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Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers

Home >> What to Do After a Personal Injury Accident

Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers

Home >> What to Do After a Personal Injury Accident

What to Do After a Personal Injury Accident

Do the right things after a personal injury accident, and you’re more likely to get your bills covered and minimize your stress.

Personal injuries happen thousands of times every day and they’re most likely to occur in ordinary situations. Today you could be taking your bike, motorcycle, scooter, or car to work and BAM! You’re in an auto accident, one of the most common types of personal injuries.

There are about six million auto accidents in the U.S. annually, which is one accident per 54 people. That’s really something to think about - one in every 54 people will be in a car accident this year. In fact, your odds of being in a car accident are about 50 times higher than your chances of winning the Powerball lottery.

Fortunately, most of these accidents don’t involve injuries. While just one in three U.S. auto accidents involves injury to a driver or passenger, that still puts the number of personal injury car accidents at roughly 2 million per year.

What Should I Do After an Injury Accident?

It’s hard to avoid having a personal injury at least once or twice in your life. Forbes has calculated that the average American will file an auto insurance claim at least once every 18 years and some people file many more than average due to their driving behavior, life circumstances, or just bad luck.

You probably don’t spend much time thinking about what you would do after a personal injury and that’s perfectly normal! But it’s good to be prepared and protect yourself. This article provides a step-by-step breakdown of what to do after an injury to safeguard your immediate health, preserve your financial wellbeing, and maintain your legal right to compensation.

We encourage you to educate yourself on important personal injury topics, like:

Steps to Take After a Personal Injury Accident

Prioritize Your Safety

Make your safety a priority after an accident. In a vehicle, ensure that you and your passengers are not in any further danger. That means assessing your injuries and those of your passengers, getting clear of the roadway, and exiting potentially dangerous vehicles.

Signs of injury to look for include blood, severe pain, dizziness, blurry vision, difficulty breathing, pain and limited movement in the limbs, or numbness anywhere in the body. Call 911 and report an accident with injuries.

Don’t turn down medical help, even if your injuries don’t seem like a big deal. A minor injury like a little neck pain can become an intensely painful or even permanent injury down the line if left untreated.

If you need help from a bystander, you should be aware that people who witness an accident often assume that someone else has already called 911. Known as the bystander effect, this means help might arrive much later than expected because nobody takes action. So if you need a bystander’s help, make eye contact and give commands as authoritatively as possible.

Stay out of the road and instruct your passengers to do the same. It is vital to be aware that if your vehicle is even partially blocking a lane of the street or highway, it could potentially cause a secondary accident that could be even worse than the first. If you can, pull all vehicles involved to the side of the road and use flares, flashlights, or even position brightly colored articles of clothing as flags to warn approaching drivers of road hazards.

Here’s Why the Damage is Probably Worse Than You Think

The National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Consumer Reports found that even crashes at very low speeds produce damage that appears minor, but costs thousands of dollars to fix. The average cost of a car repair is about $600, which is above the $500 threshold in most jurisdictions for a police presence required by law.

Plus, if you have property damage and bodily injury, you could be facing thousands of dollars in car repairs and medical bills. Health care isn’t cheap, and it sometimes takes multiple doctor’s visits to address your ongoing medical issues.

It’s common for injured people to minimize the physical discomfort that they are experiencing. However, soft tissue injuries, pain, stiffness, and other symptoms can increase significantly as time passes. In certain cases, it may not be possible for an injured person to detect symptoms of serious, life-threatening injuries - like internal bleeding or a traumatic brain injury - while a medical expert would know how to assess and diagnose these injuries.

Also, be advised that in some cities and municipalities, officers aren't typically dispatched to an accident unless it is classified as a serious accident. You may have to insist that police and emergency responders are dispatched to the scene of your accident. Doing so may prove essential to your physical wellbeing, and to your ability to get compensated for your injuries.

It’s Vital to Collect Contact Information and Evidence

Begin collecting evidence and documentation about your accident as soon as you are able, starting at the accident scene. This includes collecting specific information from responding officers. You should always ask for:

  • The names and badge numbers of all responding police officers
  • The physical address of the precinct, police station, or sheriff's office to which you can direct future inquiries
  • A physical copy of the police report, or at least an incident number assigned to your police report so you can get a copy later
  • A list of people involved, as well as those merely present at the scene
  • Exactly what was said by whom
  • Exactly how the incident occurred, step-by-step if possible
  • License plate numbers of all automobiles involved in the accident, and those of any bystanders
  • Insist to see (and photograph, if possible) the other drivers' insurance documentation
  • Ask to see (and photograph, if possible) the driver licenses or state ID cards of all the parties involved

Write everything down or type it into your phone, because it’s easy to forget vital information in the heat of the moment, especially after a traumatic or stressful experience like a traffic accident. Written information is also easier to share with your lawyer later.

