After An Auto Accident in New York and New Jersey
ARE YOU A VICTIM OF AN AUTOMOBILE ACCIDENT INJURY IN NEW YORK OR NEW JERSEY?
- Should I call the police?
- When should I contact an attorney?
- Should I contact my own insurance company?
- Should I go to the doctor?
- Is there anything special I should tell my doctors?
- Do I need to take pictures of the accident scene?
- Do I have to take photos right away or can I wait?
- What about preserving other evidence besides photos?
- Should I talk to the other driver’s insurance company? What if they call me?
WHAT INFORMATION SHOULD I OBTAIN?
It is important that you seek immediate medical attention if you are seriously injured in an automobile accident. After everyone is out of danger and any medical and police help has been summoned, obtain the following:
- The full names of the drivers of all vehicles involved
- The drivers’ license numbers and addresses
- The full names and addresses of any passengers
- The full names and contact info of witnesses
In addition, you should make observations and record notes about the following:
- Did any person involved in the accident report a personal injury?
- What personal injury did the injured person report? Did anyone say “I’m not hurt”?
- Was medical assistance rendered at the scene?
- What was the location of the accident?
- In what direction were the vehicles traveling prior to the accident?
- At what time of day did the accident occur?
- What were the weather conditions at the time of the accident?
- Was there anything wrong with the vehicles before the accident, such as a broken headlight or brake light?
- Were the vehicles damaged as a result of the accident? What parts of the vehicle were damaged?
- Who are the registered owners of the vehicles (names and addresses)?
- Were all vehicles involved in the accident insured? What are the names of the insurance companies and the policy numbers?
- Did any of the vehicles need to be towed from the scene?
- How did the accident occur?
- Did anyone accept responsibility for the accident or make a comment such as, “It was my fault, I am sorry. I was speeding/not paying attention/not wearing my glasses/distracted/tired/late for work/in a hurry/my coffee had just spilled/I should have seen you, but I was on my cellphone/I’ve been taking these pills/my eyesight isn’t what it used to be after dark, etc.?”
- Did the police come? If so, did they issue anyone a ticket? Which officers were present? What are their names and badge numbers?
- Were any of the drivers involved driving while working or driving a company-owned vehicle?
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SHOULD I CALL THE POLICE?
Yes! It is important to contact the police immediately if you are involved in an accident. Doing so will provide proof of the accident and will allow for an immediate investigation of the scene. In addition, police will take statements of witnesses and will examine the other driver to check for drug or alcohol use. The police can also be valuable witnesses to your injury at the scene, and they can assist in securing an admission of fault from the negligent driver.
Even in minor accidents, resist the temptation to “keep things simple” by “settling up” with the other driver on the spot. You should make sure that you have not suffered injuries that do not develop symptoms until days or even weeks after the accident, and you should always consult with your doctor and an experienced attorney to make sure that you are aware of all of the avenues of recovery available to you.
WHEN SHOULD I CONTACT AN ATTORNEY?
After leaving the scene of an accident or while still there if you are safely able, you should immediately contact an attorney who is experienced in handling personal injury matters. Promptly arrange for an attorney to consult with you free of charge so as to enable immediate action on your behalf, while all of the evidence is still “fresh.” If necessary and feasible, have an investigator conduct a thorough analysis of the accident scene so that no evidence goes undetected.
SHOULD I CONTACT MY OWN INSURANCE COMPANY?
Most auto insurance companies require their policyholders to promptly report every auto accident. Your insurance company will want to gather all of the basic information concerning the accident for its records — whether you are at fault or not. Sometimes the insurance company will want your authorization to make a recorded statement concerning the accident. We suggest that if you or your passengers were injured in the accident or if you believe the insurance company might try to claim you are not covered or you have any concerns about the adequacy of your coverage, you should contact an attorney before you go any further, and certainly before you give the insurance company permission to record your conversation (NOTE: You should never give a statement to the other driver’s insurance company without consulting with an attorney). However, bear in mind that failure to provide information to your insurance company on a timely basis — your policy will set forth how quickly you must notify the company — could result in loss of coverage for the accident, without it constituting bad faith by the insurer.
SHOULD I GO TO THE DOCTOR?
Never hesitate to get checked out by medical professionals even when you feel OK. Many times the onset of physical complaints begins 12 to 24 hours after an accident. Even if you did walk away only feeling “shaken up” after being rear-ended by a truck, tomorrow morning when you get out of bed, it may be a different story.
It is also important that you get medical attention if you feel any pain or discomfort. Many people hope that their pain will go away on its own and wait for several weeks before finally succumbing and going to the doctor. Waiting to get treatment is not only not good for your health, but it will hurt your chances of obtaining an appropriate settlement for your injuries, since there will be no medical record of your injury at the time of the accident. Seeing a doctor following the accident will ensure a preliminary diagnosis and perhaps minimize the discomfort and future treatment you may need later.
Follow the doctor’s advice to the letter and never miss a doctor’s appointment. Do not substitute your judgment for that of an experienced medical professional. If you do, it will be used against you in court.
