According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were 402,385 reported auto accidents in Florida for 2017. Out of this staggering number, 166,612 crashes were reported to involve injuries. While 2017 is the most recent year of reported data, it follows that there have been even more automobile accidents on the roads in the last two years. With this number of auto accidents, it is clear that there is a good chance that if you are on the roads in Florida, your safety is at risk.
If you are one of the unfortunate people to be injured in an auto accident in Florida, you will likely have many questions about what to do next. If you have been injured by another driver, you will likely want to pursue an injury claim to recover compensation for the damages they have caused to you. If you have opened a claim, or are thinking about opening a claim, there are many steps to take in order to maximize the value of your claim. Certainly, if you have been hurt and perhaps permanently injured, you do not want to lose out on money that you are entitled to receive simply because you did not know what to do, what to say, or who to call. At St Petersburg Personal Injury Attorneys McQuaid & Douglas, we specialize in representing people who have been injured in auto accidents all across Florida. This article will attempt to provide guidance regarding what you can do to help yourself following an accident with injuries.
Ways to Improve the Value of Your Auto Accident Claim:
Seek Immediate Medical Treatment for Injuries
One of the biggest mistakes that people make after an auto accident is waiting to be checked out by a doctor. Most people wait to see if the pain will subside before they seek a doctor. Some people even think that they have 14 days to see a doctor before any negative consequences attach to the case. But, the truth is, all insurance companies value your case based on when you got treatment and where. For example, a person who goes to a hospital or urgent care center the day of the accident gets the highest value for repayment. Likewise, if you see your family doctor or general practitioner immediately, you get rewarded. However, if you wait several days and then go see a chiropractor, your case will unfortunately not be valued as highly. Even though it is nonsense and I don’t agree with it, the insurance companies believe that if you wait to get treatment, you can’t be that badly injured or in that much pain. So, in order to block this argument from the insurance company, always go see a doctor immediately. By being proactive with your medical care, you will be rewarded on the back end with a higher settlement.
Get Treatment With a Doctor Who Specializes in Auto Accidents
Most family or general practitioners do not handle auto accident claims and will turn you away. But, the ones that will treat you, will often downplay the extent of your injuries and simply send you off with a prescription for muscle relaxers. Seeing your family doctor may be your only choice immediately after an auto accident, but you should be treated with a specialist. There are many doctors in Florida who specialize in the types of injuries caused by auto accidents. These doctors know what types of treatment to order and how to document the case so that the insurance companies will compensate you. If you have any questions about who and where to get medical treatment simply ask your auto accident lawyer for a referral.
Always Call the Police
Another way that insurance companies decide how much to pay is to look at whether the police were called to the scene. Not only does having an independent law enforcement officer making a decision that you were not at fault for the accident help your case, it also legitimizes the severity of the crash. In other words, when people simply exchange insurance information, it signals to the insurance company that the crash was not that serious and thus, they will not take your claim as seriously. Also, by contacting the police, you help prevent the other driver from changing his or her story. The reality is that some people have a hard time accepting responsibility for what they have done. Without a police report and investigation, the other driver may say or do anything after the fact. So, to prevent any chance that the other driver doesn’t do the right thing, always call the police.
Follow Your Doctor’s Medical Advice
Missing appointments and/or not following the advice of your treating doctor is an easy way to cost yourself money. Remember that the insurance company will be reviewing the records from your doctor, chiropractor or physical therapist. If you have missed appointments or constantly rescheduled, you will give the insurance company an excuse to call into question how much you really need the treatment.
Likewise, not following your doctor’s advice is a sure fire way to lose money. For example, you were recommended to get injections on your back or neck after the accident. You decided not to get the injections and just deal with the pain. But, when you made your claim for damages, the insurance lawyer will question why your doctor suggested the injections to relieve the pain and you chose not to have them done. Again, if you don’t follow what your doctor recommends, it leaves the insurance company an opportunity to blame you, not their client.
Report All Symptoms From the Accident to Your Doctor
Some people either are not comfortable with or are not used to telling others about the pain that they are in. But, if you go to the doctor and discount the amount of pain that you are in or neglect to mention an injury for whatever reason, that injury does not exist in the minds of the insurance company. Further, if you delay reporting something that is bothering you, that injury will be discounted, questioned, and probably denied. Therefore, I advise all of my clients not to be brave or tough in front of their doctors. I advise you to report everything that hurts so that the doctor can make a note of it in his or her reports. Remember, the insurance company will only pay you for injuries that you have reported to your doctor.
Always Take Photos
It is not always possible to get photos at the scene of the accident, but if you can get them, they will be very important pieces of evidence for your claim. Pictures of the location of the vehicles, the damage to them, and even of the other driver or witnesses can all be used to your advantage.
