• Everything You Need to Know If You Are In a Car Accident
  • September 9, 2016 | Author: Michael J. Maggiano
  • Law Firm: Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi - Fort Lee Office
  • I. CAR ACCIDENT

    You may be surprised to know that according to the United States Census Bureau, there were almost 11 million car accidents in 2009 alone. According to the National Safety Counsel despite gains in car safety, 2015 saw the largest percentage rise in motor vehicle deaths in the past 50 years. Last year approximately 38,300 people were killed on U.S. roads and 4.4 million were seriously injured. The only good news of the report is that fatality rates went down by 2 per cent in New Jersey. However, many sources believe that this number will only grow in the years to come, which means a larger chance for more people involved in motor vehicle crashes that lead to injuries, disability and even death. 

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the New Jersey State Police formally state that the proper term for highway motor vehicle incidents producing property damage or injury is not “an accident” but rather “a crash” that can be explained upon analysis of each incident. Research has shown the major reason behind a crash is driver error.

    An accident or crash stemming from driver error is often the result of “distracted driving.” Most serious crashes are often alcohol or cell phone related. The National Safety Council states that evidence shows underreporting of driver cell phone use in crashes is resulting in a substantial under-estimation of the magnitude of this public safety threat. . Notwithstanding underreporting, the National Safety Council estimates that 25% of all automobile crashes are related to cell phone use by talking or texting.

    What to do?

    So, what do you do when you are involved in a motor vehicle crash? As a result of the complexities of insurance law, liability law and the expenses resulting from injury, disability and property damage, typically, you will require an experienced attorney specialized in this field and on your side throughout the process. For your protection and to best assist your lawyer you must document all aspects of the collision and surrounding environment as well as identify the parties and witnesses. 

    How best your rights and you’re well being are secured depends on what you do in the first precious minutes following the collision. What kind of compensation you may be able to receive is often reflective of important protective actions taken early on.

    You will learn here the most important information if you are in a motor vehicle crash. 

    After a car accident, you may not fully appreciate all that just happened to you in the crash. Emotions may be high and adrenaline flowing. Injury may be masked for hours or even days. You may experience pains you would have never expected so severe that they overshadow other injuries that then remain undetected for days or even weeks. Because of this, it is important to remember what should be done at the accident scene and upon emergency and follow up hospital and medical care. 

    Try to stay calm and remain at the scene until First Responders arrive: 

    Always remain at the scene of the accident. You should never leave the scene of the accident unless it is legally appropriate to. Never, ever leave the scene when you haven’t checked on the other parties involved. If someone sustained injuries or was killed, you could be deemed a “hit-and-run” driver. Because of this, you could face serious penalties. Making sure that each party is fine is important, more so than looking for property damage. If someone is in need of medical attention, you must help make sure that they receive it. In such case immediately call 911 once you have established your location. If you have an in car emergency contact service such as On Star, take advantage of the service immediately. 

    Without question, call the police if the accident warrants it. Let’s say that your accident involves physical injury or death - you must clearly call the police and request emergency medical service.

    Having the police involved means that professionals experienced in handling such matters are now involved. Importantly, there will be a police report made documenting all relevant information of the drivers. You should obtain the name and badge numbers of the responding officers and ask if you can have a copy of the report when it is made. Ask the investigating officer if he has a card with his contact information on it. 

    IDENTIFY WITNESSES 

    If police are not called or do not arrive, you must exchange information with the other parties including insurance information. Therefore obtain the names, numbers, addresses, driver's’ license numbers, license plate numbers, and insurance information from all parties involved in the accident. Even where the police are involved, Identify all possible eye witnesses with name, address and telephone number. Do your best to obtain the names and addresses of passengers in each vehicle involved. Determine their location in each vehicle. 

    TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS

    Take photographs of each vehicle, their location in the roadway and relationship to each other, property damage to each vehicle, tire marks, crash debris, and any property damage to highway or privately owned structures or shrubbery. Take photographs of relevant signage (Stop and yield signs), traffic lights, roadway markings and dividers. Make observations of who else is taking scene and property damage photographs and obtain identification for each including bystanders. 