Insist that the police file a written report because it includes key information like the time of day, date, specific location, weather conditions, and a preliminary assessment of fault based on the responding officer’s interpretation of the factual evidence. It also captures the contact information for the other drivers and witnesses the police interviewed.

This is essential information that you and your attorney will use to create a powerful demand letter to submit to the driver's insurance company or use to build a strong personal injury lawsuit. More information strengthens your case!

The exact procedure to obtain a copy of the police report for your accident will depend on the state and local jurisdiction where the accident took place. Some police departments will provide an online form that allows individuals to request a report, and in some cases, even download the report from the internet. Other agencies will require an individual to be present in person at the police station, precinct house, or sheriff's office to receive the report.

Certain departments may distribute the report to persons directly involved free of charge, while others will charge a moderate fee. Generally speaking, a good way to find out exactly how to get a copy of the police report for your accident is to ask the responding officer at the accident scene or call the phone number in the documentation provided by the officer.

And remember to take videos at the scene, if possible. We've all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words and a video is even better. So take some photos and videos as soon as you are able, especially at the scene while the participants, vehicles, and bystanders are still present.

Don't Rely Solely on Police Investigators to Help Your Case

As important as a police accident report is to your personal injury case, the reality is that police officers are often overworked. One officer may respond to multiple accidents in a single day. That’s why your accident may not receive the attention it deserves.

Therefore, to the extent that you can do so, you should collect as much evidence as you possibly can yourself. Remember, your evidence goes far beyond the police report and could include local security camera footage, videos from nearby Uber driver car cameras, statements from witnesses, your medical bills, and more.

Seek Medical Attention

Seek Medical Attention

An emergency medical examination can do more for you than help to put your mind at ease and begin treating your injuries. It will also start the medical documentation process, which is essential to any effort to recover your financial losses due to an accident. For the best possible financial outcome, ask the medical professionals who treat you to make note of:

  • The date of your initial injury
  • How the injury occurred
  • A diagnosis of your injuries
  • Your short- and long-term prognosis
  • Any medications you've been prescribed or instructed to use, including over-the-counter treatments like ibuprofen or antibiotic ointment

After your initial treatment make sure that your medical professionals document any additional:

  • Scarring
  • Temporary or permanent disability
  • Ongoing pain management plans
  • The risk of potential future injury or complications

How to Pay for Medical Expenses with Insurance

Worried about the costs piling up? Fear of the financial impact of a personal injury accident should never keep you from seeking necessary medical treatment. Insurance may cover the majority of your medical expenses from the accident, which could include

  • Health insurance coverage for medical expenses, regardless of who is at fault.
  • Your auto insurance policy should cover your medical expenses if you have "Med-Pay" or "PIP" coverage in California.
  • Pursue the other party’s insurance for coverage if they are at fault.
  • Car insurance may cover the repair or replacement cost of the other drivers' vehicles up to the limits of your property damage liability coverage.
  • You may be covered for the repair or replacement cost of your vehicle if your policy includes collision coverage.
  • There may be coverage for incidental expenses such as towing or roadside service.
  • Rental reimbursement may also be covered by some vehicle insurance policies.

You should be aware that even if the other driver is at fault, you or your insurance may initially have to cover the cost of your medical treatment. If you and your attorney settle with their insurance company out of court, or if you win a court judgment at trial, the other driver's insurance should reimburse you for your medical costs up to their policy coverage limits.

However, a settlement is typically only completed once your medical treatment is completed, which can be months after the accident. Your bills may pile up in the meantime, so it takes some patience, persistence, and legal support to handle it all skillfully.

If you are underinsured or uninsured at the time of an accident that was caused by another party, talk to a lawyer about arranging small monthly payments to medical providers until a settlement is completed.

Gather Evidence

Interact With Witnesses Carefully, With the Help of Your Lawyer

It can be tricky to interact with witnesses without harming your case, so tread carefully and ask your lawyer how to handle this part of the process. Your goal is to get information, not to give it out.

At the scene of the accident, it can be helpful to record a short video from each witness, including their name, contact information, and a brief statement about everything they saw regarding the accident. But don’t lead the witnesses to say certain things or get into arguments about the accident.

Your lawyer can help you follow up to get more detailed accounts from witnesses. Do this as soon after the accident as possible, because people's memories often begin to fade, even hours after an event, and may eventually become unreliable.

How to Strengthen the Evidence of Your Injuries

A key element to building a case to get compensated for the direct and indirect consequences of a personal injury accident is proving how your injuries impacted your everyday life. To do this, you will need evidence, so begin documenting your injuries immediately and collect copies of any related medical records.

Pertinent information about your injuries includes:

  • Physical injuries you suffered
  • The mental impact of those injuries
  • Medical treatments you received
  • Treatments or accommodations you are likely to require in the future
  • Time missed from work
  • Missed vacations and recreational time
  • Any effects your injuries have had on interpersonal relationships, including your physical intimacy

Video evidence can be very powerful to show your progress or lack of progress. Take photos and/or video your injuries immediately after the accident, and then do it again every day throughout your recovery.

