Getting into a Philadelphia car accident can be a harrowing experience. In the immediate aftermath of a wreck, it is only natural to feel shaken up, disoriented, and confused about what to do next. Unfortunately, in those moments, the decisions an accident victim makes can have the most significant consequences. Accident victims can preserve their legal right to recover damages later on if they take the right steps. Victims should try to avoid other actions at all costs, as they may hinder the chances of recovering compensation.
Philadelphia Car Accidents
During 2017, there were 15 reportable crashes on a Pennsylvania roadway every hour, many of them in the state’s population center of Philadelphia. During this time, there were nine injuries every hour, with one out of every 44 people being involved in an accident, and one out of every 159 injured.
These numbers should worry all of us, because it demonstrates the risk we are taking every day on the road. Because of the emotional and physical trauma associated with a car accident, you should know what steps you should take immediately following a car accident. A trusted auto accident attorney can help you determine what the best course of actions to receive compensation.
Research shows that planning for an emergency, even one that has a low probability of actually happening, can bring significant benefits when a crisis arises. Just thinking about what you’d do in the stressful moments after a car accident can make a tremendous difference in the quality of decisions you make. With that in mind, here are some of the most important considerations for the minutes, hours, days, and weeks after a car accident. Get to know them. They may make a huge impact on your life and the lives of those you love.
Tips for Before Emergency Responders Arrive
The unexpected trauma of a car accident causes immediate physical changes to anyone involved in it, even those who do not sustain a serious injury in the crash. A cocktail of hormones, principally adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol, floods the body, increasing the heart rate and blood flow to the brain, and releasing sugar and glucose directly into the bloodstream. This causes victims to feel hyper-alert and their bodies to suppress localized pain.
Some victims experience an acute stress reaction (commonly called shock) in which they dissociate from sensations and emotions, as if in a dream. Victims who have sustained a blow or jolt to the head may experience immediate symptoms of a concussion, from confusion to a loss of consciousness. Victims with acute physical trauma may be at risk of blood loss, acute organ failure, and medical shock (a life-threatening condition not to be confused with the psychological shock associated with an acute stress reaction).
In these moments, the actions you take and the decisions you make may mean the difference between life and death.
Address Safety Issues
Just as airlines tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone with theirs, make your first priority after an accident to ensure your own immediate safety, and then to help others do the same.
When a car accident occurs in traffic, whenever possible, the vehicles involved should get out of the road and pull over to the shoulder. If your car is still operable, move it to the shoulder and stay in it until help arrives. If it isn’t, get yourself and others out of the vehicle and, if possible, set up flares or other warnings to other motorists.
Stay as far from the roadway as practical to ensure that you are not at risk of an explosion or secondary collision.
Make sure before you exit your car that it is safe to do so, and to make a mental note of where on the roadway the accident occurred. Further impeding traffic at the scene of a car accident can result in additional cars being involved.
If you perceive that one of the other drivers or victims is a danger to you or others, keep your distance.
If someone tries to flee the scene, do not risk your own safety to detain them, but take note of anything that might help identify them later.
Verify Everyone Involved Is In Good Condition
If your own injuries allow it, check on the status of all passengers and drivers involved in the accident. When doing this, do not apologize for the accident, make any statement that might indicate you are at fault, or verbally attack the other drivers.
Review the condition of everyone who could move to safety. Is anyone obviously hurt or bleeding? If so, take any appropriate first-aid measures or delegate someone to do so, preferably someone who has received at least basic training in emergency first aid and/or lifesaving (who will, by virtue of that training, have immunity from legal liability to the person they help in most circumstances).
Was anyone unable to move to safety? If so, check to see if you can move them without putting their, and your own, health at risk.
Be smart. Risking your life to save someone else’s may seem heroic, but it can also be foolish if you have not carefully evaluated the situation with a clear head and awareness of the dangers.
Alert Emergency Responders
Pennsylvania law requires you to alert the police of any accident in which someone was injured or killed, or a vehicle was so badly damaged that it cannot operate safely.
However, even if neither of those conditions is obviously present, it is still a good idea as soon you have addressed your immediate safety concerns to call (or designate someone else to call) 911 to alert emergency responders that an accident has occurred.
The emergency response line will alert police, fire, and emergency medical personnel to respond to the scene. They will ensure that any injuries that victims have sustained receive medical attention and close the road or limit traffic flow to reduce the risk of secondary accidents. They will also address any hazardous materials, fires, or other unsafe conditions, and detain anyone who violated the law.