    CCTV

    Make observations for CCTV cameras in the area, whether public or on private property that perhaps captured the incident. Request the police officer to make a demand for the CCTV video footage for the time of the incident. In any event you should photograph the CCTV camera location and identify the property. Have a friend or family member make inquiry for the video footage. If necessary, retain an attorney to seek a pre litigation order for preservation of the video tape. 

    WHAT TO SAY

    First pause and reflect on what has just happened. Look at the vehicles and their positions. Assess your passengers and what they saw. Be truthful and accurate. Even though you should be kind and never lash out at any of the parties, you should also remember to never apologize for the accident. By saying things like, “I’m so sorry I pulled out in front of you,” you could be admitting legal liability without even knowing it. After an accident, it might not be clear who is at fault. Therefore, you should never admit guilt. Your obligation is to listen to the police officer and describe the facts to the best that you know them to be. 

    MOVE VEHICLE?

    Whether to move your vehicle depends on the severity of damage and injuries. Where severe, await arrival of police for further instructions. Use prudent judgment if blocking road and vehicles can be moved. Take all photographs described above before moving your vehicle and before the other vehicle or vehicles are moved. 

    CONTACT YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY

    Under your insurance policy you have a duty to promptly notify your insurance company of the accident with all relevant details. You should always tell the truth, never lie, about the details surrounding the accident as well as the actual extent of your injuries. 

    Material knowingly false statements could lead to a denial of coverage. As to requests for a statement see discussion below under Recorded Interviews. 

    Be knowledgeable of your medical treatment - this includes keeping track of your daily physical complaints, how they change and modify over time and the treatment you receive. Keep a record of all doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors, or other medical professionals you see and the dates you see them.

    Likewise keep a record of all diagnostic tests obtained and their results. Your insurance company will request information. Certainly if you subsequently file a claim against the other driver an accurate record of physical complaints and medical care is essential to a successful claim. 

    RECORDED INTERVIEWS

    Should your insurance claims adjuster assigned to your claim require a recorded statement or a written statement you should consult with your attorney first. Beyond your statement to the police officer, TALK TO NO ONE about your case or how the accident happened unless your attorney is present and authorizes the conversation. Talk to your attorney first before agreeing to give any statement. Your attorney will determine the reasons and purpose of the interview and for what purposes will it be used. Keep in mind that you do have a duty of reasonable cooperation with your insurance company and must abide all reasonable and relevant requests. Your attorney will determine this. Keep in mind that anything you say to a third party even your insurance company can be obtained by any other party should you bring a law suit for personal injuries. There is no Confidential Privilege except between lawyer and client only. Therefore you must review all requests with your attorney first and allow your counsel handle the request. 

    KEEP A RECORD

    Always keep a detailed account of all treatments and medications that you receive from your doctors. Make a list of all doctors, their specialties, addresses and reason for the visit. In this way you will have ready information for your lawyer to obtain medical reports and bills to prove your injury claim and the medical expenses.

    What your attorney will need after your accident.

    First, you must assess whether or not your accident requires an attorney. Usually, this will depend upon what happened during the accident and what injuries were suffered. If the accident was caused by the fault of the other driver and you are hurt, especially if you have sustained a serious injury, then you will most likely need the assistance of an attorney. 

    Ask yourself some of the following questions: Has an injury occurred where there has been serious injury or limit my activities of daily living due to pain; do the injuries require regular care; does the police report accurately describe the collision; are your injuries of a kind that likely will have permanent consequences, will you need time off from work to heal? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, be safe and consult a lawyer.

    DOCUMENTS NEEDED

    1.     POLICE REPORT & WITNESS STATEMENTS: Obtain the police report at the earliest possible time. If you are not physically able have a family member do it. Your attorney of course has the facility to promptly obtain the filed report, any witness statements, the 911 tapes, CAD report and audio recording of all police and ambulance radio transmissions on your case. 

