By Attorney Andrew Skinner
Denzel Washington was right: “It’s Not What You Know; It’s What You Can Prove.” One of my favorite movies of all time is Training Day. Denzel Washington stars as a rogue detective whose job is to train rookie Ethan Hawke on his first day in the narcotics division in this 2001 movie. Denzel won an Oscar for his performance. To see the clip (Warning — it’s R rated), visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VBySfxKcQY. I quote this movie to one client or another at least once a week, sometimes more.
“Alonzo’s” words are spot on. “It’s not what you know; it’s what you can prove.” In the work we do at Skinner Law Firm, it doesn’t matter what we know in our heart of hearts. It only matters what we can prove to a judge and jury. And that’s why gathering evidence immediately after an event that you think could lead to a lawsuit is crucial. Whether you were just in a car crash, or you just got a harassing phone call from a debt collector, you need to start putting your evidence together right away.
WHAT TO DO AFTER A CAR CRASH
The single most important thing to do following a car crash is to avoid further injury. Be careful of other traffic, especially along a highway or at night. The second most important thing is to get proper medical care for those who need it. After immediate safety and medical attention, there are other steps you need to take in order to gather crucial evidence.
1. Call 911. In West Virginia, a police officer will normally fill out a Crash Report. What gets put into a police report is generally what becomes the official story of what happened. If you don’t call 911, then there will be questions later on about everything. For instance, I had a client who got rear-ended while waiting for a stoplight. Because no one was transported to the hospital and the cars were drivable, they did not call the police – they just exchanged insurance information. A few hours later, my client started stiffening up, and the next day, she could barely move. A year later, she still can’t sit in a car for more than an hour or so. The woman who hit her in the rear? She told her insurance company that my client put her car in reverse and backed into her. Preposterous? Absolutely. But without that police report, it becomes a “he said, she said” situation, and now our client has to go through the expense of litigation.
2. Take Pictures. One of the greatest inventions for car crashes is the smartphone camera. Use It. You can’t have too many pictures. Take pictures of your car, especially where the impact occurred, but also the airbags, the seat belt, and anything that is out of place. Take pictures of their car, inside and out, including their license plate. Take their picture. Take a picture of their driver’s license, their registration, and their insurance information. Take a picture of the whole crash scene, including stop signs, speed limit signs, traffic lights, intersections, mileage markers, house address numbers, etc. Take a picture of their cell phone. (You’d be surprised at the number of people who claim after a crash they caused that they didn’t even have a cell phone.) Take a picture of the police officer’s name tag, the police car, the ambulance, the fire truck. These will help us figure out which police department conducted the investigation, which ambulance company to get the bill from, and which fire company might have a run sheet.
Some people might not like having their picture taken. I get it, and you’ll need to be sensitive. Especially before taking a picture of the police officer, ask his or her permission. Before taking a picture of the other driver, let them know that you’re doing it so that you will remember it later. It is important to remember that a car crash is an emotional event. Everyone involved has just had a shot of adrenaline – they are likely angry, hurt, confused, in shock. Don’t aggravate an already tense situation, but try to capture what you can.
3. Keep a Diary. One of humanity’s greatest gifts and greatest curses is the ability to forget. Forgetting your child’s first events is a curse – it’d be great to be able to play back that first smile, those first steps, just like a DVR. Unfortunately, forgetting even the great moments is part of life. Forgetting a traumatic event, on the other hand, can be a gift because forgetting a tragedy makes other days bearable.
Immediately following a crash, you are absolutely certain that you will never forget what happened. However, memories fade. That is why it is important to track and write down what happened so you will be able to use it later.
Track every doctor you saw and when. Track every physical therapy appointment. Track every trip to the pharmacist. Track every time someone helped you do something you otherwise could not do, such as bathing, cooking, or cleaning.
You need to know when you went to the doctor for several reasons. One is so that your lawyer can use this information to make sure all of your medical records and bills have been accounted for and nothing related to the wreck has been missed. Another is to give an indication of the pain and discomfort you endured.
You need to track whenever anyone did something for you. You can recover something called “loss of household services.” That means when your neighbor mows your lawn while you’re mending, you can recover for the cost of his services – even if he did it out of the goodness of his heart. When your sister moves in with you to cook, clean, and change your bandages, you can recover for her time as well. If you don’t have a record of what other people have done for you, you can’t prove to an insurance company claims adjuster or to a jury how much harm the crash actually caused.
Perhaps most importantly, track what you did to get better. When your physical therapist gives you exercises to do at home, you need to put in your diary every time you did that exercise. This has two effects. First, it provides proof to a claims adjuster or a jury that you worked your butt off to get better. The second reason is to be able to help your doctor evaluate what’s working and what’s not.
4. Notify your insurance. You should report that you were in a wreck to your insurance agent, even when you’re not at fault. Your insurance might be able to assist you or help you avoid out-of-pocket costs while your claims are being reviewed. You might have Medical Payments coverage, which will cover some medical bills. You might have uninsurance or underinsurance, the two most important types of automobile insurance coverages that there are. If you don’t call, you might not be able to tap into these coverages that you’ve already paid for.
5. Consider contacting Skinner Law Firm. If you’ve been in a crash, give us a call. Sometimes it makes more sense for you to represent yourself when you’ve been injured. But it’s not easy. Insurance claims adjusters deal with injured car crash victims all day long — it’s what they do. You can be at a distinct disadvantage. We at Skinner Law Firm deal with these insurance claims adjusters every day — it’s what we do. On your own, you may not have all the information you need to make well informed decisions. If you’re unclear about what is happening or your claims are not being handled quickly by the insurance company, then contact us. An initial consultation with one of our attorneys is free. If we can help, we will. If it makes more sense for you to represent yourself, we’ll let you know.
For more information about collision and injury claim representation, visit our auto accident injury page.