West Palm Beach is a busy area—not only does it have a large local population, but it is also a popular tourist destination. That means already heavy traffic grows even worse in tourist season. And, more traffic means a higher risk of a car accident.
Even those who are careful when driving and try to avoid accidents cannot avoid every accident. You should always know what to do after you get into a car wreck. It could help you protect your financial, legal, and medical rights. A West Palm Beach car accident attorney can help you understand your options.
At the Accident Scene
Before you do anything, make sure your injuries do not prevent you from moving. Slowly move each limb to see if you broke anything. Keep in mind that adrenaline often hides pain from certain injuries. Always move slowly and test yourself before you get out of the vehicle.
If you can move around without causing additional damage, contact first responders. While you are on the phone with the dispatcher, check on others involved in the wreck. Let the dispatcher know how many people might require medical attention.
Take Photos of the Accident Scene
Most people have a cell phone and can take pictures. While the police will also take pictures, your pictures will also help investigators with the accident scene.
When taking photos:
- First and foremost, stay safe. If you cannot safely take pictures because of traffic or another driver exhibiting road rage, then do not do it.
- Take pictures of the accident scene from all angles.
- Be sure to take photos of any skid marks and other damage to the road.
- Take pictures of any damage to property, including electric poles, mailboxes, fences, and yards.
- Take photos of the damage to vehicles from different angles.
- Make sure your photos are clear and not blurry.
- Do not take photos so close that you cannot tell what the picture is of.
Obtain Contact and Other Information
Ask other drivers involved in the accident for their contact information, registration information, and insurance information. Be sure to write down the year, make, model, and color of the vehicle. For insurance information, you need the company name and policy number. If the name on the policy or insurance card is not the same as the driver’s, be sure to obtain contact information for both.
Also, speak with witnesses. While asking for their contact information, you can also ask them what they saw. Take notes as to which witness said what, even if it does not benefit you.
Do Not Rehash the Wreck
Never rehash the wreck with anyone, especially the other driver. If you inadvertently admit guilt, you could jeopardize your case. The only person you should discuss the accident with is the police officer taking your statement.
Even if you believe you caused the accident, never admit guilt. There is a possibility that the other driver could share in the responsibility for the wreck.
Communicate with First Responders
Allow the emergency medical technicians to check you over, even if you think your injuries are minor. Also, give the police officer an accurate accounting of what happened. Once the officer finishes the police report, ask to read it. Check it for inaccuracies.
If the police need to tow your vehicle, be sure to find out where they will be taking it. If the police believe that they need further investigation, they might tow it to an impound yard.
After the Accident
Once the police release you from the scene, seek medical attention immediately. Keep in mind that some injuries do not manifest for hours or even a day or two after the accident. Let the medical professionals know that you were in an accident and that you need a complete checkup.
Ask the nurse how to obtain a copy of your medical records. You will need them for your case.
Obtain a copy of the accident report. You can order the report online. You will need certain information to look up the accident report, including the date of the accident, the case number, and the location of the accident. You can also search for the report using keywords and the names of people involved. The more information you have, the easier it is to find your accident report.
Finally, contact a West Palm Beach accident attorney at Shiner Law Group to help you obtain the compensation you deserve.
Depending on the accident, the police could impound your vehicle to help with further investigation. The police could also release your vehicle at the scene. If the police release your vehicle and it is drivable, you can take it home or to a repair shop, but you should not drive or fix it until you speak with your attorney.
The attorney might have to investigate the case further, and driving or fixing the vehicle could destroy evidence that might help your case.
If your vehicle is not drivable and the police do not impound it, the officer should ask you where to tow the vehicle. You can tow it to your house or a repair shop. If you have a repair shop that you like, it is better to tow it to that shop, so you do not have to pay for a second tow to get it repaired.
Who to Contact After the Accident
Contact the insurance companies involved and notify them that you were in an accident. The only information you should give the representative is your name, contact information, date and location of the accident, the insurance policy number for the person who hit you, and your attorney’s contact information.
The representative might pressure you to give a statement or sign a medical release. Refer the representative to your attorney, regardless of how much pressure he or she places on you. And, never sign anything from the insurance company without showing your attorney the document first.