In addition, summoning emergency responders to the scene will ensure that officials generate a report detailing the circumstances of the accident and its immediate aftermath. This report can prove extremely important later on if the events surrounding your accident come into dispute.
Have the person who calls 911 stay on the line with the operator until help arrives, so that responders have the most complete and accurate information possible. This ensures that first responders bring or call appropriate equipment to the scene and know of any risks to their own safety.
Because 911 calls are recorded, it may also provide a contemporaneous account of what happened at the accident scene should any of that information become important to your lawyers later on. Remain cautious about any statement that would indicate you are partially responsible for the accident. Remember, the insurance company could later use this information against you.
The Benefits of Calling the Police
As an accident victim, you may receive significant benefits by calling the police to investigate your accident—besides the obvious benefit of complying with Pennsylvania law. Under a legal doctrine known as negligence per se, individuals who violate the law may bear liability for any injuries they cause as a result of that violation without any further showing of evidence by the victim. Put more plainly, if the other driver in your accident was breaking a traffic rule and received a citation, that may be sufficient evidence for you to obtain compensation for your accident-related injuries and losses.
When you call the police after an accident, you ensure that:
- They will interview the people involved and any witnesses who may have seen the accident take place. That is their duty under Pennsylvania law.
- They will also make a determination as to whether any laws were violated. If the police officers believe laws were broken, they will usually issue citations to the drivers who broke the law.
- In addition, they will likely perform sobriety testing on any drivers they suspect are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and arrest them if they find probable cause to do so.
- Finally, they will write a thorough report about the accident that collects and summarizes all of this information, which you may use later as evidence of what occurred.
Tips for When Emergency Responders Arrive
As the initial surge of adrenaline wears off, car accident victims may begin to feel jittery or nauseated. The pain of an injury, initially suppressed by the body’s fight or flight reaction to stress, will begin to emerge, sometimes intensely. Victims may feel a surge of strong, even seemingly uncontrollable emotions, including fear, anger, or sadness. Victims who did not initially experience an acute stress reaction may begin to experience one now. Victims of a mild concussion or brain injury may begin to feel its effects.
Just as you begin entering these emotional and physical states, emergency responders arrive on the scene. Follow these tips to help make good decisions about your interactions with them even as the aftershock of the accident begins to set in.
Always Say “Yes” to an Evaluation by Emergency Medical Personnel
Some people can walk away from car accidents relatively unscathed while others sustain life-threatening injuries in a matter of seconds. In some cases, a victim obviously needs immediate transportation to the hospital in an ambulance for emergency treatment and stabilization. However, other victims may not realize how badly they need medical attention.
Because of the physiological and emotional response most people have to a car accident, they cannot accurately evaluate their own health conditions at the scene of the accident. The effects of adrenaline and other hormones may trick them into thinking they’re fine when, in fact, they’re not.
That’s why you should always say “Yes” when emergency medical personnel ask to examine you at the scene of the accident. EMTs are trained to spot injuries and health complications that people may not readily report or may not even know they have. They can look for the telltale signs of a person in distress, from dangerously high blood pressure (a risk factor for heart attack and stroke) to broken blood vessels in their eyes (a signal of concussion).
Agreeing to an EMT exam doesn’t automatically mean you are going to head to the hospital. Of course, if the EMT thinks your injuries are serious enough to warrant an ambulance ride, you should heed that advice. But even if medical responders evaluate you and conclude you are stable and in no need of a trip to the emergency department, they still may identify symptoms of more serious injuries, and, at the very least, they can give you instructions about what signs to watch out for that could indicate you need immediate medical treatment. In addition, agreeing an EMT evaluation will usually result in another record of your condition immediately after the accident, which may prove useful later on down the road.
Never Admit Responsibility or Try to Assign Fault
Following an accident, many stressed victims may blurt out to other parties or police that they were not paying attention or that they did not see the other car. Though they may simply express remorse, it is always a mistake to admit even the slightest fault immediately following a car accident. Anything an accident victim says will likely end up in law enforcement’s account of the incident, making it harder to contest later.
What’s more, those statements might not even be true, and not because you’d have any reason to tell a lie. The simple fact is that your perspective of how an accident happened is just that—one person’s perspective. You don’t know all of the facts. There’s no way you could. It may feel like you should have seen another car that came out of nowhere, but maybe that’s because the other car ran a red light, not because you weren’t paying attention. It may seem like you overreacted to a situation by slamming on your brakes before getting rear-ended, but maybe the car that hit you was speeding. You just can’t know.
