You Have Been in Car Wreck, Now What Do You Do?
I. At the accident scene: If you have already been in an accident, this information may come too late; however, I would encourage you to talk with your friends and family and make sure that they know what to do when they find themselves involved in a car accident in Florida.
• First and foremost, at the scene of the collision, make sure everyone is safe and out of harm’s way from any moving vehicles, traffic, etc. Florida law requires that you move your vehicles if they are impeding the flow of traffic (F.S. 316.061 et seq.), and only involve damage to the property or vehicles. If someone is hurt in the collision, DO NOT move your vehicles until you are directed to do so by the law enforcement agency on scene investigating the accident. Also, even in cases of property damage, especially in parking lot collisions, do not move your vehicle, or if you have to photograph the vehicles as they sit after impact to help establish liability (who is at fault).
• DO NOT make any statements to the other driver about the collision, or who caused the accident, except to law enforcement officers on scene. Your statements to law enforcement are privileged and cannot be used against you later, but your statements to the other driver can be used as an ADMISSION AGAINST YOU if the case has to go to Court over your injuries. DO NOT apologize. NEVER apologize.
• DO NOT leave the scene of the accident until you receive the other driver’s insurance information. Obviously, if you have been transported from the scene of the accident, law enforcement will seek you out and most likely provide you with a form called a Driver Exchange of Information. DO keep this information as it will have the names of the drivers, owners of the cars involved in the collision and most important the names, if known or provided to law enforcement, of the insurance companies which will be involved in “adjusting the loss.”
• DO call your own insurance company as soon as possible after the accident, even if you are not at fault in causing the collision. You have a ‘duty to cooperate” with your insurance company, BUT this does not mean you have to admit to anything. DO speak to an experienced Car Accident As soon as possible. The reason you want to notify your insurance company is because Florida is a No Fault state and you will need your insurance carrier to open a file to extend medical and lost wage benefits to you as soon as possible.
II. Get medical attention immediately: In Florida, DO go to the doctor. DO NOT go to the emergency room UNLESS you feel you have a life threatening injury, are actively bleeding, or have what you feel is a broken bone, or the paramedics tell you must go the emergency room. The emergency room physicians have one job to do. Determine if you have a life threatening condition such that if you are not immediately admitted to the hospital by another physician, you may lose life or limb. You do not need to “take the ride” to have a claim for injuries. Going to the emergency room will not make your claim anymore credible than not. Going to the emergency room, in cases where you are not experiencing one of the conditions listed above, will only result in one thing – your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits being gobbled up by the hospital, emergency room physicians and emergency room radiology groups.
**YOU MUST GO TO THE DOCTOR WITHIN FOURTEEN OF THE ACCIDENT AND THEY FAILURE TO DO SO WILL MEAN YOUR OWN INSURANCE COMPANY WILL NOT EXTEND MEDICAL BENEFITS OR LOST WAGE BENEFITS TO YOU.**
• You need to keep in mind that most “soft tissue” injuries do not materialize right away. Instead, it may take a day or two for the trauma of the accident to settle in. In this regard, accident injuries can often be like a sports injury where you feel fine at first, but wake up stiff and sore the next morning. If you have cuts, bruises or other visible injuries, immediately document your injuries with photographs.
• DO follow your physician’s instructions. DO follow the treatment schedule. Many insurance companies will try to use your failure to go to the doctor, or to follow the doctor’s treatment schedule against you when evaluating your claim.
• DO NOT be afraid to seek medical treatment from a different physician if you feel your doctor is not being responsive to your injuries. Remember the doctor is there to treat your injuries and he/she is not treating them, you will not get better.
• DO start keeping a diary or file with all prescriptions, receipts and medical records you receive. Keep notes on how the injuries have been impacting on your ability to do things, such as work, playing sports, or keeping you from doing the things you did before the accident.
III. DO NOT EVER, EVER, EVER give a recorded statement immediately after the accident to the other insurance company. You are under NO obligation to give a recorded statement to the other driver’s insurance company. A recorded statement can be very helpful in establishing the potential value of your case, the decision of liability and your damages. At the same time, recorded statements can damage your case and prevent you from ever being able to recover for your damages.
• DO NOT give a recorded statement until you have recovered from the shock of the accident, had the opportunity to seek medical treatment, and had the opportunity to receive and review the accident report in your case. If there are errors in the police report, you should contact an attorney immediately and decline to give a recorded statement.
• You should always make the condition of giving a recorded statement that the insurance company provides you a copy of the statement, whether by audio recording or in written, typed up format. You can also ask for a copy of the recorded statement from the driver that hit your car, BUT is highly unlikely the insurance company will provide it to you. That is why I never allow my clients to give a recorded statement to the other side, or the other side’s insurance company. The insurance companies and adjusters see cooperation as a one-way street. You cooperate with them, BUT they do not AND will not cooperate with you.
• DO NOT guess or speculate to things you are unsure about if you do give a recorded statement. DO NOT diminish or lessen your injuries. If you are hurt, tell the adjuster you are hurt. If you are going to the doctor, tell them you are going to the doctor. If they ask “How are you?” DO NOT say “I’m fine.” This will mean you are not injured and were not injured in the accident. I know it is nice to be polite, but you can be polite without saying “I’m fine.”
IV. DO NOT sign anything from any Insurance Company. Each and every insurance company sends out medical records releases to accident victims. They then use these Releases to get all of you medical records, from your primary care doctor, to every doctor you have seen, to every hospital you have ever gone to in an attempt to diminish or defeat your claim for injuries. They send out Releases when they pay money to “settle” your claim. Do NOT sign anything until you seek legal counsel. Nothing more, nothing less needs to be said in this section. DO NOT sign. The one exception your insurance company is entitle to a Release if you are making an Uninsured/Under-insured Motorist benefits claim, or your PIP carrier is paying you medical bills, but again, seek legal counsel BEFORE signing anything.
LASTLY, IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS, OR ARE UNSURE OF YOUR RIGHTS, CALL AN EXPERIENCED CAR ACCIDENT LAWYER IN FLORIDA. ALMOST EVERY CAR ACCIDENT LAWYER WILL GIVE YOU A FREE CONSULTATION AND DISCUSS YOUR RIGHT AND DUTIES AS A DRIVER INVOLVED IN A CAR COLLISION IN FLORIDA.
IF THE LAWYER YOU CALL WILL NOT TALK TO YOU, OR WILL NOT RETURN YOUR CALL, THEN CALL ME, I WILL BE MORE THAN HAPPY TO DISCUSS YOUR RIGHTS. EVEN IF YOU THINK YOU ARE NOT INJURED AND ARE SIMPLY SEEKING GUIDANCE ON WHAT TO DO AFTER A CAR ACCIDENT.
YOU MAY REACH ME 24 HOURS EACH DAY, EVEN ON THE WEEKENDS AND HOLIDAYS. ANYTIME, ANYWHERE IN THE STATE OF FLORIDA, I AM HERE FOR YOU.