If you have been injured in an accident, you may need to seek the services of a personal injury attorney to act as an advocate for you. According to Owen, Patterson & Owen, a Santa Clarita car accident attorney, there are seven things you should do before you call a lawyer about your accident.
What to Do After a Car Accident
Get Witness Information
If you are physically able, ask anyone nearby if you can get their name and phone number so you can contact them later. The opportunity for your attorney to talk to important witnesses may be gone if contact information was not gathered at the scene.
If police responded to your accident, a police report may list a witness or two who saw the scene. If there are additional witnesses the police missed with better personal knowledge of what happened, this testimony is lost. If you were not the cause of the accident, you should try to get a name and phone number from any witnesses who saw the incident.
Ask If You Really Need a Personal Injury Lawyer
If your accident only involved property damage, or your injuries were minor, you may not need the services of a personal injury attorney. Unfortunately, even if your injuries are more serious, it is common for insurance companies to “lowball” your claim if you are not represented by a personal injury attorney. If you feel your injury is significant, call an attorney for a consultation.
Order a Police Report
If a copy of the police report is not provided to you, call the police department or go online to find out how to get a copy of the report. There may be a small fee for the processing and copying. Provide your personal injury attorney with a copy of the police report as soon as possible.
Get Pictures of the Damage
Take pictures of all property damage as well as any injuries you sustained. Pictures help convey the severity of the accident and what kind of impact you experienced.
Get a Repair Estimate for Your Car
If an insurance adjuster suggests taking your car to a specific body shop, be wary unless you know and trust the business. You can take your car to the repair shop of your choice.
Don’t Be a Tough Guy
If you are injured, go to the doctor. Insurance companies expect that if you were injured, you would have seen a doctor after the accident. If you delay and don’t see a doctor, this will hurt your chances for a fair settlement even if you were injured. Even if you don’t have health insurance and aren’t able to go to your primary doctor, an emergency room of a hospital can help assess your injuries, take x-rays, and provide you with medication if necessary. Most often, your auto insurance will pay for your medical bills. Do not delay medical treatment.
Be Prepared When You Call a Lawyer
If you get important information up front and provide this information to your attorney, you will help your case from the start. You should have:
- The physical address of the collision
- The name of doctors or clinics who treated you
- Relevant dates related to the accident and treatment
Why Do I Need to Act So Fast After an Accident?
There Is a Limited Time to Sue
Most states impose a statute of limitations for filing a car accident claim, which is between one and two years. After that, you give up your right to sue forever.
You May Need to Comply with Rules
States also have different requirements on what is needed in order for you to file suit, such as filing a police report, or filing a notice. Your attorney can help you with these requirements.
A Lawyer Can Help You Understand All of Your Potential Damages
There are a slew of potential damages available to people who are injured in a car accident. In addition to medical bills, you may be able to recover lost wages and be compensated for pain, suffering and emotional distress. Your family members may even be able to recover for the loss of your companionship if you have become incapacitated. If you don’t hire an attorney, you may not be aware of all of your potential legal rights to recovery.
Proving Liability Can Be Complex
Even with witnesses and a police report saying the other party is at fault, proving that he was so negligent that he breached a duty of care to you can be difficult. Since there are many elements that go into winning a personal injury lawsuit, you will need to hire an attorney who understands the law and who can provide references to cases, citations and other sources of law that support your position.
The Laws Differ from State to State
Auto insurance and auto accident rules are decided by each individual jurisdiction. For example, there are 12 “no fault” states in the US in which you cannot sue after a car accident except in special circumstances. Likewise, in some states, you can sue even if you were partially at fault for the accident (called comparative negligence states), while in others, if you contributed to causing the accident you can’t sue (called contributory negligence.) An attorney in your area can help explain all the nuances of the law within your jurisdiction to you, so you will fully understand all of your legal rights.
You Need to Understand Settlement Options
Most cases settle out of court, which means the defendant or his insurance company is likely to make you an offer. Your attorney can help you understand the implications of accepting this offer, since once you accept, you give up your right to sue forever. He can also help you to evaluate whether or not settling is the best option in your case.
Filing a Lawsuit Requires Adhering to Complex Rules
If you decide to sue, you will have to file the appropriate papers in court. This is not as simple as going to the court house and announcing your intent to sue. A number of complex rules exist on everything from the font size of the brief to how legal precedent is cited and what evidence is admissible. You will need a lawyer to guide you through the complicated process of filing suit.
Proving Your Case Can Be Even More Complex
Just as filing your case is complex, proving your case is even more so. You may be permitted to “discover” certain information from the other side, and you may be limited in the types of witnesses and evidence you present. There are even restrictions on the kind of questions and phrasings of questions you can ask in court. Furthermore, extensive legal research often needs to be done to convince the court or jury to side with you. As such, it is very difficult to prove personal injury liability on your own.
You Could Be Faced with Financial Loss If You Don’t Hire an Attorney
If you don’t sue in time, if you don’t sue for the right damages or sue the right defendants, and if you lose your case as a result of improperly presenting your information, you will be barred from ever suing again. This means you will have used up your only chance for recovery and you will be stuck with all the costs and bills as a result of the accident that someone else carelessly caused.