After an Accident
The events that occur immediately after an accident can determine whether the injured person receives reasonable and timely compensation. This person should avoid discussing anything that could later be interpreted as an admission of fault. During this stressful time, an insurance company lawyer can twist an apology into an admission. At the same time, the injured person should listen carefully to what others say and write down key admissions as soon as possible. Often, people make statements at accident scenes, during the heat of the moment, that are helpful to your client’s case.
It is always a good idea to call the police to the scene. Failure to do so could lead an insurance company to deny that an accident ever happened. Photographs of the damaged cars are also helpful. In larger cities, police may refuse to appear at the accident scene. For example, as of May 3, 2010, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, police are not required to come to the scene of minor fender-benders with no apparent injuries. Your clients will have to collect all of the pertinent information themselves.
You should not leave the scene until you are certain you and/or the police have all of the other driver’s identifying information. This includes their license plate number, name, address, driver’s license number, insurance company, and insurance policy number. It is important to know if the driver was on “company business”; if so, the employer may be liable for the damages. The client should ask the police officer for help in obtaining the police report. Clients must be aware of any conditions relating to the cause of the accident (for example, skid marks, accident debris, and so on).
It is important to take photos of the vehicles, any skid marks, the area of the crash, and anything else of relevance. I tell my clients to keep a disposable camera in the car, out of direct sunlight or heat. A cell phone that takes photos is also very useful at moments like these. Be sure to ask any new client if they have taken any photos or know of any.
It is crucial to get the name, address, and phone number of any eyewitnesses to the accident. Even though people can be reluctant to get involved, many will respond if you appeal to their sense of justice. Most people can put themselves in the shoes of an injured person who needs the help of a witness. Without the assistance of a witness, it may be impossible to obtain fair compensation for your client’s injuries.
You may believe that fault for the accident is completely obvious. Unfortunately, insurance companies deny claims for practically any reason at all. If the other motorist does not admit fault to their insurer, the claim could be tied up in litigation for many years. A solid eyewitness statement is an effective way to influence an insurance company to honor the claim. Insurance companies are particularly persuaded by statements made by independent witnesses (someone your client never met before the accident).
Auto damage substantiates that a collision occurred. In slip-and-fall cases, no such proof exists. Therefore, witnesses are perhaps even more important in fall-down cases. Insurance companies are often suspicious of this kind of case. Thus, a prompt investigation that includes eyewitness statements and photographs of the accident scene will help convince the insurance company that it should pay fair and prompt compensation.
In auto accident cases, always obtain the police report. In many cases, the police will more readily and swiftly turn over their information to the client than to the lawyer. The police report is crucial because it contains the names, addresses, and phone numbers of witnesses, insurance information for the person who caused the injury, license numbers, a diagram of the accident, and many other important items.
The police may take photographs of the accident scene and cars. Get copies. Be sure to take your own if the damage to the cars was more than minimal. Photographs of the accident scene should always be taken if there is any doubt as to who caused the accident. Take photos of the cars, the scene, skid marks, etc. If your client was rear ended, you probably do not need photos of the scene since liability will not be disputed.
If you were taken from the accident scene by an ambulance, obtain the rescue report, as it may contain useful information prepared by the rescue workers. The rescue report may document the plaintiff’s distress at the accident scene and may also provide data regarding the condition of the scene itself, although generally, the police report is more helpful.
Contact witnesses as soon as possible after the accident. Memories rapidly fade, so speed is important. The defendant’s insurance company will try to contact witnesses, too. It is always better for you to reach an important witness first. A crafty insurance investigator may be able to convince an otherwise favorable witness that perhaps his or her view of the accident was not so favorable to your client. Do not delay; speed is of the essence.
If the witness is favorable, prepare a written statement for the witness’s signature. This statement should contain an accurate recitation of the witness’s view of the events of the accident. Some people are reluctant to be witnesses. Find a way to appeal to their sense of justice. Convincing the witness that your client really needs the witness’s help should increase the sympathy the witness has for your client. Most people will cooperate if they feel that a deserving person will lose out if they do not help.