You can make or break your injury claim depending on how you handle things, starting at the accident scene.
It is important to take as many pictures as possible at the scene of your car accident, including damage to your car, as well as the other persons car, the position of the cars in the road, and the layout of the road where the accident took place. This should include traffic lights, stop signs, speed limit signs, anything that might help your lawyer understand where and how the accident happened. Since most people carry a smart phone, taking photos should be easy and not over looked.
When you are at the scene it is very important not to make statements to the other driver, or get into any kind of argument with them. You should save your story for the police officer that prepares the accident report. If there are any witnesses, quickly get their name and phone number as witnesses often leave before police get there and don’t leave their name and number.
Police and paramedics at the accident scene may (should) ask you if you are injured. Often drivers at an accident scene are in shock, or not completely aware of their injuries, so it is best to tell them that you don’t know the extent of your injuries rather than saying you are not injured. If you state that you are not injured, the officer will then write "no injuries" in his accident report as will the paramedics. These statements in police and paramedic reports may be later used against you by an insurance defense lawyer if you are claiming injuries from the accident. Normally injuries from a car accident are not apparent immediately, however the next day you may find that you are in a great deal of pain that was not apparent immediately at the time of the accident. Pain, swelling and inflamation normally don’t set in immediately after and injury and may take days or weeks to become apparent.
If paramedics offer to transport you to a hospital, you must make a decision at the scene to go or not go to the emergency room, unless your injuries are so apparent that they make the decision for you. Keep in mind that an ambulance ride costs approximately $600 and an emergency room visit may be in excess of your $10,000 PIP No-Fault policy limits. Another consideration is that the emergency room will be staffed by an MD, not an auto accident doctor. The emergency room doctor is looking for life threatening injuries, broken bones, bleeding, lacerations, etc. Often they will take x-rays, and if you don’t have broken bones or life threatening injuries, they will send you home and suggest you take Tylenol. You will not find a doctor that specializes in auto accident related injuries at an emergency room.
Some television commercials advise you to call a lawyer, or some type of lawyer or doctor referral service directly from the accident scene. Their reason for giving this advice, is that they want to get your injury case before some one else does. What they don’t tell you is that there is no real reason to call a lawyer or referral service from the scene, and that you have four (4) years to bring a claim for your injury. Actually calling a lawyer or referral service from the scene may distract you from what you should be doing, taking photos with your smart phone, getting witness statements, and speaking with the police about what happened. Further if your case goes to trial, the fact that you called a lawyer or lawyer referral service from the accident scene will be used against you by the insurance defense lawyer.
After the accident, if you are experiencing any pain that you did not have before the accident, you must see an auto accident doctor that can diagnose and treat your injury. Most medical doctors, (those with MD after their name) will not treat a car accident related injury, mostly because they do not want to deal with PIP (no fault insurance) in the State of Florida. Normally chiropractors (doctors with DC after their name) or Osteopaths (doctors with DO after their name) will accept PIP auto insurance and will treat auto accident related injuries. It is important that you seek treatment for your injury as soon as possible. In the State of Florida if you do not seek treatment within fourteen (14) days, your PIP or no fault benefits may be reduced from $10,000 to $2,500 simply due to your failure to see a doctor within fourteen days.
Once you have had your initial visit with a chiropractor or osteopath, your doctor may want you to come in one or more times per week for treatment and follow up. In addition your doctor may refer you out for an MRI, or consultation with an Orthopedic doctor.
It is very important that you follow your doctors advice, keep your appointments, and visit your doctor as many times per week as recommended. If you fail to follow your doctors advice, the at-fault driver’s insurance company may assume you are not injured and any settlement offer will likely reflect that adjusters assumption that you are not injured.
Similarly, if you are seeing a doctor under a recommended course of treatment, but you stop treating for a period of time, then later resume treatment, the insurance company considers this a "gap in treatment" and may lower the value of your case, and discount any further treatment after you resume treating.
The Legal Side of Things
You should not be handling legal or insurance matters yourself, as it is the best way to damage your injury claim, and possibly ruin your case.
It is important to get a lawyer on your side after your car accident. You should not make any statements to the insurance company other than to inform your own insurance company that an accident occurred. You may give a detailed statement later, accompanied by your attorney, but you should not give a recorded statement without an attorney present.
Your lawyer will handle all the legal aspects of your claim, while your doctors handle the medical aspects. Your lawyer will provide a letter of representation to both your insurance company, and the at-fault driver’s insurance company. This letter informs both insurance carriers that they should not be contacting you directly, and should contact your lawyer from that point forward. The insurance carriers are required to provide your lawyer with full disclosure regarding insurance coverages available to compensate you for your accident.
Your lawyer will handle your property damage, coordinate the payment of your medical bills through PIP (No-Fault), health insurance, medicare or medicaid. Your lawyer will obtain information on all health insurance liens, and collect all your medical records directly from medical providers.
Once you have recovered from your injuries, and reached maximum medical improvement, your lawyer will request a final report from your auto accident doctor. That report details all the medical treatment you have received, including MRI results, surgical recommendations from an orthopedic doctor, as well as any other treatments you may have received, such as pain injections, or even surgery.
Your lawyer is now ready to submit a "demand package" to the insurance carrier that includes all your medical records, and copies of all your medical expenses incurred. In that demand package, your lawyer will outline all the facts and details of your accident, as well as the different type of losses you incurred for which you should be compensated.
From this point, settlement negotiations will take place in the form of offer and counter offers back and forth between the attorney and the insurance adjuster. Hopefully a satisfactory settlement can be reached, but absent that, a lawsuit may be filed.
You can make or break your auto accident claim depending on how you handle things from the initial car crash. It is important to document as much as possible at the scene of the accident, get proper and appropriate medical care, and retain a lawyer rather than attempting to handle your own claim.