Personal injury litigation is all about evidence (i.e. what can you prove?), so preserving the best evidence is crucial. Sometimes evidence exists for only a brief window of time:
- That sidewalk defect you tripped on was there yesterday, but today the city repaved the whole block and now it’s gone.
- Defendant’s car hood was completely crushed, but the body shop did such a great job you can’t tell anymore.
- That puddle you slipped on will probably evaporate if the store manager doesn’t clean it first.
For this reason, the actions you take (or fail to take) after an accident may adversely affect your rights.
Things You SHOULD Do
- Health & Safety First – Check for injuries and seek immediate medical attention. If you are in harms way, relocate to a place of safety. Be aware that injury symptoms may not manifest for hours or even days after the accident.
- Contact Authorities – Call 911 and file a report of the accident, remembering to request a case number. You will need this case number to later request a copy of the police report.
- Evidence Preservation – Get the facts (insurance info, contact info, vehicle info, dates, times, witness info). Take extensive photographs (accident scene, important objects, property damage, injuries, people involved, witnesses). Preserve all evidence (for example, your shoes may be tested in a slip-and-fall case; your wrecked car may be examined in an auto defect case; your fractured prosthesis may be tested in a medical products liability case). If you are not capable of preserving evidence due to your injuries, immediately contact a friend or family member to complete these tasks for you.
- Contact an Attorney – Immediately contact an attorney to educate yourself about the law, your rights, and what options are available.
- Contact Your Insurance Company – Contact your own insurance company and notify them of the accident. Do NOT speak with the other party’s insurance company without first consulting an attorney.
Things You Should NOT Do
- Do NOT Discuss the Accident – Cooperate with authorities and medical providers, but do not otherwise discuss the facts and circumstances of the accident. Be mindful that what you say can be used against you.
- Do NOT Admit Fault – Legal fault is not for you to determine. The trier of fact (i.e. arbitrator, judge, or jury) is tasked with applying the relevant law to the facts and circumstances of your case. The trier of fact will determine fault. Again, be mindful that what you say can be used against you.
- Do NOT Discuss Extent of Injuries – Cooperate with authorities and medical providers, but do not otherwise discuss the extent of your injuries. Always follow the recommendations and treatment plan of your medical provider.
- Do NOT Speak with an Insurance Adjuster Without Consulting an Attorney – An insurance adjuster is tasked with closing out your claim as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. In other words, their goal is to settle your case today and pay you nothing. Providing a recorded statement, handing over documents, or signing authorizations or release documents can end up causing more damage to your case.
- Do NOT Sign Anything Without Consulting an Attorney– You may receive releases, waivers, or other documents for your signature. Your signature could mean losing the right to pursue compensation.