I get asked this question by clients in Virginia all the time: “I just got in a car accident, what do I need to do?” In fact, my cousin called me just last week asking this very same question. This is what I told him:
GET TREATMENT FOR YOUR INJURY RIGHT AWAY!
This is the single most important thing you can do after a car accident. If you are injured, you should seek medical attention right away. If you think you might be injured, you should get checked out immediately. Often times the adrenalin of the car crash can mask the pain of the injury, so it is not until the next day that you wake up feeling stiff and sore.
Immediate treatment is important because the insurance company will argue at trial that the you “must not have been hurt badly because you didn’t go to the emergency room after the accident,” or “you must not have been hurt badly because you waited 3 days to see a doctor.”
Remember, the injured person has the burden of proof in Virginia. . . meaning that you must prove your injuries in a personal injury accident. Medical Records act as that proof at trial. A history of immediate medical treatment will help you carry your burden of proof.
TAKE PHOTOS AT THE SCENE.
It may sound obvious, but after experiencing a car accident and potentially being injured, most people don’t have the presence of mind to take photos. And contrary to what you might think, many times Virginia State Police don’t get photographs either. However, with the prevalence of smartphones, taking photos at the scene could not be easier.
Snap some photos of the damage to your car, the position of your car relative to any other cars involved, and the damage to other cars or structures. Also, be sure to get some photos of the ground around the crash—it may be that there are skid marks or brake marks on the pavement. This will go a long way to helping you or your lawyer present your case to a judge or jury. As you well know, a picture says a thousand words.
GET WITNESS INFORMATION AT THE SCENE.
Car accident witnesses have a way of disappearing. This is understandable. Most witnesses feel a “call to action” at the scene and want to do the right thing, but after the excitement of the moment is over, life goes on and their motivation to participate in a lawsuit drops. This makes finding witnesses more difficult as time passes. After the car accident, look around for witnesses. Ask them if they saw the crash happen. Get their information at the scene. If you are injured in the crash but your passenger is okay, tell your passenger to go talk to witnesses and get information. Eyewitness testimony can be the difference between receiving compensation and ending up empty-handed.
TAKE PHOTOS OF YOUR INJURIES AS YOU RECOVER.
It is important to document your progress. Pictures do this best because pictures don’t lie. An insurance company can argue that you are exaggerating the length of time it took you to recover from an injury, but if you have a photograph of you in a wheelchair or in physical therapy, that argument will become very hard to make.
FOLLOW-UP WITH MEDICAL CARE.
An injured person should continue to seek medical care until all the symptoms of the injury are gone. Why? Just like above, a good insurance defense lawyer will argue that “if she was still hurting one month after the accident, she would have followed up with her doctor.” This is a successful defense. Do not fall victim to it. If your doctor orders physical therapy, go to physical therapy every time. No excuses. If you are still hurting one month after a car crash, follow up with your doctor. A defense lawyer will jump all over an injured client who does not follow up on treatment.
FIND AN ATTORNEY.
Coming from a person injury attorney, I know you will take this advice with a grain of salt. But choosing an attorney is important. There are many factors to weigh: experience, ability, convenience, personal attention, and knowledge. There are a lot of personal injury law firms out there, make sure you chose one that checks all the boxes. Use this guide to help you choose a qualified personal injury attorney.