The horrible nature of tragedy is that it strikes at a moment’s notice. One minute, you may be driving down the George Washington Bridge toward New Jersey, but the next, you’ve been hit by a merging vehicle and shards of windshield glass are in your arm.
The nature of tragedy is brutal, but it is important to know how to handle the situation when it happens. The goal of this article is to help injured persons seek the help they need and preserve their right to financial compensation in court. As personal injury attorneys, these are some of the most important pieces of advice that we hoped all of our clients had followed after they were hurt.
Medical Treatment First
If you have been injured in an accident and are still reading this article, put down your phone or laptop and go to a hospital now. Your health and safety is the single most important aspect of any post-injury recovery, and you should not delay seeking care for any reason.
Often, the injuries on the surface may not appear as bad as they really are. For example, it is common for victims of auto crashes with no open wounds or obvious bone breaks to skip medical examination. Unfortunately, crashes can result in internal injuries such as back and neck pain that might not immediately present itself. Getting checked first is important to your health and recovery.
Notify the Police
As soon as an accident occurs, call the police to report the accident. Having a police report that clarifies what occurred and how the parties to the crash were injured can be extremely helpful to your attorney in piecing together what occurred. Additionally, the police will speak to any witnesses and preserve their statements. If possible, the injured parties should stay in their vehicles until the police arrive.
This is for two reasons: first, if you are injured, you should not agitate any pain or medical conditions that may have resulted; second, tensions flare in the immediate aftermath of an accident, and you will want to have time to cool down before speaking to either the other driver or the police.
Identify the Responsible Party
If you are looking to pursue financial compensation from the party who caused your injuries, you need to know who to sue first. This is often as simple as asking for the responsible party’s insurance information, but sometimes this can be more difficult.
Take the example of a vicious watchdog attack. You may remember the dog who bit you, but determining the dog’s owner may be difficult. Ask around the neighborhood where you were bit and find information about who might have owned the offending animal.
Unfortunately, there are famous cases that have ended badly for injury victims because the victim could not identify the responsible party. For example, one victim was badly burned by a corrosive drain fluid. Thinking that the product was dangerous and should not be kept around his children, he threw away the bottle. When it came time to file the lawsuit, however, he could not remember whether the drain fluid was made by Mr. Plumber or LiquidPlumber. The judge dismissed this case because the victim could not conclusively identify the responsible party.
Start Collecting Evidence and Keep it Well-Preserved
You should prepare for filing a lawsuit by gathering evidence. This could take the form of preservation of physical evidence such as not throwing away the dangerous product (corrosive drain fluid bottle or bloody power saw blade, for example) that caused your injury. It also means taking pictures of the accident scene either with a real camera or with your cell phone and taking down the contact information of anyone who may have witnessed the crime.
You will also want to hold onto any paperwork that is medical related, because knowing the extent and costs of your injuries upfront can help the attorney reviewing your case determine the expected value more quickly. Preserving all of this evidence is also important. Each time you collect a piece of evidence, you should put it in one central location such as a folder or box for safekeeping. Many clients come to our office with nothing but a story, and it is much harder to help those clients compared to others that come into our office with a box of evidence.
Avoid Speaking with Any Insurance Companies and Signing Any Documents That Come From Either the Responsible Party or an Insurance Company
Most victims in personal injury cases will be dealing with at least one liability insurer. This is particularly common in car accident cases, where car insurance companies are involved in compensating for accident injuries. You should not discuss anything with an insurance company or allow them to take a recorded statement without an attorney present. Often, any legal document that the responsible party asks you to sign will include a waiver of your right to sue in court. Signing away that right is incredibly dangerous because you may not know immediately after the accident what the extent of your injuries will be. You may require long term physical therapy or be unable to work for a period of time, which could affect how large of a settlement you actually need. It is better to avoid signing anything until you know for sure what the extent of your damages may be.
Similarly, one of the most common insurance tactics is to approach accident victims with an early settlement offer before they have sought out attorneys. These early settlements are often laughably lowball compensation offers, but they may seem like a lot of money at the time. Just remember that the first offer is always low, and you should never sign any document purporting to pay for your medical bills or to offer a settlement without having that offer reviewed first by an attorney.
Hire an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney
It is possible to represent yourself in your own personal injury litigation. In fact, injury victims have the constitutional right to not hire an attorney if they do not want one. That said, it is far better to find an experienced personal injury attorney to help you with your case. Represented parties not only have a larger likelihood of success both at the negotiating table with insurers and in court, people who hire attorneys also recover larger settlements and verdicts.
While an attorney may seem like an unnecessary expense, the increased recovery associated with attorney representation almost always covers the cost of the fee. If you have been injured and are searching for an experienced attorney, the Law Offices of Yuriy Moshes can provide passionate representation and help you seek financial compensation in court.