No one anticipates being involved in a motor vehicle accident. Consequently, the most immediate problem individuals will face is the challenge of protecting themselves from an uncertain future. We want to help take some of the uncertainty out of your future by giving you more control. There are five general areas that will require your protection: (1) Bodily Protection; (2) Property Protection; (3) Liability Protection; (4) Insurance Protection; and (5) Legal Protection.
I. BODILY PROTECTION (Protecting your body from future health injures)
- Perform an Initial Injury Assessment. If you are without pain, you may move on down the list. If you are in pain or unable to think clearly, do not attempt to move. Wait for help to arrive.
- Move to a Place of Safety. If you are not in pain, immediately move to a place of safety. Do not stand on the road to assess damage to the vehicles—this is futile and only exposes you to more danger from other passing vehicles. If there are other injured parties, do not attempt to move them. Wait for medical help to arrive.
- Call the Police Immediately. Not only is this the best way to receive treatment, it’s important for liability protection—without a police report, it will be difficult to prove your case. Also, insurance companies are less inclined to assist with a claim that does not involve a police report, because these accidents are viewed as minor claims, deserving of less of a settlement. Finally, you are required to notify authorities in Georgia when a motor vehicle accident involves personal injury (however minor), death, and/or property damage that exceeds $500. Cooperate fully and be courteous to the law enforcement.
- Seek Medical Treatment Right Away. Depending on the severity of the motor vehicle accident as well as your injuries, seek appropriate medical treatment right away. A trained doctor will be able to identify likely sources of injury and evaluate your medical situation accurately.
- Stay Disciplined Receiving Medical Treatment. This is important to ensure a full medical recovery of your injuries. When you fail to comply with medical treatment, you not only risk your recovery, you also risk jeopardizing the value of your insurance and legal claims. This is discussed more below, but your health is paramount so do risk a set back.
II. PROPERTY PROTECTION (Protecting your car and your money)
- Move Your Vehicle: In Georgia, state law requires that all vehicles be safely moved out of the road.
- Secure the Accident Scene. By simply turning on your hazard lights, or utilizing cones or flares, you alert other drivers that there is an accident and caution is required. This not only preserves the extent of the damage to your car by preventing another accident, you also protect the personal safety of others.
- Do Not Accept Payment. Often, the other driver to an accident will offer to pay for the damage out of pocket. While this may seem like a quick and easy solution, be declining their offer you protect yourself later. You may be entitled to more money for unanticipated damage or bodily injuries that don’t manifest themselves until later. By taking money, you may jeopardize your chance to seek additional, needed compensation. Also, there is no guarantee the other driver will not have a change of heart, which often occurs. By this time, you have missed an opportunity to document the accident appropriately to prove the other driver’s guilt.
- Stay Disciplined Receiving Medical Treatment. By failing to continue medical treatment, you risk diminishing the value of your claim because an at-fault driver is not responsible for injuries caused by you. You can create gaps in your medical treatment and exacerbate injuries when you are not compliant with medical instructions and recommendations. This typically occurs in three situations: when you fail to attend a scheduled doctor’s visit, when you fail to undergo a recommended procedure, or when you fail to take prescribed medication.
III. LIABILITY PROTECTION (Protecting you from misplaced fault)
- Do Not Admit Fault. You should never voluntarily assume liability or take responsibility, even if that is your initial inclination. Also, you should avoid offering to pay—out of pocket— for another’s car damage or their medical treatment. All financial payments should be done through your respective car insurance companies for two reasons: first, you pay for car insurance in order to financially protect you in these situations; second, offering to pay for the damage done in a car accident may be used as evidence against you should litigation be required.
- Call the Police Immediately. In Georgia, you must notify authorities when a motor vehicle accident involves personal injury (however minor), death, and/or property damage that exceeds $500. When speaking with law enforcement, always provide a complete and accurate account. However avoid exaggerations or over-characterizations, and under no circumstances admit fault. You can avoid admitting fault by stating the facts to the best of your recollection, but avoid speculation.
- Do Not Leave the Scene. Leaving the scene could not only be evidence of an admission of guilt, more importantly, it’s against the law.
