If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident, follow these steps:
1. Do not sign any document given to you by the other driver’s insurance company.
2. Do not speak by telephone with anyone from the other driver’s insurance company about anything other than the damage to your vehicle. Some of these people might try to get you to admit that you were “just a little bit” at fault yourself or that you share a small part of the blame. Even if you were not at fault, the insurance companies will save money (at your expense!) if they can somehow manage to get you to say something that makes you think the only fair thing is for you to admit to at least a little bit of the fault. Since personal injury law in North Carolina is based on the “contributory negligence” theory, if you say that you were even 1% at fault, you will not recover anything whatsoever ... not even your out-of-pocket medical expenses or lost wages! If you make a statement in a phone call ... or if you even don’t disagree in a phone call when the agent tries to put his words in your mouth or twist things around a bit ... your conversation could be tape recorded and this could be used against you later. Remember: the other driver’s insurance company may employ some very nice people, but they have a job to do for their bosses. They may speak politely and nice to you, but they are not on your side and part of their job is to prevent you from getting even one dollar in recovery for your pain, lost work and injuries.
3. Start immediately making written notes about the collision. Include this information:
A) Write down in great detail exactly what happened. Include what time of day or night, what the weather was like, if the sun was shining whether it was in either driver’s eyes, how much traffic was in the area, etc.
B) Make your own sketch of how it happened.
C) Take pictures of your vehicle. If it was towed off somewhere, go to where it is and take pictures from all different sides and angles. Take pictures of the inside of the car, especially the steering wheel and dashboard. If a window was cracked or broken, make sure you get a picture of that. Include a picture of your license plate (to prove the plate was valid).
D) Go to the scene of the collision and take pictures. Stand far enough away so that a person not familiar with the area will understand how it happened and what distractions there may have been for the other driver.
E) If there are still skid marks or grease spots in the road, take pictures of those. (But don’t stand in the road or risk getting hit when you do this!) If there were witnesses, try to find out who they were and write down their names and phone numbers or addresses.
F) Write down everything in your vehicle that was broken or damaged by the impact. Did the EMS have to cut any of your clothing? Was any of your clothing ruined by blood stains?
G) If you have missed work because of your injuries, have your employer give you a breakdown of your lost wages, including gross wages and all withholdings as well as the amount of your take-home pay that you lost.
H) Anything else you think might be important in order for an impartial person to really understand what happened.
4. Keep a journal, and write in it each and every day. Write down a description of activities that you are not able to do as a result of your injury. Or things that take longer to do. Don’t just say “My leg hurt badly.” Give more information, such as “When I put weight on my leg, it felt like someone had stabbed a screwdriver into my knee and my calf muscle burned like I had backed into a hot stove.”
5. Include in your journal any feelings of anger or frustration or helplessness or depression. All of these feelings can be perfectly normal, and they can be very real. Don’t be embarrassed to write down exactly what you are experiencing.
6. Keep all your receipts and copies of medical papers and instructions. Write down the name of all doctors (and physicians’ assistants) who tend to you, as well as the name and address of the medical practice or hospital where they were. Write down the date you saw them. If someone had to drive you to a medical appointment, write down who drove you and how many miles it was from where you were to where you went.
7. Contact your attorney immediately! A lawyer cannot always help, but very often your own personal injury lawyer can help you get a much larger recovery from the other driver’s insurance company, even considering the fee that your lawyer will receive for his services. Usually, you will not have to pay the attorney any fee unless the attorney obtains a recovery for you. (That is called a contingent fee.)
Attorneys Steve Little and Lee Lattimore are experienced personal injury attorneys. Contact us for a no-cost consultation. We will tell you if we think we can help you get a better financial recovery than you could get without our involvement.