When you end up in a car accident through no fault of your own, you may find yourself with expenses that cause you significant financial distress in addition to the pain you are experiencing from your injuries. You need adequate compensation for the loss of your vehicle, your medical expenses, and any time lost at work due to your accident. How can you give yourself the best chance of getting the most money from your car accident? Make sure you follow these important steps—or better yet, find a car accident lawyer who can do them for you.
Step One: Collect Evidence at the Scene of the Accident
If you find yourself in the middle of any type of serious car accident scene, make sure you do not leave the scene of the accident until the police arrive unless you need to seek immediate medical attention. If you can move around safely without worsening your injuries or putting yourself in danger, you may want to collect evidence that could help prove your claim later.
Evidence you may attempt to gather from the scene can include:
- Contact information from witnesses;
- Insurance and contact information from the other driver;
- A photo of the other driver’s license;
- Photos of the vehicles before moving them;
- Photos of damage to the vehicles;
- Photos of your injuries; and
- Photos and information about anything else that may have contributed to your accident, if relevant, including whether the driver was on the clock at the time of the accident, whether the accident involved a tire blowout or other mechanical failure, or evidence of a drunk driver, for example.
You may also want to take the time to write down or record your version of what happened during the accident as soon as possible. The sooner you write down your version of events, the more accurate you will find your memories. Accident victims often lose their memories of the accident entirely. Listening to other people’s versions of events, checking out evidence at the scene, and even repeating your story about the accident to other people can impact your memory of the accident itself, ultimately causing you to rewrite or lose some of those memories altogether.
In general, you may assume that the police report will contain an accurate report of exactly what happened during your auto accident, including who caused the accident. While the police officer who responds to the scene will do their best to provide an accurate report, police officers may have more interest in clearing the scene and keeping everyone safe than in collecting evidence. In some cases, police reports may contain inaccurate information about the accident. To maximize your personal injury claim, it may help to have evidence on hand that shows how the accident occurred.
Step Two: Visit the Hospital or an Urgent Care Center
After your accident, you may think you suffered few or no injuries. “I’m just fine,” you may insist, waving away all offers of emergency treatment. Unfortunately, this simple action can prevent you from receiving the full compensation you deserve for your injuries—or at the very least, significantly complicate the process. When you have a car accident, visit an urgent care center or hospital immediately after the accident. Accept ambulance transport, if needed.
When you visit the hospital immediately after your accident, it accomplishes two things. First and foremost, physicians can usually conduct tests to identify injuries you might not have noticed yet. Often, adrenaline from the accident can camouflage your symptoms, preventing you from realizing how severe your injuries actually are. What you may think are a few minor aches and pains, perhaps a small case of whiplash, could, in reality, be a spinal cord injury, a chest contusion, or a broken bone.
Visiting the hospital immediately after your accident also ensures that you will have evidence of your injuries. When you file a personal injury claim following an auto accident, you will need to prove that your medical costs exceed the coverage of your personal injury protection insurance: generally a minimum of $10,000 of coverage available immediately after an auto accident, regardless of who caused the accident.
Every Florida driver with a registered vehicle must carry personal injury protection insurance and use it to cover the first portion of their medical expenses and lost wages after an accident. This insurance policy ensures that you will receive immediate coverage for your initial medical bills following an accident, which can help you get the treatment you need more easily.
Step Three: Contact Your Insurance Company
Even if you did not cause the accident, you still need to report it to your insurance company. Your insurance company can be a vital source of information and assistance as you file your claim. You will need to use your personal injury protection insurance at the hospital immediately after the accident. Once you pay your deductible, that coverage will kick in to cover the cost of hospitalization, tests and scans, and any treatment you need for your injuries.
Reporting the accident to your insurance company directly will ensure that your bills get paid quickly and that you have clear guidelines for how to proceed, including a basic idea of what compensation you may seek for your injuries.
Your insurance company may also be your best source of information about your vehicle: its value before the accident, often based on what you insured the vehicle for, and the cost of repairing the vehicle. By contacting your insurance company, you bring them into the discussion and ensure that they have all the information they need on hand.
Step Four: Keep Track of Everything
When you suffer injuries, even minor injuries, in an auto accident, keep track of everything. Ideally, you want to start a file that contains all information about the accident: evidence collected at the scene, a copy of the police report, and, most notably, any information about your expenses related to the accident. Make sure you track all of your expenses so that you can provide an accurate report of your financial losses due to the accident.
If the other party caused your auto accident, their insurance company bears responsibility for covering your property losses due to the accident. The insurance company will set up an appointment for someone to look at your car and determine what repairs it needs.
