Steps to Take After a Car Accident
No matter who is at fault or why the car accident happened, any time you get in a car crash in Ohio, you need to take the seven steps listed below. A few of the steps will seem like no-brainers, while others are important in avoiding possible traps that can lead to an accident victim getting victimized twice, particularly if the accident victim has suffered serious injuries or had their vehicle totaled by a negligent or reckless driver. Most of the traps concern statements or actions that appear insignificant or sensible at the time they are made but can later become a major impediment to recovery as they are used against victims to limit or deny recovery. Many car accident victims come to us at Leist Warner after making statements or taking actions that they believed were harmless only to find later that those statements or actions are a major impediment to their recovery. Don’t let this happen to you. Follow the seven steps below and avoid mistakes that may impede your recovery or contact us immediately after your accident so you can avoid costly mistakes.
While reviewing this checklist of steps to take after a car accident, keep in mind that every driver, passenger, and family of a person who lost his or her life in a crash has the right to legal counsel and representation from an attorney who can answer questions, assess evidence, negotiate insurance settlements, and, when necessary, stand up for them in criminal and civil court. Having a trained representative like the personal injury attorneys at Leist Warner can reduce the stress, time, and hardship associated with recovery from an insurance company, and can almost always obtain a higher recovery for you than can be obtained without representation. Insurance companies know the importance of having counsel involved early in the process. Even if you are not speaking to one of their attorneys at the outset, you can rest assured that insurance companies have legal counsel guiding the claim settlement procedures from the outset of every car accident.
Step 1: Call Police and EMS
Ohio law requires people who are involved in a traffic crash on public roads to alert police as soon as possible. Getting law enforcement involved after accidents in parking lots and on private property is also helpful. Police who respond have a duty to create a factual report of what happened and who was involved. This factual record is critical to your recovery.
The police who respond to a vehicle accident will document the location of the accident, the name of each driver and passenger, the license plate numbers of each vehicle, and each victims’ and witnesses’ description of the crash. Depending on the location, nature, and severity of the accident, investigators may also spend hours collecting physical evidence, taking pictures and video, sketching out reconstructions of the wreck, and clearing debris.
Calling 911 also notifies emergency medical services. Every second can be precious for car accident victims, especially for people who are bleeding heavily or who have suffered traumatic brain injuries. Even when wounds are not immediately apparent, getting checked out by a paramedic at the scene or an emergency room doctor shortly after the incident is a good idea. The human brain can be injured by the sudden stopping of the head in a car accident. Essentially, the brain slams against the skull in the sudden stop caused in a vehicle crash. These injuries are usually invisible externally and the effects of such concussions can remain hidden for hours after a crash. Further adding to the difficulty of discovering vehicle crash injuries, crashing a car releases a great deal of adrenalin that can cover pain from more mild internal injuries.
Step 2: Take Pictures if Possible
Smartphones make it easy to document damage to your car, the orientation of crashed vehicles, and road and weather conditions. Such photographic evidence can prove invaluable when filing claims for property and injury damage. The caveat, though, is that no one should risk anyone’s health just to snap some pictures of a car crash.
Wait until all injured victims have been treated and transported before breaking out your camera. Also, never walk out into or block traffic moving around the wreckage in order to take photos.
Step 3: Contact Your Insurance Company
Driving without insurance is illegal in Ohio. A related law requires police responding to car accidents to confirm that all the drivers involved have either an insurance card or what the Ohio Bureau of Motor vehicles calls proof of financial responsibility, which can be digital and kept on a smartphone or in a web-based database. Minimum required coverages are:
- $25,000 for bodily injury or death for one person per accident
- $50,000 for bodily injury or death for two or more people per accident
- $25,000 for property damage per accident
Make sure to get this insurance information from other people for yourself rather than depending on the police to provide it to you. Your own insurance company will request it when you call in to report the crash.
Self-reporting an accident to your insurer is important for several reasons. First, you may have immediate benefits available to you through your insurance policy. Your policy will usually cover some of your medical costs and car repairs or replacement even if someone else caused the crash. The company will often pay these costs for you and recoup its payments through premiums, arbitration with the other driver’s insurance company or the proceeds of any lawsuit that you may file against the other driver. Second, it is important to notify your insurance company after a vehicle accident as you may later discover that the person who caused the crash does not have insurance or enough insurance to pay your claim. If you have underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage, your own insurance company may provide additional benefits that enable you to obtain a full recovery. However, many underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage provisions require that you timely report the accident to your insurer in order to be eligible for the benefits of uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage provisions.
Step 4: Request a Complete Copy of the Police Report
State law requires police who respond to a car accident to produce an official report and to make each such report available to the public. It can take weeks or months for a report to become available, and police departments usually charge for copies. The expense is worth it, however, since the official report goes a long way toward conclusively assigning liability. If you have difficulty obtaining your police report contact Leist Warner for assistance.
Step 5: Keep Your Own Records
Start a file on your car accident as soon as you get home from the crash scene or hospital. You can put a lot of information into your computer or smartphone, and you can keep a paper file for those things that you cannot store digitally. When you receive treatment related to accident injuries be sure to ask your provider for the bills and their treatment notes so that you can keep these in your files. Requesting your treatment notes at the time of treatment will save you time and money later when you have to substantiate your claim. Perhaps even more important, requesting your treatment notes immediately after treatment will allow you to immediately verify that providers are keeping an accurate record of your injuries and treatment. If you find errors in the notes, make the provider correct the treatment notes immediately. The accuracy of these notes can have a direct impact on your recovery.
In addition to the official crash report from the police, make sure your accident file includes all the following:
- Medical records (i.e. treatment notes) and bills related to crash injuries
- Funeral costs (including travel) if a loved one died
- Time taken off from work and income lost while recovering
- Car repair or replacement costs
- Rental car costs
- Notes on conversations with investigators, your insurance company, and representatives for the other driver and his or her insurance company
Step 6: Do Not Speak With the Other Person’s Insurer
If you were not at fault for the accident, expect a call from a lawyer or insurance representative of the at fault driver within two days of the car accident. The person on the other end of the phone will want to record your statement and may offer a settlement amount. Agreeing to do either can severely limit your rights to receive adequate compensation for injuries and property damage. DO NOT give a statement to an insurer other than your own without first consulting counsel. Statements to other insurers are almost always only used against you to lower the compensation offered to you.
Step 7: Consult with a Columbus Car Accident Lawyer at Leist Warner
Taking this seventh step is optional but highly recommended. An experienced Columbus car accident lawyer like those at Leist Warner will ensure that you receive fair compensation from insurance companies, and that your claim receives a fair and just settlement. It also takes the stress and work of obtaining a fair and just claim settlement off your plate and allows you to focus on recovery from your injuries and your life.
An experienced Columbus car accident lawyer like those at Leist Warner can help you at any stage of your effort to receive fair compensation, but it is best to involve them in the process as early as possible. Early involvement of counsel prevents accident victims from making statements or taking actions that may seem sensible or insignificant to persons not trained in the law but that can have serious consequences with respect to the amount of compensation such person receives from insurers. The at-fault driver and the insurance companies will have a lawyer; you should, too.
Leist Warner always offers no-cost case consultation to car accident victims. Reach out to us online today so we can learn whether we can be of service. You can also contact us by phone at (614) 222-1000. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If calling after hours, leave a detailed message and one of our lawyers will return your call.
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