If you have been in a serious accident, chances are that someone has already made a record of what has happened to you. There already is a police report, an on-the-job workers’ compensation report or the like. If your condition required immediate medical care, hospital records will confirm your injuries. Make sure you promptly follow up with treatment from your regular doctor or an appropriate specialist following hospitalization.
IS THERE ANYTHING SPECIAL I SHOULD TELL MY DOCTORS?
When you are reporting your injury to police, paramedics, hospital staff and doctors, take extra care to identify specific complaints and do not omit any complaint you may have, no matter how minor. If something does not feel “right,” your doctor needs that information to render an informed medical opinion.
Even if you feel it is “no big thing” or not related to your accident, you still should recite all of your complaints. A dry mouth, a light headache and a little dizziness may be evidence of something more serious. Anything out of the ordinary is a symptom and should be reported to assist your doctor in making an informed diagnosis.
For example, a patient who has very slight tingling in the fourth and fifth fingers and a minor crick in the neck may not report the tingling sensation, which could be the sign of major disruption to a cervical disk. If that disk becomes a complete rupture that requires major surgery, it would have been far better to have had the initial medical diagnosis at the time of the accident to prove when the onset of the fracture to the outer wall of the disk occurred. Otherwise, the defense will argue that it could just as well have occurred picking up a bag of groceries three weeks after the accident.
DO I NEED TO TAKE PICTURES OF THE ACCIDENT SCENE?
Absolutely. Even if the police take photos, you should try to take several pictures if possible. Always take multiple photos of the accident location, the vehicles involved, various approaches to the accident scene and the people involved, particularly if they have suffered an injury. Plan on taking three times as many photographs as you think you might need, taking shots from multiple angles and locations. By moving around as if on the points of a compass, you will enable an accident reconstructionist to construct a more accurate diagram of the collision.
A good-quality camera is obviously preferable, but even a small disposable camera is better than nothing, and they are normally widely available in convenience stores and gas stations if you do not have one in your vehicle.
If you are unable to take photographs, contact an auto accident attorney immediately. Many work with investigators and other expert personnel who often can rush to the scene of any serious accident and preserve and document valuable evidence before it is lost.
DO I HAVE TO TAKE PHOTOS RIGHT AWAY OR CAN I WAIT?
It is very important to take photos as close in time as possible to the time of the accident. This is particularly important when it is necessary to photograph “impending” skid marks. Tires do not immediately lock up and change from rolling tires to skidding tires. During the braking process, a tire begins to leave an imprint on the road before actually skidding. These marks are “impending” skid marks and are faint marks that can normally be seen on the road for only 24 to 48 hours after a collision. An impending skid and a skid mark, when taken together, give a more accurate record of the actual speed of a car before braking. Lay a shoe or other easily measured item next to impending skid marks while photographing them so an accident reconstructionist can later compute actual distances based on the photographs.
If you are unable to take photographs, contact an attorney immediately. Many work with investigators and other expert personnel who often can rush to the scene of any serious accident and preserve and document valuable evidence before it is lost.
WHAT ABOUT PRESERVING OTHER EVIDENCE BESIDES PHOTOS?
In many cases, even though it may not seem important at the time, it later becomes vitally important to have access to the physical evidence of an accident. For example, in cases where a passenger is ejected from the vehicle, it is necessary to examine the seat belt to determine if it was functioning properly. If the seat belt is lost because the car in which it was in is sold or destroyed, it may be impossible to bring a claim against the seat belt manufacturer and/or the car manufacturer — something that can make or break the recovery of damages in cases where there is little or no other adequate insurance coverage available.
If the evidence is removed to another location, it is important to put everyone on notice by certified mail, including owners, tow operators, wrecking yards, police impounds and the like, that they must take every step to preserve important evidence and that failure to do so will subject them to being sued for allowing evidence to be destroyed. In some cases, attorneys must go to court quickly to get a restraining order and preliminary injunction to avoid alterations or destructive handling and testing of potentially incriminating evidence.
If you are unable to retain any piece of evidence associated with the accident, contact an auto accident attorney immediately. Many work with investigators and other expert personnel who often can rush to the scene of any serious accident and preserve and document valuable evidence before it is lost.
SHOULD I TALK TO THE OTHER DRIVER’S INSURANCE COMPANY? WHAT IF THEY CALL ME?
Never give an oral statement to the other side’s insurance company. If you do, you will regret it. If you are contacted, be polite, but decline to talk. Insurance companies’ claims adjusters are professional negotiators, with extensive experience using every psychological technique to maneuver you into giving information that can hurt your claim, including discouraging you from using the professional services of a car accident lawyer.
Claims adjusters are hired because they sound good over the telephone, but they are well-trained by insurance company lawyers to ask questions in a manner designed to hurt you and help them. You cannot beat an expert at their game. Do not try it. Simply say “Thank you for calling, but I am not prepared to discuss this matter with you at this time.”