Check List if You are in an Auto Accident

This is the next of a series of columns on how the law can impact your life. Each month we will focus on various aspects of the law relating to personal injuries, those that happen both on-the-job and otherwise, including mishaps which occur in driving vehicles, using products and receiving medical care. The column will also respond to legal questions relating to personal injury that are sent to us.

Healy Scanlon Law Firm is comprised of eight trial attorneys, two of whom are from Ireland. We are located downtown at 111 West Washington Street, Suite 1425, Chicago, Illinois 60602 (800-787-5431 or 312-324-0409). www.HealyLawFirm.com. The firm concentrates in the representation of injured victims of all types of accidents.

Readers are encouraged to call or write with questions concerning personal injury law.

CHECK LIST IF YOU'RE IN AN AUTO ACCIDENT

Summertime usually brings more driving. And statistically with more miles being driven, the odds of a collision increase. If you are in an accident, what should you do? The following is a check list of things to remember:

  1. Safety is most important, so stop, pull off the road if possible, and warn oncoming traffic, if necessary. If someone is injured, call for help and assist them if you can. Avoid moving anyone with severe injury or with any injury to neck or back, if possible. If you see any smoke or fire, get away from the vehicle. Do not attempt to put it out or retrieve belongings. Leave the vehicle only if it is safe to do so, and move off to the side of the road in case your car is struck by another vehicle. Never stand with your back to traffic, between or behind vehicles.
  2. Always exchange identification information and insurance information. Get the other driver's name, address, telephone number, insurance company and policy number and the name of the vehicle owner. Agreeing to working out auto-damage repairs with just a handshake can be problematic. Often there are hidden damages that make an accurate assessment of the costs of repair difficult. If the accident involves the right-of-way at an intersection, or other accident patterns involving a question of fault, it may be important to get the names, addresses and telephone numbers of other drivers or witnesses. If possible, take photographs of the vehicles and drivers at the scene of the collision. Most cell phones now contain cameras, otherwise, a disposable or digital camera is adequate.
  3. If there is personal injury or property damage, you must notify the police either at the scene or at a local police station. It is also advisable to report the accident because in some situations, injuries are not readily apparent and only manifest themselves days or even weeks later. Without a police report, it is one driver's word against the other.
  4. If you are involved in an accident, resulting in injury or death, or property damage in excess of $500.00, you must also file a written report of the accident with the State of Illinois within ten days of the accident.
  5. If you suffer personal injury, it is better from both a medical and legal viewpoint to seek help immediately. The full extent of injuries may not be known at the onset. If there is a future claim, injured parties are sometimes criticized for failing to seek medical care the day of the accident or within one or two days.
  6. Anything a driver says at the accident scene can be used against that person later on. An oral admission of fault by a party to a lawsuit made at the time of an accident will be admissible against the party at trial and is strong evidence against that party. If there is some uncertainty about fault, you should remain silent on the issue. Also, try not to guess or speculate about what happened during an accident. Finally, it is important to take photographs of the auto damage, if not done at the scene, before the car is repaired or totaled.
  7. Generally, it is wise to notify your insurance company of the accident even if it is not your fault, by calling your agent. Policies have medical expense coverage that will help pay medical expenses, even out-of-pocket deductibles in addition to any health insurance benefits available. Also, other insurance coverages in the policy may apply, such as uninsured (where the other driver had no insurance) or underinsured (where the other driver is insured but his policy limits are less than yours) coverage. You may not know at first what coverages may come into play because of an accident, but your insurer sometimes may be able to deny coverage if it was not promptly notified of an accident.
  8. If your vehicle is damaged to the extent that it needs to be towed, make sure you remove anything of value from the vehicle to prevent loss, weather damage or theft.
  9. Finally, don't panic. Be calm and polite. Escalating the situation is not helpful. If the other driver is upset or belligerent or tries to engage you in an argument, move away and wait for the police to arrive.
  10. If you suffer injuries, especially serious ones, it is wise to consult an attorney. If you attempt to resolve any injury claim on your own, you will be dealing with an experienced adjuster whose job it is to negotiate a settlement favorable to the insurance company. Furthermore, the insurance company is under no obligation to explain to you the applicable law or its responsibility under the law. Because the insurance company has hundreds of lawyers at its disposal, generally it is difficulty to reach a fair settlement by going it alone.

BY: Martin Healy, Jr.