As we discussed above, identifying who might have been at fault for an accident can be a complicated process and often requires the work of skilled lawyers and expert witnesses. In the moments after an accident, it’s not your job to try to shortcut that process. Your job is to give first responders the facts, and only the facts. Save apologies, self-criticism, and assigning blame for later.
One more reason not to accept responsibility or blame yourself in statements to police is that insurance adjusters will almost certainly use any admission of possible blame to try to limit the amount of damages they’re obligated to pay you. In the worst case, statements blaming yourself could unintentionally prevent you from recovering compensation at all.
Remember, even if you were partially at fault for causing an accident, you may still recover damages for your losses from other at-fault parties. By staying away from any statement suggesting you are at fault for an accident, you will avoid compromising any of your potential legal claims.
Obtain Contact Information
You should obtain as much contact information as witnesses and passengers are willing to share with you while you are waiting for law enforcement officers to arrive on the scene. Insurance adjusters or law enforcement officers may be contacting them for statements for their perspective on the accident. Additionally, you should obtain from any drivers involved in the accident their driver’s license information, insurance information, and the make and model of their vehicle. This information will need to be provided to your insurance company or used to file a claim with the other driver’s insurance company.
Documenting The Scene Of Accident
Follow this tip only after emergency medical responders evaluate and clear you. Otherwise, delegate this responsibility to someone else you trust.
We have all seen crime scene investigation shows on TV. After EMTs check you out and before you leave the accident scene, think of yourself as one of the characters from those shows and collect every bit of information you can think of that might figure out who was at fault for an accident. Your smartphone—particularly its camera and notepad app—is the perfect tool to help you do this. But, remember, the actual first responders have a job to do. Do not get in their way or make their tasks more difficult.
Here is some helpful information you should try to collect:
- Vehicle license plate numbers: Snap a picture or take a video of every license plate you see, with enough distance to make it clear which vehicle the license plate is attached to. Start with the vehicles involved in the accident, then any vehicles that stopped to help, then emergency response vehicles.
- Vehicle condition and details: After capturing license plates, take pictures or video of the condition of all vehicles involved in the accident. There’s no limit to how many pictures or how much footage you should take. Keep snapping or filming until you’re sure you’ve captured every vehicle from every angle. Be sure to get pictures of any unique identifying characteristics of the vehicles, such as company logos, Department of Transportation identification numbers on commercial vehicles, bumper stickers, and inspection stickers.
- Images of the scene and surroundings: Next, capture photos or video (shooting horizontally, not vertically) of the accident scene and surroundings, so long as you stay out of the way of emergency responders doing their jobs. Record skid marks, broken glass, debris, lighting, road surfaces, obvious hazards, visual obstructions, and road signs. Get shots from the exact viewpoint you had from behind the wheel of your car, from where you think the other driver was, from where pedestrians or witnesses might have been. If you’re taking video, narrate as you go to give yourself and your lawyer a reference point for what you are shooting and why. But, remember, do not blame yourself or make statements about what you should have done. Stick to the facts.
- Other driver’s information: Get the names, contact information, and insurance information for all drivers and passengers involved in the accident. Write down or record everybody’s name and contact information, and snap a picture of any other driver’s auto insurance card. The driver of the other vehicle must give you this information under Pennsylvania law (and, conversely, you must give the same information about yourself to the other driver).
- Contact information and accounts of other witnesses: Depending on where an accident occurs, other people may have seen what happened. If it’s apparent to you that someone saw the accident, get their contact information and a brief statement from them about what they saw. But don’t spend too much time searching for witnesses. This can be done later, if necessary, and it’s more important that you document the scene. (For example, if another driver saw the accident happen and stopped to help, a photo of that driver’s license plate will probably be enough to track him down if you don’t have the chance to speak with him.)
- The location of video surveillance cameras: Some of the most useful evidence of an accident can come from video surveillance cameras that captured the accident through a shop window or from the corner of a parking lot. If you can, take note of any video cameras you see and the names of any business operating around the accident site. Even if you don’t see obvious surveillance cameras, that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. If you do see a camera and it’s possible to speak with someone on the premises, get contact information and specifically request they preserve the video. (Some security cameras only save footage for a short period of time before deleting it.)
The purpose of all of this documenting and recording is to capture everything as it was in the moments after the accident. Memories fade, and evidence can be lost or destroyed. The more information that you preserve immediately, the higher the chances are that you can recover all of the compensation you deserve.
