Accidents happen to everyone, but sometimes those accidents are caused by the fault or negligence of someone else. If you were injured by the fault of another person, then you may have a personal injury accident claim against that person or entity. In most cases, such claims are brought against offending party and the insurer or insurance company for that party.
But what steps should you take in ensuring that your claim is properly handled and that you get the compensation to which you are entitled?
There are different types of injury claims, with the most common being:
- Car accidents
- Slip and fall (premises liability)
- Product defect (product liability)
- Medical malpractice
1. Get prompt medical attention.
Whether you slipped and injured your back, were involved in a car accident, a product sliced your hand or a drug you were taking led to a stroke – you may need to get immediate medical help. If you think you’ve suffered an injury in a fall or car collision or in any other type of accident, but feel it may go away on its own and wait two weeks before seeing your doctor, you inject an element of doubt about whether your injury was caused by the accident, and if that injury was at all serious.
2. Preserving evidence.
Preserving or recording the scene and evidence is vital, if it can be done. In a car accident, take photos of the vehicles involved, intersection, signs, and area where the accident occurred. If a slip and fall, take photographs of the floor and object that caused your fall, since the site will likely be changed. If a product or drug was involved, keep the item without repairing or altering it. Obtain the names and contact information of witnesses. If you sustained a visible injury, have someone photograph it.
3. Do not give statements.
It is never a good idea to give a statement about what happened to anyone but the police, if called, or your attorney. If you can speak with an attorney before giving a statement to police, that would be ideal. In a car accident, merely exchange information with the other party if you are able to do so and do not comment about the accident or apologize, even if the accident may have been your fault. Often accidents happen in an instant, so it’s important to examine the physical evidence and reflect on it before you make any claims. If the other party asks if you are okay, and you don’t have an obvious visible injury, just say you are unsure. Often the shock of an accident can mask pain which will arrive later. Insurance investigators may call you and ask that you give a statement on the phone or in-person. Politely decline and advise them that you are retaining an attorney. This includes your own insurance company/agent. If the person or company responsible for the accident does not have sufficient insurance coverage and you have underinsured/uninsured motorist coverage, your own insurance company may become your adversary in a later legal battle. While they are “your” insurance company, they may not be looking out for “your” best interests later. If you have to give a statement to your insurance company to arrange for the repair of your own vehicle, simply demand that they not record the statement. If the statement is not recorded, you can refute any incorrect statements in the future. It’s best to say as little as possible to anyone until you talk to your attorney.
4. Call a personal injury attorney.
Depending on the severity of your injury and the complexity of the situation, you may need to hire a personal injury lawyer. While many claims may appear simple on the surface, most are rarely cut and dry. There are often issues regarding liability, notice to the parties, proving that an injury did occur or was not pre-existing, and the extent of your damages. Gathering and obtaining evidence that can be crucial – such as video evidence at an intersection or an expert inspection of a vehicle, intersection, or defective product – are all things that your attorney can arrange.
Your attorney will examine the legal claims applicable to your situation, determine what needs to be proven to win at a trial of your case, and determine who might be liable to you for your injuries. From there, it’s about obtaining the specific witness testimony and documentary and physical evidence needed to prove the legal theories. Your attorney has the power to subpoena documents from third parties, require witnesses to appear for questioning, and to ask the Court to force parties to produce documents relevant to your case.
As you might expect, just being hurt doesn’t necessarily equate to a viable legal claim. For instance, if you fell at a department or grocery store, the owners or operators must have had reasonable notice that the hazard that caused your fall was present. In a car accident, an insurance adjuster may claim that you were speeding or otherwise contributed to the accident or that you could not have been as injured as you claim. Having a personal injury attorney can help you negotiate your way through this legal process for the best result possible.
5. Be honest and upfront with your attorney.
Your attorney does not want surprises. If you had a felony conviction a few years ago, a prior accident, or you injured the same part of your body in a previous accident or incident and failed to tell your attorney, this can seriously jeopardize your claim. Insurance companies do investigate claims. If you failed to disclose something that affects the value of your case, you can expect to obtain less money in a settlement or even at a jury trial.
If you have a previous criminal conviction or a prior injury, this does not mean your claim is worthless or that your settlement will be much less than expected. It may change how your case needs to be handled. By being honest and upfront, your attorney will have time to plan appropriately and minimize the impact of these facts where possible.
6. Attend all appointments and follow your doctor’s advice.
It seems easy to do, but in many cases, patients miss appointments, do not take medications, or decide to end treatment on their own or find another medical provider without notice to their attorney or to their doctor. If you do this, defense insurance adjusters and lawyers will seize on this to argue that your injuries were minor or that you are misrepresenting the nature and extent of your injuries. Also, if you claim your injuries worsened but you failed to attend appointments or follow through on other medical advice, then your claim may be considerably compromised.
Taking these steps can ensure that your injury claim is handled properly and that you are given the best opportunity to obtain the most compensation. Most importantly, retain an experienced personal injury lawyer to handle your case from start to finish.