A Guide To Understanding Car Accidents
Disclaimer: This Guide is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal advice. It is based upon laws applicable in the State of Texas. No guide is a substitution for the legal advice of a qualified personal injury attorney. No attorney-client contract is created by the use and/or reliance upon this guide.
Types of Losses From a Car Accident
Car accidents occur at an alarming rate and each car accident is different. Accidents can vary depending on whether the accident is minor or major, the type of injuries each party sustains, who caused the accident, what state the accident happened in, and even a variety of different losses.
Determining the amount of loss in a car accident first requires identifying the type of loss. There are generally two types of losses when dealing with car accidents: “pecuniary damages” and “non-pecuniary damages.”
Pecuniary damages are another way to describe a monetary loss that can be calculated or estimated with some form of certainty. In other words, pecuniary damages are losses that can be estimated or proven by a receipt. A few examples of such pecuniary losses that one may suffer as a result of a motor vehicle accident are as follows:
- Vehicle repair or replacement costs and loss of use
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages and/or lost wage earning capacity
- Special damages or out-of-pocket expenditures used before a trial
Non-pecuniary damages are damages that cannot be readily calculated in monetary terms. In other words, non-pecuniary damages are losses that cannot be estimated or calculated through a receipt. Examples of such non-pecuniary losses that may be suffered as a result of a motor vehicle accident are as follows:
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life activities
- Loss of consortium or the loss of feeling love from a spouse or child
- Scarring or disfigurement
- Physical impairment
- Mental anguish
- Loss of household services
In the case of a wrongful death claim, funeral expenses may be recovered by the legal heirs and/or representative of the estate in addition to the above damages.
If you have any questions regarding what types of damages you may be entitled to, it may be helpful to contact a personal injury attorney. An attorney will know the laws regarding the type of loss and inform you of your possible rights to recovery.
Evaluating Personal Injury in Auto Accidents
If you have been involved in a car accident, every action you take can play a major role in a personal injury claim with your insurance company or even in the court of law. There are several things you should considering doing after an accident to protect your rights. The following are things you should consider:
File a Police Report and Register the Accident with DMV
No matter whether the car accident is a minor fender-bender or a major car accident, it is important to contact the police to file a police report, and to report the accident to your local DMV. Some states and insurance companies may require you to file these documents. Furthermore, insurance companies rely on these documents when determining fault and the amount of compensation for injuries. If you do not get a police report, you are relying on the other driver to be honest about how the wreck happened when he reports it to his own insurance company. If he is not, your claim could be wrongfully denied.
If You Have Any Pain after an Accident, Seek Medical Attention Immediately
Seek immediate medical attention, especially if you have any sort of injury or lasting effect as a result of car accident. This is very important because insurance providers rely on this information when determining damages and will use it against you if you fail to get the proper care you need. Furthermore, most people think that people who are hurt will seek immediate care. Your failure to do so could leave you trying to explain why you failed to act in the normal manner.
After a car accident, you may experience a flood of emotions. You may be scared, upset, confused, and you may have sustained an injury. Because of the rush of emotions, it can be difficult to remember every aspect relating to the car accident. Some car accident victims continue to have these emotions long after the accident is over.
Despite the emotions, it is important to try to document everything. It will be helpful not only for the police and medical providers, but also for your attorney should one be required. The following are categories that should be documented:
The Actual Accident
It is important to document every aspect you can possibly remember about the accident. Creating a written document of the accident will create a record for you to review later. Do not show it to anyone else. This is just for your use. If possible, attempt to document the following regarding the accident:
- The time, date, location, and weather conditions
- The condition of the road, including g number of lanes and markings
- The names of all of the parties involved in the accident
- What the other driver did to cause the collision.
