STEP #1: Do not talk to anyone… except your doctor or attorney. You should always know who is talking with you. Do not speak with the other insurance company and its adjusters or lawyers. They will often try to tape record you and misrepresent you. You should also be careful when speaking even with your own insurance company, or to any lawyers hired by your insurance company, without notifying your attorney so that he may be present if necessary.
STEP #2: Seek medical treatment promptly. Tell your doctors about all of your medical problems. You should try hard to keep all medical appointments, and you should always tell your doctors about all of your areas of pain. You should never exaggerate your symptoms, but you should also not minimize your ailments when talking with your doctors. Make sure you tell your doctor about each and every symptom. This is important to your treatment. If you see any other doctors, make sure that you tell both your current doctors and your attorney immediately.
STEP #3: Conduct a complete investigation. It is extremely important that your attorney collect all witness statements, police reports, medical reports and anything else related to your accident. Your case may require hiring private investigators or accident reconstruction experts. The other party’s insurance company will collect all sorts of information that may be used against you. You could be at a serious disadvantage if an investigation is not conducted to collect evidence to support your claim.
STEP #4: Make sure you have photographs of all the important elements in your case. Photos are vivid evidence of what you experienced. Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and juries find photos to be powerful proof of your injuries. If you know of any photos that were taken of the accident scene, make sure you tell your lawyer. If an investigator is necessary, I have several who work with me to conduct all aspects of the investigation.
STEP #5: Don’t have your car repaired until photos have been taken of your vehicle’s damage. You don’t want to rely on photographs taken by the other party’s investigator. These people are trained to minimize the damage appearance in the photos. Before you have your car repaired, tell me and I will obtain photos that properly show your damages. Also, if the other driver was clearly at fault and you have collision coverage on your own policy, you have two alternatives: Either your attorney may insist that the other driver’s insurance company repairs the automobile — or you may submit the claim to your insurance company. Always consult with your attorney to determine which choice he recommends.
STEP #6: Don’t sign a release for your medical records to the other party’s insurance company. Many accident victims make the mistake of signing a release for the other party’s insurance company. This gives the other party’s insurance company access to your medical records. The same is true for your own insurance company. However, in certain types of claims, your own insurance company may be entitled to your medical information. Don’t release your medical records to any insurance company or sign an authorization allowing an insurance company to get the records directly until you speak with your attorney.
STEP #7: Never plead guilty to any traffic offense before you consult with your attorney. Ask your lawyer to evaluate your ticket or citation before the time and date set for the hearing. Pleading guilty to a traffic offense can badly affect your injury claim.
STEP #8: Don’t let the insurance adjuster pressure you into settling your case. Adjusters use all kinds of methods to get you to settle for a smaller amount than the fair value of your case: The insurance adjuster may try to get you to admit that the accident was your fault, or at least partly your fault. The adjuster may try to get you to give a recorded statement or sign a statement, either of which may be used against you later at trial. Insurance company adjusters are trained to gather information that may be damaging to your case, and to settle cases for the lowest amount possible.
What’s more, don’t be surprised if the insurance adjuster is polite. His or her kindness may be a tactic to get you to settle for less than your case is worth — and to get you to settle soon, often before you hire an attorney. The longer your file remains open, the more the adjuster will pressure you to settle. Your lawyer can help you evaluate whether the insurance company’s offers are reasonable or unreasonable. Also, your attorney can file a lawsuit on your behalf if the insurance company refuses to make a fair offer to settle.
STEP #9: Know all your damages. They include (1) the cost of medical treatment, (2) pain and suffering for your injuries, (3) loss of income for time off work, (4) loss of business, (5) cost of a rental car, (6) cost of fixing your car, (7) cost for psychological counseling caused by stress or some other aspect of the accident, (8) cost of transportation to and from your doctor’s office — and possibly other money you paid out or lost as a result of your injury. Keep an accurate record of all expenses and hours or days lost from work due to your injuries. Your attorney will get written documentation from your employer to verify the lost earnings.
STEP #10: Keep all bills and receipts related to your accident. If you don’t save your bills and receipts, you will not be able to prove the amount of your damages. If you cannot prove the amount, you cannot recover for these expenses. Be sure to save everything: doctor bills, hospital bills, pharmacy bills, and all other bills you incurred because of your accident. Immediately give all bills to your lawyer, so he may deal directly with the medical providers on your behalf. Make sure you get a receipt for every bill you pay. My office will be happy to help you process payments in car accident cases through the no-fault insurance of the car you were in, and in all other cases through your own health insurance or other available coverages.
STEP #11: Know all your injuries. Many victims feel that if they don’t hurt, they aren’t injured. Yet injuries caused by accidents may not develop into symptoms for days — even weeks. This is particularly true in traumatic brain injury (TBI) cases. Don’t be too quick to rule out injuries just because they haven’t yet appeared. This is why, at least early in your claim, you should not discuss your injuries or possible lack of symptoms with insurance company adjusters. (See steps #6 and #8.)
STEP #12: Know your sources for insurance coverage. In many cases an injured victim can legally collect from two or three different insurance policies at the same time. Yet many accident victims don’t know where to look for various insurance coverages. Your attorney will help you determine whether you can collect from more than one policy.
STEP #13: Continue under your doctor’s care until your doctor releases you. Many people stop going to their doctor when they feel better, before the doctor releases them from treatment. Make sure you continue going to the doctor until your doctor releases you! Your doctor knows the complications that could result from your injury. The type of injury may be complex and the mere fact that you are no longer in pain does not mean that your injuries have fully healed. If you can’t afford the continuing cost of treatment, you’re invited to call me to discuss your options.
STEP #14: Consider and be prepared to file a lawsuit if the settlement offer is not fair. After your doctor releases you from treatment, your case must be prepared quickly and, if necessary, a lawsuit filed for you. Insurance companies are not in a hurry to settle cases (1) unless they can settle the lawsuit for far less than it’s worth, or (2) unless they feel the pressure of the approaching court date. Insurance companies usually get serious about settling your claim if they see that they will have to start paying lawyers to defend your lawsuit. I will be more than happy to discuss the benefits and risks of filing a lawsuit and will make sure you understand all of the aspects before deciding to take this important step.
STEP #15: Ask a qualified, experienced personal injury trial lawyer to evaluate your case. You probably had a doctor evaluate your injuries. Doesn’t it also make sense to have a lawyer evaluate your legal claim? The insurance company wants you to settle quickly in hopes that you’ll settle for far less than your case is worth. An experienced personal injury trial attorney can help you by reviewing your file. He will carefully review the police report, doctors’ statements, medical bills, time lost from work and other information. Then he can give you an informed opinion about the estimated value of your case. If you’d like me to evaluate your case, please don’t hesitate to call.
STEP #16: If you decide to hire a lawyer, choose one who isn’t afraid to go to court. Insurance companies keep tabs on lawyers. They know which lawyers will take them to court — the fighters. And they know which lawyers will not go to court — the settlers. The fighters usually get more money for their clients than the settlers. Make sure you discuss your case with a skilled personal injury trial lawyer.