    2.     YOUR INSURANCE POLICY AND DECLARATIONS OF COVERAGE: Do you or any household family member own an automobile principally garaged in the state in which you reside? If so you must collect all policies for each vehicle along with the declarations of coverage provided by the insurance company so that each can be reviewed by your attorney. The declarations of coverage is usually set forth in one or two page information sheet entitled Declarations of Coverage or words to that effect. It sets forth all the types of coverage you have purchased that make up what is called your automobile insurance policy. The declarations page also sets forth the amounts or limits of coverage for each aspect of coverage purchased. It will further tell you whether you have elected to have your health insurance primary or your automobile insurance as primary coverage for accident related injuries and medical bills. Next to the police report, this is one of the most important documents that your attorney will need.

      • Health Insurance Primary: In seeking insurance cost reduction, some auto owners request that their health insurance be listed as primary. I recommend against this as many health insurance carriers reject being listed as primary. Upon their rejection, you have to reverse coverage and suffer a $750.00 penalty reflected as a reduction in available personal injury protection coverage. Secondly, many health carriers have a right of reimbursement from your recovery for all bills it paid on your behalf. This can materially reduce your net recovery that you would otherwise receive. Further, the health carrier may have different or restricted benefits for doctor visits, therapy and other forms of treatment. 
      • Personal Injury Protection Coverage: This coverage is provided under your automobile insurance policy. You owe it to yourself and family members to purchase the allowable maximum in New Jersey of $250,000.00 in coverage. When you look at the premium fee allocated to this coverage you will see that it is overall very reasonable coverage. You will regret buying a cheap policy. Remember you always get what you pay for. Insurance is to protect you and your family members. Do not be penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to such important protection.
      • Uninsured/Underinsured Coverage: In the NJ/NY metro area one out of three cars is driving with expired or limited liability insurance coverage. That is right - one out of three. So if you or a loved one is involved in an automobile crash, there is a 33 1/3% likelihood the other driver has no or little insurance coverage to pay for the harm caused. Once again you owe it to yourself and your family to purchase as much coverage as you can afford to protect you from injuries caused by a deadbeat. To suffer life changing injuries only to learn that the careless driver who injured you has little or no liability coverage and no assets is to add harm upon harm. It is the worst news that I can give to a disabled client. But you can protect yourself and your resident family members by buying as much liability coverage as you can and therefore the same amount of Uninsured/Underinsured coverage. Your UM/UIM Coverage can rise no higher than your liability coverage. So if you bought a limited liability coverage of let’s say $15,000.00, the legal limit in New Jersey, you can only have $15,000.00 in UM/UIM Coverage. But if you purchased $500,000.00 in liability coverage which is no longer a large amount of protection in this day and age, you can purchase Uninsured/Underinsured Coverage up to $500,000.00 to protect you and family if struck by a dead beat with no collectible assets and no or little liability coverage. Who would gamble on a one out of three chance of being injured by a person with little insurance and assets. Protect yourself and purchase all the coverage you can afford. 
      • Income Continuation Benefits: Within your auto policy umbrella of Personal Injury Protection Benefits is something called Income Continuation Benefits. Check your carrier as to the higher amounts available and purchase sufficient coverage to replace your income while out of work. 
      • Essential Services: Make sure you have purchased adequate coverage to hire a home care helper in the event of temporary disability to assist you in household services and personal care. 
      • Photographs of Injuries: If you have suffered serious injuries, it is always a good idea to have photographs of the injuries soon after they occurred. Should you need invasive treatments such as epidural injections or surgery, promptly inform your lawyer so that it may be determined whether the procedure can be video taped and whether from an evidence standpoint it is prudent to document the procedure by why of videography and photography for presentation to the defense claims adjuster and/or at trial. 
      • Hospital and Medical Records: If you sought emergency, hospital, medical care and attention, provide any paper work obtained. Bring all bills to your lawyer as well. 
      • Pharmacy Bills and Records: Keep track of all medications prescribed, where and when purchased as well as all refills. Save the empty bottles as your lawyer will need to use them for informational and/or demonstrative purposes in the course of the litigation. 
      • Towing and Storage: You may be incurring substantial daily fees for the storage of your wrecked vehicle at the tow yard. Promptly determine if your car is totaled or is able to be repaired. You must also determine if you have collision coverage or not. If your car is leased or financed did you purchase GAP INSURANCE to make up the difference between what you owe on the lease or car loan and the fair market value of your car. Decisions will have to be promptly made as to whether to have your auto insurance deal with the property damage repairs, storage fees and salvage or put the other vehicle operators insurance company on notice to repair or remove the vehicle. Unfortunately, you can not just let your car sit in a yard incurring daily costs even if totaled and the accident was not your fault. It is still your vehicle and you are the registered owner responsible to third parties for storage. Your attorney will help you with questions.
      • Letters from Insurance companies: You will receive letters and forms from your automobile insurance company and perhaps requests from the other driver’s carrier. Promptly provide all communications and correspondence to your attorney for prompt review and action. 
      • PIP Medical Exams: Under the terms of your automobile personal injury protection coverage provisions, your insurance company can request that you see a physician of their choice in the specialty or specialties in which you are obtaining care for what they call an Independent Medical Examination. Inform your attorney at once of such a request. Your attorney will make appropriate arrangement and meet with you confidentially and review what takes place during such an interview and examination. Be knowledgeable of your medical treatment and doctors involved - this includes keeping track of treatments and tests. The insurance company doctor will ask you detailed questions of your physical complaints, medical treatment and care. 

