The single most important thing to do following a motor vehicle accident is to protect the safety and well being of the passengers in your vehicle and yourself. Therefore, if possible move your vehicle to a safe location either on the shoulder of the road or a nearby parking lot. But before doing so, make sure that moving your vehicle will not cause or exacerbate anybody’s injuries.
Once you’re in a safe location, assess the well being of your passengers and yourself. Ask specific questions to each person. If someone is hurt you should call 911 and request an ambulance immediately. I always recommend calling the police to any accident scene, even if everyone is ok. But, let them know that no one is seriously injured.
The police serve an important role in documenting the accident. First, they gather all relevant insurance information. They also document the accident in terms of time, location and apparent contributing factors. They will gather any witness information. All of this can be incredibly important later on in the legal process. The information will be compiled on a document called a Police Accident MV-104 form. It usually takes about one week to get this document from the police. But you should be provided with a field report on the scene and request the MV-104 as soon as possible.
The police will also ask if you have suffered an injury and want medical attention. Many people will opt to decline medical attention even if they have injuries fearing both the time and expense associated with going to the hospital. I strongly recommend that if you have any pain whatsoever that you accept the offer of medical attention. It will be paid for by insurance and cannot only save your life, but also save any potential personal injury case that you may have.
I’ve come across many individuals that have declined medical attention on the scene, to only find later on in the evening or the next day that their injuries are serious and need to go to the emergency room. Also, I’ve represented many clients that had seemingly minor injuries that progressively grew worse until they were forced to seek medical attention days and even weeks after their accident. Often, insurance companies will try and deny that the car accident was the cause of my client’s pain because my client declined medical attention at the scene. As an attorney, I want to eliminate as many obstacles as possible when seeking compensation for my client. Therefore, always accept medical attention should you be in pain.
Another good idea at the scene of the accident is to collect information if you are physically able to do so. Take photographs of the scene and the vehicles involved in the accident. Also, get witnesses names. Seldom do the police take photographs at the scene of an accident. Only in case of catastrophic injuries will the police call upon the crime scene investigative unit to document the scene with photographs and measurements.
Further, there is no need to converse with the other driver. It is fine to inquire about their physical wellbeing. But, it is best not to discuss the circumstances of the accident. Discussing the accident with the other parties serves no legal purpose and often leads to verbal and/or physical altercations.
Finally, be weary of offers to resolve the matter without the police. This never goes well. There is usually a reason the other party wants to avoid the police and it’s never to benefit you. Either, there is an issue with their license or insurance or they simply know they are at fault and prefer not to have it documented so that they can later deny their wrongdoing. Learn more about handling an accident with someone who is underinsured.
We offer up a strong example of why you should always seek medical attention after you’ve sustained an injury – whether it’s at work or not. Ian T. Hintz, a repair technician for Farmers Cooperative Association in Nebraska, was hard at work last November repairing a tire off a semitrailer when the tire exploded, throwing him approximately 10 feet in the air. Although he was experiencing pain in his hips and groin, Hintz did not seek medical attention because he was afraid to get Farmers “in trouble”. After the incident, he left work and did not return the next day, but did return to work the following Monday.
Hintz continued to work, but indicated that he only did “a little” at the time. Farmers, his employer, claimed the opposite – that Hintz was fully completing all his job assignments. Hintz would have been better off seeking medical attention right away. Less than a month later, Hintz tripped walking up the stairs in his home. After he fell, Hintz went for medical treatment and was referred to a surgeon, who corrected a severe labral tear.
Following his surgery, Hintz was out of work for three months and eventually, terminated by Farmers Cooperative Association. Hintz filed a petition with the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court for disability benefits, but his claim was denied. An expert for Farmers testified, after examining medical records (but never Hintz himself), that Hintz’s labral tear was a result of his tripping up his stairs, and not a result of his incident at work. But, Hintz’s surgeon disagreed, testifying that “the labral tear that was corrected in surgery was severe, and it was likely to have been caused by a high-energy work injury, not just falling up the steps.”
Hintz was denied Workers’ Comp. And the sad truth is, had he went for medical treatment following his initial incident and after experiencing pain in both his hips and his groin, Farmers may have granted him Workers’ Comp without choice in the matter since causation of his injury would have been clearly established. Not seeking medical attention after an incident can always put a dent in a plaintiff’s claim. Injuries that are unchecked can become worse. An immediate medical diagnosis (directly following an incident) is imperative in establishing liability against a defendant.
Hintz ended up appealing, and luckily, the appeals court found the compensation court’s decision to be wrong. Hintz presented medical evidence that his labral tear was the result of the November 13th work incident. And furthermore, the surgeon, unlike the medical expert hired by Farmers, was a much more credible source having had performed the surgery on Hintz. His testimony that the labral tear was much more likely to have been caused by a “high-energy work injury” weighed more in the eyes of the appeals court than the testimony of the other medical experts involved in the case.
Remember, no matter what type of incident you are involved with, the faster you seek medical attention the better. You may fear a bad diagnosis, you may not feel you have an injury, or you may fear medical bills…but seeking medical attention is always for the best.