Accidents happen: it is often said because it is true. Although, most are unacquainted with the legal side of when accidents happen. Sometimes accidents are the fault of no one in particular. Other times, when accidents happen, someone is to blame. If the accident resulted in injuries, that someone may be liable for the injured party’s doctors’ bills and missed income. The legal side of when accidents happen is a complicated and comprehensive part of the law that determines who, if anyone, is a fault for an accident and the injuries they cause.
What To Do After An Accident
An injury caused by an accident can drastically change your life. Depending on how severe the injuries are, it may be a while before your life returns to normal. Legal rights are usually not the first thing on one’s mind when accidents happen. However, a few basic steps will save you significant time, money, and effort later on down the road if you decide to sue for your injuries. During this process, taking notes, police reports, preserving evidence and taking photos, and meeting with an injury attorney will be important.
Immediately taking notes about the accident and your injuries is of the utmost importance. Any personal injury case will focus on what happened during the accident that is causing the claim and what kind of injury or harm did it result in. These questions will come up many times when accidents happen. More complex cases can last over a year or possibly two. Therefore, it is important to have a clear and concise record to be constantly referring back to, which will increase the chances of success for your claim.
Take notes as soon as possible after the accident or injury occurs to help preserve all important details, including what happened at the scene of the incident and the effects of your injuries on daily life. Although this may not be the first thing on your mind, an accurate written record will strengthen your position and prove fault in a legal case for your injuries.
It is important to take notes of everything that relates to:
- Everything that occurred before, during, and after the accident that caused your injury
- The time and place of the accident, the weather conditions, other parties present, etc.
- physical or mental injuries that were suffered because of the accident, medical treatment you have received, the effect your injuries have had on your work, social, and personal life. This can include visits to the doctor, missed time from work, or any planned vacations that had to be canceled or postponed.
A Police Report
It is always a good idea to contact law enforcement after an accident has occurred. If you have ever been involved in a motor vehicle accident, a police report was likely generated. After the accident, you should get yourself a copy of the police report. These reports are usually not admissible in civil court proceedings, but they often include a preliminary assessment of fault for motor vehicle accidents. This will be the responding officer’s observations regarding which driver may have violated certain traffic or vehicle codes. This information will prove useful during informal settlement discussions with an insurance carrier or opposing counsel.
Preserving Evidence and Taking Photos
When accidents happen, preserving physical evidence and taking pictures of the accident and injuries will help support your legal claim. Because the scene of the accident can be easily altered and memories can become unreliable over time, it is important to collect evidence and take photos as soon as possible. Preserve any physical items such as torn clothing or broken items or equipment.
For a motor vehicle accident, in particular, take pictures of the scene of the accident, any sustained injuries, and any damage to property. The same legal advice and principles would apply to accidents involving motorcycling or pontoon boats.
Meeting With An Injury Attorney
When accidents happen, proving fault is a generally complex affair, as you can imagine. Therefore, a victim of an accident who wishes to sue must obtain legal counsel. This is usually an attorney who has a detailed knowledge of negligence law or who has experience with accident cases in particular. This type of attorney is also sometimes known as an accident attorney. A skilled local attorney will help you secure any compensation you are owed for lost wages, medical bills, or any pain and suffering you have experienced as a result of the accident. Throughout the legal process, an attorney will:
- Research the law
- Interview witnesses
- Collect records
- Review evidence
- Confer with expert consultants
- Plan legal strategy
- Negotiate with insurance companies and opposing attorneys
During your first meeting with an attorney, you will recount everything that has happened and they may collect a variety of other information from you. The extent and length of this initial interview will depend on the circumstances of your case. Car accidents are generally more straightforward cases, while injuries due to defective products or medical malpractice suits are usually much more complex. Regardless of the case, come to the initial interview prepared with your notes, police report, and any evidence and pictures you have collected. Your chosen attorney will collect information from you regarding your accident, injuries, and medical treatment. Practical aspects will also likely be discussed, including legal fees, a representation agreement, and other costs to expect from the case.
Here are some other things to expect from an initial consultation with an accident attorney. While this process may feel like an interrogation at times, the attorney is just investigating to discover any potential issues that may arise during the legal process.
