Bam! #!@%* (stars!!!), Whew! You were just slammed from behind by a 1985 Chrysler; and you’re not sure how you arc as your brain and body are in post-traumatic hibernation. You’re physically and mentally impaired, but you have to make decisions that will affect your physical and financial recovery from what just happened. Do you know what to do? Let’s take it step by step.
In traumatic situations, you rarely know if you are in pain until a considerable passage of time. But here comes the scruffy. uninsured dim wit that just hit you, asking, “Hey, I’m sorry man! Are you alright?” STOP! Fast-forward 18 months down the road. The dim wit is wearing a new suit, found a razor and a barber and is telling the jury, “I asked him if he was alright, and he said, ‘I feel fine!’” The truth is, within the first minutes after an accident, you feel nothing! Your brain couldn’t process a feeling of “fine” any more than it could process what was really going on- a ripped, bleeding rotator cuff and a herniated disc in your neck. Okay, let’s return to the scene. How should you answer Dim Wit? How about, “Call the police” or “I don’t know yet.”
The police arrive; and want to know what happened. Again, fast forward to your trial. Dim wit’s attorney is arguing that you share some blame for the accident because your brake lights weren’t on as you were sitting at the light. He is now questioning the officer: “Isn’t it true Officer. that Ms. In the right told you she didn’t know whether her foot was on the brake or she was in neutral with her foot off the brake?” Because you have hired the world’s greatest trial lawyer, he rises to your defense before an answer can be uttered and says, “Objection! What my client did or did not tell the officer is privileged.” You win the objection and the officer is not heard by the jury. Why? Florida wants to promote accident investigations by encouraging you to share with the officer, exactly what took place. To do this, Florida law prohibits an officer from testifying about what was said by a party to an accident. So, don’t talk to Dim Wit, but feel free to talk to the officer.
You’re now in the emergency room. The nurse or doctor asks you what happened. In certain circumstances, what you tell your doctors can be used against you at trial, so be careful. Like the game or telephone, you played as a kid, it is amazing how often doctors and nurses misstate what you tell them. To them, it does not matter if you slipped vs. tripped, if you fell in a pothole or were smoking pot. They are over worked. often tired and therefore, inaccurate in transcribing your account of what happened, so, do what my law professors taught me- KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)! In this case, just say, I was in an automobile accident. Even if you were rear-ended and it wasn’t your fault, don’t give your doctors or their nurses more opportunities to mess up your case by giving them an overwhelming amount of detail. Believe me, they don’t want it anyway! Resist the urge to tell your story; and just give them the essentials. All that they really need to know is the direction from which you were hit and whether you were wearing your seat belt. This information alerts them to your potential injuries.
Eight hours later. you’re home. You got some Tylenol for your sore shoulder and neck and the hospital doctor diagnosed whiplash. You don’t know that you have a rotator cuff tear that will require surgery and a herniated disc that will cause you pain and limitations for the rest of your life. Unaware that the doctor made an optimistic diagnosis. you left the hospital feeling bad, but relieved. You think you’re going to be okay. What do you do now?
You need to notify your insurance company. Under your policy, if you fail to give your carrier timely notice of your accident, they can refuse to pay. You pull out your insurance card, get the telephone number for claims; and get Mr. happy, cheery claims adjuster on the phone (whose job it is to screw you out of any benefits he can). What do you tell them? NOTHING! Hang up the phone! Pull the cord out of the wall! It’s lawyer time. Don’t have a lawyer? Get one. It’s free. sort of.
Personal injury attorneys work on a contingent free basis. They take a percentage of what they collect for you. If you collect nothing, or it turns out you don’t have a compensable claim, they get paid nothing. Most attorneys will even advance the costs involved and delay reimbursement until there is a recovery. No recovery. no fees or costs.
Your attorney will contact the insurance company for you. Why is that important? Well in this case, because Dim Wit had no insurance and your shoulder surgery is going to cost more than the $10,000 personal injury protection policy you purchased (see my blog on “Car insurance, what you need to know.”) you are going to be making a claim against your own insurance carrier for uninsured motorist benefits. That puts your insurance company in the position of wanting to help Dim Wit; not you.
Anything you tell them can and will be used against you. Let your attorney handle them.
Your attorney will do more than that. He will guide you in the selection of a qualified physician who is not only good at hastening your recovery, but also, in documenting and testifying about your injury so that a jury can hear a fair description of what your injuries were, how they affected you, what your prognosis is and how much your injury will cost you in future medical costs. Good cases are frequently lost by honest victims who go to good doctors who don’t know how to document their patient’s injury, or have no jury appeal. You’ll be happy you have a doctor that can go toe to toe with the silver haired foxes the insurance company hires to testify that you were never hurt.
Your car needs fixing. Please don’t get it fixed without taking pictures. If you hired an attorney, he’ll arrange it. However, you can save some costs by doing it yourself. Get a good camera or a friend who has one and take pictures of your car from all of the o’clock positions, standing ten feet away. Where there is visible damage, take multiple pictures of those parts, both close up as well as from ten feet. Do you have visible injuries, such as bruises across your shoulder or lap from the seat belt? Take clear pictures so you can prove you were wearing your seal bell.
You have collision insurance on your car and so does Dim Wit, so which insurance company should pay for your car repairs? In most cases, yours. Go to a shop they recommend. Why? Because when their repair shop does not do the job right, you can have your insurance company pay all over again to do it right the second time. Your insurance company will collect your deductible from Dim Wit’s insurance carrier as well as what they spent to repair your car. If you were not at fault, your rates will not go up. If your carrier wants to increase your rates because you were in an accident that was not your fault, you’re with the wrong carrier: You have now done what you need to help obtain a fair recovery from your accident.