If you’re injured in a motor vehicle or premises liability accident, and you think you may have a case for damages, there are a few things you (or someone on your behalf) can do (or not do) from the beginning to help maximize your potential recovery. Obviously, any of these things are secondary to your staying safe and seeking emergency medical treatment.
1. Call 911 (or have someone else do it), briefly describe what happened and request that police and paramedics respond. Keep in mind that this call is recorded and will be subject to discovery in your case.
If a police officer responds, he or she will take statements and contact information from witnesses while the information is fresh in their minds and the report will be helpful, if not necessary, for any insurance claim you file. It may also tie witnesses and the at fault party (i.e., not you) into a version of events before they have the benefit of legal counsel.
For the same reason, choose your words carefully and avoid any concessions of fault and be sure to point out to the officer any damaging statements the other party may have made. The police can and will issue citations based on what people say at the scene.
In an accident due to either snow and ice or a dangerous condition on a property, police involvement may be helpful to document possible code or statutory violations.
Ask any witnesses to stay until the police arrive. If the police don’t respond (or if the witness has to leave before they do), then ask the witness for his or her contact information yourself. This changes your case from a “he said, she said” scenario to a case in which your version of events is corroborated by independent witnesses with nothing to gain.
2. For a car accident, file a Motor Vehicle Crash Operator Report, which will be requested by your insurance company and is required by law. Ideally, you should run your description of the car accident by your attorney, as this will be a public record and subject to discovery during your case.
For a premises liability accident, immediately report the accident to the store manager, landlord, homeowner, or person in charge of the premises where you were injured. Most businesses, in particular larger chains, will have incident reports that, once completed, will result in an internal investigation and some form of written report. This report will be subject to discovery in your case and will often contain helpful information, including the identity of store employees and admissions as to the cause of the accident.
3. Take pictures of any physical evidence at the scene. Photographs of the scene of a car accident will indisputably document things such as the damage to and position of the vehicles, potential impact points, skid marks, road and lighting conditions, etc.
Photographs of the scene of a snow and ice slip and fall will establish the amount of snow or ice and, possibly, help to determine its source or how long it had been there.
Photographs of a defective condition on the premises of a business or other property will protect against that condition being inevitably repaired or removed (as it should be), thereby making it more difficult to properly evaluate.
These are things that will not only, again, corroborate your version of events, but which may also be helpful in the event that an expert is retained in your case.
4. If applicable, take pictures of your injuries early on and then regularly throughout your treatment. Likewise, if you’re super-motivated, keep a periodic written or video diary of how the injuries are affecting your activities of daily living. This will help a jury better understand the extent of your injuries and the pain you’re suffering, and can be useful to refresh your own memory prior to any future testimony.
5. Do not speak or communicate with the insurance company of the other party (you have a duty to cooperate with your own). A claims representative from the other company will call you to take your statement or send you forms asking for information, but do not respond and let your attorney handle it. Likewise, if your injuries are serious enough, the insurance company will often send a private investigator to obtain your statement before you are represented by an attorney and, believe it or not, attempt to get you to settle your case for short money.
Do not give any such statement and do not sign anything. You do not have any obligation to them and they are not trying to help you. They are doing their job, which is to save their employer as much money as possible by paying you as little as possible.
As always, call an attorney as soon in the process as possible. A good attorney will guide you through the process and be available to answer any questions you may have.
We hope this helped!