When the insurance adjuster comes out to look at the damage, do not discuss the accident with the adjuster. If the adjuster starts asking you questions about the wreck, refer him or her to your attorney. The adjuster works for the insurance company and will twist what you say in an attempt to deny your claim.
Finally, contact Shiner Law Group in West Palm Beach to schedule a free case evaluation. When you come in for your appointment, bring copies of any documents that you have so we can review them. While you do not need to bring documents for your case evaluation, medical records and police reports help us determine whether we can help you.
Depending on the severity of your injuries, you might require extra medical care, such as additional surgeries, follow-up appointments, and therapy. Always keep your appointments, especially those for therapy. If you miss appointments, the defendant could argue that you are not hurt as badly as you say and might refuse to pay the compensation you deserve.
Therapy might include physical therapy, occupational therapy, cognitive therapy, and other psychological therapies. Those involved in traumatic accidents could suffer from anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or a combination of these and other psychological issues after a traumatic accident.
It is important to keep all of your appointments. The at-fault driver is responsible for those and other medical expenses, but he or she could argue that you do not suffer from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other issues if you do not keep your appointments.
Damages You Can Recover After a Car Accident
You can recover two types of damages after a car wreck: Compensatory damages and punitive damages.
The court orders certain damages in an attempt to make you whole again—compensatory damages. These damages include two types: special damages and non-economic damages.
Special damages. Economic damages, often referred to as special damages, have a monetary value. They replace money that you had to spend out of pocket—or if your insurance company covers some of your medical expenses, lost wages, and vehicle repair or replacement, it will reimburse your insurance company.
Special damages include:
- Past medical expenses for those you incurred because of the accident and before a trial award or a settlement.
- Future medical expenses for those you incurred because of the accident and after a trial award or a settlement. Future medical expenses could cover additional surgeries, follow-up appointments, therapy appointments, and long-term health care, whether in a facility or home. These payments also cover control modifications for your vehicle and wheelchair ramps and other modifications you might need to make to your home.
- Past lost wages for the time you could not work because of accident injuries from the time of the wreck until you receive a settlement or a trial award.
- Future lost wages for the time you can’t work after a settlement or a trial award. If you can work, but you cannot make the same hourly rate or salary as you did before the wreck, you could collect partial future lost wages.
- Replacement or repair of destroyed or damaged personal property, including your vehicle and any items you had in the vehicle, including cell phones, computers, and clothing.
- Funeral, burial, and/or cremation expenses if you lost a loved one in a car accident.
General damages. Non-economic damages, often referred to as general damages, do not have a monetary value. The court orders general damages to make you whole again—but for items you normally could not purchase and replace.
General damages include:
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress.
- Loss of quality of life if your life significantly changes because of the accident. For example, if you have to take medication or use ambulatory aids for the rest of your life, you could receive extra compensation.
- Loss of companionship if you can no longer enjoy or take part in family outings, activities, and events.
- Loss of consortium if you can no longer have a physical relationship with your spouse.
- Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do the chores you normally do, including lawn maintenance, home repair and maintenance, grocery shopping, and house cleaning.
- Loss of use of a body part, such as your finger or foot.
- Loss of use of a bodily function, such as your bladder or eyesight.
- Amputation, whether because of crushed bones or because an open accident wound became infected.
- Disfigurement and/or excessive scarring.
- Secondary injuries, such as infections of open accident wounds. Often, those with diabetes, immunodeficiencies, and other diseases or their treatments lower your white cell count, making it extremely easy for wounds and burns to become infected.
- When accident injuries exacerbate injuries and conditions you had before the accident, you can collect damages to cover the treatment expense.
Florida allows accident victims to collect punitive damages; however, you must prove that the defendant’s action or inactions were grossly negligent or intentional in addition to meeting the elements of negligence as listed above.
The court does not order punitive damages to make you whole again. Instead, it orders the defendant to pay these damages as a punishment so the defendant changes his or her behavior.
If you believe you should recover punitive damages, you do have to take some extra steps. The court bifurcates the trial—holding it in two parts. You can only collect punitive damages if the court awards you compensatory damages. Thus, you will go through a trial for compensatory damages. As long as the jury agrees that you should collect compensatory damages, the trial moves forward, usually with the same judge and jury, to the second part to determine if you should collect punitive damages.
If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one in a car accident, contact a West Palm Beach car accident attorney for a free case evaluation, and find out if you can seek compensation.