- Take Pictures of the Scene. Pictures serve as reliable documentation, which is important because people are poor historians and often change their stories to protect themselves. Pictures are worth a thousand words. Some examples of things you should document with pictures include: the roadway, skid marks, debris, the damage to the vehicles, and street signs (i.e. stop signs).
IV. INSURANCE PROTECTION (Protecting your insurance rights)
- Report the Accident to Your Car Insurance Company. Due to notice requirements found in all Car Insurance policies, you must report the accident to your Car Insurance Company within a certain period of time. If you do not timely report the accident, you will likely lose any right to seek compensation from an insurance claim filed late. Also, if you have collision coverage, request your Car Insurance Company to appraise and repair your vehicle, even if the other driver was at-fault. Your insurance company will then seek reimbursement from the at-fault driver’s car insurance company.
- Seek Medical Treatment Right Away. In order to receive maximum benefits from a car insurance claim for Personal Injury Protection (PIP) (or Medical Payment – Med Pay – insurance in Georgia), you must timely document your injuries. If possible, find a doctor whom specializes in treating patients injured by a car accident, including chiropractors, orthopedists, neurologists, or pain management specialists. While your primary care physician will get the job done, finding a specialized physician to treat your injuries will most effectively provide treatment and documentation. Finally, avoid the Emergency Room for minor injuries that don’t need immediate attention. This is because the Emergency Room can be the most expensive form of treatment, which will decrease your PIP/Med Pay compensation later. Urgent care could be a cheap and easy substitute to receive quick treatment for minor injuries.
- Use Your Health Insurance for Medical Bills. While your Personal Injury Protection (or Med Pay) may be the primary source to pay medical bills, you can use your health insurance to cover expenses that are not paid for by PIP/Med Pay insurance. It’s important to note, however, that your health insurance company may be entitled to compensation from any settlement that arises from the car accident. Also, by using your health insurance, you protect yourself because a car insurance company may argue you failed to mitigate your expenses and are therefore, not entitled for maximum compensation.
- Keep Detailed Notes. Each time you have a conversation with an insurance company representative, you should take down their name, job title, phone number, the date and time of the conversation, and a brief description of the conversation.
V. LEGAL PROTECTION (Protecting your potential legal rights)
- Keep a Daily Written Diary. This type of evidence is a convincing way to prove how the car accident has affected your life on a daily basis, while also serving as a reliable source of your injuries. Three types of diaries include:
- Pain Log, documenting the injury, the intensity of the pain (on a scale from 1 to 10), the frequency of the pain, the location of the pain, and the type of pain involved (i.e. stabbing, dull ache, burning, etc.)
- Lost Wage Log, which should contain: (1) the specific dates of work missed; (2) hours of work you missed for each date; (3) your hourly rate of pay; and (4) the reason you missed work (i.e. doctor’s visit, pain, etc.).
- Out of Pocket Expenses, which can commonly include physician co-pays, prescription medications, and over-the-counter medications (i.e. Advil).
- DO NOT Sign Any Documents Admitting Fault. Many times your insurance company will request you to sign one of these documents. If anybody asks you to sign a statement admitting fault, find an attorney immediately. Any statement you sign will likely be used against you later.
- Take Pictures. Take pictures of any bodily injuries on a daily basis, including cuts, abrasions, bruising, and post-surgery wounds. Otherwise, your injuries and subsequent recovery will be left up for interpretation, and thus risking your ability to seek complete compensation.
- Avoid Documenting the Accident on Social Media. While this is tempting for many people, it creates an unwelcomed record and public commentary that can undermine your case later.
- Keep All Evidence. It’s tempting to throw away items that may seem insignificant, but by keeping that dirty, torn, or bloody clothing you preserve valuable evidence for your case.
- Consult an Attorney. Finding the right attorney for your case can be difficult, because you may soon be required to manage a lot of new physical, mental, financial, and emotional stressors. You need an attorney whom you can trust to carry the burden for you and to advocate fully for your position. Remember, every attorney will offer you a free consultation to talk about your potential claim. Never hesitate to take advantage of the free consultation, because your relationship with the attorney whom you hire will be an investment in the future of your claim.