- The attorney will ask questions about your health, such as the injuries you sustained during the accident, your prognosis, and any pain you are in
- The attorney will ask questions regarding your insurance coverage
- The attorney may ask if you have spoken to your insurance company about your injury claim, what you said to them, and whether or not you gave a statement on the record regarding your injury or accident
- The attorney will likely advise you to be examined by a doctor if you have not already. If you do not visit a doctor and establish a medical record of your injuries, later on down the road, a defendant may claim you were never actually seriously injured since there was no visit with a doctor and therefore no proof of any injury.
- The attorney will ask you to sign a medical release form, which authorizes the release of your medical information from doctors and other health care providers. This allows your attorney to obtain these records.
- The attorney may ask you if you have spoken with anyone else regarding the accident or injuries. If you have, they will ask with whom you spoke and the details of what was discussed.
- The attorney will likely have to consider your case, and then contact you sometime after the meeting to discuss legal options, which is a common practice for cases involving injuries.
- There is a chance the attorney declines to take on your case. This can happen for a number of reasons. It could be because of their current caseload, capability, or other responsibilities. Or they may tell you, in their legal opinion, you do not have a valid case. After that, you have the option to drop the case or get a second opinion from another attorney.
- In any instance that the attorney cannot take your case, they can refer you to another attorney.
- The attorney may ask you to sign an agreement on the conditions for representation, also known as a retainer contract. Make sure to read any contract or document carefully and ask any questions you may have before signing it. You will likely be able to take any documents or contracts home to be able to read and study them thoroughly.
- The attorney will decide the next best steps. Before you file a lawsuit or consider a settlement, a factual investigation may have to be done first. The attorney may provide an estimate on how long this process will take.
- The attorney will instruct you to not talk about the case with any outside party, and any questions or concerns you may have should be referred back to them. While discussing the case with others may seem harmless, it can sometimes end up tainting your case in a courtroom.
- The attorney will tell you how they plan to keep you informed of the progress of your case. This could include periodic phone calls or report letters.
The Basics of a Personal Injury Lawsuit
When a person experiences harm due to an accident or injury that was caused by someone else, this is generally cause for a personal injury case. During these legal disputes, the responsible party’s insurance company will pay out a certain amount to the injured party to cover various expenses. A medical malpractice case will involve a personal attorney and attorney representing hospitals and insurance companies. A workplace-related injury, such as an injury sustained during an awning or new roof installation, will result in a workers’ compensation lawsuit against the company. In this case, one would have to prove the residential roofing or commercial roofing company is negligent.
In actuality, most personal injury cases are resolved by an informal early settlement between the two sides, which involves resolving the case through payment of an agreed sum of money. In some cases, a formal lawsuit is filed, which generally leads to a trial. This is rare however, since only four to five percent of personal injury cases go to trial. In fact, more than 95 percent of personal injury claims in the United States are settled before going to trial.
Proving Fault When Accidents Happen
While most assume it is easy to prove fault in an accident, it is actually very difficult. Whether it be an accident involving used cars or medical malpractice, one must prove one party is liable, or at fault, in order to pay for other party’s injuries. According to the law, there is one simple rule that determines liability. If one party is involved in an accident and they were not as careful as another party, then they must pay all or a portion of the cost of their injuries or damages.
There are, however, a few more laws regarding the legal concept of liability when accidents happen:
- For a person to be liable, a duty must exist between the two parties. For example, if a forklift contractor fails to provide the operator with hands-on instruction.
- More than one person can potentially be liable for a person’s injuries. In this case, one is much more likely to recover full damages.
- If an injured party is also partly responsible for their injuries, their compensation can be reduced by an amount equal to their own contribution to their accident
- If a party injures another party while they are employed, the employer may be responsible for the injuries
- If an injury is sustained as a result of a poorly managed or maintained property, its owner might be liable because they failed to maintain safe conditions.
- If an injury is sustained as a result of a defective product, the manufacturer and seller of the product may both be liable.
There are many more steps involved in a personal injury case and the legal side of when accidents happen. These steps involve settlement, filing a lawsuit, and the entire process of a personal injury trial, which will not be covered here due to their complexity and variance in form. The most important step you can take after you or a loved one sustains an injury is to seek legal help from an experienced personal injury attorney. Regardless of the type of injury, you have the right to take legal action against anyone, any company, or other entity who is at fault. An attorney can explain every step of the complex process and take decisive action on your behalf.