WHAT NOT TO DO AFTER A CAR ACCIDENT IN ATLANTA

What not to do after a car accident injury in AtlantaWe have discussed in previous entries things you should always do after a car accident. Naturally, any discussion of things NOT to do after being involved in a car wreck would begin with failing to do any of the things we suggested in that entry. However, it is worth spending some time to explain why it is important that you never do any of these three things after being involved in a car accident.

Before we begin, a quick aside about the use of the term “car accident.”  There is a growing movement to stop calling them “car accidents” and start using the term “car crashes” to stop treating intentional decisions made by negligent drivers which predictably result in vehicle crashes with the minimal culpability that the term “accident” connotes.

For now, we are still using the “accident” term on this site because that is what so many of our readers and clients still use, but for more on the movement to change that, check out these articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Huffington Post.

1.    NOT CALLING THE POLICE:

It may be tempting particularly if nobody seems seriously injured and the other driver tells you how much they’d really love to avoid getting a ticket to just swap insurance information and not call the police. After all, you have other places to be as well and it may sound tempting to not take the time to wait on the police to arrive, investigate, and write a traffic citation.

However honorable your motives may be, it is almost never a good idea to forego calling the police to the scene of a motor vehicle accident for several reasons.

First, police officers are trained in accident investigation, and they know what factors are important to document in a report. They will verify the other driver’s identity, document their insurance information, make a record of anyone else in their vehicle, take statements from any witnesses to the accident as well as both drivers, and diagram how the accident occurred. All of that information becomes important if you need to pursue a claim for vehicle damage or personal injuries after the crash.

Second, if you need to make an insurance claim, insurance companies want to see a police report because the details the officers document are all details the claims adjuster needs to know to help them figure out what happened and who is at fault. While you can still make an insurance claim without a police report, it will complicate the claims process significantly while the claims adjuster tries to independently investigate to verify the accident actually happened the way you say it did and obtain the same information the police officer would have included in the report.

If the other driver suddenly changes their story when their insurance company or yours is calling to ask them about the accident, you could have a difficult time proving the accident happened the way you contend even if it seemed like a clear cut accident when it happened. A police report in most cases should lock in the parties’ stories regarding how the accident occurred. Without that report even a seemingly clear liability accident could turn into a difficult and unnecessary fight.

Third, calling a police officer to the scene of your crash could provide you with a valuable witness should you find yourself having to file a lawsuit to recover for personal injuries or vehicle damage resulting from your crash. Police officers are not only trained investigators but are also trained witnesses who know how to properly provide courtroom testimony.

Often they are the only neutral third party who actually observed the scene of the crash and spoke to all of the participants, and jurors and judges typically give their testimony a lot of weight. While the police officer may not have been an eyewitness to your crash, their testimony as a neutral trained investigator who was on scene within a few minutes of the crash occurring and spoke to everyone involved can be invaluable in a civil lawsuit. With all of these potentially huge benefits, there is rarely ever justification for failing to call the police.

2.   DOWNPLAY YOUR INJURIES OR NOT SEEK MEDICAL TREATMENT

It is natural for people to want to assume the best after a car accident and believe that the soreness or pain they are experiencing is not serious and will go away. While that hopefully will turn out to be the case, when that soreness or pain does not go away or more serious injuries surface later, the insurance company will try to use the fact you downplayed your injuries and did not seek treatment right away against you.

While it is common for the adrenaline rush that comes from being involved in a trauma like a car accident to mask injuries initially, it is important to seek medical treatment as soon as the adrenaline wears off and you begin to realize you are in pain. It is understandable that you may not want to go sit for hours in the Emergency Room for what may not seem like serious injuries at the time, but it is a big mistake to not at least go to an Urgent Care facility or go see your primary care doctor to get checked out as soon as possible.

For one, you often do not realize how injured you may be within the first several hours following a car crash, and it is always a good idea to let a physician check you over to make sure you are not more seriously injured than you realize. And like the police officer, your physician’s office also becomes a potentially valuable third party witness who will document in your medical records all of the injuries which they observe or which you report to them shortly after the accident.

