You are a great driver. But sometimes, your skills on the road will not stop an accident from happening. If you drive in the Waterbury area, or are unfortunate enough to spend time around I-84, driving is stressful. Waterbury is filled with constant stop-and-go traffic, numerous lane-shifts, and merging in the left and right lanes of the highway. Interstate 84 is also a major route for travelers and truckers getting between New York and Boston, who may not be familiar with the area. No matter how good your driving skills are, it may not enough to overcome these dangerous conditions. Accidents happen.
Whether you are involved in your first car accident or have had experience, the moments directly after the crash are crucial to your case. What you say, what you do, and who you talk to may predetermine the outcome of your case. You must put emotion to the side, and handle these moments delicately and honestly.
If you are ever involved in a car accident, follow these steps to ensure that you are protected.
- Stay Calm- This is very important. A person that is angry or stressed from a motor vehicle crash may fly off the handle, and make statements to you, the other parties, or the police, that can be used to their detriment at a later time.
- Call The Police- Even if you believe this is a minor collision, call the police. If it is major, call 911. Many insurance companies require a police report, obtaining one will move your case along quicker and with more clarity.
- Take Pictures Immediately- Use your phone if you have to, but take as many pictures as possible, including your vehicle, the other vehicle(s), and an overview of the scene (including stop lights, stop signs, skid-marks, etc). Many times, the police will instruct you to move your vehicles to the side of the road or a nearby parking lot. If possible, take pictures before the vehicles are moved. Further, insurance companies analyze photographs to determine fault.
- Accurate Statements- If you can properly recall the events, tell the police exactly what happened, but never admit fault. If you or the other party admits fault, that will be considered evidence and used against you. If a witness claims it was your fault, that will not be considered evidence, unless that witness appears in court. A court will preclude witness statements if the other party tries to bring those statements in as evidence, commonly known as the “hearsay” rule. For example, imagine a witness tells the police it was your fault and it is written into the police report. But, the witness does not show up to court. That statement will most likely be excluded from the case because it is hearsay. However, anything that you, or the other party says, is called an “admission,” which is considered an exception to hearsay. So, if you admit or say anything at the scene, it can be used against you.
- “Are you injured?”- The police will ask you this question as standard protocol. As an attorney, this is the biggest mistake I see clients make. After an accident, adrenaline is rushing, stress levels are peaking, and clients just want to get away. A police officer will ask a person if they are injured, and that person often responds “No.” Then within the next few days, realizes that they are having neck/back discomfort and seek treatment. Many spinal and soft tissue injuries get worse over time, and are not readily apparent just after a collision. Insurance companies love to use this against you. In discussing potential settlements or lawsuits, we always face the following question: “Your client claims they are injured, but they told the police officer at the scene that they were not injured.” Moral of the story, if you are hurt, tell the police officer. If you are not sure, say “I don’t know.” Unless you are absolutely certain that you are not injured, you should seek immediate medical treatment at the local emergency room or your physician.
- Exchange Information- This may also be done by the police, but it will move things along quicker if you get a picture of the other person’s driver’s license and insurance identification card.
- Look for Witnesses- If this was a busy intersection, or other vehicles stopped, ask for witness information so your attorney can contact them in the future. If a lawsuit (complaint) is filed down the road, another popular tactic by the insurance company is to deny that it was their insured’s fault, and they will blame you. This is called a “special defense.” If there are independent witnesses to back up your set of facts, we can move to throw those defenses out and it will strengthen your case.
- Start a Journal- Keeping a written record of the accident, your injuries, and the impact on your life is extremely helpful. If there are certain activities that you are having trouble with because of the accident, write it down. If your injuries interrupt your sleep, write it down. Many personal injury lawsuits take three to four years before a final judgment, keeping a written record will be helpful for you and your attorney.
- Protect Your Rights & Say Little to Insurance Companies- If you are involved in a car accident at 1 pm, you may get a call from an insurance company at 2 pm. This can be your insurance company, or the other party’s. Insurance companies want this statement as quickly as possible, before you speak with an attorney. They will record it, and attempt to determine who is at fault. It is fine to contact your own company to let them know an accident happened, but never admit fault and do not give a detailed statement. You do not have to speak with them. Talk with an attorney first and protect your rights.
- Make an Appointment- In personal injury claims, attorneys work on a contingency fee basis. This means that an attorney is not paid until a final settlement or judgment by the court, and payment comes directly from that settlement/judgment. It will cost you nothing to make an appointment and obtain advice on how to handle the ins and outs of a car accident.
As an Attorney I can never promise results. What I can promise, is that I will personally meet with you, listen to your situation, and make a recommendation. Call or e-mail Attorney Tim Fitzpatrick in Naugatuck, Connecticut if you have been involved in a car accident at 203-729-4555 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was written by Attorney Tim Fitzpatrick of Fitzpatrick | Mariano | Santos | Sousa P.C.