Munro Law P.C.
Right after a collision, no one is able to think clearly; everyone is a little “shaken up.” Whether it is the fear of a near-death experience, the relief of having survived, or the pain of an injury, the last thing you will be thinking about is preserving evidence for your legal claim. A lot of things will be happening all at once, and the best advice is to be prepared. Here is a quick summary of a few things to think about.
- DO call law enforcement. When people are in a collision, they are always on the way somewhere. One or both people are usually in a hurry or have a place to be, and the sudden inconvenience of dealing with a collision—plus our natural tendency to not want to inconvenience others—makes us want to move things along. Don’t hesitate to call the police, even if the other person seems irritated by it. Law enforcement will control the scene, document what happened (so you don’t have to), and get the other person’s personal and insurance information. They may even cite the other person with a violation that helps a lawyer establish liability for any personal injuries you suffer. Even if you don’t think there is much damage to your vehicle, or you aren’t sure you’ve been hurt, it’s always a good move to have law enforcement document the scene. And if for any reason you don’t choose to call law enforcement, DO ask the other person if you can see their driver’s license, registration, and insurance information yourself, and record that information for your own insurance company (the driver’s name and address, the car owner’s name and address, and the insurance company and number).
- DO take pictures before your vehicles are moved. It may be a simple rear-ender, or it may be a complex multi-car chain collision. Regardless, you need to get pictures of the scene including the vehicles. Will the other driver think you are preparing for litigation? Who cares? The point is, you are preparing for having to prove the truth—to law enforcement, to a traffic court, to your insurance company, to the other driver’s, or to a jury—it doesn’t matter. A photograph showing the cars’ exact, post-collision positions and orientation is immediate and objective proof of what the scene looked like, and there is no substitute in testimony. We rarely see people with the presence of mind to take photos at the scene. And most city and county officers do not take any pictures either (State Troopers often do, but more photos are always better). Often, those same officers will show up with an immediate priority to clear traffic and get the vehicles moved. So, take some pictures on your phone before you move them, or ask a witness to do so.
- 3. DO get the name and information from witnesses. If anyone comes up to the scene to see if you are okay, ask them if they would please give you their information as a witness. Most of us hesitate to involve people, but the reality is that most people want to help and are happy to be useful to you. So get the name, addresses and phone numbers of any witnesses to the accident. Often, these people will fade away as soon as they realize the police have been called, or that no one is bleeding or paralyzed, so they can get back to their errand. Even when they stay around, the police often do not take their names and numbers if the circumstances of the collision are simple. So, get that information and give it to your insurer or your lawyer.
- DO get medical treatment immediately, even if it is precautionary, and tell them everything you are feeling. So often, we hear that our clients were already feeling stiff or sore at the scene of a collision, but decided that they would be “fine,” and declined medical attention. Perhaps they are worried about the costs. Perhaps they are just being “tough” or are in a hurry. We all know our own bodies better than anyone else. But the bottom line is, unless you are a doctor, you should assume that any abnormal feeling is clinically significant and have it examined. This will not only make sure you get the medical attention you might need, but it will document important information about your symptoms at the scene in an EMT record. The same goes for an offer to go to the hospital—if you have any symptoms, especially in head, joints, abdomen, the neck, or back (anywhere!)—go get checked out at the emergency room. And when you talk to the medical personnel, tell them everything no matter how slight. In our business, medical records are key evidence that even insurance companies cannot typically ignore, as long as they tell the truth. But if you don’t report those injuries within hours, the insurance companies will manipulate your “delay in treatment” to pretend that the pain you describe later simply did not happen.
- DO call your own insurance company to report the collision. DON’T talk to the other driver’s insurance company about your injuries or how the crash occurred. Your insurance company will protect your information and contact the other driver’s company in order to square away coverage for your car repairs or replacement. Let them do that. But often, the other driver’s company will try to call you very soon after the collision, and get a recorded statement. They will tell you this will help process your claim, but this is usually not true. You have no obligation to give this statement; you only have to cooperate with your own insurer. Remember to take some time. Immediately following a collision, you often don’t know how you will feel overnight, or even weeks later. Insurance companies try to get a statement immediately because some of the pain or injuries—think the effects of whiplash—will not really materialize until later. A casual statement that you are feeling fine is evidence that a defense attorney will manipulate later, to argue that the neck surgery you needed months later was unrelated to the collision. The exception to this rule is that you may certainly talk to the other insurance company about damages to your vehicle, your need for a rental car, etc. But tell them you are seeking legal counsel with regard to your injuries and you do not want to discuss the facts of the case until you speak with your lawyer. They will respect it, even if they don’t like it.
- DON’T settle early, or agree to let the insurance company “cover your medical expenses.” One of the most manipulative tactics of insurance companies is to offer to “cover your medical expenses.” They will ask for an authorization to get your medical records and bills, and assure you they will “take care of it.” Don’t fall for this. If you have medical expenses and the other driver is at fault, then the insurance company’s goal is to get your personal medical information early, and gauge how to cut your claim short and pay you as little as possible. They may do this by trying to get you to sign a release early, before your injuries are fully healed or your treatment complete. They also hope to get away with reimbursing only the reduced costs of a health insurance company, or your co-pays, rather than paying you for the full, unreduced medical bills that you could pursue with a lawyer at trial. Indeed, if you have any medical expenses, hiring a good personal injury lawyer to handle all negotiations with the insurance company is always a good idea. In dealing with insurance companies, you never go wrong with some patience, and some silence. We ask all of our clients to be patient, and focus their energy on getting well, while we focus on protecting their rights.
If you’ve been injured in a collision in Western Virginia, call us for free advice! We regularly try cases involving injuries suffered in Roanoke County (Roanoke, Salem, Vinton), Franklin County (Rocky Mount), Botetourt County (Troutville, Fincastle), Montgomery County (Blacksburg, Christiansburg), Pulaski County, Wythe County (Wytheville), Washington County (Abingdon), Rockbridge County (Lexington), Alleghany County (Covington), Bath County, Giles County, Craig County, Bedford County, and Augusta County (Staunton), as well as other courts throughout Virginia.