    Always keep a detailed account of all treatments and medications that you receive from your doctors. This will help you to recall information when asked at the Medical Examination or during the course of the litigation. Documenting your physical and emotional harms is a key element to protecting your rights to continued medical care and also to reasonable compensation should you elect to file a claim. 

    Gathering evidence is one of the most important parts of your case, as it will ultimately make your case and lead to a positive final outcome. However, there are many more steps involved in the process that you must understand. A lawyer specialized in motor vehicle accident and insurance law will usually work with you on a contingent fee basis. That means that you do not owe a fee unless and until a monetary recovery is successfully obtained for you. 

    Summary

    Here are some simple steps that you can take to make sure you are fully protected and receive the care you deserve. A well-prepared case is the foundation for a successful claim and fair and appropriate compensation.

    1.     Document evidence at the scene. Take photographs and collect information on all parties and witnesses. 

    2.     Fully inform the police. Exercise appropriate cooperation at the scene of the accident. Make sure you have fully assessed the situation before you speak so that you are as accurate as you possibly can be under the circumstances. 

    3.     Immediately seek appropriate medical attention. If you are injured because of someone else’s negligence. It is a good idea to go to the ER even if you think that the extent of your injuries is not severe. You do not know what tomorrow will bring. Most of us want to think positive and brush things off. That might be a big mistake. Do not take a chance. At the very least get a check up for peace of mind for you and family.

    4.     Fully inform your insurance company: Promptly file your reports with your insurance company as to injuries and property damage. Consider retaining an attorney early to assure that you effectively protect yourself in all communications with your insurance company and the liability carrier for the party that struck your vehicle. 

    5.     Maintain accurate records of care and bills incurred: Save everything in a medical file that you can use later. Keeping an ongoing record of injuries and treatments can create a narrative for the court that shows exactly what happened as well as how much you deserve in compensation.

    6.     Document evidence of your injuries: Always photograph your injuries, even if they are small. This is because they will change in appearance over time. Identify all persons who are willing to be a witness to your injuries, resulting disabilities, functional impairments and changed life style. These can be family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers or superiors at work or people who are in contact with you in the various other aspects of your life. They can also be and frequently are care givers such as household helpers, therapists, and your family physician and dentist who knew you before you were injured and have seen you following the crash.

    By following these steps, you are staying one step ahead. Car accidents can be scary, severe, and life changing. Do not go it alone. Seek the help of a legal specialist well versed in the field. Hire a lawyer with a track record of successes in this area who has a staff team equally competent to assist in the multi and varied issues involved, that left unattended can be overwhelming and lead to catastrophe rather than a successful legal outcome.

    What is reasonable compensation?

