Every one of us is likely to be involved in a car accident in our lifetime. Hopefully these accidents will not be serious. Often though, people involved in accidents are not sure if it is a serious accident or not. Very serious injuries can occur even when there is little to no damage to the vehicles. Today’s cars and trucks are built very well and with materials that sometimes don’t show damage like older cars. With this in mind, there are several things you should do anytime you or a loved on is involved in any motor vehicle crash.
The first thing to to is try to calm down following a crash. It is human nature to be scared following a crash and your adrenaline will start pumping. This adrenaline rush can often mask injuries to yourself, and sometimes you can actually hurt yourself worse by thinking you are okay and overexerting yourself. So, breath deeply,and try to calm yourself down before exiting your vehicle.
Next, determine if you need to move the vehicles. If you are not obstructing traffic, or are on a slow street where other traffic can go around the vehicle(s), keep the cars where they are. This is important, because the next step is to call the police. Every accident should be reported to law enforcement, regardless of how bad the vehicle damage is. One of the primary jobs of law enforcement is reporting car crashes, and they have dedicated officers that do only that task. So, if you can keep the cars where they are, do. If, you must move the cars so that traffic can resume, pull them safely to the side of the roadway if possible. Sometimes, you just have to leave them there until a tow truck comes. You should wait for the police to call a tow truck for you so that they can gather evidence before the cars are moved.
Next, call the police. You know how to dial 911, so do, that is what they are there for. 911 will contact the appropriate agency to come to your location, and they are usually relatively quick. While you are waiting for the police, try to identify the driver of the other vehicle. It should be no surprise that people who are at fault will try to flee an accident scene or blame someone else for driving. Drunk drivers often flee the scene of a crash. If they try, do your best to keep them there. You need to try to make sure you can identify who comes out of the driver’s door. Another thing to do while waiting for the police is get out your registration and proof of insurance. Try to get the other driver to do the same. It saves time, and keeps you focused and more relaxed to have a task.
When the police arrive, be as specific as you can about what you remember about the crash. How it happened, what you were doing at the time, if you saw it coming, etc. I would insist that the officer give you the other driver’s insurance information once he has the information from everybody. Most officers will leave everyone with a piece of paper giving the identity of everyone, insurance info, and the accident report number. Go get a copy of the accident crash report once it is prepared, which can take some time.
Without interfering with the police investigation, take as many pictures of the vehicles and surrounding area as you can. Things such as weather, time of day, skid marks etc, are often left out of reports and are ultimately forgotten by people as time goes by. These things are often factors that are very important in determining who is at fault. Most cell phones have cameras these days, so take as many pictures as you can. It is also a good idea to keep a disposable camera in your vehicle just in case of an accident to take pictures. Always, develop your pictures as soon as you can. Cell phones get lost and pictures get erased for many reasons out of our control. When you are back at your home, get them off of your camera or phone asap.
The next big issue is to determine if you are hurt or not. As stated, sometimes a rush of adrenaline can mask the signs of an injury. In fact, it is very common for people to only begin to experience pain and stiffness in their neck and back several days after an accident. The best policy is to always go to the emergency room or clinic the moment you begin to experience any indication of pain or stiffness following an accident. The longer you wait, the more scar tissue may form and it may take you longer to heal. You cannot be too careful when it comes to your health, so if you know you are hurt right after the accident happens, do not hesitate to take an ambulance to the emergency room. Most law enforcement will offer this to you as soon as they talk to you. They ask for a reason, so if you are in pain, take the offer.
You may be like many people and have pain and stiffness occur some days after the crash. Sometimes this is an injury, and sometimes it is just stiffness. If you don’t see your doctor, you will never know. If you do not go to a doctor, any hope of having an insurance claim against the other driver will be gone. The basic rule of thumb is – if someone is hurt, they go to a doctor; if you don’t go to a doctor, nobody will assume you are hurt.
Every day I speak with people that are in this situation that tell me that they hurt after an accident, but didn’t go to a doctor because they didn’t want to pay for it, or just thought that they were tough enough to get through it. After several days of chronic pain, nobody is tough enough to outlast it. However, delays in seeking medical treatment will adversely affect your claim against another driver. Also, your health should be your priority, period. More likely than not, some insurance will pay for your doctor care, so go get it.
Lastly, go talk to a lawyer that specializes in personal injuries. Almost every attorney in this business will give you a free initial consultation. You can not only get some good free legal advise, but you will likely be able to maximize a monetary settlement and take away the headache of dealing with the stress related to an injury claim. I tell all the potential clients that I see that my job representing injured people has two primary goals:
1. get you the most money possible for your claim because it is my job to know how much it is worth.
2.My other job is to de-stress you so that you can heal. Allowing you to relax and not have to worry about handling a claim enhances your ability to get better. An individual that is not familiar with the process has to deal with going to auto body shops; establishing the value of their vehicle repairs, or value of the vehicle if it is totaled; dealing with insurance adjusters that are often rude and condescending, and making sure they get the medical care they need. Insurance adjusters are trained to make the process difficult. The more difficult it is – the more likely you will abandon the claim – and the more money the insurance company makes. Insurance is a business, and they are in the business of making money. They will attempt to make the process very difficult for you if there is some hope of making them more money.
Maneuvering through an injury claim is a large task, and one that adds stress to your life. Any doctor will tell you, that if you hire an attorney to handle those tasks for you, your stress and anxiety will go down, and you will heal better and faster. Yes, you are actually improving your health, by allowing an attorney to handle these matters and your claim for you. You will feel better, less stressed and empowered. You also know that you will not be taken by an insurance company attempting to save as many dollars as they can by fooling you into settling for less than your claim is worth. Attorneys such as myself, that deal with these claims every day know what we are doing, and that is a priceless value that you can receive for your benefit relatively cheaply.
If you follow these steps the next time you are involved in a fender-bender, I assure you that you will be protecting yourself, and ensuring that you will be compensated to the full value of your claim. If you would like a free phone or in person consultation for a Montana accident, feel free to contact my office at (406) 721-3354.
Marty is a former criminal prosecutor in the Cascade County Attorney’s Office and now uses that experience to defend those accused of crimes. A University of Montana School of Law graduate, Marty focuses his practice on personal injury and criminal defense and is a premier DUI defense attorney. He is also well versed in the insurance claims industry and has negotiated significant settlements with nearly every major insurance company.