The accident scene should be carefully documented. If you have a cell phone capable of taking photographs, and you are physically able to do so, you should snap photos including damage to any involved vehicles, traffic signals, nearest intersection photographs, weather conditions, and any skid marks or debris left in the road (glass, etc.) from the accident. This information may be valuable later to your insurance company, or to a car accident attorney.
You may also wish to document any injuries which you notice at the scene, for example, if a passenger or driver is visibly injured it may be helpful later to have this information.
In review: While collecting the information above:
- Do not make statements blaming yourself.
- Do not get in the way of emergency responders doing their jobs.
- Do not leave the accident scene until an emergency responder tells you that you can.
- Do not move or disturb any debris—leave everything just as you see it.
- Do not photograph or record injured people without their informed consent. (In certain circumstances it may not be legal to record without an injured person’s permission, and even if it’s legally permissible, it runs a real risk of causing you to appear callous or creepy).
- Finally, once you have collected this information, do not share it with anyone without first speaking with an attorney.
An experienced car accident lawyer can help you decide when, how, to whom, and for what purpose you may disseminate this information. For the time being, make a backup copy of any pictures, videos, and notes, then wait until you receive a lawyer’s advice before doing anything else with the information you collected.
Contact A Car Accident Attorney
Once a physician sees you, contact a Philadelphia attorney who has experience dealing with victims of car accidents. While your initial instinct may be to contact your insurance company, a personal injury attorney should be contacted first to ensure your rights are protected through the remainder of the accident process. An insurance company adjuster is going to ask you several questions which could ultimately result in your receiving a smaller financial settlement than you might otherwise be entitled to based on the severity of your injuries.
Some of the matters an attorney can advise you about include:
- Advising you regarding what to say to the insurance company
- Advising you of what questions to avoid answering when speaking with an adjuster
- Advising you of your rights when answering law enforcement questions about the accident
Keep in mind, if you are a victim of a negligent driver, you may be entitled to compensation. Negligence is established in the event the other driver was not following rules of the road, or they were distracted, which contributed to the accident occurring.
A personal injury attorney can help establish certain facts, including the other driver’s negligence, contributed to the accident, the injuries you suffered were as a result of the accident, and the driver at fault had an obligation, known as a duty of care, to keep you and others on the road safe while traveling on the road.
Among other roles an experienced Philadelphia car accident lawyer can fill, your attorney may:
- Investigate the facts and circumstances of your accident to find evidence of negligence or wrongful conduct on the part of other drivers, government entities, auto manufacturers, or others.
- Collect and preserve evidence, and track down and obtain witness statements, that may help prove other parties’ fault.
- Conduct legal research to identify potential claims you may have the right to make against at-fault parties.
- Determine your current and future economic and non-economic damages, including by reviewing your paperwork and working with expert witnesses.
- Make a demand on at-fault parties and file a lawsuit in the appropriate jurisdiction on your behalf, if necessary.
Even if you suspect a settlement from the other driver’s insurance company may be available to compensate you for your damages, have a lawyer review any settlement offers you receive before you accept them. This is critical for two reasons:
- You may have undervalued your losses—your long-term medical bills may cost you far more than you thought—and may not know if a settlement offer you receive from an insurance company is enough to pay for them.
- Accepting an offer from an insurance company may result in you waiving the right to file a legal claim or to seek additional compensation for your injuries and losses.
An attorney can protect your rights by taking over all of your communications and negotiations with insurance companies, helping you to avoid the tricks and traps they may deploy to try to get you to take a lowball, quick money settlement offer in the days and weeks after the accident.
After an accident, lots of people will ask you what happened. They’ll ask mostly because they care about you. You’ll feel tempted to respond and give them a full account. Try as hard as you can not to, particularly when it comes to talking about whom was at fault. The only person you should share your thoughts with about who was at fault in the accident is your attorney.
Unlike most other conversations in your life, conversations with your attorney about whom you think was at fault in an accident are absolutely confidential. Other people who may have the right to keep what you tell them confidential include your spouse, medical providers, and clergy. But if you want to be absolutely sure that some casual comment you make about who might have been at fault doesn’t come back and bite you, keep all of your thoughts to yourself and mention them only in a setting where it’s just you and your attorney talking.
