Protecting Your Rights After a Car Accident
Barry, are there some recommendations that you have for people who have been in an accident, who have not hired a lawyer to protect themselves.
Barry: Well, there are a number of things that you can do to really protect your interests before you get a lawyer, if you've been in an accident. One thing I really recommend to people is that they get photos to document, not just the damage to their car, but the kind of injuries that they had. Frequently insurance companies will go out and have their own set of photographs taken of your car. I can't tell you the number of times I've represented somebody who's described, really, pretty extensive to their car but the photos from the insurance company really don't correlate with their description of the damage to their car or the pictures that they took themselves.
The other thing I really recommend that people take pictures of is the kind of injuries that they had, things like bruising, cuts, if they're in a cast, those sorts of things, because it really helps bring home and dramatize the seriousness of the injuries that they suffered. The second thing that I recommend to people is that they get prompt medical care after an accident. Now, a lot of times people will be taken to the hospital in an ambulance, and treated in the emergency room, but then, it'll be a long gap between when they seek their first follow-up care with either a primary care physician, or a specialist.
Anytime you have a significant gap in between the accident and when you're getting medical care, whether it's the initial care or the first follow-up medical care you get with a primary care doctor or specialist, it creates room for doubt in two different ways. First, is it creates doubt as to whether or not the injuries that you're claiming that you suffered were really all that serious, because people start thinking, "If they were hurt that badly, why didn't they go to a doctor?" The other area where it creates doubt is this. It creates doubt as to the causal relationship between the accident and the injuries that you're claiming. In other words, if you're sitting at a red light and you get rear ended, and you have lower back pain and you don't get any medical care for, say, a week or 10 days, that week or 10 days becomes a source of doubt for both jurors and people from the insurance company, as to whether or not that rear end accident caused the low pain that you initially sought medical care for.
Now, the other thing that you need to be very careful to do when you go into the doctor's office and get care, is to give a good clean history. What I mean by that is this. You need to be very clear in explaining to the doctor exactly what happened. The first thing a doctor's going to do when you come in for a focus exam like this, is take a history. Basically, all that amounts to is saying, "What brings you here? What happened to you?" The doctor is going to record this in your medical record. It's going to be reviewed very closely by the defense lawyer or by the insurance adjuster for your accounting of what happened. You certainly want to be very clear about what it is that brought you into the doctor's office.
One of the things that sometimes comes back to really bite people, is not being very precise about describing exactly what occurred. I can't tell you the number of times I have had clients describe being in accidents where they've been hit by a car that's been going 40 or 50 miles an hour, and there's only $1,000 worth of property damage to the car. That creates issues as to your credibility. Your credibility is something that's always going to be crucial in any type of a personal injury accident. Being accurate, in terms of how you describe the accident itself, is something that's going to be really very important. Finally, the area where I see people causing a lot of problems for themselves, is by giving a recorded statement to the insurance adjuster. There's a couple of different ways that they create problems for themselves. One is by being very imprecise in describing how the accident occurred. People will say quote unquote, "The car came out of nowhere." A skilled insurance adjuster will make that sound like you weren't paying attention when the accident happened.
The other place that people create problems for themselves is in how they describe their injuries, whether it's minimizing or exaggerating their injuries. You don't want to do either one of those things. You want to be very accurate in how you describe things. If you're really not properly prepared to give a recorded statement, you can create all kinds of problems for yourselves.