Each year, thousands of people sustain injuries in Houston car accidents. You might have seen one of those drivers hop out of their car, pitching accusations at the other driver. That’s a classic example of what not to do after a car accident. When someone crashes into you, remaining calm is a difficult task. Letting it all out feels right when you’re angry, stressed, or hurt. Still, you must remain calm. You need to know what to do after a Houston car accident, so you don’t jeopardize your legal rights.
While some vehicle occupants drive away unharmed, others sustain injuries that require long-term care. A personal injury attorney can determine your right to recover compensation if you’re dealing with minor or serious injuries. Unfortunately, at an accident scene, you’re usually on your own. You must do everything you can to protect your legal rights. That often begins with remaining calm during those anxious post-accident moments. We produced a checklist so you’ll know what to do after a Houston car accident.
#1. Be Careful What You Say
What you say or do immediately following an accident often affects what happens later. After a crash, you and the other driver become the center of attention. Whether you’re feeling remorseful or lashing out in anger, someone is probably listening. The words you speak after an accident might not come back to haunt you.
The Latin term res gestae describes the type of spontaneous statements a person makes during an emergency situation. Legal authorities consider them relevant and truthful, so they often allow them as evidence in court.
Long before you’re involved in a court case, angry, post-accident statements or admissions sometimes end up in witness statements and police reports. They inspire questions during insurers’ recorded statements and depositions. People who make decisions about your claim want to know why you said what you said and what you meant when you said it.
To avoid this problem, consider these three tips.
- Don’t admit fault: Even if you believe you’re at fault, don’t say it. If you later realize you were mistaken, your statement is already out there, and you can’t take it back.
- Don’t talk about who is at fault: Unless you understand legal liability issues, don’t blame the other driver or yourself. Let the insurance companies, attorneys, and courts determine fault. It’s their job.
- Don’t say “I’m sorry”: Some people apologize even when something isn’t their fault. Whether you’re expressing pity for the other driver’s injuries or apologizing for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, it sounds like you’re admitting fault.
Continue this mild behavior when you interact with the investigating police officer. Don’t speculate. Convey only facts, only what you know for sure.
#2. Dial 911
Texas Transportation Code, Chapter 550, Accidents and Accident Reports, requires that you stop if an accident occurs. If anyone has injuries or property damage exceeding $1,000, you must also call the local police or sheriff.
You must also:
- Provide aid to any injured person.
- Exchange information with the other driver.
Tell the 911 Operator if Someone Needs Emergency Medical Assistance
As Texas requires that you assist injured people involved in your accident, you should tell the 911 operator that you or someone else need a police officer and an EMT. This reduces response delays.
The Police Officer Doesn’t Determine Who Is at Fault
When police officers investigate an accident, they explain what they see, but they don’t decide who is at fault. They gather evidence which usually consists of verifiable facts: Driver A struck the side of Driver B’s car. Witness X stated that Driver A ran the stop light. Driver B shows signs of a suspected minor injury.
Unless a police officer witnesses an accident, their report provides an opinion about what happened. They may file justifiable charges, which may consider speeding, distracted driving, or other provable acts. Insurance companies use police reports as documentation of what happened. A police report often influences their decision to pay the other driver’s liability claim. They also consider other available evidence before making a decision.
#3. Preserve the Evidence Before It’s Too Late
Texas requires that drivers move their vehicles off the road to avoid obstructing traffic after an accident. Once you move your car, it eliminates any evidence gained from inspecting the post-accident scene. By the time a police officer arrives, the scene will be completely different. Lighting and weather can change. Witnesses leave the scene. Cars scatter accident debris. Sometimes drivers skip the accident scene.
While waiting for a peace officer to arrive, take the opportunity to document the scene with your cell phone camera. If you can’t move without discomfort, ask a bystander to help you.
Even if you take only a few photos, they give your insurer visible evidence of how the accident occurred.
- Take photos of the vehicles, the damaged areas, license plates, and old damage.
- Photograph the street where the accident occurred.
- If possible, obtain witness names and any other information available.
- The other driver must produce their identification. Instead of simply viewing it, take a picture with your phone camera.
#4. Move Vehicles and Passengers out of the Road
After documenting the available evidence, move your vehicle and passengers to a safer position. You’ll have photos that show your insurer the accident location and crash impact details. If you can’t move your vehicle, surround your car with flares or reflective signs to warn other motorists.
#5. Don’t Say You Feel Fine
Give it a few days before you decide that you sustained no injuries from your accident. Saying you’re fine is another impromptu statement that often comes back to haunt you. When you have injuries such as whiplash or traumatic brain injury, you might not notice any symptoms until days or possibly weeks after a crash.
If you feel fine after an accident but develop symptoms a few days later, you create a credibility gap between you and the involved insurance companies. Their representatives remain suspicious until they settle your case or close your file.
#6. Get Treatment for Your Injuries
Your medical treatment and follow-up confirm your injuries. Even if you don’t have time to visit your doctor, if you’re hurt, do it anyway. Claim investigators examine every aspect of an injury claim. Your treatment becomes a primary measure by which they evaluate your injury severity and your claim’s settlement value. If you don’t seek treatment, insurers interpret that as having no injury.
- Seek emergency treatment: This is especially important if you are in a severe crash, are older, or are physically frail. Talk to the doctor about your injury concerns and make arrangements for an immediate injury assessment and a later follow-up visit. Your emergency examination documents your potential for injury and gets you the necessary treatment.
