What to Do If You Are Injured in a Car Accident
by Lincoln Combs
Many times I get calls or message from friends or friends of friends who know I am an injury lawyer asking what they should do after they have been injured in a car crash. And it is smart for them to ask! Fortunately most people are only very rarely injured in a car accident, but the adjuster from the other driver’s insurance company deal with these situations every day. So there is a huge knowledge gap between an accident injury victim and the people that they have to deal with to make sure they are treated fairly and receive the compensation they are entitled to under the law. Here is what I tell family and friends after a car accident:
For serious injury claims, call Gallagher & Kennedy as soon as possible
The rest of my advice below is for more minor crashes that don’t involve obviously severe injuries. For any case involving serious or life-threatening injuries, it is important to have a legal team involved early to make sure evidence is properly preserved. An experienced Phoenix personal injury lawyer like the attorneys at Gallagher & Kennedy can also investigate other possible legal claims and responsible parties to make sure that the victim is fully compensated, including dram shop liability, employer liability, and automotive defect claims. A good rule of thumb is that if the injury victim was taken by ambulance to the hospital directly from the accident, then they are going to need a lawyer, and the sooner the better.
Make sure the police are called to the scene and compile a report
If you think you’ve been injured or even possibly injured, make sure the police are called so they can investigate and complete an Arizona Crash Report. Do not let the other driver who caused the crash talk you into “handling it ourselves” or “keeping it between us.” Immediately following a crash, with adrenaline still pumping, it’s sometimes not obvious how seriously someone has been injured. Soft tissue “whiplash” injuries, concussions, and even broken bones may sometimes not be immediately obvious in the minutes after the crash, and you may not be aware of how badly you’ve been injured. An Arizona Crash Report will include details of the crash, interviews with available witnesses, and usually a finding of fault and citation on the other driver. This is invaluable information for pursuing an injury claim and being compensated fairly.
Focus on your injuries and treatment
The most important thing to do after you’ve been injured in a car crash is to take care of your medical issues and your health. Your focus in the hours, days, weeks, and even months after the crash should be on getting better. Don’t blow off any symptoms or problems, make sure every condition or injury gets fully worked up and investigated so it can be treated. Follow all doctors’ advice and suggestions for treatment. Compile a list of every healthcare provider you see so that you or your attorney can get a complete set of medical records and bills for your claim.
You have plenty of time to make a claim
Sometimes the other driver’s insurance will call soon after the crash, maybe even within days, and start pressuring you to talk to them about your claim. You have zero obligation to do so. Accident injury victims have two years from the day of the crash to file a lawsuit in Arizona and most other states, but adjusters like to pressure injury victims to settle quickly before they realize the full extent of their injuries or hire a lawyer. Your focus after the crash should be on getting better, not dealing with your insurance claim. There is plenty of time for that and you want to make sure you are healed and know the full extent of your injuries before you make a claim. I typically advise my clients to wait until at least six months after a crash to make a claim.
Do not give any recorded statements
Similarly, adjusters will often pressure you to give a “statement.” The other driver’s insurance company and their adjuster is not on your side and you have no obligation to help them or even to talk to them. As much as they might make it sound routine or your duty to do so, giving them a statement will only hurt you and help them. If your own insurance company asks you to make a statement you may have a duty to cooperate with your own insurer, but if so then your claim is probably complicated enough to need a lawyer involved to protect your rights as discussed further below.
Use your health insurance to pay for all your treatment
Hospitals, doctors, and therapists may ask questions about how you were injured, and once they find out you were injured in a car accident may want you to use “alternative payment arrangements” or offer to “have the other driver’s insurance pay for your treatment.” These are attempts to charge you double, triple, or an even higher multiple of what your insurance pays for the same treatment. If at all possible insist on your regular health insurance paying all bills, and if a healthcare provider refuses or demands that you sign something giving them the right to bill your accident claim instead of insurance, consider finding a different doctor or therapist. I do not believe accident injury victims should pay more for treatment just because they may have a legal claim.
Handling an accident claim yourself
If liability is clear, such as a rear-end collision or if the other driver was cited for running a stop sign or red light, and your injuries are minor, you may be able to resolve your claim in the ballpark of a fair number and without having to pay any attorney fees. Once you are 100% back to normal, collect all of your medical records and bills for all of your treatment related to the crash, and present them as well as the Arizona Crash Report to the other driver’s insurer in a demand letter asking for an amount you think is fair. A fair number would be the total of the medical bills plus additional compensation for your pain and suffering, stress, loss of enjoyment of life, etc.
When to hire a lawyer
In all situations other than very simple car accidents with only minor injuries you are almost always much better off hiring a contingent fee lawyer (like me!). A Phoenix car accident lawyer can very likely get you more money in your pocket with a higher settlement even after their contingent fee. Especially for any kind of more serious injury with the potential long-term consequences, you need an experienced lawyer like myself and my partners to build your case and make sure you are treated fairly. Also, any time you get a sense that you are not being treated fairly or something doesn’t feel right, such as being told you were at fault when the other driver was cited or that your treatment is unrelated to the crash, you probably need to get a lawyer involved.
Call an injury lawyer even if you think you were at fault too
Finally, many injury accident situations are not clear-cut, and the investigating law enforcement officer may not always be able to determine who caused the crash. Even if you feel like you might have been partly at fault, in Arizona fault is comparative and you may still be entitled to compensation even where you have to accept partial responsibility for an accident. These situations are obviously complicated, however, and you should definitely hire a lawyer if fault is not clear and obvious and your injuries are significant.
I hope this helps someone that has been injured in a crash and is not sure what to do. If you aren’t sure and are looking for a free legal consultation about your car accident, call Gallagher & Kennedy at (602) 530-8400 and we’d be happy to speak with you.