Protect Your Rights: Automobile Accidents

I want to introduce a new blog feature called “Protect Your Rights”. As the name suggests, we intend to use this blog to provide readers beneficial information. This feature will provide practical information, such as what steps to take in case of an auto accident, to larger policy issues, such as tort reform. If you have any suggestions for topics to be covered, please let us know. Our first entry deals with steps that should be taken following an automobile accident.

As common as automobile accidents are, people frequently fail to take basic steps necessary to protect their legal interests. Most of the time, people involved in the accident merely exchange insurance and driver’s license information with the assumption that insurance companies will take care of everything else. That assumption is not a reliable one. In fact, after an accident you may find yourself fighting your own insurance company in addition to the driver of the car that hit you.

The safer assumption is that a lawsuit will be required to get the compensation you deserve. Hopefully this is not the case, but always plan for the worst. So, to protect your rights, it’s important that you (or someone with you if you are too injured to do so) act like an investigator and gather as much information as possible at the scene of the accident. Insurance and driver’s license information is important, but it’s merely the beginning. Make sure you get the contact information from all witnesses and passengers in the accident because we will certainly want to talk to them. While gathering this information, be sure not to make any statements to anyone as to how you believe the accident happened. Even an “I’m Sorry” can be used against you as an admission of fault. You will have your chance to tell your story at a later date.

Be sure to call the police, and once they arrive, politely but forcefully request the officer to make a report. If you don’t request the report, officers may choose not to do the extra paperwork. Moreover, some police departments will not complete a report unless requested. Don’t rely on the officer alone to document the accident scene. Use your cell phone or camera to take pictures of the damage to all cars involved. Also, if it is possible and doesn’t place you in danger, take pictures of the accident scene and the positions of the car at the time of the accident. The exact positions of the car at the time of the accident can be very helpful in proving fault. Lastly, if you suspect drug or alcohol use by the other driver, make notes of exactly why your suspicions were raised and certainly bring those suspicions to the officer’s attention.

This certainly is not intended to be an exhaustive list of all the steps you need to take in every car accident, but it is a general starting point. To further help you, print out the Accident Information Form linked below. In a time of chaos that often follows a car accident, it can serve as a reminder of the steps to take, as well as provide you a place to document the information you need to collect. So, print out the form and place it in your glove box and the glove box of all your loved ones. And if you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to email me at pete@wtlfirm.com.

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