1. Call 911. Insurance companies love it when accidents are not reported immediately. They know only too well that without the report of an accident immediately to a police officer, or other official who will arrive at the scene to document and investigate the incident, the credibility of the plaintiff is put into question, as well as how the accident actually happened. So call 911!
2. Report the Accident. Insurance companies also love it when accidents are not reported immediately to the owners of the premises. “Do not leave the scene of the accident without reporting it”.
Many people will be involved in a fall-down accident, or in some cases a car accident, without reporting it at the time it happened to the management and/or the police. The feeling of some is that the accident happened and so it is okay to report it later – NOT SO! The insurance company that represents the business or the defendant will invariably claim that the accident did not happen at their place of business, or did not happen as you may have later reported. So word to the wise, always report the accident immediately and fill out an accident form, if available.
3. Report your injuries: You have just been in an accident. Your adrenaline is pumping. You may be angry and not totally aware of the fact that you have also been injured. One of the biggest mistakes many people make is their failure to report or under- report their injuries to the police, EMT’s, and the emergency room nurses and doctors. Human nature after a traumatic event is often to try and “tough it out” by down-playing or denying any injury to the police or medical care providers, thinking that you will be okay. Big mistake.
The first place that the adjuster for the defendant’s insurance company will look is at the police report and your initial reports of injury to the EMT’s and emergency room personnel. I have had more cases compromised and made much more difficult by good-hearted clients that thought they were doing the right thing by trying to down-play their injuries. Remember, in court cases good guys finish last because as far as the insurance company is concerned, if you didn’t report it, it didn’t happen! So, if your injured, it is essential that you immediately document your injuries- even minor ones because the next day they will likely become major ones.
If you do not report your injury, the police officer will write in his report that you claimed no injuries at the scene, as will the EMT’s and emergency room personnel who will only reference the complaints you make. So word to the wise, REPORT IT!
4. Get Information Immediately. I know that the last thing that you are thinking about after being injured is to get information, but in many cases it is critical as many times persons at the scene of an accident will walk away and it will be impossible to identify them later.
If it is a car accident, ask for the other driver’s name, address, telephone number, vehicle information (make, model, year), driver’s license number license plate number, insurance information (company and policy number).
If it is a fall-down accident, get the name, address and telephone number of the person who manages the place or the scene of the accident.
In both instances, always get the names and telephone numbers of anyone that may have witnessed your accident. It’s important. The witnesses often “disappear” once the scene clears, and the defendant’s insurance company, no matter what the time, will often later claim that the accident was not their insured’s fault. The insurer knows it will be your word against theirs and in litigation, the tie goes to the defendant. So, you need that witness and be sure to get their information so that the insurance company will not upper-hand you!
5. Take pictures. Remember, it is your burden to prove that the defendant was negligent in causing your injuries. “A PICTURE IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS”. Insurance companies are pleased as punch if you don’t have pictures of the scene or the vehicles involved. Insurance companies know that without photographs taken at the time, you may have a very difficult time demonstrating, for example, that a defect existed or what the scene looked like. Photographs taken afterwards no longer depict the defect.
With the availability of Smart Phones, pictures are generally readily available so take them right away, including photos of all vehicles (if it is a car accident) and no matter what type of accident, photos of the accident scene.
If you don’t have a camera at the time, contact someone to take photos as soon as you can. In many cases, the scene of the accident will change after the accident (e.g. if you fell on snow or ice or you fell on liquid in a store).
Insurance companies notoriously claim that the accident did not happen as a result of their negligence, the scene has changed or there was nothing on the floor. So again, ALWAYS GET PICTURES! ( See recent case that was lost for failure to identify where the plaintiff fell)
6. Contact your Insurance Company. Notify your insurance company of the accident. Again, if you don’t, insurers will claim that you are in non-compliance and may attempt to deny coverage.
7. DO NOT Speak with Anyone from the Defendant’s Insurance Company. Defendant insurance companies have spent a lot of money on research and have come a long way in recent years in attempting to immediately contact you.
The goal of the insurance company is simple, they do not want you to contact a lawyer! You have no obligation to speak to the other driver’s or the defendant’s insurance company so don’t, and above all, never give a recorded statement to the insurance company. Trust me, the statement you innocently give is not for your benefit! The sole goal of the adjuster in obtaining your statement is to find out information that may be helpful in defending their insured and to save money for their insurance company; be assured, it is not, I will repeat it is not to benefit you in your claim against their insured for your injuries.
8. Keep Records. Keep all of the documents related to the accident, including your medical care and expenses. It is a good idea to keep a diary of your pain and suffering as well. With the passage of time all of our memories fade, it’s human nature. Insurance companies only benefit when your recollection of events is vague or inaccurate, as they will invariably claim that the incident did not happen, as you cannot recall details or that your injuries are not as you claim because of your understandably faded memory. For that reason, its best to try to document everything as best you can.
9. Immediately Contact An Attorney. One of the most important things to do is to contact an attorney right away. Most cases are heavily front-end loaded. Like the TV show “The First 48 Hours”, which shows how important the first 48 hours are in a criminal investigation, so too in a personal injury case where access to the accident scene , interview of witnesses, etc. is critical during the early stages when the information is fresh and the insurance company has not yet had the opportunity to contact these people ahead of your attorney. Furthermore, your information will afford your attorney the ability to immediately advise you on important issues of liability and your medical treatment.