    Think of the Scales of Justice. The scales are a symbol of truth and fairness in an ideal justice system. The concept in a personal injury case is that the harms and losses that you have suffered are to be weighed in one scale. These harms can include conscious pain and suffering, disability, physical impairment, loss of life’s pleasures, lost income, medical bills and future pain, disability, impairment, economic losses and medical bills. Fair compensation under the law is that amount of money that when placed in the other scale will put the scales back in balance. Compensation is relative. In the real world it depends on how well you can prove your claims and that always depends on how well you chose your lawyer. 


    II. BRAIN INJURIES CAUSED BY A CAR ACCIDENT

    With serious automobile and trucking crashes on the rise, Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) are on the rise in the United States. For instance, 50,000 people will die annually from TBI as well as another 80,000 experiencing long-term disability as a result of these injuries. It is reported that more than 50% of reported traumatic brain injuries are caused in motor vehicle collisions.

    TBI are caused when an external force or trauma is brought to the head and brings damage to the brain. Take, for instance, a situation in which a car accident occurs and the plaintiff’s head strikes the steering wheel, window, roof or door frame. The second impact could cause TBI. Also in a severe rear end impact or a severe frontal impact where there is a sudden change in acceleration and deceleration, resulting in violent jarring of the head and brain, traumatic brain injury can occur. 

    This occurs where the moving head comes to a rapid stop, yet the brain continues to tend to move, Thus striking the interior of the skull resulting in bruising of the brain and bleeding from the small vessels causing what is known as a brain hemorrhage. It is not always obvious. 

    The injured person may not even realize what happened to him or her in the collision. They may have been even stunned and disoriented but outwardly appearing normal. This can be a very serious and even life threatening condition requiring urgent medical care.

    What needs to be remembered is that not all TBI will be severe to the point of being deadly. In some cases they can actually be so subtle that it may get past busy staff in an emergency room. 

    When somebody suffers from a Traumatic Brain Injury, they could undergo symptoms on physical, cognitive, and emotional levels. Not every patient will experience the same thing. 

    Where TBI is suffered particularly where there is skull fracture and hemorrhage, the skilled practitioner must consider another issue in addition to operator error and that is the “Crashworthiness” of the vehicle occupied. The brain injury perhaps could have been averted by a reasonably adequate crashworthy vehicle safety system, dashboard or roof, head-rest or seat back.

    Crashworthiness refers to how a vehicle and its components will respond in a predictable crash so as to protect vehicle occupants during the collision and dynamics of the aftermath, namely, the so-called “second collision” referring to impact between occupant and the structural environment of the vehicle compartment.

    Therefore in such cases thorough vehicle inspection and preservation of both vehicles is essential to allow for thorough examination by an engineering safety specialist retained by your attorney. 


    III. NECK & BACK INJURIES CAUSED BY A CAR ACCIDENT

    When a car accident happens, there is a large chance that you will experience one of the most common injuries regarding neck pain, known as Whiplash or Cervical Spine Injury. The physicians and scientists describe the occurrence as a Hyperflexion/Hyperextension traumatic event to the spine. That describes the violent movement of the heavier head resting on the thinner cervical column snapped violently back and forth in an acceleration/deceleration event. The problem is, many people do not know that they received a whiplash injury because 1. It occurs in less than a second and 2. The adrenaline is flowing through their body as of seconds after the collision, making it nearly impossible to feel the pain of the injury. Therefore, if you have been rear-ended or in a generally bad car accident, you should never refuse medical attention because you could have a serious injury and not even know it.

    Whiplash injuries manifest themselves in a wide variety of symptoms such as neck pain, headaches, fatigue, muscle spasms, upper back and shoulder pain, anxiety as well as cognitive changes. The most common complaint of whiplash injuries is neck pain, occurring in over 90% of patients. 

    Patients may also receive brain injury due to the forces to the brain during the severe hyperflexion/hyperextsion event causing a severe jarring of the brain within the skull. This is further discussed in the previous section. Most patients are able to recover from a whiplash injury, but only if they take the time to receive the treatment necessary. Over 20% of those who suffer from these injuries will continue to suffer from pain for the rest of their lives in some form, sometimes due to the fact that they did not take necessary precautions after an accident. More often it is due to injury to the cervical discs causing damage to the discs which results in the loss of their function as a stabilizer and cushion between the boney vertebra. Discs can loss their structural integrity in the hyperflexion/extension trauma resulting in bulging out ward of the disc or a frank herniation, protrusion or extrusion of disc material. In the more severe cases spinal surgery is needed.

