What should you do after a car accident that wasn’t your fault? You’ll find a lot of advice floating around the internet that is meant to provide you with an answer to that question whether it was solicited or unsolicited.
What’s good advice? What’s so-so advice? And what’s utterly disastrous and terrible advice? Lucky for you, we’re here to help you sort that out.
Imagine a Car Accident
It’s difficult to explain what you should do following a car accident without first setting the scene. Consider the following hypothetical:
Imagine you come to a full stop at a four-way intersection. You put on your left blinker and check for crossing traffic. Everything looks good. You pull out into the intersection and start to turn left when suddenly you catch a glimpse of a car that you’d seen in your rearview mirror when you came to a full stop. Unlike you, that car didn’t stop and didn’t wait for you to make your turn. Instead, it comes right up behind you and tries to swerve to the left, around your front bumper, to get around you before you complete your turn. No luck. Instead, the speeding car plows into your driver-side quarter panel. The last thing you remember is the sound of screeching metal.
You wake up in the hospital a few hours later, with your spouse and kids at your bedside. Uh, oh, this isn’t good, you think. What happened? A young doctor steps up to give you the news that you’ve sustained severe damage to your spinal column, a crushed left femur, and some brain trauma. With luck, you won’t be permanently paralyzed, but it’s too soon to tell. What is clear is that you face months of extremely painful recovery, a strong possibility of permanent physical impairment, and a risk of long-term effects on your cognition and memory.
From what you can tell, the accident wasn’t your fault, although you don’t have a clear memory of it, and you probably never well.
First, Stabilize Through Medical and Self-Care
We chose the example above because so many of the “What should I do after a car accident?” blogs out there give all sorts of advice that seems to imply that you should try and work as your own private detective. Many articles tell you to get to work immediately following a collision: take accident scene photos, collect witness information, give a statement to the police, as if you’re on CSI.
While these are smart steps to take if you’re physically able, you’re way ahead of the curve. But a lot of the time, people who have suffered serious car accident injuries end up in some version of the scenario above. They’re not going to be visiting the accident scene any time soon. They’re in no condition to trade contact information with bystanders or to hunt down closed-circuit TV cameras. They’re laid-up, and they’re going to be that way for quite some time. What should those accident victims do?
Answer: they should stabilize their physical, emotional, and mental health through appropriate medical and self-care. Before doing ANYTHING ELSE, they should follow their doctor’s orders and do whatever is needed to stabilize their health condition. They should not try to cut corners on recovery. They should not try to downplay their pain. They should do what it takes to recover to the point where, even if they’re not fully healthy or healed, they are stable enough to have a sense of where their recovery is headed.
Why is this so important? Well, there is nothing more important than your health. But that’s not the only reason. Everything else we talk about in this post requires a person to be grounded enough to make responsible decisions. That starts with taking care of yourself.
Ok sure, you might be thinking, but what if the accident victim is too banged up to think straight for weeks, months, or ever? Good question, and we’re glad you asked. The same rule applies to family members or anyone else on whom the responsibility falls to look after an accident victim’s affairs when the victim can’t. This is an emotionally difficult time. Anyone who might make decisions affecting the accident victim’s care needs to take care of themselves health-wise first, physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Next, Take Stock
When an accident throws your life and health into chaos, try to carve out time to take stock of your immediate and short term resources and needs. You should prioritize your financial and other obligations so that you can do your best to avoid worsening your situation and to identify resources that may help carry you through this rough spot.
Getting a handle on your financial resources and needs is important, but so is taking stock of what we’ll call life resources and needs. Below we discuss what we mean.
Financial Resources and Needs
This is pretty straightforward. To prevent your injury from creating an immediate financial crisis in your life, you need to determine how much money or other financial support you will need to carry you through this period in your life. When it comes to resources, review the money you have available to pay for your immediate and short term expenses, such as:
- Your liquid assets (bank accounts, stocks, and bonds)
- Any income you can continue to earn while you are recovering
- Any insurance coverages available to pay for your recovery or needs
- Any public or private financial assistance potentially available to help carry you though
When it comes to needs, think through the following:
- How much have your injuries impacted your income?
- What expenses that existed before your injuries do you need to keep paying?
- What new expenses are you facing because of your injury?
