WHAT TO DO AFTER A CAR ACCIDENT
WHAT TO DO AFTER A CAR ACCIDENT
By Parag P. Bhosale
After the crash, when we’re feeling rattled and disoriented, it’s hard to decide what to do after a car accident. Consequently, most people who get hurt in an accident make their biggest mistakes during the first few days after the event. Since modern physics has yet to figure out a way to turn back time, these errors can’t be undone. So the only thing you can do is prevent them from happening in the first place. Make sure you know what to do after a car accident by following these four major guidelines.
1. REPORT THE ACCIDENT TO THE POLICE.
This sounds simple, but our minds are programmed to consider an accident in the best case scenario. This isn’t wrong, but when there’s a major injury, the worst symptoms often do not show up until a day or two after the event.
Take the example of a simple rear-end car collision. After getting hit, you may hop out of your car, take a look at your bumper, see that there is no major damage, exchange info with the driver that hit you, and continue on your merry way. Why call and wait an hour for the police to show up, right? Nobody has time for that.
But when you get back home, your neck and back start to tighten up. You still figure it’s nothing and take some Tylenol before bed. The next morning, you’re completely stiff, and you have constant tingling and numbness in your right hand. Now you’re worried, so you call your doctor for an appointment. You see your doctor a few days later, and he says you’re going to need four weeks of physical therapy and an expensive MRI. On your way out, the doctor’s billing clerk tells you they need the insurance for the driver of the car that hit you. You hand over the card given to you by the other driver on the day of the accident. That afternoon, the doctor’s office calls you back and tells you that the insurance company says their driver wasn’t at fault and asks if you can forward them your police report. Unfortunately, there is no police report! You didn’t call the police to report the accident, so now your doctor’s office will be billing your health insurance for the upcoming treatment, and you’ll be responsible for co-pays and deductibles. Furthermore, the insurance card that you were given happened to expire two weeks before the accident.
This is just one reason why it’s always a good idea to call the police….even if no one is hurt. In addition to checking insurance, the reporting police officer will include a brief narrative of each driver’s version of events in his onsite report, (You’ll be surprised how quickly someone will change their story after they’ve talked about it with their insurance company!) along with a description of injuries, if any. If you are feeling pain but are not in need of an ambulance, certainly tell the officer so he can make a note of it in his report.
This holds true for any injury scenario. If you’re hurt at work, tell your supervisor. Under Illinois law, you have 45 days to report an injury and still qualify for workers’ compensation benefits, but earlier is always better. If you get injured on another’s property, you must also report it to someone. How good do you think your injury case will be if you fall at a department store and then walk out without telling anyone? Not good. Also, if you slip or trip on something, make a report right away to make sure that they preserve the surveillance video and take pictures of the dangerous condition that made you fall.
So many of us hop up right away after falling because it’s embarrassing. I had a client with a severely fractured hip get up and try to keep walking for that very reason. You can’t talk your body out of a serious injury….if you’re hurt and need help, stay down and ask someone for first aid.
2. SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION.
The easiest way to fight an injury claim is to point out a delay in getting medical treatment. Even waiting a day to see a doctor or go to a hospital isn’t what to do after a car accident. It severely weakens an injury case. The argument seems to make sense. If you were hurt so badly and the accident was so terrible, why did you wait three days to see a doctor? But more often than not, the symptoms associated with a traumatic injury will not show up right away.
Think about it. The last time you overexerted yourself exercising or doing physical labor, did you feel all of the pain and soreness right away? How many times do you feel worse the next day? Injuries from accidents work the same way. You may think you’re doing the right thing by putting it off, but in reality, with every day you wait, you are saving someone’s insurance company money. You’re also likely going to prolong the time it takes for your attorney, when you hire one, to get you a reasonable settlement or award.