    Likewise one can suffer a Hyperflexion/Hyperextension or torsional injury to the low back resulting in destabilizing of the support structures of the back including muscles strains and sprains, stretching and tearing of ligaments, injury to the facet joints and lumbar discs. In the more severe case the spinal nerves can be compromised causing inflammation and chronic pain requiring surgical intervention to relieve the pressure upon the nerve caused by a traumatically herniated lumbar disc. 

    HERE ARE SOME STEPS YOU SHOULD TAKE TO HELP HEAL AFTER SUCH AN INJURY 

    Seek Medical Attention: Even if at the scene you did not feel the need to go to an Emergency Room, paramedics, you should still seek proper attention on the first signs of the above symptoms. 

    Choose a Qualified Professional: The physician you choose to treat you should be qualified and a professional skilled in treating trauma and the rehabilitation of injury. This means finding somebody who will work in your best interest to help you heal, instead of those who claim they can help you win your personal injury claim; your attorney will take care of that for you. Your job is to get better by following medical instructions.

    The Emergency Care Physician and/or your primary care physician may be a good start in helping you select a specialized physician in treating the conditions causing your pain. 

    Gather All Medical Documentation: You must be able to establish a trail of medical documentation to show to the adjuster in your case. Some of this documentation should include emergency room care like admission forms and medical charts, follow-up treatment records and diagnostic test results.

    Do not end up like a large percentage of the people who fail to get the help they need after an accident. You may think that everything is fine now, but down the road you may suffer because of injuries you didn’t even know you had. This is why seeking medical evaluation and rest are of utmost importance.


    IV. FACIAL INJURIES CAUSED BY A CAR ACCIDENT

    Facial injuries are serious because they can lead to disfigurement and scarring, which is usually permanent and follows a patient through life. Frequently such injuries lead to emotional trauma depending on the magnitude of the disfigurement. The trauma of carrying the scars throughout one’s lifetime is an ever constant reminder of the accident that you see every day. Such injuries can be devastating and life changing. 

    Some of the most common types of facial injuries include cuts, burns, bruises, fractures of the jaw and cheekbone, nerve damage, damaged teeth, and injuries to the eyes or nose. Some injuries are very minor and will heal over time. However, there are some that lead to permanent scarring and could result in a negatively affected life. Compensation for such injuries are allowable under the law.

    Areas of compensation typically include covering initial medical expenses along with follow-up surgeries and treatment. Lost income could be given due to being unable to work for a long period of time. Other types of damages may cover disfigurement, mental anguish, pain and suffering, or even loss of enjoyment of life. A severe facial injury can affect one’s ability to socialize or enjoy daily activities once enjoyed. 


    V. EMOTIONAL INJURIES AND POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDERS

    With the violent trauma of an auto wreck followed by painful injuries, even the toughest of souls suffer anxiety, stress, lack of sleep, depression, phobias and in the more severe cases, panic attacks in the aftermath.

    According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. NIMH notes that “fear triggers many split ...second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Symptoms usually begin within three months of the traumatic incident. Some people recover within 6 months while others have symptoms for years. 

    The symptoms include a re-experiencing of the trauma, avoidance symptoms, arousal and reactivity symptoms and impact on cognition and mood. Re-experiencing symptoms include: Flashbacks- reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing hear or sweating, bad reams frightening thoughts. Avoidance symptoms include staying away from places that are reminders of the event such as avoiding the location of the crash even if it is in the person’s neighborhood, avoiding highways and traveling in heavy traffic. Arousal and reactivity symptoms include being easily startled, feeling tense and on edge, having difficulty sleeping and having angry outbursts. Cognition and mood symptoms include negative thoughts about oneself or the world, distorted feelings like guilt or blame and loss of interest in enjoyable activities. (See www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml) 

    The above is only an overview. If injured seek the advice and assistance of a lawyer specialized in this area of practice with a proven record for high competency and client success.