The Ultimate Checklist for Making a Personal Injury Claim
If you’ve never been in a motor vehicle accident, consider yourself lucky. In just one recent year, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation reported over 128,000 motor vehicle accidents in the state. In other words, on average, there were 352 accidents per day or about 15 accidents per hour. These accidents involved 1,190 traffic fatalities, which is a scary number. While you can’t always control whether or not an accident happens, you can control how you respond to the accident. After an accident, protect yourself and any other passengers, but do you know how to do this? Below, we’ll take a look at important actions that you should take following an accident.
Protect Yourself at the Scene of the Accident
Being involved in an accident can be a traumatic experience. Even a minor fender bender can leave you shaken. What you do at the scene of the accident is just as important as what comes after the accident. Here are a few do’s and don’ts to keep in mind:
Things you should do at the scene of an accident
There are certain actions that you should take at the scene of an accident and some that the law requires you to take. We’ll address both below.
- Move your car to the side of the road. After an accident, your safety should be your number one priority. By staying parked in the middle of the street, you put yourself at risk of being involved in another accident. Don’t do this. If you can safely do so, move your car to the shoulder. If there is no room on the side of the road, you may need to move to a side street.
- Check for injuries. In emergencies, every minute counts. After an accident, check all passengers in your vehicle for injuries. If there are any life-threatening injuries, call 911 right away. After you have checked out your passengers, move to the other car to check on the other driver if you can do so without putting yourself at risk.
- Document evidence. Evidence is important in building a personal injury case. Even if you don’t think you will file a claim, or you’re not sure, document any available evidence. The best way to reconstruct an accident after it has happened is to look at pictures. If you have a phone, take pictures of your car, the other car, and any property damage. Don’t forget to include pictures of the actual damage to both vehicles.
- Exchange information. When it comes to motor vehicle accidents, the at-fault driver is responsible for any property or personal damages. The only way to file a claim against the other party’s insurance is to obtain his or her personal information. Make sure to get the names, phone numbers, insurance carriers, policy numbers, and contact information for the insurance providers of all other involved drivers. Pennsylvania law requires all parties to exchange information, so be prepared to hand over yours as well.
Things you should never do at the scene of an accident
While there are certain things you should do at the scene of the accident, other things can completely destroy your case. Whether you intend to file a claim or not, always act as if you will. This will prevent you from making mistakes that can hurt your case if you change your mind.
Afer an accident, don’t take the following actions:
- Never leave the scene of the accident. It should go without saying, but never leave the scene of an accident before talking to the other driver. There are several reasons why it’s never a good idea to leave the scene of an accident. First, and most importantly, doing so is illegal. Best case scenario, you get charged with a hit and run for failing to render aid. Worst case scenario, you wind up with a felony charge if the accident results in serious injuries or death (even if the accident was not your fault). As for your legal case, if you leave without stopping, you forfeit the ability to gather evidence and destroy any credibility as a witness.
- Never admit guilt. As humans, we’re quick to say we’re sorry, even if an accident is not our fault. This is a bad idea. Regardless of how obvious the blame is, the moment you say “I’m sorry,” or “I didn’t see you,” you open the door for the other driver to place some of the blame on you. Admitting fault goes beyond the scene of the accident. Be careful with what you say to the insurance adjuster and any healthcare professionals treating you.
- Never approach an aggressive or drunk driver. You should always check on the other driver and exchange information unless you feel that doing so would pose a danger to your personal safety. If you are a victim of road rage, do not get out of the car. Call 911 and report the incident right away. If you believe the other driver is impaired, be extremely cautious. Intoxicated drivers are unpredictable. Never yell at or blame a drunk driver.
Know What to Do After an Accident
Taking care of business at the scene of the accident is only half the battle. What you do after you leave the accident can have serious implications on the value of your case. Following an accident, you should take the following actions:
Notify the police. The law requires all drivers to notify the police in the event of an accident involving personal injury or death. This can be done by calling the police at the time of the accident to create a report or filing an accident report with your local DMV.
Contact your insurance provider. Pennsylvania is a no-fault state. As such, the law requires all drivers to hold a minimum of $5,000 in medical, or PIP, benefits. These benefits will be the first benefit you use in the event of an injury. To access your PIP benefits, you will need to contact your insurance provider and file a claim.
