Written by: Judge Anthony P. Calisi (ret.)
If you’ve been injured in an auto accident caused by another driver’s negligence, you may be able to file a personal injury claim for compensation. To have a legitimate claim, you must show that the other driver caused the collision, and that you suffered tangible damages.
Tangible damages include:
Injuries which required medical or therapeutic treatment
Out-of-pocket expenses related to those injuries
Wages you lost while treating and recovering from your injuries
Pain and suffering related to all the above
Damages do not include the rudeness of another driver or his insurance company, your hurt feelings, or a violation of your moral principals.
If you’ve been injured in a collision with another vehicle, there are a number of actions you can take to strengthen a potential claim. Taking these steps will preserve your right to full compensation for your injuries and resulting damages.
How to Build a Personal Injury Claim After an Accident
Call 911 and maintain safety
Don’t let the other driver talk you out of calling 911. Don’t agree to any arrangements that don’t involve making an official accident report. Even if the damage is minor, or the at-fault driver has personal reasons for avoiding an official accident report, you must make the call.
Keep a safe distance away from other traffic. When the police arrive, they will cordon off the area if necessary. They may set out flares or otherwise protect the scene.
Comfort the injured
While waiting for the paramedics and police to arrive, make a reasonable effort to comfort others who may have been injured. Avoid making any statements that imply your own negligence, such as, “I’m sorry” or “It was my fault.”
Exchange information with the other driver
Ask to see the driver’s license and insurance card. If the driver doesn’t have a license, ask to see other photo ID. Some people may have outstanding traffic warrants, lack auto insurance, or have other reasons for not wanting you to know who they are.
Write down the driver’s full name and address. Ask for an email address, and home, work, and cell phone numbers. Also request the names of friends or relatives you can contact if you’re unable to reach the driver.
Take photographs and videos
You can never have too many pictures. If you don’t have a camera handy, use your cell phone. Don’t move anything. Record the scene exactly as it is right after the accident. Take pictures and video that clearly reflects the position of the cars, especially if the other car’s position supports a claim of unsafe or illegal driving.
Photograph the damage to the cars, skid marks, broken car parts, damaged guardrails, trees, and other damaged stationary objects. If possible, have someone take pictures of your injuries.
Listen for admissions against interest
Use your cell phone to record statements made by the other driver. He or she may admit fault. Incriminating statements made at the time of the collision, such as, “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you” or “It’s my fault,” can be used as evidence against the driver. In a trial, such statements can be admitted as exceptions to the hearsay rule.
Look for witnesses and get their statements
Witnesses can be passengers in your car, or independent third-parties who saw the collision from their own cars, or from where they were standing. If witnesses stop, make every attempt to get their full contact information.
In addition to their contact info, ask the witnesses to write down what they saw. Ask them to be as detailed as possible, but don’t coach them. Have them sign and date every page of their statement. As long as their writing is legible, and the statement is dated and signed, it’s admissible as evidence.
Record your own statement
Although you may be shaken up after the accident, try to describe what happened. Make your statement as detailed as possible, without editorializing. Just include the facts. If you can’t write your statement at the scene, do it as soon as possible afterward.
Get the police report
Before the police officers clear the scene and allow you to leave, ask them for the service or reference number of their report. You can get a copy of the police report within a few days after the collision.
The report will include a description of the collision, with a diagram of the scene, and the officer’s assessment of fault. Police reports also indicate any traffic violations the officer thinks contributed to the collision, along with any citations issued.
Accept emergency medical care
If the paramedics think you should be transported to the hospital, go with them. Often, immediately after a collision, an accident victim’s adrenaline will mask the pain of serious injury. It’s prudent to let an emergency room physician determine the nature and extent of your injuries.
Follow-up with private medical care
If you didn’t go to the emergency room, make an appointment to see your primary care doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor can refer you to orthopedic surgeons or other independent specialists if necessary. Copies of all your medical charts and treatment records are essential to building your personal injury claim.
Contact the driver’s insurance company
After a few days, once your injuries are stabilized, you can notify the other driver’s insurance company. By the time you do, the at-fault driver will probably already have called and opened a claim.
If the insurance company’s claims adjuster asks you to give a recorded statement a few days after the accident, you can say you’re still a bit shaken and need a few more days. That way you have some time to get your thoughts together.
Meet with an attorney
Depending on the severity of your injuries, you may want to consult with a personal injury attorney. If you suffered only minor injuries, and your damages are only a few thousand dollars, it might not be worth it to
hire an attorney
. But you should speak with one regardless, since most don’t charge for an initial consultation.