think you are at fault, it's impossible to know without all the facts. There may be circumstances of which you are not aware. Another thing—don't talk to the other party's insurance, and watch what you say to your own. Insurance companies are for-profit businesses. This means they will try to get away with paying as little as possible. They will pay attention to everything you say about the accident, your injuries, and the events leading up to and after the accident. If the insurance company contacts you, you should direct all communication to your attorney. Let's take a look at the things you should do:
Go to the Doctor After a Car AccidentIt's always a good idea to be seen by a doctor after an accident. While you may think it's a good idea to wait it out, if you want to use your PIP insurance, it's best to seek treatment right away. Florida law requires accident victims to see a qualified healthcare provider within 14 days of the accident. If you fail to do so, you may not use your PIP. Additionally, you must be diagnosed with an emergency medical condition. If you do not receive this diagnosis, then you can only use $2,500 of your PIP. Unless you have a life-threatening injury, it's probably best to avoid the emergency room. Your local urgent care facility will be much more affordable and will allow you to be seen more quickly. Here are a few things to keep in mind while at the doctor:
- Be honest about your injuries: Tell your doctor about any pain you are feeling. Nothing is too big or too small. At the same time, don't exaggerate your injuries or downplay your injuries. Doing so can damage your credibility. Your medical record will be evidence in your car accident case.
- Watch what you say: As we mentioned earlier, insurance companies pay attention. They will notice if your story changes or if you admit that you weren't wearing your seatbelt. When you are at the doctor's office, it's best to pretend that a representative from the insurance company is in the room.
- Follow your doctor's advice: Patients tend to play their own doctor. People pick and choose what advice they want to listen to. This is a bad idea if you have an open car accident case. Failing to attend follow-up appointments or take medication as prescribed will cause the insurance agency to question the validity of your injuries.
Watch for Delayed SymptomsSome injuries appear right away. Other injuries won't show symptoms until days, or even weeks, after the accident. It's important to pay attention to your body for the first few months following an accident. If something feels off, it's a good idea to get it checked out. Traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries are notorious for delayed symptoms. Symptoms of traumatic brain injury include:
- Mood changes
- Loss of consciousness
- Changes in vision
- Memory problems
- Severe back pain
- Difficulty walking
- Numbness or tingling
- Loss of movement or sensation
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Difficulty breathing
Speak to an Experienced Car Accident AttorneyYou may be wondering if you really need an attorney after a car accident. The legal answer is no; the law does not require you to hire a car accident attorney after an accident. However, at a minimum, we always suggest you at least sit down with a qualified attorney for a consultation after any accident. There are a few reasons for this. First, it can be difficult to understand just how much an accident will affect you, especially if you have never been in an accident before. What may seem like minor back pain now may turn into chronic pain that causes you to miss work five years down the road. It's always a good idea to look at the big picture before making any decisions after an accident. A car accident attorney can talk to you about the actual and potential costs of your injuries as well as your legal options. Additionally, insurance companies almost always offer less favorable settlements to parties who do not have an attorney. Insurance adjusters know that most drivers do not have the knowledge to appropriately evaluate their cases and are likely eager to get a settlement and put their accidents behind them. A car accident attorney will take care of all negotiations and make sure you get what you need after an accident. The actual value of your claim will depend on:
- Medical bills, including doctor visits, surgeries, medical transport, medication, medical devices, and rehabilitation services.
- Lost wages for time missed from the date of the accident to the time you can return to work. If you cannot return to work, then your attorney will likely request future wages.
- Home modifications when serious injuries prevent you from moving around your home or doing everyday tasks. These modifications may include wheelchair ramps, handrails, lowered counters, or stairlifts.
- Pain and suffering, for the actual physical and emotional distress of an accident, including short- and long-term pain, as well as mental health issues, like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Loss of enjoyment, when your pain or injuries prevent you from participating in activities that previously brought you enjoyment.
- Loss of companionship, if your injuries interfere with your personal relationships. This may happen because of a brain injury, spinal cord injury, or mental health issues. Loss of companionship typically extends to immediate family members and spouses and may include the loss of guidance or loss of a sexual relationship.
- Wrongful death, to cover the associated costs related to the death of a loved one. This includes all reasonable costs for the burial and funeral as well as outstanding medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering.