I get many calls from potential clients who have recently been involved in wrecks in the Atlanta, Georgia area. While each case is different, here are some general suggestions that can help during a very stressful time when you might be injured or not thinking clearly due to be involved in a wreck.
CONSULT WITH A QUALIFIED ATTORNEY
Obvious advice coming from a law office, right? While many people resist hiring an attorney because they feel they can “do better” without one, this simply is not the case. Many times, an experienced and qualified attorney is needed to evaluate the case, timely gather and preserve critical evidence, interview potential witnesses, identify potentially liable defendants (many of whom may not be readily apparent), identify available sources of insurance coverage, comply with statutory notice requirements and properly present your case to the insurance companies for prompt settlement or trial. With that said, here are some other nuggets of wisdom that I have gleaned over the years that should prove helpful in protecting your rights and maximizing your recovery:
DO NOT TALK TO ANYONE UNTIL YOU TALK TO YOUR LAWYER FIRST
Generally speaking, you should not talk to anyone about the accident except your lawyer and their staff. Obviously, you must cooperate with the police investigation. In addition, you are required to talk to your own insurance company, but your lawyer is entitled to be present. Do not talk about your injuries or the accident with the other party’s investigators, lawyers or insurance adjusters. Trust me: nothing you say will help you; anything you say will be used against you. If you doubt this, ask yourself a simple question: Whose interests are these people working to protect? Answer: Not yours. They are working hard to build a case against you, to make sure you get nothing, or very little, certainly less than you deserve. Do not help them.
POLICE REPORT / WITNESSES
As soon after the wreck as possible, you should obtain a copy of the police report and forward this to your attorney. If you know of any witnesses to the incident, please write their name, address and telephone numbers down and provide your attorney with a copy without delay. You would be amazed at how quickly witnesses disappear, memories fade, addresses change, telephone numbers are disconnected and the like. It is your attorneys’ job to quickly gather witness information and preserve it for settlement or trial preparation.
DIARY A LIST OF PROBLEMS CAUSED BY YOU BEING INVOLVED IN THE WRECK
Please keep a diary of problems that you confront because of your injuries. This should include when you are experiencing pain and suffering, activities that you are not able to perform or are able to perform, but must do so with pain and other problems. Be honest and truthful but don’t short change yourself either. When journaling, write out exactly how you feel both physcially and emotionally. In most cases, this will include worry and fear that you are experiencing because of being involved in the wreck. Not only is this process helpful to documents the pain and suffering that you are experiencing, but many clients find this to be theurapuetic and it seems to help them deal with the situation in the most positive light. After all, that is what you want: to get better, resolved your lawsuit as quickly as possible, and move on with your life.
Be certain that you have the name and addresses of all employers from which you lost wages due to the wreck. If you are self-employed, try to obtain records that will show your wage loss. Keep an accurate record of all days lost from work due to the incident and/or your injuries. Similarly, if you are self employed you will want to keep track of all job opportunities/lost income that you sustained due to you inability to work after the wreck.
DAMAGE TO YOUR AUTOMOBILE AND PERSONAL PROPERTY
They say, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Please take pictures of all damages to your car, and to the other vehicles involved in the wreck. Err on the side of caution and take a lot of pictures to ensure that you capture the full visual impact of the damage to the vehicles. Also, keep copies of repair bills and estimates. If you are disfigured in any way due to the wreck, you will certainly want to take pictures of this as well. In most cases, pictures taken of you right after surgery are very helpful. So are pictures of you shortly after the wreck which show bleeding, swelling, or other types of painful conditions that you sustained as a result of the wreck.
The most important thing is for you to get well and to hopefully fully recover from your injuries. This is what you should concentrate on after the wreck and the lawsuits will be handled by your attorney. Therefore, follow your doctors’ advice and continue being treated by your doctor and subsequent doctors that you are referred to until you are well. This is equally applicable to any physical therapy to which you have been referred. Many times, physical therapy is a long and tedious process. However, you must complete the program to reap the benefits. If you are patient and follow the program, most times your condition improves. Remember, the most important concern is your health and recovery.You should be aware that insurance companies and defendants look very closely at medical records and try to allege that the plaintiff did not follow doctors’ advice and that is why the injury is so bad. Do not give them this opportunity. Follow your doctors’ advice.
HOSPITAL, MEDICAL AND DRUG BILLS
Obtain and keep receipts and records of all these expenses.Your are entitled to recover for these as part of your damages. Many times, bills while you are in the hospital after a wreck are sent by many different health care providers, not just the hospital that you were being treated at. For instance, if you are inolved in a car accident and are taken to the Emory Hospital Emergency department and then transferred to Emory Hospital for care after the ER visit, you might get billed separately from Emory ER, Emory Hospital, the doctors’ group who provided the ER care, the radiologist who conducted the x-rays and any number of other health care providers. The point is: don’t assume the hospital bill contains all of your medical bills while you were hospitalized. In most cases, it doesn’t.
If your injury requires a cast, brace, traction, or other medical device, please save it. As discussed above, if you have pictures or other physical evidence, give them to your attorney. They may be used as evidence down the road. Once again, err on the side of caution and let your attorney decide what is worth preserving. Many times, some issues that were never being contested become issues way down the road.
If you receive notice of a traffic court date for the other driver, attend and testify regarding who was at fault. If you receive a subpoena, you must attend. Many times a guilty conviction can be used against the other party at the trial of your case. If you don’t show up at the traffic court trial, you run the risk of the other driver’s ticket being dismissed, which will not help your case.
CALL YOUR LAWYERS OFFICE WITH ANY QUESTIONS
You hired your attorney to help you and that is exactly what they want to do. If you are not sure of something, call. It is better to communicate and get a clear understanding of what you are wondering about, rather than guess and make a mistake. In school they always said, “the only stupid question is the one that was not asked.” The same applies here when you are being represented by a law firm due to a serious car accident or other injury.