4 important steps to take after being involved in an accident

Drivers, traffic, and accidents are on the rise in Virginia. According to the latest data gathered by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, over 125,000 crashes occurred in Virginia during calendar year 2015. Over half of these crashes resulted in persons sustaining personal injuries, which is an increase of 2.6% from the prior year. Over 750 crashes resulted in death, representing a staggering 7.6% increase from 2014. The number of licensed drivers increased by 1.89% to just over 6 million people, and Virginians drove an estimated 82.9 million miles, a 2.45% increase. Roughly one in every 25 drivers was involved in a collision. One accident occurs approximately every four and a half minutes. As you can see, the odds of being in an accident are increasing.

Knowing what to do after being in an accident is critically important to protecting your rights and starting a path to physical and financial recovery. After you have assessed yourself and all those who have been affected by the collision, follow these four steps:

1. Call 9-1-1

If you are involved in an accident call 9-1-1 and report the crash. The dispatcher will confirm a few essential facts, send an officer to the scene, and request an EMS squad if necessary. Upon arrival, the officer will  investigate the scene, interview all parties and witnesses, determine fault, and require each driver complete an Exchange of Information form.

The Exchange of Information form varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Most, if not all forms, capture essential data such as name, address, phone number, auto insurance information, incident number, and vehicle information for all drivers involved. You should keep this form in a safe place as it will be important to your attorney at the beginning of your case, particularly if the officer does not file a FR300, or what is known as the “Police Crash Report.” The FR300 provides a detailed account of the accident, but is not required to be filed under state law unless certain conditions are met, namely a threshold requirement of $1,500 in property damage and evidence of injuries.

2. Take photographs

As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Take photographs of your vehicle, the other driver’s vehicle, and any relevant physical evidence at the scene such as traffic signals, skid marks, and debris. Also, you have suffered any visible injuries, such as lacerations, contusions, abrasions, or open fractures make sure these are photographed. The insurance company, judge, or jury will want to observe these things. The photographs will also assist your personal injury lawyer in assessing the validity, and to some extent, the the value of your case.

3. Get immediate medical attention

If you have been injured in an accident it is important that you seek immediate medical attention. Even if you experience only a mild to moderate degree of pain, that does not mean you have not suffered injuries and you should still consult a physician. As is often the case with soft tissue injuries (i.e., strains, sprains, contusions) or head injuries (concussions and other traumatic brain injuries) you may be asymptomatic immediately following an accident due to a variety of factors such as excitement or adrenaline, which can mask the pain. It may take hours, or even days, for you to become symptomatic. This is especially the case with muscle spasms of the back, the onset of which are often delayed and usually cause loss of the normal lordotic curvature in the cervical and/or lumbar sections of your spine, leading to intensifying back pain as time progresses. Therefore, whether your pain is slight or severe, you should always seek medical attention. After all, a doctor is the only person who can provide a diagnose, recommend a proper course of treatment, and prescribe medications to promote healing and pain relief while you coordinate follow up care.

4. Call a personal injury attorney before speaking with the insurance companies

For many reasons (which will be explored in a future post) you should not give an oral or recorded statement to an insurance company under any circumstances whatsoever without the advice of a Virginia personal injury attorney. The statement can be used against you in denying liability, impeaching your credibility on cross-examination, or creating an inaccurate account of the accident due to poorly worded or deceptively crafted questions from the insurance company.

One exception to this rule is if your insurance company calls you for a recorded statement. Under most auto insurance contracts, you have a duty to cooperate with your insurance company in the investigation of the claim and your failure to cooperate can lead to denial of coverage or benefits under your auto policy. However, in certain situations your own insurance company can be adverse to your interests, particularly  if you file an Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist claim. By giving an oral or recorded statement, you could possibly hurt your case.  Thus, even though there are times where you should communicate with your insurance company, you should not do so until promptly speaking with a personal injury attorney.

If you give a recorded statement before contacting a personal injury attorney, he or she can assist you with obtaining a written transcription of your statement under Va. Code Section 8.01-417(C).

If you have been injured in an accident through no fault of your own, remember to stay calm, assess the situation, and takes these steps to protect your rights. To schedule a free consultation with me to determine if you have a case, call 804-678-8285 or e-mail cpitera@cannellalaw.com.

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