Around Our Town...Legally Speaking
What You Need To Do In Case of an Auto Accident
10/01/2005 - If you live long enough and you drive, at some point you will have an auto accident. In our society auto accidents probably disrupt the lives of more people then any other individual occurrence. Whether your accident is the classic fender bender or a catastrophic accident there are certain steps you should take and should not take to protect yourself.
Let's talk about things you should do right after the accident. First and foremost seek proper medical attention. In Wyoming we like to think of our selves as rough and tough but there are certain injuries that you should never just ignore. The first injury you should always seek medical attention for is a severe blow to your head. In the past I have discussed how devastating even a mild brain injury can be. Back injuries are also often ignored right after an accident and disregarded as only "a pulled muscle" or "just a sprain." After an accident you should always err on the side of caution and seek immediate medical attention. In my practice I often have people come to my office who "lived with the pain for a while." The unfortunate thing is these tough souls not only increased their injuries by being tough but also gave their insurance company an excuse not to pay any medical claims. In a personal injury claim you must prove by a preponderance that the accident caused the injury. If you wait to go to the doctor for a week, the insurance company may very well argue that you were hurt after the accident. So, first seek treatment if you are hurt.
Second, always call the police. A myriad of legal problems can appear if you fail to call the police. If the person that hit you says "please don't call the police" they usually have a reason and it seldom has anything to do with your best interest.
Next, it is important that you are polite to and fully cooperate with all emergency and law enforcement personnel. Not only are these individuals there to help you but the relationship you establish with them at the scene of the accident may impact their testimony at a future trial. You should not leave the scene until law enforcement has told you it is okay to leave.
After your accident it is very important you get certain information. Make sure to try to get the other driver's license number, names, telephone numbers and addresses of everyone involved in the accident. Usually, if you are injured or incapacitated the police should gather any and all of this type of information. Try to get the names and telephone numbers of bystanders or drivers who may have witnessed the accident. When you finally go to a lawyer all of this information will become critical to your accident.
If possible, do not move your car prior to the police arriving at the scene of the accident. The relevant location of the cars in an accident when they come to rest can be critical information to a proper reconstruction of your accident.
Many insurance policies require that you give your insurance company immediate notice of the accident. You should call your insurer as soon as possible so any investigation by them can be initiated.
It is a very good idea to take photos that document the accident as soon as possible. Take photos of the scene of the accident from as many angles as possible. Take pictures of the surrounding area. Take pictures of your vehicle and all other vehicles involved in the accident. You will also want to get pictures of any injuries you may have. It is always wise to preserve any evidence from the accident which may be valuable.
After the accident, remember that any statement you make to anyone about the accident may be used against you especially statements about the accident being your fault or how you could or should have done something to mitigate the accident.
Finally, most lawyers who do personal injury litigation should be willing to discuss your case without a fee so go talk to a good lawyer. A 20 minute free consultation with a competent attorney may save you years of regret.
Tom Sedar, P.C. is an attorney- at-law practicing in Casper