It can happen in an instant. One moment you’re riding along enjoying the scenery, and the next moment a car comes out of nowhere and strikes you. Perhaps you were on a motorcycle, enjoying a beautiful Florida day, and suddenly, you are flying through the air.
Unfortunately, motor vehicle accidents of all types are far too common in Florida. More than 403,000 motor vehicle crashes occurred in our state in a recent year. In the aftermath of an accident, you may feel frightened, in pain, and bewildered. What should you do after an accident?
Following an accident, individuals can take steps to improve their situations. Familiarizing yourself with these important steps now will ensure that you know what to do if an accident ever occurs.
Move to a Safe Position
The first step that you should take is to ensure your own safety. Move your vehicle and yourself to a safe position. Make sure that passing traffic can’t hit you or your vehicle. If the accident has caused objects, debris, or flammable material to spread over an area, move far away from any danger zone.
It’s against the law to leave the scene of an accident that’s hurt someone, caused property damage, or killed someone. While moving for safety is advisable, and you should do it, don’t leave the accident scene entirely, unless it’s to receive emergency medical care. Following an accident, the law requires that you stop, render any reasonable assistance to injured people, and provide other involved individuals certain information, including your car registration, driver’s license number, and identification.
After moving to a safe position, the next step that you should take is to call 911. This call works to alert both law enforcement and emergency responders that an accident has taken place. Emergency responders will examine you and any other victims for injuries. If the first responders determine that they need to take you to an emergency room, they will. Motorcyclists, especially, are prone to injury, and emergency treatment is the safest route to take.
Law enforcement officers will talk to everyone involved in the accident. They will examine the scene and talk to eyewitnesses, as well. After the officers have discussed the accident and examined the scene, they will file a police report. A police report is a very important document that you can use to establish the chain of causality for your accident. Make sure that you get a copy of this police report.
Apply First Aid if You Have the Training
Motorcyclists are often advised by motorcycle associations to carry a first aid kit when riding. Why? Motorcyclists run the risk of being far more seriously injured, on average, than the average motorist. They are not protected by a surrounding vehicle. Many accidents and collisions result in a motorcyclist being thrown from the bike or being hit by a larger vehicle.
Victims of a traffic accident who have a first-aid kit with them, whether they are motorcyclists or not, can provide some initial medical care for accident victims while waiting for emergency personnel to arrive. Bandages, for example, can dress a wound and prevent blood loss and shock. Antiseptic ointment can prevent infection. Furthermore, some first-aid kits contain flares or cones to mark off the scene of the accident and warn other motorists for safety.
Never let a first aid kit stand in for qualified medical professionals examining and treating your injuries. Following an accident, you should consult with emergency responders, emergency room personnel, and doctors, as well.
Talk to Law Enforcement
When law enforcement officials arrive, work with them to ensure everyone’s safety. If they advise that you move to another area or stay at your vehicle, obey them. They will likely ask you questions about the accident. Tell them fully what occurred from your perspective, but refrain from admitting guilt.
Exchange Information With Other Drivers
By law, you need to exchange information with other drivers after an accident, such as your contact information and insurance information. Don’t address other drivers in an accusatory or emotional manner. If you want to wait until law enforcement arrives to talk to the other involved drivers, that’s fine.
Take Pictures of the Accident Scene
If you have your smartphone with you, use it to take multiple pictures of the accident scene. You want pictures of all the vehicles involved, from every angle. You want pictures of the accident scene, from every angle. If signs indicate how an accident occurred, such as skid marks or an impacted street sign, take pictures of those signs, as well.
The purpose of taking pictures is to create evidence of the damage the accident caused and evidence that might point to how it happened. Take pictures of anything that shows trajectory and impact points.
If you don’t have a smartphone, take detailed notes about what happened as soon as possible. Describe what happened, where you were, and what injuries you sustained.
Get Contact Information for Eyewitnesses
If there are eyewitnesses, exchange contact information with them as well (e-mail addresses are fine). If you can, ask them to describe what they say.
See a Doctor
If you remain at the scene until law enforcement leaves (i.e., are not taken to an emergency room), contact a medical doctor immediately afterward. Everyone in an accident should see a doctor.
If you don’t feel injured, a doctor is the only individual who can definitely answer whether you suffered any injuries in the accident. Some of the most serious types of injuries have no specific symptoms. Forms of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)—such as concussions, for example—may cause bleeding in the brain and have dangerous long-term effects, but may show no symptoms or at least no immediate symptoms. Broken ribs, which may feel like soreness, have the potential to puncture your lungs.
If you do feel injured or have obvious injuries, a doctor can diagnose those injuries, prescribe treatment, and check you out for potential other injuries. Follow your doctor’s advice. If your doctor prescribes you medication or assistive devices, make sure to pick up your prescriptions and follow all instructions.
Contact Your Insurance Company
Insurance coverage varies depending on what type of vehicle you were driving at the time of the accident. Read on for more information.
Vehicles With Four or More Wheels
After you have seen to your safety and your health, contact your insurance carrier. Provide the representative with the insurance and contact information that you obtained from the other involved drivers. Explain to the representative the who, what, where, when, and how of the accident.
