The first feeling after a truck accident is shock. This is quickly overtaken by “What do I do now?” While car accidents happen every day, truck accidents happen far less often. In 2017, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Transportation reported 402,385 motor vehicle accidents. Of these, under 8 percent involved large trucks. When truck accidents do happen, however, often the victims of the accident are left trying to process the event and figure out what comes next.
In Florida, the law allows you to pursue economic damages after an accident. This can help you pay for your medical bills and get back on your feet. But where do you start? How do you make sure you protect your rights? Read on to learn what you should do to optimize your chances at recovering compensation from a skilled truck accident attorney. For more information about your specific case and what you can recover from your accident contact Michael T. Gibson today.
Prioritize Your Safety
The first thing you should do after an accident is to get yourself to safety. Leaving your car in the middle of the road greatly increases the risk of another accident, putting you and other drivers at risk. If you can safely do so, move your vehicle to the side of the road. Remember, a large truck will make it difficult for other drivers to see you, so make sure you are all the way out of the way of traffic, and not simply parked in front of the truck. If you cannot move your vehicle, turn on your hazards and walk to the side of the road. If you can, exit through the passenger side to avoid oncoming traffic.
It may seem obvious, but one of the most important things you can do after an accident is to stay calm. When you get your emotions involved, you’re likely to say something you regret and you’re less able to take in what is going on around you. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, step aside and take a minute to breathe. Most importantly, don’t react to the other driver. Don’t yell and assign any blame. Doing so can escalate the situation and potentially put you in danger.
Assess the Scene
After you have moved yourself to safety, you need to evaluate the scene. If there is any immediate danger, you are going to want to recognize it right away. Here’s a breakdown of what you should look for:
- Evaluate injuries: In one recent year, 68 percent of all fatalities involving large trucks were occupants of passenger vehicles, proving just how dangerous truck accidents are for smaller vehicles. If there are any passengers in your vehicle, check for any injuries. If there are life-threatening injuries, contact 911 right away. If there are no serious injuries, check the truck driver to see if he or she is okay.
- Know your surroundings: You can’t choose where you get in an accident, so it’s important to be aware of your surroundings. Are both vehicles out of the way of traffic? Are there hazards on or safety triangles out? Are you on a curve or a hill? Is the visibility low? Just because you are out of the road, that doesn’t mean you are safe. If other vehicles can’t see you, you need to be aware of the possibility of a secondary accident.
- Check for hazards: Accidents are unpredictable. You want to know exactly what is going on and where there is a risk. Look around to see if there is any debris that could cause further injury. Check to see if the driver is carrying hazardous materials. If the driver is awake and alert, ask him or her. If the driver is not awake, you should find this information on the side of the truck. Scan and smell to see if there are any signs of fire.
While you evaluate the scene, it’s important to pay attention to what is going on around you. Is the truck driver awake and alert? If he or she appears to be under the influence or fatigued, this is an important fact you will want to make a mental note of. Are the truck’s lights on and in working order? Obviously, you can’t perform a thorough inspection of the scene, but keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. This can be used as evidence later down the road and may include:
- The driver’s demeanor
- The condition of the truck
- Any unusual marks on the ground or grooves in the earth
- Any signs that the driver may have been distracted (a map, a phone, food, etc.)
Watch What You Say
You need to be very careful with what you say at the scene of the accident: to the other driver, to witnesses, and to the police. Whatever you say can later become evidence. Never admit to blame. If you’re not sure how the accident happened, don’t say anything about it. Phrases like “I didn’t see you” or “you came out of nowhere” open up the door for the other party to deflect blame. Stick to the facts and try not to elaborate beyond what is necessary.
Contact the Police
Normally, we would say that you can determine whether you should call the police based on the amount of property damage or the degree of injuries. However, in accidents involving large trucks, it’s always a good idea to call the police. Stalled trucks, especially those stuck in the path of traffic, pose a serious risk to other drivers on the road. Emergency personal can put up hazards, redirect traffic, and help remove the truck from the scene. If you do not call the police, you will most likely have to file a police report. Florida law requires drivers to make a police report if there is vehicle damage exceeds $500 or the crash results in death or injury.
