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After the Crash - What do I do?

After the initial shock of dealing with what has happened to disrupt your life, there are many things that you can do to make this un-welcomed situation a situation you can deal with and move on in your life.

With that said, look at the following information and use common sense. If you feel uncomfortable with handling the issues and tasks that will be required with getting well and getting your car fixed, then a competent attorney may be what you need to minimize any common mistakes.
A licensed attorney who knows all the facts and the laws of your particular state can be a real asset, but remember this; you don’t always need an attorney to settle a claim.
Each case is an individualized situation.

Questions & Answers

Question: What should I do immediately after the accident?
Answer: The First thing is for you to seek an injury evaluation by an Injury Specialist to assess your injuries and determine if you have or have not sustained injuries.
This should be done within 48 hours of the crash.

Question: Is there anything special I should keep in mind when seeing my doctor?
Answer: When reporting to your specialist, take extra care to identify specific complaints, take with you a list of all complaints and tell the complete truth. If something does not feel "right" your doctor needs to have this information in order to render an informed medical opinion.

Bruises and swelling are extremely important to bring to the doctor’s attention because they are a major factor that comes into play when the insurance company puts your information into a computer with all your initial complaints. If you have pictures of these bruises, this will help you down the road when you settle your case.

Even though you feel it is "No Big Deal" now, a sore throat, a light headache and a little dizziness or disorientation, may be evidence of something more serious to come. Report to the doctor how your head and body was positioned at the time of impact. Where you prepared for the impact because you saw it coming? Was the headrest up, down, backwards, etcWere you looking in the rear view mirror, was your body turned?

These facts are critical information that our injury specialist look for. Anything that is out of the ordinary is a symptom and should be reported to assist your doctor in making an informed diagnosis and more importantly, documenting your case.
For example, a patient who has very slight tingling in the pinky finger and stiffness in the neck may not report the tingling sensation, which could be the sign of nerve compression or disruption to a cervical disk.
If that disk becomes a complete rupture that requires major surgery down the road, it will have been far better to have had the initial medical entry in order to show that the onset of the rupture to the outer wall of the disk was the initial injury, not from sleeping funny on the couch or turning your head too quickly, as the insurance company doctor will certainly argue to a jury.

Lastly, keep receipts of everything and maintain a calendar of post-accident events that will help you recall later the days you could not work, how the injuries were affecting your life at home and at work.

Question: What type of doctor should I see?
Answer: First of all you need to understand that not all doctors are qualified to evaluate soft tissue injuries. Although they would not be the correct choice for broken limbs or cuts and gashes, doctors of Chiropractic as a whole are the most adequately trained in the care of soft tissue injuries.

Chiropractors are the only profession that is specifically trained in spinal biomechanics and spinal soft tissue injury. What we like best about chiropractors treating these injuries is that they do the work themselves and monitor your progress on each treatment.
Contrary to that, the typical medical professional examines the individual, and then refers the patient out to a chiropractor or physical therapist for their treatment. They don’t typically see the patient for another six weeks to see how they are. In actuality, they have "no hands on".

Question: Should I keep any records?
Answer: If you have been in a serious accident, chances are that someone has already made a record of what has happened to you. There already is a police report, an on-the-job worker's compensation report or the like.

If your condition required medical care, hospital records will confirm your injuries. And because it is so important we will list it here again:

  • Write down and report to the doctor how your head and body was positioned at the time of impact.
  • Were you prepared for the impact because you saw it coming?
  • Was the headrest up, down, backwards, etc
  • Were you looking in the rear view mirror, was your body turned?

This information is critical in the final analysis of the outcome of your injury.

Question: What else should I do?
Answer: Take Pictures! Always take pictures of the accident location, crashed vehicles, and approaches to the scene and of the person who suffered the injury. But what is really important and most commonly overlooked, is what we have mentioned already. And that is that you should take pictures of the injured person’s body parts that demonstrate cuts, bruises, rashes, burns, etc..

Question: How long can I wait to take photos of an automobile crash location?
Answer: The sooner the better, especially when trying to capture impending skids. Tires do not immediately lock-up and change from rolling tires to skidding tires. During the braking process the tire begins to leave an imprint on the roadway BEFORE skidding. These marks are impending skids and are faint marks that can be seen on the roadway for only a short time following a collision, and even lees if bad weather gets to it.

If you believe your injuries or damage to your car is significant or if you are in doubt, then it is always wise to alert the police and request a report of the accident.

Question: How do I photograph an automobile crash scene?
Answer: Digital is always best but use whatever is available. You should shoot these images at the same general time of day as the original collision. Plan on shooting numerous photos showing all angles of what each driver saw as they approached the point of impact.

Take distant and close up photographs from every point on the compass. You cannot take too many photographs of the aftermath of a collision, explosion, fire or other loss.

Question: Do I need a lawyer?
Answer: You are not required to be represented by an attorney and many people successfully settle their own claims with the insurance companies. However, we have found this to be more the exception than the rule.

Remember that it is in the best interest of the insurance company to pay as little as they can just as if you were selling something and they were buying it from you. They want to pay the least and you want to get the highest.

Most attorneys’ work on a 33% of collections after costs of recovery which include, court costs, filing court papers, depositions, etc... Sometimes, in small cases, it does not make sense to have to fight for an extra 1/3 just to get the attorney his money. This is not to offer legal advice; it is just what we have learned over 20 years of providing injury care to people involved in auto related accidents.