Insurance companies will not just take your word for it that you suffered an injury in an accident. They will look to see if it is possible that you suffered the injury prior to the accident or even after the accident as a result of something other than the accident. The medical records documenting what injuries you complained of immediately following the crash or within a few hours or at least a few days after the crash are powerful evidence to show the insurance company that those injuries were sustained in the crash.

As a result, when you seek treatment, it is important that you tell your doctor everywhere you are experiencing any kind of pain or discomfort. Again, it is tempting to focus only on the main or most obvious injury so as not to sound like you are a hypochondriac or are whining to your doctor. But in this instance you cannot worry about coming across as a complainer or sounding petty.

You often do not know shortly after a car accident which injuries may turn out to be your most serious. Often, serious internal injuries such as bulging or herniated discs in your neck or back may not cause symptoms that you think are significant right after the crash, but they get worse or become more noticeable over time as your other aches, pains, scrapes, and bruises heal.

You may notice a seemingly minor ache, pain, numbness, or tingling in your neck, back, shoulder, or legs but not think it worth mentioning to your doctor if you have never had neck or back pain before and suffered big painful cuts, scrapes, or bruises elsewhere. But the longer it takes for you to report symptoms to your physician and for your complaints to show up in your medical records, the more opportunity it gives an insurance company to argue that you cannot prove you suffered those injuries in the accident.

Thus, you need to tell your doctor about ALL of your aches, pains, numbness, weakness, tinglings, abnormalities and discomforts, no matter how minor or insignificant they may seem at the time, so they can note it in your medical records as soon as possible after the accident.

3.   PROVIDE A RECORDED STATEMENT TO THE INSURANCE COMPANY

Most people are not familiar with all of the steps involved in making an insurance claim following a car accident, and insurance companies know this and use it to their advantage. Their claims adjusters are trained to try to get a recorded statement from you as soon as possible following the crash. They may even tell you that they cannot process your claim unless you provide them with a recorded statement.

Do not believe it. That is simply not true in Georgia. Insurance adjusters have a duty under Georgia law to investigate and adjust your claim promptly and in good faith whether you provide them a statement or not.

Like any investigation, it makes it easier for them if they can talk to everyone involved and hear what they have to say, which is why they may tell you they cannot process your claim without your statement. But keep in mind, unlike the police, insurance adjusters will not warn you that you have a right to remain silent and anything you say (or leave out) can and will be used against you in a court of law.

And that is the primary reason they want to get a recorded statement from you – so that they can use it against you later if you remember the details of the crash differently or report different injuries than you did during the recorded statement. They are not recording your statement to help you. It is only to help them try to use something you said against you later.

The bottom line is insurance companies are businesses, and no business stays in business long if they spend money they do not have to spend. Your insurance claim is going to cost the insurance company money, and they understandably want to minimize the amount they have to spend.

One way they know they can try to do that is by locking you into a story right after the crash when you often are still not thinking clearly because you are suddenly without a car, missing work or school, and not feeling your best. Any injury you downplay or do not report will be used against you later, and in disputed liability accidents the adjusters know what questions to ask to try to build a case that you are partially or fully at fault for the accident.

You never want to inadvertently damage your claim before it even really gets started by providing the insurance company a recorded statement.

Atlanta personal injury attorneys are skilled in speaking with insurance adjusters, and they know how to present the insurance company with the information they need to know to properly process your claim at the right time and in such a way as to maximize the value of your claim. When you hire a personal injury attorney to handle your car accident claim for you, they become your advocate with the insurance company and speak to them for you so you do not have to.

Before you ever think about speaking with an insurance adjuster after your car accident, we recommend that you talk to an experienced personal injury attorney first. If you are not seriously injured and do not have a personal injury claim to pursue, an attorney may tell you it is ok to proceed with handling the claim yourself and speak to the adjuster. But you should always speak to an attorney that is focused on protecting your interests first before you ever think about speaking to an insurance adjuster that is focused on protecting the insurance company’s interests.

If you have questions or concerns about a car accident or Georgia injury law in general, please do not hesitate to give our car accident attorneys a call.  We would be happy to speak to you and answer all of your questions.