After a car accident, your first steps should always be to ensure your own safety and the safety of others at the scene. That means assessing yourself for injuries, calling for help, getting checked out by emergency services personnel if necessary, and following up with medical providers as needed. You will also need to attend to some basics like exchanging insurance information with the other driver and calling the police.
That is just the beginning. If you are hoping to potentially secure fair compensation for your injuries and other damages, you will want to continue to gather and maintain information as you move forward. Some of the information will be readily apparent or gathered at the scene. Other documentation needs to be collected across weeks, months, or even years.
Documenting Your Accident and Damages
Information to Gather at the Scene
If you are clear headed and able, it is a good idea to take note of the exact date, time, and location of the accident. This information will appear in the police report, but mistakes can happen. And, police will only be able to base details like the exact time of the accident on information provided to them, such as the time of the 911 call and the approximate time provided by the drivers or other witnesses.
Other information to be collected at the scene includes:
- The name, address, and insurance information of any other driver involved in the accident
- The names and contact information of any witnesses at the scene, including passengers in other vehicles
- Photographs of the accident scene before vehicles are moved, if possible
- Copies of any photos or videos others have taken at the scene, though you should also ask them to preserve the originals and make sure you have contact information for the person who took them
- The locations of any visible cameras, and names and locations of businesses that might have security cameras that would have captured the accident
- Identifying information about the officer taking the report, such as name and department; the officer may also provide you with a report number that will help you access a copy of the report later
Shortly after the Accident
When you get home or to another quiet place after the accident, it is a good idea to record your recollections of what happened. It is best to do this before you talk to other people about the accident, since that discussion, follow-up questions asked by family members, friends relating similar experiences and other conversations may confuse your memories.
You may find that your memory is fuzzy or there are gaps in what you recall even immediately after the accident. Some of that information may come back to you over time, but it is also possible that some blanks will remain. One thing is certain, though: you cannot count on remembering the details months down the road, when you may be asked to describe how the accident happened in a deposition or in the courtroom.
Jotting down notes in the moment will not only help refresh your memory, but can also lend credibility to your testimony. Other steps you will want to take soon after a motor vehicle accident include:
- If you go to the emergency room from the accident scene or seek medical treatment shortly after the accident, make sure to keep the paperwork you receive from the hospital or treating physician and follow up as directed.
- Get an estimate (or two) of the cost to repair your vehicle. Depending on your insurance carrier and policy, you may need to coordinate this process with your insurer.
- Obtain and keep a copy of the police report relating to your accident. Procedures for obtaining records from the Miami-Dade Police Department have changed during the Covid-19 pandemic, so if you are looking for a copy of your police report during Covid, make sure to check the website or call ahead.
Working with Your Insurance Carrier
In Florida, the first source of compensation for someone injured in a motor vehicle accident can potentially be the benefits payable under the injured person’s own personal injury protection (PIP). PIP covers 80% of “reasonable and necessary” medical expenses resulting from a car accident, regardless of who was at fault. You will have to contact your insurance company to start the process of claiming these benefits.
Even if the accident was relatively minor and you are not making a claim under your PIP coverage, the terms of many insurance policies require that you notify the company of any accident.
While You Are Recovering from Your Miami Car Accident
For many people who have been seriously injured in a car accident, the road to recovery is long. It is also rarely a straight line of improvement. Most people undergoing surgeries, physical therapy, and other care have good days and bad, progress and setbacks.
When you are pursuing a claim for damages, that information will be important.
Documenting Economic Damages
First, you will have to prove financial losses, typically known as economic damages. These include your medical bills, the cost of equipment and assistance made necessary by your injury, rehabilitation costs, lost earnings, and other actual expenses or lost income. This means collecting and maintaining new information as it comes in and gathering documentation from the past. For example:
- Keep copies of all medical bills, prescription receipts, receipts for equipment, and other documentation of expenses
- Keep records of payments made by your PIP provider and any other outside source
- Obtain any doctor’s instructions regarding time off work or work restrictions in writing and keep copies
- Gather past pay stubs, tax returns, and other documentation of your regular pre-injury income
- Take note of and document any additional expenses made necessary by your injury, even if they are small–for example, if you have to pay for transportation to medical appointments
Documenting Non-Economic Damages
The records described in the previous section will tell the story of what your injury cost you in terms of actual dollars. But, if the injury was serious enough, you may also potentially be entitled to compensation for non-economic damages–damages such as pain and suffering.
Documenting your symptoms, limitations, obstacles and progress in real time can help you remember and reconstruct the details. And, the record will make it more difficult for the responsible party’s attorney to confuse you or call the facts into question.
Pursuing a Claim for a Motor Vehicle Accident Injury
The records described above and others, such as your complete medical records, will help your Miami car accident attorney build the strongest possible case on your behalf. An attorney can typically request medical records directly from the providers, but will need information from you to identify those records, such as names of providers and treatment dates.
The first step may be to send a detailed demand letter to the responsible party, one that documents the costs of treatment and recovery and details some of the subjective losses. Not only does a more detailed approach make a stronger case for negotiation, it also puts opposing counsel on notice that you and your car accident lawyer have carefully documented your claims. In other words, they will know that you are prepared to present a strong case if you go to trial.
If litigation turns out to be the best approach for your case, then the records you have kept may:
- Be submitted to the court as exhibits
- Help your attorney locate witnesses and other evidence
- Help refresh your memory as you prepare to testify
- Quantify your damages
- Establish the income you would likely have received if you had not been injured
- Project ongoing losses if your injury is long-term or permanent
While it is important that you do your part in keeping records beginning as soon as possible after the accident, using those records to build a compelling case on your behalf is a complex process that requires an understanding of both substantive and procedural law. Your best resource is an experienced Miami car accident lawyer. Speaking with an attorney as soon as possible after the accident can help you avoid missteps that could damage your claim. And, retaining an experienced car accident lawyer can let you shift many burdens, like tracking deadlines and negotiating with insurers, to a qualified professional. Then, you are free to focus on your recovery.
At Elstein Legal, we offer free consultations to help people who have been injured through someone else’s negligence gather the information they need and walk them through the entire process.