If you are in an accident or suffer any kind of injury, do you know what steps to take to protect your legal rights?
First Steps after an Accident or Injury
Source: FindLaw for the Public
This is an article written for Americans, but is highly relevant in the South African context.
If you are in an accident or suffer any kind of injury, do you know what steps to take to protect your legal rights? The Personal Injury topic in FindLaw’s Accident andInjury Center provides tips on taking photos, making notes about what happened, getting a police report, and finding an attorney — all with an eye toward protecting your legal right to recover for your injuries.
Do’s and Don’ts after an Accident or Injury
DO seek proper medical attention before doing anything else.
DO summon the police, in appropriate cases.
DO cooperate with all law enforcement and emergency personnel who respond to the scene.
DO get the license plate numbers of all other vehicles involved in car accidents and the drivers’ names, addresses, telephone numbers, and insurance information.
DO get the name and address of the animal’s owner and any license information if you were injured by an animal bite or attack.
DO write down the names, addresses, and phone numbers of all potential witnesses to any accident or injury.
DO contact your health, homeowner’s, and/or automobile insurance companies, as appropriate.
DO take photographs of all of the following, as applicable, as soon as possible after the accident:
- The scene of the accident, from all angles.
- The surrounding area.
- The product or animal that caused your injuries.
- Your injuries.
- Any property damage.
DO contact an experienced accident and injury attorney.
DON’T move your vehicle after an automobile accident, unless necessary for safety or required by law.
DON’T subject yourself to further injury by standing or waiting in an area near traffic or other safety hazards.
DON’T leave the scene of an accident until the police tell you it is okay to do so.
DON’T throw away any potential evidence in the case, such as defective products, important documents, or torn or blood-stained clothing.
DON’T engage in discussions of fault with anyone, and make sure you don’t apologize for anything — doing so can be considered evidence that you may have been legally at fault.
DON’T agree to settlement terms without discussing the matter with your attorney.
This section has information on what to do immediately following an accident or injury. To begin, select an item from the list below or from the “Browse” box on the left.
Take Notes About the Incident and Your Injuries
Two critical issues in any legal claim after an accident or injury are:
1) What exactly happened during the incident that gave rise to the claim?
2) What kind of harm resulted?
These issues will arise at many stages of a personal injury case, and more complex cases can last a year or more, so having a clear record to refer back to can contribute toward the success of your claim. One of the best ways to make sure that you preserve every important detail of your accident or injury is to take notes as soon as possible after the incident, including what happened and the effects of your injuries on your daily life.
Although taking notes may be the last thing on your mind soon after what may be a traumatic experience, remember that it will help strengthen your position in a legal claim for your injuries. (Note: If you are unable to act quickly due to injuries or medical treatment, you might ask a loved one or close friend to help you follow the suggestions described below.)
What to Write Down
As soon as you can, write down everything you can think of that relates to:
- What exactly happened before, during, and after the incident that led to your injury — time and place, weather conditions, who was present, what was said, how the incident played out, what you experienced and felt, and anything else that you feel may be important to record.
- Extent of your injuries — what injuries you suffered (physical and mental), medical treatment you received (past and future), and the effect of your injuries on every aspect of your work, social, and personal life. This includes visits to the doctor and physical therapist, time missed from work, any planned vacations that were postponed or cancelled, and the effects that your injuries have had on your close family relationships.
Take Notes Throughout the Claim Process
As your claim progresses, continue to keep track of new developments by taking notes after any conversations with your insurance company, medical care providers, witnesses to the incident, and anyone else with whom you discuss important aspects of your case. Write down each person’s name and contact information, the date and place of the conversation, and as much as you can remember about what was said.
Preserve Evidence and Take Photos
If you are involved in an accident or injury that may have been caused by someone’s carelessness, preserving any physical evidence of the incident and your injuries can support your position in any legal claim you may decide to pursue. It is important to do this as soon as possible after the incident, because circumstances can change quickly: accident scenes can be altered, memory can become unreliable, and evidence can be overlooked or misplaced over time.
Though taking the time to do these things may be the last thing on your mind soon after what may be a traumatic experience, these actions can be very beneficial should you decide to pursue a legal claim for your injuries. (Note: If you are unable to act quickly due to injuries or medical treatment, you might ask a loved one or close friend to help you follow the suggestions described below.)
What Should You Keep?
The first step to take in protecting evidence of your injury is to make sure that every physical item is preserved, including torn clothing, broken equipment, and important documents. As an illustration, here are some steps to take after a number of common injuries:
Motor Vehicle Accidents: After a car accident, take photos of the scene, your injuries, and any property damage. In addition, get copies of all medical records pertaining to your treatment after the accident, keep copies of property damage estimates and repairs records, and obtain a copy of any police report that is made.
Defective Consumer Products : If you are injured by a faulty product such as a household appliance, be sure to preserve the item in the same condition it was in when the incident occurred. In addition, keep all written instructions, warnings, labels, and packaging that accompanied the item. If you can, try to locate the original sales receipt for the item. If you cannot find the receipt in your own personal records, ask the seller if they have a copy.
Obtaining and Using a Police Report
A police report was probably generated if you have been involved in a motor vehicle accident or other incident to which a law enforcement officer responded. You are entitled to receive a copy of any such report, so it is a good idea to contact the responding law enforcement agency as soon as possible after the incident. If you know the name of the agency, locate them in the phone book or on the internet, and call them to request a copy of the report. You may need to pay a small fee to cover photocopying, and the agency may require that you appear in person to pick up the report. Some agencies will mail a copy of the report to you at no charge.
How Can a Police Report Help in an Injury Case?
While a police report itself probably will not be admissible in civil court proceedings, it can go a long way toward gaining negotiation leverage in any personal injury dispute. For example, during informal settlement discussions with opposing counsel or an insurance carrier, you or your attorney can use the facts and conclusions found in a police report to gain an advantage on such issues as:
? Circumstances of the incident, including the time of day, date, specific location, and weather conditions at the time.
? Preliminary assessment of fault, especially in motor vehicle accidents. For example, after a car accident a police report may contain a responding officer’s observations as to which driver might have violated the state’s vehicle code, or whose carelessness may have caused the accident.
In addition to providing leverage during discussions on central issues such as fault for an accident, police reports can contain the identifying information of anyone who might have witnessed the incident, or who arrived on the scene soon afterward. At a minimum, most reports will list the name and telephone number of witnesses and those at the scene, and in some situations the report may also contain witness statements about what happened. Having contact information for these people, and especially a record of their views as to what took place, can be a valuable asset for you and your attorney when proving what happened and who was at fault.