What to Do Before and After a Car Wreck

Prepare for the Probable

There’s a commercial out there that still plays every now and then and it goes something like this: Nice people, riding along, having an everyday conversation, doing nothing wrong, paying attention their driving and POW!!! Out of nowhere they are slammed in the side by a driver that ran a red light.  Car totaled; people really hurt. Or, they are simply sitting still at a stop light or stop sign and BAM!! Slammed from the rear.  Car seriously damaged; people hurt.  It sounds trite to say that in the blink of an eye everything changes, but that’s how fast a car wreck can change your life, sometimes forever.  Literally, a blink of the eye.  And the really hard pill to swallow?  You didn’t cause this mess and couldn’t have avoided it.  It was someone else’s fault.

That’s why it’s great that you are reading this blog now.  Because here are some essential truths that I’ve learned in my twenty-one (21) years of trial practice:  (1) If you drive for any amount of time in your life, you are probably going to be in a car wreck.  The only question is how bad the car wreck will be; and (2) if you don’t know what to do at the scene of a wreck, and afterwards, you won’t be prepared to address both your health issues and how to preserve a car wreck claim.  It matters if you preserve your car wreck claim.  You are going to need the money.  

Yes, we know, it sounds really bad to think about preserving a car wreck claim – which comes down to money – when you’ve just been injured in a wreck.  The first thought is always, and should be, how are you feeling? Are you hurt? Are you in pain? Do you think you might need to get checked out by someone? (A Doctor, A Nurse, A Health Care Provider).  So obviously, addressing health care needs is essential. 

The truth, though, is that money matters.  You think you have problems now when you are in pain and hurt?  Think about having those problems with no one to pay your hospital bills, insurance carriers who are lagging on fixing your car or don’t want to pay you fair value for it, or don’t fix it properly, about insurance carriers for the person who caused the wreck calling repeatedly and asking questions you don’t know if you should be answering, and health insurance carriers who demand that you repay them for the money they’ve spent on your injuries (which, by the way, wasn’t their fault either).

Preserve the Facts; Pictures are Actually Worth MORE Than a Thousand Words

            If you are physically able, the first thing to do at the scene is whatever you can to preserve case facts.  This does not mean further endangering your life to obtain crash scene photos.  It does mean you should always call the police.  Always.  If there is a crash call the police.  Even if they won’t come to the particular physical location where your crash occurred, (perhaps a private business parking lot), which usually isn’t the case, make every effort to get the police to the crash scene to prepare a crash report.

            Second, if you are physically able, and can take pictures safely, it is really important to take pictures of your car, the person’s car who hit you, the crash scene, where the cars ended up after impact, any license plates of any car that is visible, and, surprisingly, any human who comes to help you.  Don’t take pictures just right on top of the damage!  Move away, get some perspective, and take them from several angles.

            If a witness rushes to help you, ask if you can take their picture and make sure to get their name and telephone number.  People assume that police officers record all the witnesses to a crash; that just isn’t true.  Make sure that if there is a witness, you get their name and contact information.

            When the police come, make sure you tell your side of the story to the officer.  Many people are surprisingly intimidated by police officers even when they have done absolutely nothing wrong, and after a crash their thinking can be unclear.  It is very important that if you think a crash wasn’t your fault to tell the officer why the crash wasn’t your fault.  Tell the officer who saw the crash, who the witnesses were, and who will confirm your story.  Make sure the officer records the people who were in your vehicle.  And for goodness sakes, do not make a blanket statement to a police officer that you most definitely are not hurt just because you don’t see blood all over yourself.  Sometimes it takes a little while for adrenaline to wear off and for people to really know if they are hurting or injured post a crash. 

Don’t Say No to the Ambulance and Get Yourself to the Hospital or your Doctor

            We talk to people who have been seriously injured in car crashes all the time, and I’ve had these conversations with clients for two decades.  I am always struck by how many people are offered ambulances, not just once, but two or three times, by police officers, fire fighters, witnesses, family members . . .  only to decline the help.  This is not the time to decline help!  Of all the worries people have about bills, money, health insurance, and everything else, the most important thing is to make sure you are physically OK.  If you have been in a crash and think you might be hurt, go to the hospital, or your doctor, or your health care provider, and don’t refuse the ambulance that is being offered to you.  In my years of practice, I have certainly heard insurance defense attorneys try to use the fact that a client – who was genuinely hurt and later received medical care – was not really that hurt because at the scene they refused the ambulance.

            If you didn’t go to the hospital in the ambulance is your case destroyed?  No!  But you can’t truthfully claim to be hurt and expect compensation for your injuries if you aren’t going to a doctor or health care provider who can, in fact, verify and record that you were injured as a result of the wreck.  In addition, don’t wait to seek medical care after a wreck!  if you wait too long after a crash to go a physician or seek medical care, attorneys for the person who caused the crash can again claim that you weren’t hurt.