Severe car accident injuries are costly. Accident victims find themselves saddled with medical bills for an ambulance ride and an emergency room visit at the very least. Many must remain hospitalized for days or weeks. Others might need X-rays, pain medication, surgery, aftercare, and follow up doctor visits.
Just in aggregate, car accidents cost the state millions of dollars every year. In recent years, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) estimates more than 120,000 traffic crashes have been reported each year on Pennsylvania’s roads and highways. Unfortunately, these numbers include several thousand fatalities and injuries.
When another party causes a car accident, Pennsylvania law entitles victims to receive money damages. Settlements and court awarded damages can vary greatly. Victims have little control over some of the factors which influence the financial outcome of a car accident claim, such as often the severity of their injuries.
Yet, other choices car accident victims make in the minutes, days, and weeks after a crash can change the value of their claims. This guide provides tips about the factors that impact the value of a car accident claim over which accident victims do have some degree of control. In some cases, the severity of an injury might prevent victims from taking the steps suggested below, but friends and family members can also help.
Here is how to get the most money from a car accident.
Remain at the Scene of the Accident
Pennsylvania drivers must stop at the scene of any accident in which they are involved, and must call police to the scene if the accident caused injuries, fatalities, or damage that makes a car undrivable. Drivers must also provide basic contact and vehicle registration information to other drivers and responding police officers. For all other “minor” accidents, drivers must submit a Driver’s Accident Report to local authorities within five days.
Rather than trying to determine which type of accident you were in, call 911 and summon police to any Pennsylvania car accident scene. Do not leave the scene until they arrive, conduct their standard investigation, and tell you it is okay for you to go.
Failing to stop at the scene of an accident or leaving before providing information to authorities is a crime in Pennsylvania.
Gather Information at the Scene
If you can do so safely and without getting in the way of first responders, you are free to collect information on your own as well at the accident scene. Get the contact information of other drivers and occupants involved in the accident. This will help to prevent any possible mistakes on the official crash report. Also, take photographs or video with your cell phone of every possible vantage point of the accident, to create a record of exactly what the scene looked like.
If someone commits a hit and run, and you fail to get their information, the only compensation you may get for the accident and your injuries might come from your medical benefits coverage and your uninsured motorist coverage under your own auto insurance. So, take down names, addresses, phone numbers, emails, insurance information, and vehicle information as soon as you can safely do so.
One note of caution, however: In collecting information, do not talk to others about fault for the accident or admit to having contributed to causing it. Even innocent statements you make could be used to reduce the value of a potential legal claim later on.
Obtain Witness Information
Do not limit the information you gather at the accident scene to the parties directly involved. Eyewitnesses to the accident may also have valuable information to share. If possible, collect their contact information so that you (or your attorney) can follow up with them about their recollections. Look, too, for “video” witnesses—traffic or security cameras that might have captured the accident on film—and take steps to obtain information about who operates those cameras. You may have a limited amount of time to make preserve any video footage of the accident before it gets deleted, so act quickly if possible.
Seek Medical Treatment
If you are involved in a severe car accident, you will likely go to the nearest emergency room via ambulance to receive medical treatment beyond first aid and field medicine offered by paramedics. Yet, in less severe accidents, or those which you are lucky enough to remain conscious and walk away from, you might choose to forgo medical treatment. That is almost always a mistake.
Getting the most compensation for your car accident case requires proving that the accident caused your injuries. Medical documentation of your injuries provides this proof. You might be tempted to avoid the doctor because you are only a little sore, or only have a few bumps and bruises. Many common, life-threatening car accident injuries, however, do not show symptoms for hours or days after an accident. Let a doctor examine you for these types of injuries right away to protect your health and your legal rights.
Report the Accident to Your Insurance Carrier
Even if you did not cause the car accident, you will still likely need to report the crash to your own auto insurance company, if only to inform them about the damage to your vehicle and your injuries. Most insurance policies require you to make this sort of report; failure to do so might result in cancellation of your policy or other losses of legal rights.
In notifying your insurer, honesty is always the best policy. Keep in mind, however, that even your own insurance company will look for ways to avoid having to pay you benefits. Be careful when speaking to insurance adjusters about the facts of the accident. Do not make offhand comments about who was at fault or how you are feeling. Stick only to the basic facts, and leave any discussion of “fault” to your attorney’s discussions with your (or any other person’s) insurer.
Keep All of Your Bills
To obtain adequate compensation for the financial costs related to your car accident and injuries, you must provide documents to support your claim. The more proof you provide, the higher the likelihood of you receiving every penny of compensation you deserve.