File An Accident Report
Per Pennsylvania statute Pa.C.S.A. Vehicles § 3747 law enforcement officers may not respond to the scene of a minor accident. However, this means the burden of filing a proper accident report falls upon the drivers of the vehicles involved in the accident. After a Philadelphia car accident, drivers have a maximum of five days to report the incident to the Pennsylvania DOT, Bureau of Highway Safety and Traffic Engineering. The official accident form should be used and as much information as possible should be provided on this form. You should maintain a copy of the form you submit for your records.
Importance Of Recording Information After An Accident
Victims of car accidents often believe after they have seen a physician and filed an accident report, they do not need to document any further information. This is inaccurate since there may be situations which require you to document additional items. Some of these may include interactions with insurance company adjusters, follow up medical care, and time lost from work. Keep in mind, if you have hired a personal injury attorney, you should consider having them speak with any insurance company on your behalf. Otherwise, the insurance company may try to obtain information, which on the surface seems innocent enough, to reduce the potential benefits you are entitled to receive as a result of your injuries.
You should also consider documenting any incidents which seem out of the ordinary after your accident. For example, if you suddenly begin having headaches, dizzy spells, or are unusually tired, these could be symptoms of injuries which were sustained in a car accident which have been masked. Any physical or emotional changes should be carefully noted and shared with your physician immediately.
Choice No-Fault Car Insurance
In Pennsylvania, all drivers are required to maintain a minimum level of automobile insurance. Failure to maintain proper insurance could result in steep fines, as well as the loss of driving privileges. Drivers are required to have at least $15,000 in liability insurance which covers injuries to one person and a minimum of $30,000 per accident. Many drivers carry more liability insurance, but this is the minimum they may carry.
No-fault insurance means that when you are in an accident on Philadelphia roadways, you will file your claim with your own insurance company. However, keep in mind that some drivers may opt out of no-fault coverage since Pennsylvania is one of three states which offer “choice no-fault.”
Drivers who elect may carry tort liability which means a person who is injured by a negligent driver may file a lawsuit without filing a claim with their own insurance agency first. If the at-fault driver has no-fault coverage, the victim of a car accident would file their claim with their own insurance company, and they would be subject to the limitations on that policy. Should expenses including medical, lost wages, damage to your vehicle, and other monetary and non-monetary losses be larger than the maximum coverage amount, you could then file a personal injury lawsuit.
Filing A Personal Injury Lawsuit
The statutes of limitations prevent victims of a Philadelphia car accident from filing a lawsuit once two years have elapsed from the time of the accident except under very specific circumstances. If you were seriously injured, you may still be out of work, or still receiving treatment for your injuries but since time is of the essence, your attorney may begin the paperwork to file a lawsuit. In general, victims of a car accident may be eligible for compensation for both monetary and non-monetary damages.
Non-monetary damages, also known as non-economic damages, can include money for mental anguish, a diminished quality of life, disfigurement or impairment, as well as pain and suffering. Your Philadelphia personal injury attorney can explain to you how these damages will be calculated so you understand the possible outcome of a personal injury lawsuit.
Monetary damages, also known as economic damages, are easier to calculate in most cases. For example, the costs associated with your medical treatment after a car accident would be calculated based on charges incurred as a result of doctor’s visits, costs associated with tests and treatment, and costs associated with medications you may have been prescribed as a result of the pain you suffered due to the injury.
Other monetary damages may include lost wages, both current and future, the direct costs associated with any type of rehabilitation therapy you may require to recover from your injury and any costs which you would not have had to deal with associated with your recovery, such as the hiring of a nurse, housekeeper, or babysitter. Costs associated with the repair or placement of your vehicle as a result of the accident are generally also recoverable.
Car accidents can be devastating for a victim resulting in injuries which can lead to long-term health issues. Victims often are unaware of their rights following an accident, and many drivers on Philadelphia roadways are unfamiliar with what steps they should take to ensure they can present clear and undeniable evidence of the damage to their vehicle, physical trauma and injury, and their lack of involvement in the cause of the accident.
Unfortunately, too often, victims simply contact their insurance company and hope for the best. Remember, insurance companies do collect premiums from you as payment towards your insurance coverage. However, that does not mean they are always interested in protecting your best interests since their bottom line is damaged when they pay an auto accident claim. Therefore, you should contact a personal injury lawyer anytime you are involved in a car accident on Philadelphia roadways.
If you are one of the hundreds of accident victims who sustained an injury in a Philadelphia car accident, you can make sure your rights are protected by contacting a Philadelphia car accident attorney as soon as possible after the accident.