Monday, December 27, 2010

Car Accidents: Ground Zero

The most common type of personal injury claim arises from a car accident. Getting hurt in a car accident is terrifying, confusing and painful, and the last thing on an injured person's mind immediately after a collision is what to do v. what not to do. Here are some tips:

1. Immediate Medical Attention. Seek immediate medical attention at an ER facility even if you do not feel pain.  Call 911. Delay in symptoms is normal, particularly with whiplash injuries.  The reasons are both psychological (the injured person is in shock) and physiological (inflammation of muscle and compression of nerves post-trauma is not immediate).  Insurance companies point to delayed treatment to trivialize a person's injury.  Beat them at their game.  Get the care you need.  Your health comes first.
2. Preserve Evidence.  With smartphones, most people now posses cameras at all times.  Photographs of property damage should be taken of all vehicles before they are moved.  If there is property damage to a building, telephone pole, etc., that should be documented to help an accident reconstructionist piece together the collision.  Responding police officers should sketch a diagram of the collision and note the debris field.  Contact information for witnesses should be obtained and preserved.  Contact information, driver's license number and insurance information of the other driver should be obtained.
3. Never Admit Fault.  If you think you are at fault, do not admit so.  This is not to avoid the truth.  It is quite possible that you do not know exactly what caused the collision due to memory loss and shock.  Let the evidence speak for itself.
4. No Statements to Insurance Companies.  Rule number 1 in my business is INSURANCE COMPANIES ARE NOT YOUR FRIEND!  Do not make statements to your own insurance company (1st party carrier) nor to the insurance company of the car that hit you (3rd party carrier) regarding the facts of the collision nor your injuries.  You should report the collision to your 1st party carrier, but only provide basic information.  Insurance companies will politely ask you to return their calls; don't take the bait. They will ask you to waive your privacy rights over your medical history; keep your privates private.  They may send investigators to your home to take a statement or sign a release; tell them to bug off.
5. Hire an Attorney.  As soon as you are physically able, hire an attorney so that s/he can guide you through the medical and legal process.  There are critically important deadlines called statutes of limitation which must be met, else your case is time-barred.  For claims against public entities, like MUNI and the City and County of San Francisco, the initial claim deadline is a mere 6 months.  My point - delay is not okay!

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