Steps to Take in the Aftermath of an Accident
Accidents add a great deal of inconvenience to your life. Not only do they limit your immediate plans for the day, but they can also lead to further limitations that may linger long after the accident itself. Worse, many victims have no idea what steps to take in the immediate aftermath of an accident. If you suffered serious injuries during an accident, especially an accident due to someone else’s negligence, you should take these critical steps as soon as possible to protect yourself and your finances.
What to do at the Scene of the Accident
From the moment you suffer injuries, you need to take the right steps to protect yourself. Your first instinct may involve hopping to your feet, embarrassed, and insist that you suffered no injuries. You may find yourself hobbling out of the store or away from the accident site to protect your dignity. Unfortunately, that will do nothing to protect your finances, your health, or your rights following an accident. Instead, follow these key steps.
1. Evaluate Your Injuries
As soon as you suffer an accident, carefully evaluate yourself for injuries. Even a simple slip and fall can result in broken bones, traumatic brain damage, or paralysis, depending on the extent of your injuries. If you need medical attention, seek it as soon as possible. Some injuries will require only a quick visit to an urgent care center or the emergency room. Other injuries may require more long-term medical attention, including hospitalization and surgeries. In the case of severe injuries, you may realize quickly, either at the time of the accident or as the adrenaline wears off, that you need immediate medical attention. Other injuries, however, may take longer to show up. An evaluation by an experienced medical team can provide more information about potential injuries.
2. Report the Accident.
In the case of a car accident, when you call 911 to summon an ambulance, you will also notify the police of the accident. The police will write a report concerning the accident and your injuries, potentially including the officer’s opinion regarding fault in the accident. If you suffer injury somewhere other than on the road, however, you may need to take different measures. In a store, for example, you might report the accident to the store manager or to an employee. The store may have very specific procedures involving accidents and reports, which you should follow carefully.
In the case of an accident at work, you will need to follow your company’s workers’ compensation procedures to seek compensation for your injuries. Your company may require you to report an injury immediately to receive compensation. You may also need to use specific medical providers for your care to protect yourself and the company. Make sure you understand the company’s policies and procedures for reporting an injury.
3. Document the Scene of the Accident.
When you suffer serious injuries, you may not have the ability to move around the accident scene. Sometimes, however, you can move around enough—or utilize the assistance of someone else at the scene of the accident—to document the accident. Start by taking contact information from any witnesses, who can speak for you if your case goes to court or if you need proof of how the accident occurred. In an auto accident, you will also want to take photos of the other driver’s license and insurance information so that you can refer back to that information later. You may also want to take photos of:
- Any features of the area that contributed to your accident.
- Anything that broke as a result of the accident.
- Your injuries.
- The vehicles involved in the accident, in the case of an auto accident.
- The item that caused your injuries. In a construction accident, for example, this could include a piece of equipment. If an item falls off a tall shelf in a store, causing traumatic brain injury or spinal cord damage, take photos of that item.
4. Watch Your Language Carefully.
Many people fall into the trap of acting too polite after a serious accident with injuries. You might, for example, make statements like, “Oh, it wasn’t your fault!” or, “No, I’m fine, really.” Unfortunately, while these statements may temporarily alleviate guilt for the parties involved, they can also create issues for you down the road—especially if you make statements that could indicate that you believe you are responsible for the accident. While adrenaline may take over after an accident, do your best to watch your words with care. Using the right language can go a long way toward protecting your rights following an accident.
What to Do After the Accident
Often, at the scene of the accident, things move so fast that you have little time to react. Before you have a chance to think things through, an ambulance may be rushing you to the hospital, where you will receive important information about your injuries. During this process, you should continue to protect your rights by taking the following steps.
5. Start tracking all of your medical information.
When you suffer serious injuries, you may have a lot of information thrown at you in a short time. Many accident victims feel overwhelmed by all of that information. You will receive documentation concerning your injuries, information sheets about how to manage your recovery, and copies of medical reports and scans. Keep track of all of these documents.
Take notes when you speak with your doctor. In many cases, those notes can provide vital information when you look back at them later. You should also start a file with all of the handouts and other paperwork that the hospital offers you.