Sometimes, the insurance company will pay to have your car fixed. In other cases, the insurance company may choose to total your car, indicating that the cost of repairs exceeds the vehicle’s current value. If you disagree with the assessment provided by the insurance company, you do have the right to a second opinion, which may help increase the funds you receive for your vehicle.
You may also want to include any other property damaged in the accident in your claim. Carefully inventory the contents of your vehicle and any damage to those items, including your phone, any computers or other electronic devices that you carried with you, and other property in the vehicle at the time of the accident. As long as these costs do not exceed the maximum coverage of the insurance policy, you can include them in your report to the insurance company.
When you suffer serious injuries in an auto accident, your medical expenses may represent the largest percentage of your financial losses. Make sure you keep track of all medical expenses related to the accident, including:
- Immediate medical treatment in the emergency room;
- Ambulance expenses;
- Tests and procedures;
- Surgical treatment;
- Durable medical equipment, including a wheelchair, crutches, or prosthetic devices;
- Physical therapy;
- Occupational therapy; and/or
- Psychological therapy.
If you require long-term hospitalization or surgical treatment for your injuries, keep in mind that your medical bills may not arrive all bundled up in one convenient bill. Some doctors may work as contractors for the hospital, rather than working for the hospital directly. You may receive separate bills from the anesthesiologist who cared for you during your surgery and the doctor who performed the surgery itself. Keep track of all of those medical bills as they arrive. Even seemingly insignificant medical bills can add up fast.
As you keep track of your medical expenses following the accident, you should also track any expenses related to your injuries. You may, for example, need to add a wheelchair ramp to your home or widen the doorways in your home to make it possible to fit a wheelchair through the door. If you suffer extensive injuries, you may need to remodel your bathroom to accommodate limited mobility. Include the cost of these home modifications in your medical expense report.
Many injuries, from broken bones to a traumatic brain injury, may prevent you from immediately returning to work after your accident. If you have serious injuries, you may require long-term hospitalization, which could prevent you from working for an extended period of time. Even if you can return home after your accident, you may need time before you can return to your normal job. While some injuries may allow you to return to work on a limited basis, others may prevent you from working altogether until you heal.
Make sure you track all the time you miss at work due to your injuries, including:
- Time missed immediately after the accident, before you can go back to work.
- Time missed due to related doctor’s appointments, including therapy appointments.
- Wages lost due to limited work responsibilities or limited hours at work during your recovery.
Step Five: Contact an Attorney
If you want to receive the maximum compensation for your accident, having an attorney on your side can go a long way toward streamlining the process and helping you get all the funds you need. Hiring an attorney offers these advantages.
An attorney can negotiate on your behalf. In many cases, simply knowing that you retained an attorney may increase the compensation the insurance company offers. In other situations, an attorney can negotiate on your behalf, improving the odds that you will receive the full compensation you deserve for your injuries.
An attorney can more easily access vital evidence about the accident. When the police report fails to provide an accurate account of the factors that contributed to the accident or you feel that you need more evidence about what led to your accident, an attorney can often get access to that information more easily than you can, whether that means contacting witnesses and collecting statements or using traffic cameras or security cameras to provide a clear picture of what led to the accident. An attorney can also work with expert witnesses to create a better picture of what conditions may have contributed to the accident.
An attorney can help you identify all parties responsible for your accident. Following an accident that involves serious injuries, you may need more compensation than standard liability insurance usually offers to fully cover your expenses. Florida minimum auto insurance provides just $10,000 of coverage for bodily injury after an accident, including medical expenses and lost wages. By working with an attorney, you may identify other parties who also bear responsibility for the accident, which might allow you to file a personal injury claim against multiple responsible parties.
Responsible parties may include:
- The vehicle manufacturer, when a manufacturer’s defect leads to the accident.
- The driver’s employer, when the employer had unrealistic work requirements that contributed to the accident or the driver had a known history of auto accidents, yet still drove for the company.
- A bar or restaurant that over-served the driver.
- A mechanic who recently worked on the vehicle, when that mechanic failed to properly complete repairs or identify a problem with the vehicle.
By identifying all responsible parties in an accident, you can often substantially increase the compensation you receive, since each responsible party will have an insurance policy with different coverage and limits.
If you suffered injuries in an auto accident, contact a car accident attorney as soon after the accident as possible. The sooner you get in touch with an attorney, the more easily that attorney can collect evidence on your behalf, and the greater the likelihood that you will get the full compensation you deserve for your injuries. While no attorney can guarantee the results of your claim, an experienced personal injury attorney can often greatly increase the funds you receive.
Orlando, FL 32814