Also, keep in mind that everything you say to a doctor or nurse is noted. If you only tell your doctor that your neck is bothering you but fail to mention some mild soreness in your shoulder, you’ve just given the other insurance company a defense when you later try to claim your shoulder was hurt by the accident. Why should they pay medical bills for your shoulder when you didn’t tell the ER nurse that your shoulder was injured a mere 30 minutes after the accident happened? Keep in mind that when you make an injury claim, everybody will get to see what’s in your medical records, so you need to be sure to mention EVERYTHING that is bothering you….even if it seems minor.
Don’t forget to also tell your doctors about a pre-existing conditions or prior injuries. You’re not going to fool anyone. The other insurance company will eventually find out if you saw your doctor two weeks before the accident for neck pain. It’s better to tell your doctor about the old injury, and then make it clear how the symptoms have been aggravated by the recent accident. Every doctor, when called upon to testify or write a report, will rely on what’s in his records. If you “forgot” to tell him about a pre-existing condition, you’re going to draw your credibility into question. And remember, insurance companies (just like juries) are looking to prove you untrustworthy.
3. BE CAREFUL WHO YOU TALK TO (OR WHAT YOU POST)
Insurance companies are rigorously working with their attorneys to defeat or damage a claim. So when you call to report an injury claim, which is what to do after a car accident, they may sound nice on the phone but they’re gathering facts to use against you later on. That starts with asking for your authorization to make a recording of the conversation. You should always refuse to do this.
First, they will ask you how the accident happened. They’ll ask you how fast the cars were going. They’ll ask you if you saw the other car before the accident. Guess what? If you didn’t see the other car before the accident, then a judge may not allow you to testify about how fast the other car was traveling when it hit you. If the judge eliminates you as a witness, the only story the jury will hear is the other driver’s version. How likely do you think they will report hitting you at 45 mph in the 25 mph zone? But since you’ve already given your recorded statement, you’re stuck with what you’ve said.
Secondly, when you speak to them shortly after the accident, the insurance adjustor will ask you in their most understanding voice, “Thank goodness you’re ok, right?” You answer, “Yes, it’s a relief.” Of course, when you get a bill six months later for $5,000 in physical therapy sessions, you won’t be relieved at all. But you said you were ok, remember? Or at least that’s what you said on their tape recording a mere four hours after the accident and before you saw your doctor who referred you for physical therapy.
Still not convinced? Ask the claim rep if they will let you take a recorded statement from the guy who hit you. If they’re playing fair, why would they refuse? Well, download a song instead because they will NEVER agree to let you record anything.
The new world of social media has given insurance companies a free and easy pass to investigate not only your claim, but also your life. Whatever you post on Facebook or Twitter is free game. You have a pre-scheduled family vacation booked for a month after your accident? Guess who would love to see every single one of those pictures of you smiling on the beach? That’s right….that sweetheart of a claim rep. It does not look like such a bad injury when you post those pictures for the whole world to see on your page.
4. USE THE RIGHT INSURANCE.
Should you use your health insurance? Isn’t my employer’s workers’ compensation insurance supposed to pay my bills? What is a medical lien and why do I keep getting them in the mail from my medical providers? Not sure what to do after a car accident?
These are all questions that an experienced personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney can answer. The problem with billing is that medical providers tend to bill whoever will pay….even if it’s not the right insurance company. It’s best to have this set up correctly in the beginning so that the absolute worst case scenario never happens….the unpaid bill comes to you, and nobody is willing to pay it.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Like I wrote before, we all are conditioned to think that it’s all going to be ok and we’re not hurt badly. Too often that’s not the case. People resist calling an personal injury attorney right away because they think it will just muddy up the situation. But in reality, the opposite is true. These common mistakes are the ones that will make you go to an attorney after-the-fact, when it’s often too late. Meet with an experienced personal injury or workers’ compensation attorney early on to properly guide you through the process. Your body and your health are too precious. Don’t gamble with them!
If you need help with what to do after a car accident, contact Gardi & Haught for a consultation today.