Being involved in a car accident can be a scary experience, one you hopefully never have to endure. However, Pennsylvania has more than 120,000 miles of roads and highways where more than 125,000 motor vehicle accidents occur each year. You might experience a car crash someday, and hopefully not one that causes you severe harm. If you get in a car accident, you need to know the best ways to respond in the minutes, hours, and days following the accident.
Below you will find a guide of the things you should do in the wake of a car accident. We understand that the cause of the accident and the severity of the accident might prevent you from being able to complete everything, but you should do what you can. We also write this guide for those who can help their loved ones who have suffered severe or catastrophic injuries in a car accident. The steps you take after a car accident lawyer can impact your life for years to come, so it’s crucial to make the right choices.
Put Your Health and Safety First
In the immediate seconds after a car accident occurs, it’s likely someone will call 911 to make sure emergency response teams come to the scene. During this time, you need to balance your personal needs with doing what you can to help make an insurance claim and lawsuit go smoothly. Many times these goals align, but when they don’t, you need to always put your health and safety first. The adrenaline that rushes into your system after a car accident might prevent you from feeling pain, even if you’re injured. If you can safely move your car out of traffic, you should do so and wait for medical teams to arrive. Do not leave the scene of the accident.
If the car accident occurs at high speeds, you will likely suffer severe injuries and paramedics will immediately transport you to the nearest emergency room. If you are lucky enough to walk away from a severe accident, you still need to seek medical attention. Some injuries, such as whiplash or traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), don’t present symptoms for hours or days after the accident.
A doctor can document any visible or internal injuries, making them a part of your medical record. This provides valuable leverage for insurance companies, who often try to devalue claims by downplaying injuries. In the event you file a personal injury lawsuit against an at-fault driver, medical documentation also serves as evidence of your injury for the court.
Get Information From Others Involved
After you suffer a car accident injury, you should try to get information, or have a passenger who is physically able if you are unable to do so, from the driver who struck your car. The police will also gather contact information when they arrive at the scene, so it’s okay if you aren’t able. But it’s best if you can double-check law enforcement’s information, in case they missed something.
You should ask for the driver’s name, address, email, phone, and insurance information. Also, make sure to note the make and model of the other vehicle and the license plate number. If more than one vehicle was involved in the accident, you should also get info from the other drivers, and any adult passengers in other vehicles. Sometimes, people stop to help when they see a car accident occur. If this happens after your accident, make sure to get their contact information, so the police can take a witness statement.
Although it’s in your best interest to gather contact information, make sure you don’t talk too much. Don’t admit even partial fault in the car accident. Pennsylvania is a no-fault state, so it doesn’t matter for minor fender-benders. Yet, if you have been injured severely, it’s likely you will need to sue the at-fault driver once you have met or exceeded personal injury protection (PIP) coverage limits. At this point, fault will factor into financial liability, and anything you say might give the insurance company a reason to devalue your claim. Keep your discussions about fault between you and your trusted attorney.
Photograph the Accident Scene
If you are physically able to move after your car accident injury, use your mobile phone to take pictures or video of the accident scene. This will help provide evidence for insurance claims and leverage for negotiations, as well as evidence for the court if your car accident claim goes to trial. Take photos of any property damage to your vehicle, the at-fault driver’s vehicle, or any other vehicles involved in the accident.
Also, take videos of any visible injuries you or your passengers suffered in the accident. You can take a photo of the license plate, too, if you didn’t record it when you were gathering contact information. The circumstances of your car accident and the severity of your injuries might prevent you from getting photographs at the scene, but if you’re able, it should be a priority. Once city or highway maintenance crews show up, you might lose valuable evidence that can support your case when they clear away the debris from the accident.
Take Note of Road and Weather Conditions
Law enforcement typically records the time, location, road conditions, and weather conditions at the time of the accident in the police report, but you should also make note just in case the police get it wrong. Record any hazards you notice that might have led to the accident, as well as road conditions, such as icy or snow-packed roads. This can help support your case if the at-fault driver was driving too fast for conditions.
You should also take note of the condition of the at-fault driver. Does he or she smell like alcohol? Does he or she appear to be impaired? Record anything you think might be useful for an insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit. Your attorney will advise you on what items might help your case.