Once you have left the scene, I advise clients to take pictures of all of the damage to the vehicle. It also helps if the pictures show the license plate. Whenever I take pictures at my office, I try to get the client to stand next to the car. I even place my hand over the damage to provide perspective.
Finally, take lots of pictures of any injuries. I find that it is effective to show the wounds and take time lapse photos of how they heal. Any pictures reflecting scars or burns equate to increased value because they not only imply pain, but the scarring creates a permanent injury.
Get Witness Information
Many people rely on the police to handle all aspects of the information. People do not realize that the police do not enjoy handling auto accident investigations and do not pay nearly as much attention to detail compared to a criminal investigation. Further, the police get overwhelmed if several accidents occur at once and they simply cannot devote enough time to each case. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I had a client who was involved in a serious auto accident during rush hour. The Florida State Trooper who responded told her that he had 15 accidents waiting to be handled and he could not do anything more than a simple driver’s exchange of information. Thus, to avoid losing important witness information forever, simply get the name, address and phone number of anyone who claims that they saw what happened. Most people that stick around are more than happy to give you that information and help out with proving who was at fault.
Stay Off of Social Media
One sneaky technique that insurance companies use is to look at your social media accounts. This applies to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or Twitter. People do not realize that everything that is posted publicly will be obtained by the insurance company and used against you at some point. For example, even if you have not posted anything about the accident on social media, if you have pictures going on vacations, trips, going out to dinner, or any place where you are smiling and appear to be having a good time, they will use them. The insurance company will throw those pictures back in your face and claim that you appear to be having a good time and enjoying life and argue that the auto accident injuries haven’t impacted you. Therefore, if you have social media, I advise to stay off it entirely, or at a minimum, make sure your settings are set to private.
Speaking to the Insurance Company
You only have a contractual obligation to contact your own insurance company within a reasonable time after an accident and cooperate with their investigation. But, you are under no obligation to speak in any detail about the extent of your injuries. I advise you to keep the extent of your injuries vague and let your lawyers control the flow of information. You never have an obligation to speak to the other insurance company, but often there is no harm in doing so. There is nothing to hide in most auto accident cases and it sometimes speeds up the claim if you provide your side of the story. Of course, this communication with the other insurance company should always be done per the advice of your lawyer and with him or her at your side. I rarely permit recorded statements unless there is something unique about a case.
Finally, when dealing with any insurance company, never admit that you were partially at fault. Realize that if you even accept any responsibility for causing the auto accident, the amount of money that you are owed will be reduced by whatever percentage the insurance company deems is appropriate. Therefore, never give them the chance to pay you less based on an unforced error like admitting a portion of fault.
Assist Your Auto Accident Attorney
Clients who help their lawyers always have a better experience. Communication is always key. If you have any questions, simply call the law firm and get an answer. If you do not want to speak to a paralegal, demand to speak to the lawyer or find a new law firm. But, during the claim process, a client can help a claim drastically. By documenting lost wages, providing medical bills and records, and communicating when something changes in the medical treatment, you will speed up your case and there will be fewer mistakes. It is your case and your money, so take responsibility and work with your lawyer. You both should have the same goal to obtain as much money as possible, right?
One further way that you can help with your own claim is to be a good historian about what you experienced. Because auto accident claims can take a long time, it is often difficult for people to remember the extent of the pain they encountered or how the injury affected their life. If they don’t recall the extent of the pain, their claim is worthless. If they can’t remember what hurt at what time, the insurance company can use that to undercut someone’s credibility. So, I have always found it helpful when clients keep a diary or even send me a periodic email about what is going on in their lives. These notes can be helpful tools to refresh memories later on down the line.
While some auto accident claims are settled very quickly, most take several months at a minimum. It simply takes time to allow your treatment to conclude and then get all of the records, bills and liens together. Then, your lawyer has to draft a demand and mail it to the insurance company. While we understand that every client wants their case settled as soon as possible, being patient is always helpful.
Contact an Auto Accident Attorney Near You
Auto accidents are rampant in Florida and we have handled countless cases like yours. Regardless of your situation, we know we can help. At St Petersburg Personal Injury Attorneys McQuaid & Douglas, our goal is to get you excellent medical care and then maximize the amount of your auto accident settlement. We pride ourselves on being different from any other law firm because we have the financial resources to fight any insurance company and we provide attention to each of our clients. We actually get to know you and your situation and do not leave your case solely to paralegals or case managers to handle. If you are going to pay ⅓ of your settlement to a lawyer for fees, shouldn’t it be the best lawyer available? If you have been injured in a Florida auto accident and have questions, please contact us for a free consultation.