With over thirty years experience as lawyers handling motor vehicle crash cases, we have handled thousands of claims and litigated hundreds of cases in many different courts. We know a thing or two about motor vehicle crash claims. You have probably seen lists of do's and don'ts if you are in a collision, but do you understand why?. Knowing why may help you remember the do's and don'ts:
DO NOT move your car. Seek to prevent anyone else from moving his or her car. Why? Initially someone may admit that they are at fault but when the police arrive, the story changes. If a car has been moved, an investigating police officer may say, "I can't tell what happened because the cars have been moved." Most police officers and especially the Ohio State Highway Patrol have had advanced training in automobile collision investigation. A trained officer can tell a great deal by looking at the scene of the collision. The final resting place of vehicles, the angles, skid marks, and debris fields are sometimes the turning point between a claim being denied by an insurance company and a claim being accepted by the insurance company. Depending upon the severity of the collision, police officers may measure and make a scaled drawing of the collision scene. This can be used for a forensic reconstruction analysis, which can determine fairly accurately what happened. We have worked with and tried cases where police officers and/or hired accident reconstructionists have testified. They can only testify if the original collision scene is left in tact so that it can be recorded in photographs and measurements by an investigating police officer.
DO take photos of the crash scene. Use your cell phone camera. As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. In a dispute about what happened, photos can prove the claim.
DO make sure you get the name of any witness to the collision. If someone at the scene of the collision comes up and states they saw it, have them write their name and phone number down so that they may be contacted at a later date. Why? Often times we find police officers do not get these witnesses names as the witnesses have left by the time the police have arrived or the police are busy with other things and the witness leaves the scene. Sometimes the police officer never looks for witnesses. If there is going to be a dispute about how the collision occurred, a witness may prove invaluable.
DO NOT give the insurance company a recorded statement. Why? Insurance companies usually seek a recorded statement from you at the onset of a claim in order to evaluate their exposure and take control of the claim. Often this is done before you have thought about whether or not you should seek legal representation. The insurance company wants to use the recorded statement to lock down your position in order to control the claim. They will ask you questions about how the collision occurred and any injuries you sustained. The questions are often skewed toward a response favorable to their position. Sometimes, these statements are taken the day of the collision, and the injuries are not even fully known or realized yet. Recorded statements are usually taken over the phone. They will call you and ask you to give a quick statement "off the cuff". Then, an employee of the insurance company types your statement. This typed out document is then used to evaluate the claim and is sometimes brought out by an insurance company at a trial or hearing to contradict testimony. A lot of questions surround these recorded statements. A representative of an insurance company who may have an interest against you takes them.
From a tape, an employee of the insurance company who may also have an interest different than yours then types it. Next, even if what is typed is accurately depicted, you do not know that they did not miss some of the discussion either due to the recording stopping or the person transcribing it incorrectly. Nevertheless, it is now being used in its typed form to challenge the credibility of your testimony. The insurance company will treat your statement as gospel.
DO NOT sign any paperwork for the insurance company without fully understanding what it is. Why? Insurance companies often ask you to sign a release for medical information so that they can get your medical records to find out other information, which they may use as leverage to compromise your claim. Do you know exactly what is in your medical records? Most people do not. You may have a general understanding of what you have mentioned to your doctor, but you have no idea what your doctor writes in your chart. You also don't know if your doctor makes mistakes in your chart because he or she writes in your chart what is meant for someone else's chart. Mistakes in medical records are common. Some of them are obvious such as when a medical record for a male indicates that he is pregnant. Others are not so obvious. There is a reason your medical records are confidential. Insurance companies use their authorization to search through medical records from before the collision, to obtain a history and background on you. There is much to be learned about a person in medical records and they can use that information to negotiate your claim. The law does not allow the admission at a trial of medical information that is not related to your injuries. You should not give that information willingly to an insurance company so that they can potentially use it against you. Furthermore, by providing it to the insurance company, it may become public record. There are many things of a personal nature that people share with their physician that they would not want to see blown up as an exhibit the size of a billboard displayed in the courtroom for all to see. With the threat of that happening, many people will resolve a claim for pennies on the dollar just to avoid the embarrassment.
A recent phenomenon in the insurance industry is for the insurance company to contact you shortly after the collision and ask you to sign a release. That signature releases all the claims you have against them. They will agree to pay your medical bills arising from the collision over the next several months and to pay you a few dollars now to settle your claim. As a result, some people are stuck in a bad situation. They look at this as an opportunity to get money now and then find out down the road that they have a serious injury that requires treatment beyond the stated period and there in no restitution.
If you are in a collision and have any questions about your legal rights, the sooner you call us, the better. Someone needs to take care of your claim. The insurance industry employs well-trained individuals to keep your claim at a minimum. They will take charge of your claim to control their exposure, unless you hire a professional to take charge of your claim and obtain a fair amount. If you trust the insurance industry to come up with an amount that you believe is fair, let them take charge. If you question what is in your best interest, you should consult with a good attorney.