Get a Copy of the Police Report
It’s not common for the police officers to finish their report at the scene of the accident; you should expect it to take a few days. Ask the officer when it might be available, so you can get a copy of the final report as soon as possible. If Philadelphia Police arrived at the scene of your accident, you can request a copy of the report in-person or via snail mail.
If the officer took photos at the scene, you can also request a copy of those for a fee. Police reports are necessary, so you can verify the information the officer reported from the scene against any information you gathered at the scene. If you find an error, you should contact the officer who filled out the report immediately to inform him or her of the mistake. Police reports also serve as evidence for your car accident claim because it places you at the scene of the accident. This makes it much harder for an insurance company or legal defense team to claim that your injury came from another event or place.
File an Insurance Claim
Pennsylvania is a no-fault insurance claim, which means that you must file a claim with your own auto insurance carrier as soon as possible after a car accident injury unless you opted out of the state’s no-fault system. Pennsylvania is unique to other no-fault states because it allows drivers to purchase full tort coverage auto insurance. In either case, you need to file a claim as soon as you are able. If you have the minimum medical benefits coverage of $5,000 for limited tort coverage, it’s likely your car accident injury will quickly exceed this limit.
The driver who caused your car accident might not file a claim with his or her insurance company. Maybe he or she is uninsured or not injured. Yet, most insurance companies require drivers to file a claim whenever bodily injury might have occurred. Just in case the other driver isn’t forthcoming, you should contact his or her insurance company if you have the information. Do not offer details of your accident; only inform the company of the event and your injury.
It’s in your best interest to let your lawyer communicate with all insurance companies, so you can avoid making any damaging statements that the company may use to devalue your claim in the future.
Keep a Daily Journal
In the days, weeks, and months after experiencing a car accident injury, you should keep a daily journal to document your physical and emotional struggles with your injury. You should take photos of visible injuries at least a few times per week to add to your journal, especially when a significant change occurs. If your child, spouse, or another loved one has suffered a car accident injury, you can document their progression for him or her. A daily journal serves as evidence of injuries that heal, those that don’t, and those that get worse.
You obviously cannot provide photos of internal injuries, so you need to include how you physically feel in your journal. Car accident victims can also suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from accidents, which can lead to depression, anxiety, and a wide array of other mental health struggles. You should openly record any and all feelings about the emotional distress you feel in your daily journal. This provides your attorney and the court documentation for non-economic losses and damages, making it easier for the court to compensate you for pain and suffering, loss of quality of life, and others specific to your case. Your journal also gives your lawyer another tool to aid in negotiating a settlement.
Keep All Medical Bills and Receipts
After suffering a car accident injury, it’s crucial to keep records of all economic losses related to the accident and your injury. You will have medical expenses for ambulance and emergency services, a hospital stay, diagnostic imaging, prescriptions, and aftercare, as well as travel expenses to and from the hospital. If your car accident results in a catastrophic injury, your medical costs might include visits to physical therapists or occupational therapists, wheelchairs and other assistive devices, and long-term nursing care.
Additionally, your family might need to employ replacement services to help out with things you used to do around the house. Examples include outside maintenance, cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping. You might also need to modify your home to make it more accessible, especially in the event your injury resulted in a permanent disability. Some common home modifications include building a wheelchair ramp, installing handrails in bathroom and shower areas, and purchasing a hospital-grade bed for your home. All of these receipts can add to the value of your claim.
Depending on the extent of your car accident injuries, you might miss work for days or months. Those who expect a full recovery still need time to heal. You need to provide documentation for income before the car accident to account for lost wages. Also, keep records of any paid leave you took from your job, including sick time and personal days you were forced to use because of your injury. Keeping detailed records of expenses and receipts will help your attorney value your claim appropriately.
An Experienced Philadelphia Car Accident Lawyer at the Levin Firm Can Help
If you have a minor car accident, you likely don’t need to call upon an attorney, but serious car accidents resulting in severe injuries require the expertise of a car accident attorney to ensure you get compensation for the full cost of your injuries. Your attorney can investigate the accident to uncover all the relevant facts that may help support your case against the at-fault driver. This includes obtaining medical records, police reports, and other relevant documents, as well as contacting witnesses for statements. At the Levin Firm we will will also handle all communication with insurance companies to ensure they take your claim seriously.