When it comes to personal injury cases-particularly an automobile accident-there are several mistakes that clients often unknowingly make. And, in my experience, the best way to establish a strong case is to avoid the traps that insurance companies use to deny your claim or argue that it’s worth less than fair value. If you are involved in a traffic collision, keep the following in mind:
First, call law enforcement. Officers will investigate the wreck, make important findings, and write a report. This provides proof and documentation of the incident.
Second, don’t delay seeking medical treatment. Don’t attempt to be a “tough guy or gal.” While you may not be the type of person to “go running off to the doctor,” or you may think “it will get better,” if you think you are hurt, go to the doctor or hospital. The insurance company will not give you credit for being tough. Rather, they will use your delay in getting medical treatment against you and will argue that you must not have been hurt since you didn’t go to a doctor immediately.
Similarly, if you are injured at the scene of the accident, law enforcement will ask if you need an ambulance. If you feel you need one, request one. If it turns out you were indeed injured during the car wreck, but declined an ambulance, a defense attorney is going to argue that since you turned it down, you must not have been hurt.
Third, never fabricate or exaggerate your injuries, but if there is a chance that you are hurt, don’t tell the investigating law enforcement officer that you’re “fine.” If you do so, the officer will likely put in his report that you were uninjured.
Fourth, if you decline an ambulance, see a doctor as soon as possible after the accident. Get to an ER, your primary doctor, or an urgent care facility right away. The more time that passes between the time of the collision and the time of your first doctor’s appointment, the more the insurance company will argue that your injuries are not related to the wreck. A health care provider will not only give you the care and treatment that you need, but their medical records will serve as the most important piece of evidence in your personal injury case. The records provide proof of the nature, duration, and extent of your injuries.
Fifth, be specific about your condition. Don’t overstate or understate your injuries. In discussing your injuries with your doctor, make sure you give him or her the answers to these questions: Where is your body hurting? What does it feel like? What types of problems is it causing? What activities aggravate the pain and make it worse? Does it interfere with your work or your sleep? The insurance company will not believe a claimant without proof. Medical records are the proof.
Sixth, take photographs of your vehicle and any other automobiles involved in the accident. Ideally, take these photographs at the scene of the accident. If you didn’t take pictures at the scene, either because you didn’t think about it or because you were too injured to do so, make sure you do as soon as possible. These photographs provide invaluable evidence of the severity of the impact and are very persuasive with insurance companies and juries.
Seventh, take photographs of your injuries, including bruising, cuts, lacerations, and fractures.
Finally, do not give a recorded statement with the insurance company. You are under no legal obligation to do so. I strongly suggest you do not talk to the insurance company at all without first consulting a lawyer to make sure you don’t say something that can completely unravel your case.