I JUST HAD AN ACCIDENT. NOW WHAT DO I DO?
It can happen to anyone at any time. An accident. Whether you’re hurt or not, you certainly have lots of questions. The partners at the Ferguson Law Firm are board-certified personal-injury trial lawyers who want you to know your rights and what to do in an accident. While every wreck is different, here are some ways to protect your rights while protecting your health:
- Call 911. If you have a car accident involving more than a mere fender bender, call the police. Wait for the investigating officer to show up and, when the officer arrives, answer the questions truthfully and, assuming you are not intoxicated or otherwise at fault for the accident, fully cooperate in the investigation. Before the officer leaves, get his or her contact information and an incident number.
- Render aid if needed. If there are injuries and you are safely able to do so, render aid. If there are injuries and you have not already dialed 911, dial it now.
- If your wrecked vehicle is in an active lane of travel, move it off the roadway if you can safely do so. Exchange your driver’s license and insurance with the other driver(s) and write down any admissions. Many people try to leave their wrecked vehicles on the roadway so the investigating officer can do a CSI-type reconstruction. It’s often dangerous and, in fact, against Texas law. Move your vehicle off the road and turn on your flashers and, if you have one readily available, display a road safety triangle. Regardless, in any accident, exchange driver’s license and insurance information with the other driver(s). If any other driver admits fault or apologizes, write that down and remember it. Stay clear of all traffic and off the roadway.
- Photograph the scene, the vehicles involved (and license plates), and any tire or gouge marks on the road. Get witness names and phone numbers. With modern advances in technology, most, if not all, cell phones have a camera. Use it. Photograph the vehicles involved in the accident, the license plates, the other driver(s) driver’s license and insurance information, the scene around the accident (view ahead and behind on the road, and all around), and any tire our gouge marks on the roadway. If you have visible injuries, or later develop bruising or other visible injuries, photograph those, too. Insurance companies will later doubt you had these injuries—so a picture is worth a thousand words. If there are witnesses who saw the accident, get their names and cell-phone numbers.
- Never say “I’m okay” or that you are not injured unless you are absolutely certain you have no injuries. All too often, our clients tell the investigating officer or the at-fault driver “I’m okay” or “I’m just shaken up,” then later develop severe pain. When litigation ensues, these “admissions” by our clients are entered into evidence and used against them at trial. The truth is you really won’t know whether you have neck or back injuries until a little time has passed and you obtain an MRI. So don’t say “I’m okay” until you know for sure. At the scene, tell the officer where you are sore and whether you want an ambulance or to go to the hospital by private vehicle. Regardless how you get to a hospital, get there immediately.
- If you experience any discomfort or pain, immediately—that day and without any delay—go to an emergency room and request an MRI of your neck or lower back, whichever is hurting. All too often, our clients will try to avoid treatment, and just go sleep it off. When litigation ensues, insurance companies accuse our clients of “gaps in treatment” or “delaying getting help” because they did not immediately seek medical assistance. “Gaps in treatment” is verbatim a phrase commonly used against our clients at trial—with insurance lawyers telling jurors that since our client didn’t immediately go to the hospital, he or she wasn’t really that hurt. It’s absurd and unfair, but sometimes works to turn some jurors against our clients. Don’t give the insurance companies that opportunity—immediately report to a health care provider that day and identify all injuries and locations of pain, mentioning that they started that day as a result of the accident.
- Don’t settle for just X-rays—they’re virtually worthless for properly assessing your neck and back. X-rays document the hard bones in your neck and back—and are commonly used by emergency rooms to look for fractures and breaks. However, your spine has gelatinous discs in your neck and back—and can only be seen by an MRI or other advanced imaging. When you have trauma to your neck or back, it can dislodge or injure those discs—all of which are adjacent to nerves running up and down your spine (which can cause everything from slight tingling to severe pain). The only way to properly analyze your discs for dislodgement or injury is through an MRI or other advanced imaging—not an X-ray. Go get an MRI even if the X-rays come back “normal,” because X-rays are virtually worthless for properly analyzing the discs in your spine. If the emergency-room doctor won’t order an MRI, contact your primary care provider and get an MRI ordered from there.
- If you are planning on hiring a lawyer, don’t give any recorded statements to anyone, especially not to an insurance company. All too often, our clients first try to “work it out” with insurance companies without a lawyer, then reach an impasse frustrated with the adjuster. During the process, they give a recorded statement to the adjuster, who asks a series of targeted questions to help the insurance company—not the client. Don’t give any recorded statements if you are injured and considering hiring a lawyer. Frankly, recorded statements, quite often, hurt more than they help in litigation. Instead of helping our clients, the insurance company’s recorded statements become exhibits at trial, where you will be cross-examined about every slight mis-statement and mundane minutiae—and that’s why insurance companies really take them. Insurance companies aren’t in the paying money business, they’re in the making money business.
- I had a car wreck and the police investigated. When will that crash report be ready and how do I get it? Texas Transportation Code §550.062 requires any law enforcement officer who in the regular course of duty investigates a motor vehicle crash that results in injury to or the death of a person or damage to the property of any one person to the apparent extent of $1,000 or more, to submit a written report of that crash to TxDOT not later than the 10th day after the date of the crash. Here is the link on how to order that report. https://www.txdot.gov/driver/laws/crash-reports.html Of course, if you hire a lawyer, he or she can certainly obtain that report, and will have significant experience reading and interpreting it.
- Hire a lawyer if you are injured. Insurance companies routinely pay represented parties more than unrepresented parties. When you have no lawyer, you are at the mercy of the insurance company and its adjuster, who dictate to you what they will and will not do, not to mention what they will and will not pay. You don’t have to swallow that. Hire a lawyer and file suit. Insurance companies change their tune when capable trial lawyers file suit and set cases for trial. Nothing gets an insurance company’s attention more than the threat of 12 jurors staring them down at the courthouse. While most cases settle without trial, you still need a lawyer to help you file suit and navigate the legal system to bring that pressure to bear on the insurance company and maximize your recovery.
- Stay off social media. If you are injured and plan to pursue an injury claim, be very careful with social media. Insurance companies will monitor your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and any other social media they can. If you are in a car wreck on Saturday, then posting photographs of yourself hang-gliding the very next day, you’re going to have a hard time convincing an adjuster, let alone a jury, to pay you any money for your “injuries.” Make sure your social media is switched to private, and do not post any information about your injuries or physical activities.