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Road to Recovery

If you’ve been involved in a car wreck, shock and adrenaline might keep you from thinking clearly. Here’s a list of the important things you need to do in the immediate aftermath to ensure the quickest recovery, both physical and financial.

Woman on phone after car accident in black car
Jeremy M. Wilson

Jeremy M. Wilson and Lynwood P. Evans

May 18, 2023 09:00 AM

HEART POUNDING, hands trembling, you’ve just found yourself in an accident caused by another party’s negligence. Or, sadly, perhaps you’re facing significant injuries. What you do next could make all the difference in your recovery—and in seeking fair compensation if you or someone you love has been hurt. To help, we’ve compiled a list of recommended actions following a wreck.

1. Remember your ABCs: Assess, Be safe and Call for help. Although every accident is unique, evaluating the severity of any injuries and ensuring everyone’s safety should be the first step. It’s crucial to remain aware of your surroundings, as inattentive drivers may cause further harm. Therefore, act quickly to avoid any additional danger. Then call 911 immediately for help if necessary.

2. Get the medical care you need. After an accident, seeking medical care is an absolute must. Do not delay. Prompt attention ensures that you’ll get proper treatment for any injuries and protects you from potential insurance denials later on because of a delay or gap in treatment.

Additionally, some injuries, such as certain types of head trauma, aren’t always apparent right away. It’s important to stay vigilant for any symptoms that may later arise and to communicate all your problems to your medical providers.

3. Use your health insurance. It’s easy to assume that the other driver’s insurance will pay your medical bills, but that won’t always happen in the short term. That’s why we advise our clients to use their health insurance to cover their medical expenses. Doing so will prevent bills from piling up while you wait for the at-fault insurance company to pay out. Plus, using your own insurance gives you immediate access to the care you need. This is especially true given that it could be months—or, in extreme cases, years—before a personal injury case is resolved with the at-fault driver’s insurance company and all damages are paid.

4. Report the accident to the insurance companies. Contact yours and the at-fault driver’s insurance companies. While the at-fault driver’s insurer is responsible for damages, your own insurance policy might also include certain types of coverage that could help you, such as medical payments or uninsured motorist (UIM) coverage.

Plus, if the other driver’s insurer is slow or unresponsive, yours could cover your property damage without meaningfully affecting your premium, given that your insurance company will seek reimbursement from its counterpart.

It is not advisable to agree to provide a “recorded statement” to insurance companies regarding the accident’s cause or to disclose specifics about your injuries and medical treatment before speaking to a lawyer. Instead, limit the conversation to reporting the accident and initiating the process of addressing the property damage claim. If you decide to hire a personal injury attorney, he or she can then help share relevant information with the insurance company, preventing any misinterpretation or distortion of your statement.

It’s essential to know that other insurance companies may be involved, especially in cases where the at-fault driver was behind the wheel of someone else’s vehicle or was on the job. In such situations, seeking the help of an experienced personal injury lawyer can prove crucial. They can identify additional sources of insurance coverage, which can be a significant advantage.

5. Address your property damage claim. If your injuries do not impede your ability to drive, you’ll need a vehicle. If your car has been totaled, you must get a new one. Liability insurance will typically cover the cost of repairs if they amount to less than 75 percent of the vehicle’s fair market value. If the car has sustained major damage but can be repaired, its resale value may decrease, and insurance may also cover this damage.

Individuals can generally handle property damage claims without legal representation. Such claims can be resolved without affecting a personal injury claim. However, most personal injury attorneys will assist with property damage claims at no additional cost.

6. Document everything. If you can do so safely, take pictures of the accident scene, property damage and any visible injuries. Additionally, it’s important to document insurance information, license plate numbers and the name of the attending law enforcement officer. This will all serve as a valuable resource for your personal injury attorney.

Retain all documents associated with your medical treatment, including bills and initial records. Keep a record of any time you miss from work and any out-of-pocket expenses you incur because of the accident. These expenses should be compensable as part of your claim. An attorney can help. However, doing your part to maintain basic documentation of the accident and its effect on your life will prove beneficial.

7. Speak to an attorney early. A skilled personal injury lawyer can help you navigate the legal system and safeguard your rights. They can answer your questions, assess any claims you might have against the other driver and negotiate with insurance companies on your behalf to make sure you receive appropriate compensation. If need be, an experienced lawyer can file your case and represent you in court, including for a jury trial.

Following these steps can help you protect your legal rights and ensure that you receive proper care after a wreck caused by someone else’s negligence. If you have any concerns regarding your rights and responsibilities, contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible.

Jeremy Wilson chairs Ward and Smith's Personal Injury Practice. He has extensive experience litigating claims for wrongful death and serious personal injury, including cases involving vehicle accidents, professional malpractice, premises liability, products liability and class actions, among other areas. jw@wardandsmith.com

Lynwood Evans leads Ward and Smith's Litigation Section. His experience encompasses a wide variety of civil litigation in both state and federal courts. He has extensive experience in all aspects of litigation, including depositions, hearings and mediations, as well as arbitrations, appeals and cases tried to jury verdict. lpe@wardandsmith.com

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