School can teach you many things, from math to history to vocabulary to science. Unless you’re in school to be a lawyer, though, there aren’t really any classes with real-world applicability about being in an accident. You can only trust movies and television shows so much.
Here I’m going to walk you through a few pointers of things you should and shouldn’t do after you’ve had an accident. DISCLAIMER: this blog should not be construed as legal advice; you should always consult an attorney to obtain legal advice.
1) Get an accident/incident report taken on the scene if possible
There are many reasons why an accident report or incident report doesn’t get completed after an accident. It could be that both sides felt it was a small incident and decide mutually not to get the police or supervisors involved. Some states don’t even require the police to get involved. It can be that the guilty party knows they are guilty and convinces the innocent party not to get a record of the accident.
In any case, always try to get a report written. If it’s an automobile accident, call the police and have them take a report on the scene. If you weren’t at fault, it will be very important to document what happened. Even if you were at fault, even partially, it’s good to have your side of the story in writing at the scene.
If the accident happened on the job or at another premises, the owner may be reluctant to fill anything out because they don’t want to admit liability. Insist that a report be drawn up. Make sure any witnesses at the scene stick around to give their perspective on the accident.
2) Take pictures at the scene
In the olden days, before the advent of smartphones, this step would not have been practical. Not everyone had a dependable camera on them at all times. Now with a good camera on most phones, you can chronicle an accident immediately after it happens. I once had an access hatch fall on me (I caught it) and I took pictures of the aftermath. This became very important when, three days later, it fell off again and hit me square on the head. Because I had photographed both accidents, it proved that the maintenance staff was negligent in repairing the damage and I won my suit. If you fell because of a defective stairway, take a picture of it before the landlord fixes it up.
3) Seek treatment
Often times an accident happens extremely quickly. This is especially true in motor vehicle accidents. Things happen so fast that you don’t have time to process what happened. This might make you feel fine after even a very bad accident.
It’s dangerous to refuse medical help now. Your body will have extra adrenaline coursing through it, masking any pain that might be under the surface. Go to the hospital or a doctor if it’s suggested. If you don’t go the day of, seek treatment soon after. Don’t be stubborn and wait.
4) Listen to Your Doctor
This may seem obvious, but if the doctor thinks that it’s best that you go to therapy three times a week for three months, make every appointment. Don’t think that, just because your back is feeling a little better, you’re done. Injuries don’t often work like that. Complete every treatment.
Note: if you think your doctor is suggesting things that seem abnormal or excessive, it’s okay to seek a second opinion. But in general, you don’t know medicine better than your doctor (even with Web MD at the your disposal).
5) Consult with an Attorney
Every accident doesn’t mean a lawsuit, but it’s a good idea to speak with a personal injury attorney to discuss your accident. Some warrant legal action, some don’t. However, avoid doing so frivolously. If you rear-ended a stopped car because you were sending a text, don’t think you can sue that car in front of you for your injury.
6) Plan your Finances
For some, an accident may just mean a couple of days off of their desk job and then back to work. For others who may be more seriously injured or whose job may involve physical labor, it can be weeks or months of lost wages. Some even lose their job because they’re no longer able to work. Take a good look at how much you need to get by. If you have some savings tucked away, good for you. If you’ve been living paycheck to paycheck, it might be time to see if a friend, relative, bank, or lawsuit funding company can get you a loan to get by.
7) Don’t Miss Legal or Medical Appointments
If you do find yourself having to file a lawsuit, make sure you do what your attorney asks. There will be forms to fill out, questions to answer, and appointments to make. Court appointments are especially important. Missing even one of these can have a bad impact on your case. Some lawsuits are thrown away if the client is uncooperative. Life can get in the way, sure, but if you know you can’t make an appointment, inform your attorney ahead of time so she can reschedule. Don’t simply no-show.
There are probably 100 things that you should do after an accident, but these are some of the more important ones. Not every one of these things will apply to everyone (some states have different requirements for accident reports, for instance), but this should give you an overview of what to do, and definitely what no to do.