Keep all bills and insurance documentation relating to your medical care from the moment of your accident forward. This includes records describing ambulance and emergency services, doctor visits, hospitalization, diagnostic testing, medication, and therapy. All of the costs reflected in these documents may constitute elements of damages owed to you by the at-fault party in a car accident.
Additionally, if a car accident prevents you from working temporarily or permanently, save any payroll information you have that shows your wage or salary and any paid time off you used as a result of the accident. These costs, too, represent potential elements of damages due to you.
Finally, keep documentation of any other expenses that flow directly from your accident and injuries. For example, some car accident injuries leave you with disabilities that require you to make modifications to your home or workspace, such as installing handrails and wheelchair ramps. Other injuries may leave you unable to take care of daily chores and needing to hire someone to do them for you. These costs may constitute recoverable damages, too.
Keep a Record of Your Injuries and Recovery
A large part of the uncertainty of the amount of compensation you might receive for a car accident lies in measuring the harm done to you that does not come with a price tag attached to it. You deserve money to compensate you for your pain and suffering, damage to your personal relationships, and emotional trauma that can accompany lasting injuries such as disfiguring scars and physical disabilities.
Lawyers and insurance adjusters sometimes use mathematical formulas to try to place a value on these harms, but the process can be highly subjective. To aid them in estimating an appropriate amount you should receive for these “non-economic” damages, keep a journal to document your injuries and recovery. Record how you are feeling emotionally and physically. This record can help communicate your non-economic losses and increase the amount of compensation you might receive for your car accident claim.
Keep Going to Your Doctor
Sometimes people skip doctor visits for perfectly understandable reasons. We get that. Insurance companies and defense attorneys, however, will not be as forgiving. Unfairly or not, they will use the fact that you missed medical appointments as evidence that you are not as badly injured as you claim, or that the accident did not cause your injuries at all.
As we explained above, your medical record constitutes some of the most critical evidence you will need to support any claim for damages after a car accident. To get the most money out of your claim, you need to show that you followed your doctor’s plan for treatment to the letter. Keep and attend every doctor appointment, lab visit, and therapy session unless and until a doctor has given you a clean bill of health. Doing so will create the consistent documentation of your injury and recovery that you need to maximize the amount of money you should receive as compensation after a car accident.
Never Accept a Settlement Offer Without Speaking With Your Attorney First
At The Levin Firm, every once in a while we encounter a tragic situation in which a car accident victim with a strong claim for damages comes to us after having already accepted a settlement offer from an at-fault party, an insurance company, or a defense attorney. Why “tragic”? Because car accident victims who accept settlement offers without speaking with an attorney first virtually always leave lots of money on the table while giving up valuable legal rights.
Never, ever accept a settlement offer from a party with potential legal liability to you without first speaking with your own attorney. These parties want to get themselves off the hook for as little money as possible. If they come to you offering a payment, saying things like “no need to get lawyers involved,” SAY NO. That is a sure sign they think they owe you lots more money than they are offering, and that they hope you will give up your right to sue them in exchange for cents-on-the-dollar.
We understand the intense financial pressure car accident victims sometimes feel to “take the money.” Nevertheless, it is always a mistake to accept a settlement and to give up rights without first making sure the party offering to write you a check is not trying to take advantage of you. An experienced car accident lawyer can help to protect you from that sort of unscrupulous conduct.
Don’t Speak to Others About Your Accident
When insurance companies and defense attorneys investigate a car accident, they frequently attempt to speak with the accident victim and the victim’s friends, families, and colleagues. As a victim, you should never speak with investigators without first receiving advice from your attorney. You should also, however, not speak with other people whom investigators may seek out.
No one wants to put their friends and family in the awkward position of having told an investigator about something you said to them that reduces the value of your claim. As much as you might want to talk to people close to you about your accident, the best thing you can do to protect yourself and them, and to get the most money from a car accident, is to stay quiet. Unless and until your attorney tells you otherwise, do not speak to them about the accident.
Don’t Post on Social Media
Insurance company representatives and investigators will look for all the information they can find about you online, hoping something you have written or posted will give them a reason to cut the value of your claim. So, stay off of social media for now. If you must post something, run it by your attorney first.
Hire a Skilled Car Accident Attorney
For all of the reasons discussed above, experienced personal injury attorneys play an integral role in accident victims getting the most money from a car accident. Contact one today to make the most of your car accident claim.