Accidents are violent, upsetting, and, by their very nature, unexpected. You could be on your way to work or simply going to the grocery store for a quart of milk and the next thing you know, you are on the side of a busy interstate or down on the floor. The pain is intense and strangers are hovering over you. What do you do?
Most injury victims know the necessary steps to take and prevent further risk of harm. They need to summon medical attention and let loved ones know about their situation. What comes next?
Too often we encounter new clients who have failed to take fundamental steps on their own behalf and, as a result, important legal rights are compromised.
Below is a short list of things to remember, but the guiding principle is simply to start thinking like a lawyer as soon possible. You know that you have been injured through no fault of your own, but how do you prove it and how do you avoid making mistakes that could affect your legal rights for years to come? Here is a novel thought right from a lawyer’s mind: if you can’t prove it through evidence, then legally it didn’t happen.
Think about that for a second. If due to embarrassment you dust yourself off from a slip and fall and run home, how can you prove you were even in a slip and fall incident? If you fail to summons the police, how will you know who the other drivers were in an accident? If you tell people at the scene that you are “alright,” will you be able to later show that you were, in fact injured?
Therefore consider the following rules:
1. Never hesitate to summons authorities, management, or witnesses who can document your accident.
2. No matter how long it takes or how inconvenient, insist on the preparation of an accident report.
3. Avoid speculating about the presence or absence of injuries. Many injuries only manifest themselves after some time has gone by. If you don’t know whether you’ve been injured, simply say that you’re in shock and you want to get checked out.
4. Avoid apologizing or summarizing your version of the accident. Better to be an information receiver than an information giver at an accident scene.
5. When asked, don’t hesitate to give contact and insurance information.
6. Document or have someone document the names and contact information of eyewitnesses. This may be hard since nowadays witnesses don’t like to “be involved.” Also remember that a name without contact information is almost useless. When necessary, enlist the help of law enforcement or bystanders to obtain this information.
It can be extremely difficult to think wisely under the circumstances of an accident, but doing so is critical to what happens next. Many valuable personal injury claims have been squandered by failing to take the proper efforts at the scene. With a little forethought, you can avoid the traps that many witnesses fall into. Of course, after you have finished “thinking like a lawyer,” don’t forget to call one, if you think you have a case.