6. Start a file for all of your bills.
Recovering from an accident involves many expenses—some of them related to your injuries, some of them not. When you seek compensation from the party responsible for your injuries, you will want to provide your lawyer with an accurate report of your expenses. Start a file that includes all of your bills after the accident, including:
- Medical costs
- Transportation expenses
- The cost of repairs to personal property damaged in the accident
- The cost of any modifications to your home or vehicle to account for long-term injuries
When you need to sit down and list out those expenses, you may struggle to remember all of them. By starting a record of all of those expenses, however, you can provide a more accurate account of exactly what your accident has cost you.
7. Write out or record your statement about the accident.
Memory adapts and changes quickly. Each time you recall an event, you may discover that it becomes a little dimmer. Some accident victims find that their memories of the accidents start fading very quickly, partially due to the trauma associated with the accident. Others find that, while some details of the accidents stand out in their minds, they cannot remember the moments immediately before or after the accident at all. Make sure that you write down or record an audio version of your statement as soon as possible. Include as many details as you can remember immediately after the accident. The sooner you create this statement, the greater the likelihood that it will accurately represent your perception of events.
8. Contact your auto insurance company, if needed.
Any time you suffer serious injuries in an auto accident, even if you were not driving at the time of the accident, you need to contact your car insurance company. If your vehicle suffered damage in the accident, especially if the insurance company totals the vehicle, you may need to change or close your insurance policy. Even if you were not driving at the time of the accident—if you suffered injuries as a pedestrian or while riding a bicycle, for example—you should still notify your insurance company about the accident. Often, your insurance company will let you know how to proceed after the accident, including when you should report it, who you should report it to, and what documentation you will need to get compensation for your injuries. Your insurance company can also answer many of your initial questions about the accident.
9. Get in touch with a lawyer.
If you suffered serious injuries in an accident due to another party’s negligence, you may need an attorney to work on your behalf. While you do not necessarily need to contact an attorney while still waiting for the ambulance to arrive, ideally, you should contact an attorney to represent you as soon as possible. Having an attorney on your side can:
Give you insight into what compensation you should expect for your injuries. The compensation you receive for your injuries will vary based on the extent of your injuries and how much coverage the responsible party carries. By talking with an attorney, however, you can get a better idea of how much compensation you should expect.
Seek evidence to help prove who caused your injuries. In some cases, anyone can see what led to your accident and, therefore, who bears responsibility. In other cases, however, you may find it difficult to fully identify the responsible party. In the case of an auto accident, for example, you may discover that a drunk driver shares liability with the bar or restaurant that over-served them. If a faulty stair in a store led to a slip and fall, the store may share liability with a contractor who failed to properly repair the stair. When you work with an attorney, you will get a better idea of who shares responsibility in your specific accident, which can help you seek compensation from the right party or parties. An attorney can also help find any evidence that will help prove who caused your injuries, including:
- Seeking witness statements
- Taking photos of the area around the accident scene, if needed
- Connecting with expert witnesses who can help reconstruct the scene of the accident or provide valuable information about what treatment you should have expected, as in the case of medical malpractice
Negotiate on your behalf. Many individuals who suffer serious injuries in accidents find that they can significantly increase the compensation they receive for their injuries just by having a lawyer on their side. Others find that their lawyers can negotiate on their behalf, raising the amount the insurance company offers as well as eliminating the stress that can accompany this negotiation process.
Provide you with valuable advice about how to proceed following the accident. Many things can limit the compensation you receive after a serious accident, including how you communicate with the insurance company. Your social media posts can even work to reduce the compensation you receive. When you work with an attorney, however, you will receive valuable advice about how to handle yourself immediately after the accident and as your claim drags on, which may ultimately ensure that you receive compensation for the full cost of your injuries.
10. Be careful of your communications with the insurance company.
Oftentimes, the insurance company that covers the responsible party will get in touch with you immediately after the accident to offer compensation for your injuries. Usually, this offer will fail to fully compensate you for the full cost of your injuries. Sometimes, accident victims sign and accept these offers to get cash in their hands quickly, especially as medical bills mount. Unfortunately, this could limit the compensation you ultimately receive, leaving the insurance company off the hook and you struggling to take care of your medical bills. Always consult with a personal injury attorney before accepting a settlement offer, even if you believe it fair. If you suffered a traumatic brain injury or received a prescription for pain medications, you may want someone else to monitor or assist with your communications with the insurance company.
Did you suffer serious injuries in an accident due to someone else’s negligence? If so, make sure you contact an attorney as soon as possible to help seek compensation for your injuries.