If you’ve been injured in an auto accident, here are some important steps you should take to protect your rights:
1. Be Prepared
As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In order to be properly prepared for an auto accident, you should keep the following items in your vehicle:
a. Cell phone
b. Camera (Your cell phone camera should suffice)
c. Pen and paper
e. Proof of automobile insurance
f. Vehicle Registration
2. Stop Your Vehicle and Get to a Safe Place
If you’ve been in an accident, stop your vehicle, turn on your vehicle’s hazzard lights and get to a safe place so that you're not in danger of being hit by another vehicle on the road.
3. Call 911
If you or anybody else involved in the accident suffered serious injuries and require immediate medical treatment you should call 911 and request that they send the paramedics and law enforcement.
If you suffered injuries in the accident but do not require emergency medical services, you should still call 911 and request that they send law enforcement to the scene. Law enforcement will respond to the scene of the accident and prepare a report regarding the incident (called a Traffic Collision Report).
The investigating law enforcement officer will take statements from everybody involved in the accident and any known witnesses and the officer will prepare a report with all of his findings.
The traffic collision report can be critically important because sometimes a person who causes an auto accident apologizes at the scene, promises to tell his insurance company that the accident was his fault and asks you not to involve the police. However, when he leaves the scene of the accident he realizes that his insurance rates will increase if he admits to causing the accident so when he reports the accident to his insurance company he lies and he blames you as the cause of the accident.
However, if law enforcement is called to the scene of the accident they will interview everybody involved in the accident and all known witnesses. The officer will then write a traffic collision report that documents the statements everybody made at the scene, so if the at-fault driver later makes any significant changes to his story it will look highly suspicious and the jury will likely not believe him.
4. Be Careful What You Say
When you speak to the other people involved in the accident, you must be careful what you say. Statements at the scene of the accident can become important pieces of evidence at trial. For example, when a person apologizes after an accident, juries often interpret that as an admission of fault.
Do not make any statements admitting fault at the scene of the accident. Determining fault in an accident is sometimes a complex process involving factors in which you may not be aware. To be safe, you should keep your conversation with the other drivers to a minimum.
5. Exchange Information
You need to exchange information with the other people involved in the accident. All of the drivers involved in the accident must provide their:
a. Drivers License;
b. Vehicle Registration; and
c. Proof of Auto Insurance.
If you have a camera, you should take clear photographs of the front and back of all of these documents. Make sure that the text is in focus and can be read in the photographs.
If you don’t have a camera, you must manually record the following information from the documents:
a. Drivers License - For each driver involved in the accident you must record the following information from their drivers license:
1. The person's name;
2. Driver’s license number;
3. Date of birth;
4. All contact information
b. Auto Insurance Information - For each driver involved in the accident you must record the following auto insurance information:
1. The name of the insurance company;
2. Contact information of the insurance company;
3. The insurance policy number;
4. The names of all the people listed as insured; and
5. The start and end dates of the policy
c. Vehicle Registration - You need to record the following information of the registered owner(s) of all of the vehicles involved in the accident:
1. The name,
2. Address; and
3. Phone number
In addition you need to record the following information regarding all of the vehicles involved in the accident:
a. Vehicle Make and Model;
b. License Plate Number(s);
c. Vehicle Identification Number(s) (VIN)
You should also record the exact location and the time of the accident.
If law enforcement responds to the scene of the accident and prepares a traffic collision report, they should collect all of this necessary information from everybody involved in the accident and include it in the traffic collision report. This is another reason that it is important to have law enforcement prepare a traffic collision report.
6. Locate Witnesses
Bystanders who witnessed the accident are often critically important in an auto accident case, especially if there is a dispute regarding the facts of the accident or who caused the accident. For this reason it is important to locate people who saw the accident and obtain their:
c. Cell phone number;
d. Home phone number;
e. Work phone number
If the witnesses leave before law enforcement arrives, you must provide this information to law enforcement. Law enforcement should contact and interview the witnesses and include their statements in the traffic collision report.
7. Take Photographs and Video
Take lots of photographs and video of the vehicles involved in the accident, showing all of the damage they suffered in the accident. If the vehicles were not moved after the accident you should also take photos or video showing the position of the vehicles. Include wide angle shots showing street signs, traffic lights and other traffic signs.
8. Immediately Seek Medical Treatment
If you were injured in an auto accident you should seek medical treatment as soon as possible. In fact, if there is a large gap in time between the time of the accident and the time you seek medical treatment, the insurance companies may unfairly and incorrectly accuse you of faking or exaggerating your injuries since, they argue, you would have sought medical treatment sooner if you were really hurt.
If you need help finding a doctor to treat your injuries, an experienced personal injury attorney should be able to help you.
9. Hire an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney
There's an old saying in the legal industry that, “A person who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
Insurance companies have billions of dollars and huge legal departments working on their side. Almost immediately after the accident the insurance companies will start their investigations. Everything you say to the insurance company will be used against you to weaken and damage your case. Their job is to do everything possible to damage your case and avoid paying you fair compensation. They unfairly delay and deny legitimate claims and take advantage of non-lawyers because non-lawyers do not know their legal rights and do not know how to protect their legal rights.
The average person simply cannot compete with insurance companies and their army of employees and attorneys and billions of dollars available to spend against your case. This is why it is critically important to hire a personal injury attorney to protect your rights after an accident. A personal injury attorney will deal directly with all of the insurance companies so that you do not have to and he will protect your rights and your case.
Tommy M. Troncoso is an experienced personal injury attorney who has handled many auto accident cases and helped many injured victims receive fair compensation. He provides free consultations and free case evaluations to injured victims. To contact him for a free consultation and free case evaluation call him at 818-988-7300 or e-mail him at Tommy@troncoso-law.com.
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15643 Sherman Way, Suite 160
Van Nuys, CA 91406