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How to Protect Your Legal Rights After a Car Accident

Offered by Law Offices of Mark E. Salomone

Don’t let the insurance company take advantage of your pain

When you’re in a bad accident, it’s normal to be shocked, dazed, and overwhelmed. It all happened in moments, but you know the consequences could affect you for the rest of your life. The last thing on your mind when you’re in pain is dealing with a difficult legal situation.

Still, you need to keep your wits about you and make decisions carefully in the aftermath. Here’s what you need to do to protect your legal rights after a car accident.

Remain at the scene, and don’t move anything you don’t have to

Safety comes first, of course, so if you need to move your vehicle to avoid causing a second collision, do so. If you need to leave the scene to get emergency medical attention, you can do that as well. Otherwise, though, you need to stay at the crash scene until the police arrive.

While you’re waiting for the police, you can start gathering evidence. Use your phone (or a camera if you have one) to take pictures of the scene, skid marks, property damage, and any visible injuries. Get names and contact information for any witnesses. Take note of what any other involved drivers say. Every detail can affect the outcome of your case.

Cooperate with the investigating officer, but keep your comments brief

Remember, anything you say at the scene of an accident could be used against you in an injury claim. You aren’t in a position to determine fault, and your priority is to protect your rights. As such, keep your comments to anyone else at the scene brief, and don’t say anything pertaining to fault. Stick to the facts of what happened.

In every state, you’re legally required to exchange contact and insurance information with the other driver or drivers after an accident causing injury or significant property damage. Again, when you talk to the other driver, stick to the facts. Don’t apologize – you may think you’re just being kind, but an apology can be construed as an admission of fault.

Get medical attention and save copies of every medical document

Even if you feel fine, you need to see a doctor as soon as possible after an accident. First, this is the best, safest option for your health. Car accidents often cause concussions and internal injuries that can have delayed-onset symptoms, and when your adrenaline levels are high and your “fight or flight” response engaged, you really aren’t in a position to assess your level of injury. Getting checked out by a doctor will catch those injuries before they can become worse.

Second, seeing a doctor right away protects your legal rights by creating a record of your injuries. The more time passes after the accident, the easier it is for the insurance company to argue that something may have happened in the intervening time to cause your injuries. When you see a doctor, tell the doctor you were in an accident, and get medical records describing what the doctor heard and saw. That makes your potential legal case even stronger.

Make sure you save copies of all medical records related to the accident, including doctor’s orders, visit summaries, prescriptions, and so on. Even more importantly, follow your doctor’s instructions. Go to your follow-up appointments and take your medications as prescribed. Again, this is important both to protect your health and your legal rights.

Start keeping your own notes on the accident

As your claim for damages moves forward, you may be challenged on the details of the accident and your injuries many times. That’s why you need to write down your recollection of what happened as soon as possible, while it’s still fresh in your mind. Take note of where you were, what time it was, how fast you were going, the sequence of events, and any other relevant information about the accident itself.

Every day after the accident, take a moment to write down your injury symptoms and the effects those symptoms have had on your life. If you couldn’t go to work or clean your house because you were in pain, write that down. Your injury claim should account for everything you’ve lost and every effect the injury has had on your work and quality of life.

Report the accident to your insurance company, but be succinct

You do need to inform your insurance company promptly when you are involved in an accident – the exact timeframe to report varies depending on your insurance company, but usually it’s a window of a few days. Keep your initial report brief, though, and stick to the facts of what happened. If the insurance company representative asks you a question, answer it truthfully but as briefly as possible, and don’t volunteer any additional information.

Don’t give the other driver’s insurance company a recorded statement

If an insurance company asks you for a recorded statement or asks for your permission to record a call, you should politely decline. It’s easy for the insurance company to take a recording out of context, and they’ve even been known to alter statements to undermine your case. Also, when you give a recorded statement, you only have one chance to get it right, often without time to prepare – if you misspeak, those recorded words could come back to haunt you later.

Instead, the best practice is to sit down with your attorney and craft a written statement based on your organized notes and recollections of the accident. You and your lawyer can ensure that your statement accurately tells your side of the story and protects your rights.

Don’t sign anything without getting legal advice first

Whenever an insurance company asks you sign something after a car accident, you need to be on guard. They’ll say they just need your signature to move your claim forward, but they’re always looking for ways to undermine your case. For instance, they may hand you a medical release saying they just want access to medical records related to the accident, but if that release is broadly worded, it may give them the power to go hunting through all your medical records looking for pre-existing conditions.

What’s even more dangerous is a settlement offer from the insurance company. Remember, once you accept their money, that’s it. Your case is closed, and unless a rare exception applies, you can’t go back for more.

That’s why you should never accept a settlement offer without reviewing it with your lawyer first. Often, the insurance company’s offer is much less than the full value of your accident, and an experienced attorney can help you pursue more.

Get legal representation as quickly as possible

Ultimately, the only way to protect your rights after a car accident is to get a car accident lawyer on your side – and the sooner you do so, the better. First, an attorney can take prompt legal action to preserve evidence that supports your case before it disappears. Second, your lawyer can talk to the insurance company on your behalf, protecting your legal rights from their tactics and leaving you free to focus on healing.

Remember, the insurance companies know the system inside and out, and you need to move quickly to level the playing field. If you’ve been hurt in a car accident, it’s in your interest to speak with an experienced car accident attorney in your area as soon as possible.

The Law Offices of Mark E. Salomone is a personal injury law firm in Massachusetts.

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