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Three calls to make after a car accident.

After a car accident, you will be shaken up.  With your head spinning, it will be confusing to try to decide what to do first.  You may be released from the ER only to find that you have no car, no ability to work, a legal case to deal with, and huge medical bills. 


You will have a lot of work ahead of you before your life gets back to normal, but getting started early is key.  It can be hard to decide what you need to do first. This post is intended to give you an outline of how to get started in dealing with the aftermath of an accident and preserving your rights for a legal action. 

First you must call the police.  Whenever there is an accident which damages property or causes injury, the police will observe the scene and identify any witnesses.  The officer will then write a report on a standard form which contains several checklists.  In the checklist for “weather conditions,” for example,  the officer will check a box for “foggy,” “rainy” or “clear.”  Likewise, there will be checklists for the conditions of the vehicles and drivers, the type of roadway, and location of damage to the vehicles.  There also is a section where the officer will draw a diagram of the scene.  You will probably not get a copy of this report unless you request from DMV.  It is important for you to read it however, because this will be important evidence in your case.  If the report is incomplete, you should follow up with the officer.  For example, if an important witness is not mentioned, you will want to call the officer and add that person.  If you are expected to appear in court, either as a witness or a defendant, check the court docket online for the date.  If you do not appear in court, you may be found guilty of a minor traffic charge which can ruin your chance of winning a civil suit.  If you are summonsed as a witness and fail to appear, the person who caused the crash may not be convicted, making your civil suit more difficult.  

Second, you need to call a doctor.  If you are currently being treated for another issue, you should let your treating physician know about the accident.  If you doctor takes you out of work, you will need a letter stating that recommendation.  If lost wages become an issue in your legal case, you will need to have that letter.  Tell the first treating physician all your symptoms.  Do not wait until you see a specialist or your own personal doctor.  Obtain all of your medical records as soon as you can, and review them for accuracy.  Also keep copies of your bills and any money you spend on prescriptions or travel to medical treatment.  These will be an important part of any legal case.

Third, call your insurance company.  Tell them the time and date of the accident, and the locations and names of any witnesses.  However, it is a good idea to politely decline to make a formal written or recorded statement until you have enough time to collect yourself or speak with an attorney.  A careless statement may ruin your lawsuit before it starts.  Often, accident victims say they feel fine while they are still under the influence of adrenaline or shock, or before serious symptoms appear.  A claim for injuries that become apparent later will be viewed with suspicion.  It does not benefit you to give a hasty inexact statement when the consequences of your words are very important.  You would not want to take an important test right after a car accident.  Similarly, you do not want to test your memory and verbal ability before you can think clearly.  Ask your insurance company if you have a med pay benefit.  This is a quick payment for immediate expenses.

After contacting the three people above, you will have a lot to do.  This post is meant to give you a general idea of how to get started. However, every case is different, and some can be very complex.  Attorneys generally handle personal injury cases on a contingent fee basis, which means that you can talk with them about your case and get advice on how to proceed for free.  This post cannot cover all the possible actions you may need to take.  It is meant to give a rough guide on the first actions that you or your attorney will need to take.  The worst thing that you can do is to wait.  Cases can not be brought if too much time goes by, and evidence disappears shortly after accidents occur.