Any Doctor Visits
Keeping records of any and all doctor visits can be very helpful to you or your attorney if litigation follows the accident. Be sure to discuss all discomforts you are having no matter how minor they may seem at the time. Minor pains can be a sign of something more serious. If possible, try to keep a record of the following:
- All dates, times, and names of any doctor visits
- The reason for each doctor visit
- Any possible diagnosis, recommendation, or outcome of each doctor visit including prescribing drugs or physical therapy
- All medical bills pertaining to the visits
If a specific doctor suggests or prescribes physical therapy as a result of an injury from a car accident, should follow through on all of it and keep a record of it. If you do not actively follow a doctor’s orders or do not attempt to rehabilitate yourself, it is possible that you will not be able to recover for your losses fully, based on a legal phrase called “failure to mitigation of damages.” Attempt to keep records of the following regarding physical therapy:
- All dates, times, and names of any physical therapist visit
- Whether you attended each session and the difficulty or progress you make
- The exercises you performed during each visit
- Any type of stretching, massage, heat pads, or ice that accompany each visit
- Any type of home exercises the physical therapist assigns for you
- All bills pertaining to physical therapy.
First Steps to Follow after Sustaining an Injury in a Car Accident
Being in a car accident can be scary, no matter the severity. It is common that people “lose their cool” after a car accident due to shock. The first thing to remember is to remain calm after you have been involved in a car accident.
Step 1: Seek Medical Attention
If you have been involved in a car accident, speak with a physician as soon as possible. Even if you are involved in a minor accident, if you are feeling any pain let the physician know the details of the accident, and she or he will decide the correct course of action.
If you experience any discomfort, dizziness, or numbness after a car accident, seek medical attention immediately, as it may be a serious condition.
The more time you allow to pass without addressing your injuries, whether it is a day, week, month, or months, the harder it will be to get your bills covered because insurance companies arbitrarily use delay in care as an excuse to deny payment.
Step 2: Take Photos of Injuries
Many people forget this step. It is very important to take pictures of any injury you sustain. Injuries can include damage to property, such as your vehicle or the contents of your vehicle.
It is also very important to take photographs of any bumps, bruises, cuts, and scrapes, and, if the injury is serious, ask your doctor or physical therapist to photograph your road to recovery. This will provide evidence of non-pecuniary damages that can be used to prove your case to the insurance company, Judge, and juries.
Step 3: Ask For Help
When dealing with personal injuries after a car accident, everyday activities can become depressingly frustrating. Things as simple as getting dressed, doing laundry, or cooking food can become very difficult tasks. To reduce the possibility of becoming depressed, ask a friend or family member if they can help.
Step 4: Keep all of your Medical Records in One Place
When dealing with personal injuries as a result of a car accident, paperwork can pile up quickly. There are medical bills, appointments, different doctors, prescriptions, photographs, accident reports, and much more. There are two benefits from keeping all of your documents organized in one place: (1) It creates a clear record for you and your attorney to refer to when filing a lawsuit; and (2) It will reduce your stress.
If you can keep every single document, photograph, report, and the like in a single organized manner, it can reduce the time and cost of litigation. All of the information will already be gathered for your attorney, which will help reduce the number of disputes between you and the other party.
Step 5: Contact a Personal Injury Attorney
Dealing with an injury after an automobile accident can be scary, frustrating, upsetting, and confusing. In order to reduce some of these emotions and to maximize the possibility of recovery, contact a local personal injury attorney. A personal injury attorney will be able to explain any questions you may have and be able to ease any concerns.
A personal injury attorney will also be able to protect your rights along with providing you with the best opportunity to fully recover any damages you sustained as a result of a car accident.
What Not to Do After a Car Accident
It is very important to stay calm after a car accident. Your snap decisions and actions after a wreck can lead to both medical and legal misfortunes.
Don’t Give in to Pressure
Although it may not seem necessary, be sure to contact the police and file a report and exchange insurance with the other driver.
Also, if another party is pressuring you into signing any forms, do not give in. This may release the other party from liability, which may bar you from recovery. Instead, give any documents to your attorney, who will instruct you on what to do.
Do not speak about any pending claim with any party unless your attorney advises you otherwise.
If you feel overly stressed or are confused about the potential steps of filing an insurance claim or lawsuit, consider contacting a personal injury attorney.