- Follow your doctor’s orders: Your compliance (or lack of compliance) with doctor’s orders becomes another measure by which insurers measure your injury severity. If you don’t keep your appointments, don’t fill your pain medicine prescription, or don’t do what the doctor says, insurers usually question your injury. You give your employer and the liability insurance company reasons to dispute your accident-related disabilities.
#7. Contact a Personal Injury Attorney
When you make an injury claim, insurers consider a lot of legal issues you might not know or recognize. You should contact your own insurance company immediately once you return home after your accident.
Before you do that, contact a personal injury attorney for guidance.
- Lawyers listen to your story, assess your liability situation, and talk to you about your options.
- They help you avoid making inappropriate statements that jeopardize your claim.
- They discuss your legal rights and responsibilities.
- Personal injury attorneys don’t charge you for an initial discussion and case review.
#8. Report Your Accident to Your Insurer
Auto policy requirements stress timely accident reporting. Your insurer wants to assess liability issues before the situation spins out of control. Most liability insurers require a report even if you don’t feel you caused the accident. As they have to protect and defend you against liability claims and lawsuits, they have a right to make that decision themselves.
Your report to your insurer also puts them on notice of a potential uninsured/underinsured motorist claim. UM/UIM coverage isn’t mandatory in Texas. If you have the optional coverage on your auto policy, your insurer might not explain if it applies to your claim. UM/UIM coverage pays your bodily injury liability claim if the other driver has no liability coverage, doesn’t have enough coverage, or leaves the scene, unidentified, after a Houston accident.
#9. Don’t Talk to the Liability Insurer
If the other driver’s insurer calls or knocks on your door, you shouldn’t talk to them. When they contact you, that means they are investigating a liability claim. If you let them into your home, they ask questions, observe your actions, look at your surroundings, and ask for a recorded statement. Your personal injury lawyer will eventually provide the claim information the liability insurers seek, but they decide what information they should provide.
When insurance investigators take your statement, they listen carefully and analyze everything you say. They ask the same questions in different ways, looking for inconsistencies in your responses. They listen for details that either confirm or dispute liability for your injuries. When they record you, their digital device memorializes everything you say. If you make a mistake, you can’t take it back.
#10. Document Your Injuries, Treatment, and Recovery
A year after your Houston accident—or even six months later—you won’t remember all the excruciating details about your pain and suffering. You will have forgotten how much it disrupted your life. When you give a deposition or discuss settlement values, you realize that the pain and bad memories have somewhat faded.
That’s what happens as you recover from injuries. You forget the pain you endured during your initial recovery. You forget important details about your injuries and how they altered your lifestyle.
Recovery feels good, but when you have no definitive recollections about your post-accident life, you can’t talk about all the difficulties you endured. When you can’t justify why your claim has significant value, it affects negotiations, mediations, and trial outcomes.
That’s why tracking your injuries and recovery from day one is crucial.
- Start a journal as soon as possible after your accident. Write in it daily or at least weekly.
- Document your treatments, surgeries, recovery, pain, scarring, disability, family challenges, and anything the accident altered in your life.
- Discuss your family and spouse. Explain how pain and physical impairments affected your relationships, holidays, family events, and special occasions.
- Create a journal that helps your attorney evaluate your injury claim. It gives them talking points to use during negotiations.
#11. Remember, Someone Is Watching You
When a liability insurer can’t get the information they need directly from you, they get it any way they can. They perform various activities as part of an activities check. You might not know they’re out there, but they watch you one way or another.
Insurance investigators see anything you do as an information source.
- They watch you and videotape your activities as you exit and enter your home or simply hang out in your garden.
- They talk to your neighbors about you and your injuries. Sadly, neighbors often have no problem answering their questions.
- They check your social media feeds to learn more about you and see what you post. Some social media investigators send you friend requests to bypass your privacy settings.
- They run credit checks to determine your financial status.
Insurance companies use any information their investigators find to dispute your injuries, justify a reduced claim value, and offer a low settlement. To minimize their reach, don’t talk to anyone about your injuries other than your immediate family and your personal injury attorney.
Also, consider these actions.
- Look out for strangers sitting outside of your home.
- Don’t participate in activities if your medical restrictions suggest that you shouldn’t.
- Stop posting on Facebook, Instagram, or other social media sites.
- If you must post, use discretion.
- Only accept friend requests from people you know for sure.
- If you receive a friend request from an existing friend, make sure it’s not fake before you accept it.
- Change your social media privacy settings to prevent strangers from viewing your feeds.
#12. Take a Break From Social Media
This might sound like a hard thing for many to do, but take a break from social media. Car accident claims and social media do not mix well.
What is the big deal with posting to social media after an accident? Remember, insurance companies will try all sorts of tactics to avoid paying you the money you deserve after you get hurt in an accident.
One of those tactics is to monitor your social media feed, follow you and your family or friends, and gather intel on you and your life. In doing so, they aim to find pictures or posts that make it look like you’re not as badly hurt as you claim and to use them against you to reduce or deny your claim.
Posting to social media can hurt your chances of getting the money you need after an auto accident. It is best to take a break from social media and make sure you protect your legal interests.
Contact a Houston Car Accident Lawyer Today
Houston car accident injury claims are usually far more complicated than you imagine. When you’re seriously injured in an accident, you need a personal injury lawyer looking out for you.
When you contact a Houston car accident lawyer, you can talk to a legal professional and discuss your case for free. Personal injury attorneys don’t charge a fee for their services unless they settle your case or win a court judgment.
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.