The 5 Most Common Mistakes People Make After A Car Accident
You need to know your legal rights – and how to protect them.
In New York and across the country, thousands of people are injured in car accidents every day. Unfortunately, too many of them make mistakes that can permanently affect their ability to get full compensation for their injuries. It’s rarely the injured person’s fault. The insurance companies have this down to a science, and they know how to take advantage of honest mistakes to reduce the amount of money they pay to injured people.
If you’re hurt in a car accident, you need to know how to protect your legal rights. Here are the five most significant mistakes people make after car accidents – and how to avoid them.
1. Not seeing a doctor right away
Perhaps the most important thing you can do after a car accident is to get checked out by a doctor right away, whether that’s at your primary care provider, an urgent care clinic, or an emergency room, even if you feel fine. In the immediate aftermath of an accident, your “fight-or-flight” response is engaged, which gives you higher energy, lower pain perception, and faster blood clotting. Your adrenaline is high and your body is in survival mode. This can mask the symptoms of even a serious injury for some time.
Car accidents sometimes cause injuries with delayed-onset symptoms. Brain injuries and internal bleeding can take hours or even days to become apparent. Inflammation takes time to become visible. Getting checked out by a doctor will help you identify those injuries and take any precautions needed to prevent them from getting worse. If you have a concussion, for example, you really need to know about it right away because a second concussion, while the first is still healing, can cause potentially fatal complications.
In addition, seeing a doctor right away creates a record of your injuries that will strengthen your legal case. If you wait even a few days to get medical attention, the insurance company may argue that something else happened in the intervening time to cause your injury, or that your injuries simply must not have been that serious if you didn’t get medical attention. Be sure to keep copies of all your medical documents – visit summaries, doctor’s orders, prescriptions, and so on – to strengthen your future claim for medical expenses.
When you see a doctor, you need to tell them about all your symptoms, head to toe. Even a minor symptom could be indicative of a more serious injury. Just as importantly, follow your doctor’s orders. Take your medications as prescribed. Rest when you need to rest, and refrain from strenuous activities if your doctor has told you to do so. Your health comes first.
2. Giving the insurance company a recorded statement
If the insurance company asks you to give a statement or asks for your permission to record a phone call, beware. There’s nothing that they specifically need a recorded statement for; it’s most likely an attempt to get you to say something they can use against you. They may present it as an innocuous thing, but any recorded statement can be taken out of context or even altered to undermine your case. Moreover, on the phone, it’s easy to trip up and use a word or phrase you didn’t really mean. Once they have it recorded, you can’t easily take it back.
In this situation, the best practice is to sit down with your attorney to craft a written statement. We can help you carefully choose every word to make sure your statement accurately tells your side of the story – and protects your legal rights.
3. Volunteering information, especially injury-related information
Remember, the more information you give the insurance company, the more they can use against you. If you have to talk to an insurance company – for instance, to make the initial report of the accident to your own insurance company – don’t tell them anything they don’t specifically ask for. Answer their questions as concisely as possible, sticking to the plain facts of what happened. Don’t say anything about fault for the accident.
You also need to avoid saying anything specific about your injuries during those initial conversations. Again, that’s information the insurance company can take out of context and use to downplay your claim. If the insurance company representative says something like “I’m glad you’re feeling better,” push back on them. Say “I’m receiving medical treatment” and leave it at that.
Remember, you’re under no obligation to talk to the other driver’s insurance company at all. In addition, once you’ve hired an attorney, your attorney will handle all further communications with the insurance companies on your behalf.
4. Accepting a settlement offer without talking to a lawyer
It’s quite common for an insurance company to offer a settlement not too long after the accident. They may call it their “best offer,” or they may not even frame it as an “offer” at all. The truth is, that settlement offer is rarely the best they can do. It’s usually a “lowball” figure intended to make your case go away for as little money as possible. Many injured people don’t even know that they can (and often should) ask for more.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember after a car accident (or any other injury claim, for that matter) is that once you take the insurance company’s money, that’s it. Your case is closed, and you can’t go back for more. If the full cost of your injury winds up being higher than the amount you accepted, you are on the hook for those additional costs. In other words, taking their money now can cost you much more down the road.
That’s why you should never accept a settlement offer from an insurance company without talking to your attorney first. We can review the settlement offer, calculate the full amount of damages you deserve, and negotiate with the insurance company for more.
5. Not hiring an attorney
If you’re injured in a car accident, you need a lawyer. It’s not a question of whether you can afford it – we work on a contingency fee, so your ability to pay doesn’t matter. It’s really a question of whether you can afford not to. Studies have shown that people who hire an attorney recover substantially more than people who don’t, even taking attorney’s fees into account. Even people who merely talk to a lawyer end up getting more than people who try to handle the insurance company on their own.
The insurance companies will heavily imply that you don’t need a lawyer – and then they will call their lawyer as soon as they finish talking to you. They know the value of legal representation, and you need your own attorney to even the odds. If you’ve been hurt in a car accident, we strongly encourage you to get a free consultation with a car accident lawyer as soon as possible.
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