A personal injury attorney will be able to assist you in any type of action you may want to pursue. A personal injury attorney will provide a sense of composure and understanding throughout your ordeal.
When to Seek Medical Attention for Personal Injuries
After a car accident, you may be in shock, and not notice any pain or discomfort. Even if you think you are o.k., you should still consider contacting a physician to get checked out. Sometimes, once the feeling of shock has diminished, you will feel the injury, and by then, it may be too late.
When is it Necessary to Seek Medical Attention?
It cannot be stressed enough; you should always seek medical attention after you have been involved in a car accident – at least to get checked out. You may experience pain and discomfort days or weeks after a car accident, and that kind of delay in care may affect your medical and legal options.
The following injuries are injuries which require immediate medical attention:
- Pain or discomfort
- Dizziness or feeling faint
- Numbness or tingling in any extremities
- Loss of consciousness
- Vaginal bleeding in pregnant women
Why is it Important to Seek Immediate Medical Attention?
Some injuries take time to reveal their serious nature. Sometimes a secondary minor injury can be the symptom of something more serious. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Furthermore, seeking medical attention can provide proof of your injuries. During litigation, it can be argued that injuries were caused by some incident other than the car accident. It can also be argued that your injuries worsened do to your failure to seek medical help.
Whether you choose to seek immediate medical attention after a car accident or not, remember to take photographs and take detailed notes of any pain you experience. Your photographs and detailed notes will provide evidence and aide any insurance companies or attorneys in future litigation.
Pregnant Women, Elderly, and Children
Although it is recommended that you seek immediate medical attention after a car accident, there is a specific group of people who should absolutely seek immediate help after being involved in a car accident: pregnant women, elderly individuals, and children.
Pregnant women should seek immediate medical attention after being involved in a car accident. This is to ensure the health of both the women and the unborn children.
Elderly individuals should seek medical attention after an accident, as they may have conditions that may become aggravated as a result of the car accident.
Child can be seriously injured in car wrecks. If your child has been involved in a car accident, no matter how minor, it is your responsibility to have your child checked out by a physician to ensure their health.
Filing an Accident Report with the Police
Filing a police report is an essential element after you have been involved in a car accident. At the very least, filing a police report creates a record of the accident for your insurance and will be helpful in determining fault any future litigation.
Why File a Police Report After an Accident?
There are many reasons to file a police report after you are involved in a car accident. No matter how minor the car accident, a report should be filed for the following reasons:
- A police report will create a record for your insurance company and future litigation
- It will create a record of the events of the accident
- A police report may provide evidence that speeds up or eliminates the need to litigate a matter
- A police report makes the insurance claims process more efficient, which may speed up your claim payout through your insurance provider
- The police will gather the other party’s information for you
What if the Police do not come to the Scene of the Accident?
Although rare, sometimes the police will not come to the scene of the accident after they have been called. If the weather conditions are too hazardous or there is no damage to property or individuals, the police may not show up.
If this is the case, you should go to the police department to physically file a police report. This option may be available online as well.
You should also file a report with your local DMV. Depending on your state’s law, you may be required to file an accident report with your local DMV.
What Information Should Be Included in a Report?
Whether you make your police report at the scene of the accident or at the police station, try to be as specific as possible. Take notes and photographs of the scene of the accident, including those of the vehicles, parties, and weather conditions, if post-accident circumstances allow.
If the accident scene safely allows, the following is a list of information you should try to obtain:
- Names of all parties involved (including address, phone number and driver’s license number)
- Name of all parties’ insurance carriers (including address and phone number)
- A specific and descriptive account of what happened
- Names of witnesses
- Damage to both vehicles
- Any physical injuries to you or passengers
- License plate numbers of all cars involved
Remember to Ask the Police Officer for a Card
The police report you make after the car accident will be available to you upon request. Make sure to ask a police officer on the scene for a card in order to contact him or her to obtain your police report.