Check your insurance policy. If somebody asked you right now what type of benefits you have, do you know the answer? The reality is that most drivers don’t know how much insurance they have until they are in an accident. Even then, the insurance company may not voluntarily divulge the full extent of the benefits available. What’s included in your medical benefits? Did you elect a higher amount than the mandatory minimum? What about rental coverage? Will your insurance provider cover the cost of a rental car? These are important questions that you need to ask. While you are looking into your policy, check to see if your policy is stacked and how much uninsured/underinsured coverage you have.
Prioritize your health. There is nothing more important than the health and safety of you and your loved ones. If anyone was injured, go to the doctor right away. After an accident, it’s not abnormal to play down your injuries. Don’t do this. If you feel any pain or experience any unusual symptoms, you need to see a doctor.
Watch for delayed symptoms. Did you know that symptoms of a traumatic brain injury can take several days to appear? The same goes for a spinal cord injury. However, ignoring these injuries can have catastrophic and potentially fatal consequences. Common symptoms of a brain injury include headaches, nauseousness, dizziness, unusual mood changes, and problems with vision. For a spinal cord injury, go to the doctor if you experience numbness, tingling, loss of bowel or bladder control, or sudden and extreme pain.
Gather relevant evidence. Here’s the point where you determine whether you will file a personal injury claim. When you meet with an attorney, one of the first things they will ask for is evidence. Evidence you should collect includes:
- Accident scene photos
- The other driver’s information
- Witness information
- Medical records
- Police reports
- Any correspondences with either party’s insurance
- Auto repair records
There’s a good chance that your attorney will want past medical records at some point. You can wait on collecting that for now, as the amount of information that your attorney will need, and from whom, may differ from attorney to attorney.
Contact an experienced personal injury attorney. There is no law requiring that you retain an attorney. The choice to hire legal representation is 100 percent yours. However, a personal injury attorney can help you build your case, and the unfortunate fact is that insurance companies almost always offer higher settlements to represented parties. Why? Insurance companies prey on your need to settle and your lack of legal knowledge. They’re betting on the fact that they can get away with offering you less than what you deserve. If you choose to hire a personal injury attorney, there are certain qualifications you should prioritize. These include:
- Experience handling personal injury cases
- Experience and confidence in the courtroom
- Proven results
Pursuing Damages After an Accident
A personal injury claim can help you recover costs associated with your accident. Motor vehicle accidents don’t just affect you physically, they can affect you mentally and financially, as well. The law allows victims to recover these costs from the at-fault party. But in most cases you only have two years to file a lawsuit. If this time period expires, you most likely will not be able to make your case.
The damages that you ultimately recover will depend on a variety of factors. If you can settle your case out of court, an insurance adjuster will place a value on your case. If your case makes it to court, a jury of your peers will make the final determination. While the value of a personal injury claim varies from case to case, certain factors can influence the final amount you might recover. They include:
- Medical costs: Medical bills can be expensive. If you have only elected the minimum coverage for medical benefits, you may find this benefit is exhausted after your first hospital visit. A personal injury attorney can help you defer the costs of your care until the conclusion of your case. At this point, the goal is to obtain 100 percent reimbursement for your costs. Typical medical costs include doctor visits, medications, medical devices, hospital stays, surgeries, rehabilitation, and other care deemed medically necessary.
- Lost wages: Serious injuries can result in lost time from work. In reality, seemingly minor injuries, like whiplash, can force you to call in sick. When this happens, you deserve compensation for your losses. A personal injury claim can help you recover wages lost as a direct result of the injury, including any necessary recovery time.
- Pain and suffering: Accidents are scary. Accidents are painful. This pain deserves recognition. Physical and emotional trauma can interfere with your day-to-day life and make it difficult to engage in activities that you once enjoyed.
- Loss of companionship: Accidents can affect people in different ways. A life-threatening accident can cause a person to withdraw and shy away from interpersonal relationships. A traumatic accident can cause injuries so severe that injured individuals are unable to provide for their families or have physical relationships with their spouses. When this happens, those individuals deserve compensation for their losses.
Get the Help You Need
Knowing what to do and how to react can make all the difference in a personal claim. Gathering evidence is just as important as hiring the right attorney. Even if it’s hard to realize now, the effects of an accident have a way of sneaking up on you when you least expect them. Protect yourself. Know your rights, and know-how to protect them. If you were in a Pennsylvania car accident and have questions, contact an experienced car accident attorney.