Life Resources and Needs
Money isn’t the only problem that crops up when you find yourself recovering from a serious car accident injury. You also need to take stock of where other life priorities stand. Do you need help caring for your children, or with tending to your home, or with transportation? Are there friends, family, or service organizations available to help pick up the slack while you recover? Just as with your financial resources and needs above, put together a list of your life priorities, and anything that can help meet them while you heal.
Next, Seek Help
It’s likely that while you focus on recovering, you will need help meeting your financial and every day needs. Friends and family can help provide support. Your doctors will handle your immediate medical care. Beyond your friends, family, and doctor, who else should you attempt to connect with to help you meet your needs and ensure that you have the resources to return to a normal life?
Your Own Insurance
You (or your representatives) are probably not going to be able to avoid dealing with your insurance carrier, assuming you have one. Yes, your medical provider usually handles submitting claims to your health insurance, at least initially. But many people also carry auto insurance coverage and long-term disability coverage, both of which may offer essential benefits to you while you recover from an accident. You will need to notify these carriers of your accident and injuries. In doing so, be careful not to make any suggestion that you bear fault for your accident. That is not for you to judge. If an insurance adjuster starts asking you difficult questions that you don’t know how to answer, refer the adjuster to your attorney (see below).
A Car Accident Injury Lawyer
Having an experienced car accident injury attorney on your side can prove extremely beneficial when seeking compensation for your injuries.
Immediately following a car accident in which you suffered injuries, you should seek an attorney with plenty of experience representing people just like you. What exactly can an attorney do for you? Let’s count the ways.
- An attorney can help you interact with any insurance carrier or social worker. In other words, your attorney can be your stand-in when you need help dealing with some issue or difficulty that arises, for example, with pursuing an insurance claim from your own carrier or applying for benefits with the help of a social worker.
- An attorney can identify the parties who are legally liable for your injuries. This task can prove complex and requires a thorough understanding of personal injury law, which is why you should also seek out an attorney with a proven track record of results and the know-how to investigate and litigate even the most complicated car accident cases. Figuring out who owes both legal liabilities to you and who has the all-important ability to pay is one of the most important services that an attorney can provide.
- An attorney can calculate your damages. Believe it or not, calculating damages is not as simple as just adding up your unpaid medical bills. Yes, in most scenarios in which someone else’s carelessness caused your car accident injuries, you will have the right to seek compensation for your past and future out-of-pocket expenses. But that’s not all. You may also have the right to recover substantial damages for your pain and suffering, the impact that your injuries have had on your life and relationships, and even as a form of punishment for the party whose actions harmed you. You need an attorney who can get this number right, because it will be what you demand from the party with liability. You don’t want to lowball yourself or be unrealistic.
- An attorney can negotiate with the legally liable parties, their lawyers, and their insurance companies, to achieve a fair and reasonable settlement for you. If settlement isn’t possible, an attorney can litigate your claim against those parties in court, where he or she will attempt to prove to a judge and jury why you deserve maximum compensation.
Wondering What You Can Do to Help?
So, our advice is pretty simple. Get as healthy as you can, figure out your immediate needs, so that your situation doesn’t get worse, and seek help. Easy, right?
Not so fast. Nothing about recovering from a severe car accident injury caused by someone else is easy. A lot of our clients take comfort, during that difficult time, in knowing that they’re doing something—other than getting better—to help themselves, their families, and their legal causes.
We get that. And so, below we discuss a few things that, if you’re up to the task, you can do to help ensure you have the support and resources you need to pull through this difficult time:
- As we mentioned above, if you somehow can collect information about what caused your accident, do it. It can’t hurt. But don’t strain yourself or put yourself in danger. Your lawyer knows how to investigate car accidents.
- Keep good records. Don’t throw away anything having to do with your car accident or your injuries, such as insurance statements, medical bills, police reports, and more. Keep everything in a file or a box, and don’t delete any emails. Organizing everything is great, but just ensuring to not throw things away can put you and your attorney ahead.
- Stay positive. This last tip is easier said than done, we know, but remember, with the right support and advice, you will pull through this difficult time.
If you still have questions about what to do when someone else caused a car accident that injured you, ask an experienced car accident lawyer!
Since starting his firm in 1999, Stewart J. Guss has had the honor of representing clients from all over the world, helping them recover from even the most catastrophic injuries.
Today, thanks to a strong belief in those values of compassion, respect, and approachability, the firm has grown to employ over 120 legal professionals in numerous offices across 4 states, with nationwide reach.