You must make this decision yourself or do what we recommend which is to always interview at least two attorneys either in person or by phone to see their opinion of the outcome and particulars of your case. These consultations are usually free of charge. But always ask beforehand.
There's nothing more distasteful than when you think you are having a no charge consultation and then the attorney or his staff hand you a bill for their time. Verify that the consultation is free ahead of time!

Question: How much time do I have to take legal action?
Answer: Less than you would imagine. Every state has statutes of limitations and procedural requirements that place deadlines on when you can file a lawsuit. Statutes of limitations differ from state to state and depend also upon the nature of the claim. You must contact a licensed attorney or the State Bar in your particular state to get the most up to date and proper information.

In California a claim for personal injury or wrongful death must be filed within two years of injury or death. In a few limited cases the law allows an individual to file a lawsuit later if they did not incur an injury until years after a wrongful act or did not discover they were injured until years later.
This is referred to in the law as "delayed discovery" and occurs most commonly in serious cancer cases where the victim used a carcinogenic product 20 years ago, but only was recently diagnosed.

There is a major exception to this rule. If an injury or death is caused by a governmental entity [for example: city, county, CALTRANS, State of California, irrigation district, fire district, etc.] a written claim must be filed with the city or county clerk within six months of the injury or death and following rejection of the claim (45 days after filing if the public entity takes no action, otherwise the date of actual rejection), you have only six months thereafter to file a formal legal complaint with the appropriate court.

Question: What do I do when the insurance company for the other side calls me?
Answer: Be polite, but decline to talk. Insurance companies' claims adjusters are professional negotiators, with extensive experience in intimidation, "schmoozing," and using every psychological technique to maneuver a claimant into settling for the lowest possible dollar, including discouraging people from using the professional services of a lawyer or what type of doctor.

They would certainly vehemently deny this but this is what we have found to be true. As a disclaimer, I will say that it is not in every case.
Never violate this basic rule: Never give an oral statement to the other side’s insurance company. If you do, you will regret it. Simply state, "I will be happy to answer all your questions, but I want them in writing so that I have a record of what we discussed."
They may then go to say "All I want to know is how you are and are you seeing a doctor?" Don't bite on this! Just once again ask then to send requests in writing and that you will fill it out and return it immediately. Get the request of info in writing. PERIOD!

Claims adjusters are from "central casting." They are hired because they "sound good" over the telephone and they are well trained by company lawyers to ask questions in a manner designed to hurt you and help them.
You cannot beat an expert at their game. Do not try it. Once again, simply say "thank you for calling but I am not prepared to discuss this matter with you at this time and would prefer all communications by mail for now."

Question: I have not suffered any serious injuries and I now feel fine, how do I negotiate the Settlement of my case?
Answer: Just like you would negotiate the sale of anything else.
First, determine your settlement goal based on your total expenses and what you have to go through because of the other person's negligence. Anyone who negotiates directly with a carrier probably will not be hiring a lawyer but keep the threat alive. While this sounds like an ad for lawyers, the truth is that studies have shown that experienced lawyers have negotiated settlements that are multiples of what individual claimants can negotiate for themselves.

If you have suffered a serious injury, always hire an experienced trial lawyer to represent your interests. To successfully negotiate a claim with an insurance company the basic rules of negotiation MUST be followed.

First, set a realistic goal before you begin negotiating. This is critical. Do not begin a negotiation until you are absolutely sure that you know the full extent of your injuries and damages.
If the damage has not run its course or if there is a chance of future damage yet to unfold, do not begin a negotiation. It is too early.

Second, just because an insurance adjuster calls and talks does not mean you have to talk.
Do not get into a discussion, no matter how tempted you may be to do so. Use the occasion to listen and when it’s over say: "I will think about it and get back to you."

Third, never bid against yourself or always negotiate in turn.
If you make a "demand' [an offer to settle by a claimant], then wait until the carrier makes an "offer." In other words don't make a demand for $15,000 at the beginning of a conversation and then at the end tell the adjuster you will take $10,000 today.
All that you will have done is to PROVE to the adjuster that you are a greenhorn that can be had for a much lower a price. Make your demand and then wait for the carrier to make an offer.

Fourth, take your time. When you receive an offer, think about it.
Do not respond immediately. Claims adjusters know that if they can keep a claimant negotiating with the adjuster then there is a high probability of a successful settlement in favor of the insurance company.

Do not expect to settle your case in one or two calls. Give the process time. Try to imagine what the Insurance adjuster is offering you and then compare it to what you believe you should get. Once again, when you receive an offer from the adjuster, just tell them you will "think about it."

Fifth, It's all about how much they are willing to compensate you.
Do not pay too much attention to miscellaneous details. Remember that these people do this for a living and they are very good at negotiating and hammering you down. When they offer you a number simply end the conversation, say: "I will think about it and get back to you."

But once again, this is where attorneys come in and if your claim is anything but simple, I would recommend the advice and representation of a licensed attorney.

Sixth, carriers want to save litigation expenses.
You may obtain the best offer in the 30 to 60 days before the statute of limitations runs out on your claim, but if you cannot bring your claim to a final agreement before the statute runs, you will need to have a lawyer file a lawsuit on your behalf to protect your right to collect the damages you have suffered.


The information provided to the public on this site is not legal advice. That can only come from a lawyer admitted to practice in your state once he/she learns all the facts concerning your situation. This site is for informational purposes only and not all of the material reflects the opinions of all parties affiliated with this site. The information provided is not guaranteed to be correct, complete or up to date. This material is not intended as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney. No person should act or rely on any information in this site without seeking the advice of an attorney. To find a qualified attorney in your area, first go to your state bars web site. In California that address is: www.calbar.ca.gov