Post-Accident Recording Checklist
The very first thing to remember after you are involved is to remain calm. Your actions after a car accident can have positive or negative ramifications. They can reduce injury, be helpful to police and insurance providers, and quite possibly save someone’s life.
The following is a list of ideas you can employ in order to be more prepared in the unfortunate event that you are involved in a car accident.
Before an Accident
The best way to be prepared in the event you are in a car accident is to take preventative steps beforehand. These tips can help:
- First, make a checklist and keep it available to you in the car in the event you are involved in a car accident. Simmons & Fletcher have an easy to use app you can download from the Apple Store or follow the link in the right column of this page.
- Be sure to have a camera or smartphone and a pad of paper and a pen in order to photograph and take copious notes of the scene of the accident
Directly After an Accident
The most important factor after an accident is your safety. Be sure that you are in a safe area away from the car accident and then assess the situation from a distance – although do not flee from the scene.
After you have moved to a safer location, there are other steps you should take in assessing the post-car accident situation:
- Quickly determine if you or anyone else is injured
- This is essential after every accident, as you will have to let law enforcement dispatchers know of injuries so that they can get an ambulance to the scene.
- Call the police
- Be aware of where you are located and any injuries that may have been sustained.
- Follow instructions the police tell you over the phone or in person
- Law enforcement officers are trained for situations like car accidents. They will inform you on what you should do over the phone or when they arrive on scene.
- Call your insurance provider
- After all health and safety issues are addressed, call your insurance provider and notify them of the accident.
- Should you call a tow truck?
- Typically, a police officer will handle calling a tow truck. However, if law enforcement officials tell you to contact a tow company, you should do so.
After the Initial Shock of a Car Accident: Preliminary Actions
After you have gathered your composure and contacted the police, you may begin to gather preliminary information for your records. The following is a list of things you should do after you have called the police:
- Remain calm, cool, and collected
- Even if the other party is panicked or angry, remain calm. Be as polite as possible
- Get all parties’ names and car insurance information along with providing your own name and car insurance
- At no point should you allow your driver’s license to be photographed. This may lead to identity theft.
- Get any names, addresses and phone numbers of any witness to the car accident
- If there is a lawsuit over the car accident, this information will be immensely important
After the Initial Shock of a Car Accident: Evidence Gathering
After you have regained your composure and recorded the above information, begin gathering evidence. At this point, if safety allows, you may begin to take photographs and write down detailed notes of the incident. The following are things you should do to gather further information:
- Determine if you can safely take pictures
- If it is not safe to take pictures, do not do so. You may be putting yourself and others at risk.
- Listen to law enforcement instructions
- If law enforcement officials are telling you to back away from the accident, it is likely for your own safety. You should comply with their requests.
- Take photographs of the following:
- License plates of all of the vehicles involved in the accident
- Damage to any vehicles involved in the accident
- Damage to any property, not including the vehicles, as a result of the accident
- Any detail from the accident.
- This includes debris, the scene’s surroundings, possible skid marks, broken glass, etc.
- Your surroundings.
- This includes street signs, terrain, traffic lights, or any other identifying information.
If, during this time, you determine it is unsafe to take photographs, do not risk it. Get somewhere safe, and then write down on your pad and paper or smartphone the following:
- Time and date of the accident
- Weather conditions
- Traffic conditions
- Road conditions
- Address or location of the accident
Also, please do not do anything that might aggravate any undiscovered injuries you may have such as trying to crawl under and vehicle or on top of a vehicle for photos.
After the Initial Shock of a Car Accident: The Aftermath
After all of the injuries have been tended to and the debris cleared, it is important to remember to file a police report. After that has been accomplished, remember to obtain a copy of the police report for your records.
Another important aspect to remember is to document everything related to the car accident. You never know when something may become relevant in a criminal or civil lawsuit.
Remember to Be Prepared!
Car accidents are frightening and upsetting, and in some cases may be purposeful. The best thing you can do is to be prepared. By following this simple checklist, you will be better prepared if you are in a car accident.