Truck drivers are required to have insurance just like any other driver. The law requires all drivers to exchange information after an accident. Plus, this is the only way you can file a lawsuit against the other driver. Generally, the information you will need to collect is the same as any other accident, with a few exceptions, as highlighted below. This should include:
- The driver’s name and phone number
- The name of the driver’s employer and contact information for the employer
- The other driver’s license number
- The other driver’s insurance policy number and the company’s name and contact number
One thing you have to realize about truck accidents is that these accidents can get complicated. Truck accidents often involve multiple parties and involve federal rules and regulations. A collision can cost the truck driver his or her job, and can cost the employer company its reputation and business. Because of this, the trucking company and insurance company will aggressively fight to protect their interests. The best way to protect your interests is to gather as much evidence as you can. This will include:
Pictures: Pictures will be the most reliable account of what happened at the scene. Be sure to include:
- Both vehicles, including the whole vehicle and any damaged areas
- The positions of the vehicles proximate to each other if they were not moved
- Property damage, including stop signs, medians, and lights
- Skid marks or groove marks
- Any nearby street signs or mile markers
Witness information: Witnesses can help reconstruct the scene and provide details in the case of conflicting information. At a minimum, be sure to get a name and phone number for each witness.
Go to the Doctor
After you have taken care of the accident, you need to take care of your health. Truck accidents are serious. Even if you aren’t feeling any symptoms, you still need to get checked out. Many symptoms don’t appear until several days after the accident. In the event of a spinal cord injury or traumatic brain injury, this could be too late. After an accident, your best bet for medical treatment is usually your local urgent care. An urgent care professional should perform an exam and refer you to another treatment center, if necessary. If you are experiencing any alarming symptoms, especially those that may indicate a spinal cord injury or traumatic brain injury, go to the emergency room right away.
Document, Document, Document
As we mentioned earlier, evidence is very important after an accident, and this goes beyond the scene of the accident. Detailed records after the accident can greatly aid in making your case. Your attorney may request records later down the road, but records you should begin collecting include:
- The police report: You can request a copy from the DMV shortly after the accident.
- Your medical records: Hold onto anything that your doctor gives you. This may include referrals, after visit notes, scans, prescriptions, or aftercare instructions.
- Receipts: Did you pay a copay? Did you buy prescriptions? Over the counter medications? Even purchases like heating pads, bandaids, and blood pressure cuffs are relevant.
- Service records: After an accident, you may have difficulty doing everyday tasks. If you hire someone to cook, clean, or do yard work or repairs, make sure you get a receipt.
- Correspondances from the insurance company: The insurance company is hoping you don’t hire an attorney. It will start sending you forms and information right away. Never sign any forms without talking to an attorney first. If the insurance company is requesting information (like your medical records), contact an attorney, as well.
Don’t Neglect Your Follow-Up Care
Even if you feel better, don’t skip your follow-up doctor visits. These are essential in proving your injuries. If you are constantly skipping appointments or postponing, the insurance company will argue that you are not as hurt as you say you are. Go to your appointments, follow your doctor’s advice, and be honest with any progress or backsteps you are making. Your medical records will be one of the most important pieces of evidence in your personal injury case.
Watch What You Say and What You Do
We’re going to say it again because it is that important. Always assume that what you say will be written down and given to the insurance company or a potential jury. You need to be particularly careful when you speak to any insurance adjuster (even your own), the other party, or the other party’s attorney. Don’t forget, your medical record will become evidence. Not only do you need to be careful with what you say about the accident, but also about your symptoms. If you exaggerate your symptoms, your doctor will know (and he or she will make a note of it). At the same time, if you downplay your injuries, the insurance company will have an excuse not to pay.
In regards to your actions, there is always the possibility that the insurance company will hire a private investigator. In this regard, don’t go out and spend a day at the water park or tubing on the lake. Even if the insurance company doesn’t hire a private investigator, it will almost surely try to access your social media accounts. If you think you have it all locked down, think again. An accepted friend request by a friend, a public post, or neglected privacy settings can allow the insurance company access. Be very careful with what you post on social media. Don’t talk about the accident or post incriminating photos.
Contact an Attorney
A personal injury attorney will be your most valuable asset after a truck accident. When you are considering attorneys, look for someone who specifically has experience with large truck accidents and experience as a trial lawyer. If your case goes to court, you want someone who is confident and comfortable presenting your case to a jury.
In Florida, accident victims only have two years to file a personal injury claim. This means that time is of the essence. The sooner you speak to an attorney, the sooner he or she can begin working on your case. If you need more information about your personal injury case or need more information about your rights, contact an experienced truck accident attorney.
Orlando, FL 32814