Unfortunately, getting involved in a car accident is a fact of life for drivers. In fact, according to car insurance experts, a driver will file a claim for a collision at least once in 18 years. This means that if you started driving at age 16, then the chances are that you will have involved in an accident at least once by the time you celebrate your 34th birthday!
The good thing to note about this is that most car accidents are not life-threatening. According to data from the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, of the 403,626 recorded crashes in 2018, only 2,917 (less than 1%) were fatal. However, while most car crashes are not deadly, they can be incredibly costly for all parties involved in the accident.
According to a report by Forbes, the average claim for injuries resulting from car crashes in 2016 had risen to $23,450 due to rising medical costs. Given these figures, it definitely pays to be prepared for such an occurrence. Aside from regularly updating your insurance policy and having a personal injury lawyer on speed-dial, you should also have a good understanding of what to do if and when you get involved in a car crash.
To help you, here is a 10-point checklist of what you should do when you find yourself in the middle of a car accident.
1. Stop the car and evaluate your injuries
At the onset of the crash, your first priority should be to prevent any further injury to yourself, your passenger, and other drivers on the road. To this end, you should stop your car and determine if you or your passengers had sustained any injuries. Call for emergency assistance immediately and avoid making any sudden movements to prevent aggravating any injuries that you may have sustained.
In compliance with Florida Motor Vehicle Code Section 316.061 and 316.071, you should move your vehicle to a safe spot on the side of the road. However, do this only if you are not severely injured and your vehicle is still functional.
2. Inform the police
In Florida, informing the police about your car accident is a matter of complying with the law. If the police arrive on the site of the crash, then you’ve met this requirement. However, if the police aren’t able to respond, you will still have to file a report to them. This obligation is outlined in Florida law 316.062.
Remember that failure to do so will result in up to 60 days of jail time if the accident only involved property damages. If the crash resulted in serious physical injuries, however, then the crime is considered a felony – so make sure to get the authorities involved as soon as your caught up in an accident!
3. Accept medical intervention
As much as possible, you should refrain from moving before the emergency responders arrive. This way, you can make sure that you are not aggravating your own injuries. If the responders recommend a trip to the emergency room, then you will have no choice but to go along with it. Don’t trust yourself to diagnose your own injuries, as adrenaline can easily mask your pain responses – which could make injuries much worse.
If your medical responder doesn’t recommend emergency care, then you can continue following the rest of this guide. Despite being cleared on-site, take some time to set an appointment with your doctor within the next 24 hours – this ensures that all injuries connected to the accident are recorded via your medical records.
Do not take this step for granted, as your medical records are important in any legal action that may arise from the accident!
4. Communicate with the other driver
In emergency situations such as these, it’s essential to keep a level head. Refrain from thinking of proving fault on the other driver for now. Suing for property damage compensation is a complex matter that you will have to discuss with your car accident lawyer later on. Because of Florida’s no-fault laws, your respective insurance providers will cover any bodily injuries you may have sustained. Regardless of who is at fault, the priority is the preservation of life, so check in on all people involved in the accident.
If the other driver is uninjured, you should try to exchange contact information. In doing so, it’s important to take note of their license plate number, driver’s license information, and insurance policy details. If possible, try to take a picture of their actual license plates and driver’s license for easier verification later on. This isn’t just important when it comes to filing police reports – it will be crucial when you’re making a claim with your insurance provider too.
5. Document the crash site
While at the site of the car collision, it’s a good idea to document the site extensively. Taking photos and videos will be useful later on when trying to prove fault and processing a claim with your insurance company.
Here are a few good pieces of information to take note of and document:
- Weather and road conditions – Less than ideal road conditions can impair a driver’s ability to control a vehicle completely. This is especially true in cold and rainy weather conditions, where the roads are either slippery or have low visibility.
- Tire skid marks – Tire marks are usually left by vehicles that had to brake suddenly, causing an excessive amount of friction between the tires and the road. It’s important to document this, especially if the marks can be traced back to either of your vehicles.
- Any missing or malfunctioning traffic signals – Traffic signals play a big role in ensuring road safety. This is especially true at intersections, where a traffic light is the only thing that’s keeping motorists from bumping into each other. Documenting any fallen or malfunctioning traffic sign can be useful for proving fault on the government entity that’s responsible for them.
- Physical injuries – Be sure to take pictures of any cuts, scratches, bruises, or any other kind of physical injury that you or your passenger may have sustained. Showing photographic proof of your injuries is part of the process of proving negligence on the other party’s part.
- Damage to your own vehicle – Needless to say, documenting the extent of damage to your own vehicle is important, especially if you intend to sue for compensation. Make sure to take pictures from several different angles, as well as close-ups and wide shots.