If you drive a car or truck (or any other vehicle with four or more wheels), the state requires you to obtain insurance before registering the vehicle, both personal injury protection (PIP) coverage and property damage liability (PDL) coverage. These requirements are part of the state’s no-fault system.
No-fault means that your own PIP coverage is your first resort in the event of a vehicle accident for your injuries, and your own PDL coverage is your first resort in the case of property damage. PIP coverage will pay for your medical bills up to the $10,000 required limit, and PDL pays for property damage, regardless of who caused the accident.
Vehicles With Less Than Four Wheels (Motorcycles)
If you drive a motorcycle and carry all of the required insurance coverage, you should also contact your own insurance carrier and provide it with the same information about the accident. The state’s PIP and PDL requirements apply specifically to vehicles with four or more wheels, which of course covers most vehicles on the road, except for motorcycles.
What happens with motorcycles? In many states, insurance requirements applying to cars will also apply to motorcycles, as both are motor vehicles. This is not the case in Florida, however. Motorcyclists are not specifically required to purchase insurance to register or drive a motorcycle. However, if an accident causes injuries, and a motorcyclist is charged in the accident, he or she will be financially responsible for both injuries caused by the accident and property damage to the victim’s property. If you are stuck in this scenario, you may face significant financial loss if you don’t have insurance coverage.
If you were in an accident and don’t have insurance, you can buy and keep liability coverage for three years to avoid your license being suspended (as well as your tag and registration) or to reinstate your license following a suspension.
Your health insurance should cover the cost of any injuries that you suffer in the accident, regardless of who caused it.
What If Someone Else Caused My Accident?
Fault generally results from negligence. Negligence means failing to exercise the duty of care that a reasonably prudent person would have exercised in similar circumstances. Courts may hold negligent parties liable for damages that they cause, meaning that they are financially responsible.
If you drive a vehicle with four or more wheels, you still should first turn to your own insurance carrier to pay medical bills with your PIP coverage, as is required by no-fault. However, Florida allows people with specific, serious injuries to look outside the no-fault system for compensation.
These qualifying injuries are:
- Broken bones
- Significant disfigurement
- Permanent limitation of use of a body organ or member
- Significant limitation of use of a body function or system
- Substantially full disability for 90 days
If another party’s negligence caused you to suffer any of these injuries in a vehicle with four or more wheels, you have two options. The first is to contact the at-fault party’s insurance carrier to file a third-party claim for the damages. The second is to file a personal injury lawsuit in civil court.
If your vehicle is a motorcycle (or another vehicle with less than four wheels), you are never bound by no-fault restrictions. You aren’t required to purchase the insurance that is one of the features of no-fault. As a result, you can always exercise the options of filing a third-party claim or a personal injury suit.
Both third-party claims and personal injury suits aim to recover damages for the following:
- Medical expenses incurred, including doctor’s appointments, hospitalization, medication, physical therapy, and medical devices
- Future medical expenses that are reasonably forecasted
- Wages lost from work if you needed to take time off work due to your injuries
- Wages lost from work if you will need to take time off in the future
- Lost earning potential if your injuries mean that you cannot work or must seek a lower-level job going forward
- Pain and suffering
If another person or party (such as a manufacturer of defective equipment) caused the accident, you should contact the other party’s insurance carrier or an accident attorney to discuss your options.
What if the Insurance Company Won’t Settle?
Third-party insurance claims are often difficult to pursue. Unfortunately, insurance companies are masterful at finding ways to lessen or deny claims. One tactic that they use is to offer a quick settlement, but for far less than the actual value of the claim. Insurance companies realize that people who have been in accidents may need money quickly to pay medical and other bills, especially if the injured individuals can’t work. This strategy is known as low-balling.
Remember, by the time your medical bills, lost time from work, and pain and suffering expenses are computed, an insurance claim can amount to significant compensation, especially if your injuries are serious. If they are catastrophic—meaning they render you unable to perform the activities of daily living again, as TBIs, spinal cord injuries, and others often are—then the claim may literally amount to millions of dollars.
Why? Because your compensation will reflect your need for life-long care, potentially permanent inability to work, and the resultant pain and mental anguish.
A second tactic is to minimize the extent of your injuries. If you did not go to a doctor after the accident, or if you failed to follow medical advice, the insurance company can use that to argue that you weren’t as seriously injured as you claim. Insurance representatives may also attack your recommended course of treatment and argue that a less expensive option was available.
A third tactic is to aver that you were responsible for the accident, or at least partially responsible. One of the reasons that you want to preserve certain evidence—such as the police report, pictures, notes, and eyewitness statements—is to have evidence of who and what caused the accident, to counter an insurance company’s attempt to shift the blame onto you.
A fourth tactic is simply to constantly delay responses and the ultimate processing of the claim. Insurance companies will delay in hopes that people will stop taking action, or even forget their claim altogether. Because of these tactics, it’s often advisable to call an attorney to discuss the details of your claim. An attorney can negotiate with the insurance company and will be familiar with the company’s defensive legal tactics. A personal injury suit can either force the hand of an insurance company or leave the question of fault and compensation to a judge and jury, who often demonstrate more sympathy than insurance companies.
If you need more information or assistance, call a personal injury lawyer today.
Michael T. Gibson, P.A., Auto Justice Attorney
2420 S. Lakemont Avenue, Suite 150
Orlando, FL 32814