“The one devastating event in life that is most likely to happen to you is an auto accident,” says Bill Robertson, CEO at The Robertson Law Firm and a personal injury attorney with 32 years’ experience working with — and for — Florida drivers. From the moment of the accident, Robertson spells out the 10 critical steps to ensure your safety and protect your rights.
⦁Do not drive away. Every future outcome hinges on what happens at the scene of an accident; you must be there to ensure your rights. “Even if it is a minor accident, first and foremost, never drive away from the scene,” says Robertson.
⦁Protect yourself. If possible, move your car out of harm’s way and stay away from traffic so there are no further problems. Preserve the scene, but make sure it is safe.
⦁Call the police. Even if there are no serious injuries, it is vital that an officer documents the scene. Otherwise, there is no evidence if drivers change their story.
⦁Make sure the police report is accurate. “Tell them everything that happened, and do not guess,” says Robertson. “A lot of times when you are hurt in an accident, your adrenaline is pumping and you will not feel it till the next day. If it is a significant accident and they ask, ‘Are you hurt?’ say ‘I am not sure’ rather than ‘No.’” Also, record the names and phone numbers of all witnesses who stop at the scene. The police may not get to everyone, and an impartial person’s perspective can be vital to your case.
⦁Take photographs. Document the scene as thoroughly as possible, including photographs of the damage to all vehicles involved and any potentially incriminating evidence (i.e. alcohol containers). If the at-fault driver is behaving suspiciously — stashing items or acting drunk — you may even want to record a video.
⦁Get insurance information. The police officer should provide you with a “driver exchange form,” which will include all requisite information regarding the other driver’s identification, insurance providers and vehicle ownership.
⦁Immediately report the accident to your insurance company. You will be assigned a claim number and an adjuster who will investigate the accident on your behalf. “It is really important to get your insurance company involved sooner rather than later,” says Robertson.
⦁Seek medical attention ASAP. If you believe you have suffered major injuries, go to the emergency room. Otherwise, visit a doctor soon, preferably one with injury experience that can treat you effectively while legally documenting your injuries. Be sure to tell the doctor every symptom you have had since the accident. In Florida, you have 14 days to seek medical attention in order to access any insurance benefits. “More importantly,” says Robertson, “it is important to have a doctor treat you right away. If you try to tough it out and wait a week and a half, the first thing the insurance company or an opposing lawyer is going to say is, ‘Gosh, if it was that bad, why did you wait?’”
⦁Protect your rights; see a lawyer. Regardless of circumstance, insurance companies will try to defeat your claim; a lawyer works on your behalf while making sure every step of the process is done correctly. “Even if the other driver got a ticket on the scene, it does not mean they will not fight it,” says Robertson, who offers free consultations. “Even if you do hire me, you owe me nothing unless we get a recovery. So you get a free lawyer on your side who has been practicing for 32 years to answer your questions.”
⦁You have NO obligation to speak to the at-fault party’s insurance company. Any statement you make can be used against you. Insurance companies will even try to offer you money in exchange for a full release that disqualifies you from future benefits. Do not take it and do not sign anything; they know they will have to pay more in the long run. “I tell my clients, ‘I do not want you talking to the other person’s insurance company unless I am sitting there, too,” says Robertson.