6. Call your personal injury lawyer
After a car crash, most people will immediately call their insurance providers, thinking that doing so will help them get appropriate medical attention immediately. However, doing so may hurt you in the long run, especially if you say something that could damage your injury claims.
After calling for emergency health responders, the next person that you should call is your trusted personal injury lawyer. As your advocate, your lawyer will advise you which information you can share with the authorities and your insurance providers in order to preserve your injury claims.
In fact, talking with your health and/or auto insurance companies is something that you can leave up to your lawyer as well! This way, you can make sure that your official statements are consistent and do not jeopardize your claims’ validity.
7. Speak with witnesses
It’s also a good idea to get any eyewitness accounts that may help your insurance and damage claims. The best way to record their statements is through video, which you can do with your mobile phone.
Make sure to get their contact information as well, as they may be contacted by your insurance company to verify the details of the crash. If they agree, you can even ask them to testify on your behalf, in case you want to go to court to sue for damages that exceed your PIP insurance coverage.
Needless to say, gathering eyewitness accounts make sense only if their statements are favorable to you.
8. Cooperate with police officers
Once the police arrive at the scene, they will start conducting their own investigation and documentation of the crash site. They will also be asking questions regarding your recollection of the events that happened up to the crash. Do your best to answer questions truthfully. Regardless, stick only to what you can remember clearly—do not offer a conjecture, especially if it’s incriminating!
No matter how much you think it to be true, you should not admit fault to the police officers. In most cases, proving fault is a complex legal matter that should be taken up with your preferred car accident attorney.
This is crucial to take note of, as Florida courts recognize comparative negligence. This means that depending on the circumstances and evidence shown in court, both you and the party may share negligence. Without your knowledge, the other party may have contributed to the accident as well!
Admitting fault accidentally may result in you shouldering more of the blame and result in bigger fees. Meanwhile, not admitting fault will help the authorities come to their own objective conclusions. While you should always answer as truthfully as you can, you should also be aware of your right against self-incrimination.
9. Obtain a copy of the police report
Once the police officers finish the report, they should give you and the other driver copies of the document. Make sure to inspect the details of the report for any inconsistencies, such as your name, address, information about your vehicle, and the description of the events itself.
If you see anything, take it up with the police officer immediately. Having inaccurate information on a police report may make it harder for you to file a damage claim later.
Generally, a police report will contain the following information:
- Date, Time, Location of Incident
- Identities and contact information of eyewitnesses
- Illustration of damage on both vehicles
- Statements of you, the other driver, and any witnesses present
- Citations or violations of traffic law that you and/or the other party may have committed
- Officer’s opinion about the cause and who they think is at-fault based on the data
The police officer’s opinion on the matter of the collision is not the be-all and end-all of the case. However, their opinion stands to have weight in court, mainly because they are recognized as experts in their field. As such, if at all possible, it’s important to gather your own eyewitness accounts and evidence in case the findings are not favorable to you.
If you intend to file for property damage and other physical injuries that exceed your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance, your personal injury lawyer can use the evidence that you gathered for your case.
10. Preserve evidence and document the development of your recovery
Some injuries take a while before they can be visible, as other complications may arise as a result of the initial injuries that you sustained during the crash. These are all important information that must be brought up to the court if you want to sue for compensation later on!
If you are undergoing extended rehabilitation, make sure to comply with your physician’s recommendations. Be faithful to any prescribed medication and rehabilitative appointments, and schedule checkups. This is important for your physical recovery and for the court to recognize that you have taken every necessary step to recover from your injuries.
These medical procedures and visits will definitely incur a high cost to your finances. From the moment you enter the emergency room, you will start accumulating medical bills until you make a complete recovery. Be sure to preserve these records, because they will be important in processing your PIP insurance claims.
If your injuries exceed your PIP insurance, you should consult with your personal injury lawyer to see if you can sue for intangible injuries, like emotional trauma, lasting pain, or lost wages. This is especially true in case of death, permanent injury, significant and permanent disfigurement, and loss of a bodily function. This way, you will be able to prove the negligence of the other party, allowing you to get the compensation that you can use to pay for some of the costs of recovery.
If You Need The Assistance of an Auto Accident Attorney
Suing for compensation due to car crashes is a complex legal matter. Aside from making sure that your statements line up, you will also need to back your claims with photo evidence, documents, and eyewitness testimony.
To help you navigate these matters, you should seek the services of a skilled car accident lawyer immediately. They will be able to give you qualified legal advice from the onset of a car collision and guide you through the process of suing for damages.
Are you looking for a car accident lawyer in West Palm Beach? The Shiner Law Group is a group of dedicated lawyers in Florida that provide a hands-on and personalized approach for any type of personal injury claim. Contact us today and let us know how we can help you!