This Is Very Important: Do Not Admit Fault

It is extremely important to your case that you never admit fault to anyone, not even to passengers in your vehicle. Doing so can dramatically reduce the likelihood that you'll receive compensation. It can also decrease the potential amount of any settlement you may receive.

Even merely saying "I'm sorry" could be used as an admission of guilt, so when asked to recount details of the accident, stick to the factual events that took place.

This includes putting your thoughts in writing. No matter what the police or insurance company may say to imply that it is mandatory, reasonable, or even in your own interest to admit fault, don’t do it. You should also avoid signing any document presented to you by other persons involved in the accident, their insurance company representatives, or their lawyers until you've consulted with your attorney.

How to Interact With the Other Driver’s Insurance Company

Remember, people other than your lawyer are not your friends right now. The other person and their insurance company are highly motivated to limit their liability and your compensation. If you’re curious, we encourage you to read about tricks insurance adjusters sometimes play in personal injury cases.

  • Never admit any fault for any circumstance relating to the accident
  • Do not provide a recorded statement of any kind
  • Do not sign anything the other side requests, especially regarding access to your medical records
  • Do not discuss your injuries, especially before all medical treatment is completed
  • Do not give the adjuster your social security number

Notify Your Insurance Company

Insurance companies are often alerted to accidents by the other person’s insurer or the department of motor vehicles. So don’t wait to see what will happen. Contact your insurance company right away to show your genuine interest in doing the right thing.

Even when the other party's at fault and you believe that they are liable for the expenses associated with your personal injury accident, contacting your insurance company gets the financial recovery ball rolling. A representative from your insurer will often function as an advocate for you and may pursue a claim against the other party's policy. But double-check everything with your personal injury attorney.

If the driver is uninsured like an estimated 13% of all American drivers and one in three California drivers, your policy may step in and fill the gap depending on your coverage. It’s also possible to sue them individually if they have the resources to pay.

But before any of this ever happens, consider getting uninsured driver coverage. It could be a huge benefit in an unlucky situation like an uninsured driver injuring you and wrecking your car.

Here’s What it Means to Submit a Written Demand Letter

Many courts, including California courts, require that you make a formal demand for payment before filing a personal injury lawsuit. This demand for payment in writing is commonly referred to as a demand letter.

Statistically, your case will most likely be settled out of court, but submitting a detailed demand letter to another driver's insurance company is by far the best way to initiate a claim for specific damages. An effective demand letter must include the following elements.

  • A detailed factual description of the accident (who, what, where, when & how)
  • Facts & evidence that prove the other party's liability
  • Facts & evidence demonstrating that the accident caused your injuries and damages, and that you received reasonably necessary medical care to treat your injuries
  • A detailed factual explanation of your pain & suffering, emotional distress, inconvenience and loss of enjoyment due to your injuries
  • A specific demand amount

When coming up with the demand amount, you should generally aim for an amount that is reasonable, but somewhat higher than your actual goal amount, to leave room for negotiation of a final settlement. Facts and evidence that you will want to include with your demand letter include:

  • Police reports
  • Medical records
  • Photographic evidence
  • Eyewitness statements
  • Diagrams
  • Proof of lost wages and/or benefits

Your demand letter and related evidence together are called your demand packet. Keep in mind that there is nothing wrong with a long demand letter. It is not uncommon for a detailed demand letter to reach ten pages or more, and the entire demand packet can often be far larger.

If creating an effective demand letter sounds complicated and exhausting, it sure can be! But it’s the crucial element in securing the compensation you need. Creating a persuasive and complete demand packet is one of the most valuable skills a personal injury attorney can contribute to an accident case.

The insurance company will often take up to a month to respond to your demand. If your demand packet is strong enough, and your demand amount is relatively small, the insurer might pay your demand amount right away. In most cases, however, the insurer will offer you a substantially smaller amount and challenge your request, which kicks off a back-and-forth negotiation.

How to Determine the Value of your Personal Injury Case

One of the keys to successfully securing adequate compensation is the ability to determine what your injuries and damages are worth. This is another special skill that only an experienced personal injury attorney can bring to your case.

Unfortunately, there is no simple formula to determine an appropriate injury compensation demand amount. Every case is unique, even when comparing very similar accidents and injuries. The value of your case can depend on numerous factors, including:

  • Your previous physical health
  • Medical expenses resulting from your injuries
  • Out-of-pocket expenses resulting from your injuries
  • The cost of hiring people to help you while you're injured
  • Your income level before the accident
  • How much time you miss from work
  • Loss of consortium (the impact of your injuries on your intimate relationship)
  • Your property damage from the accident

California's Liability Rules and Your Settlement Amount


The attorneys for a defendant's insurance company in a personal injury trial - or the representatives of the insurer in a settlement negotiation - will often attempt to demonstrate shared liability for an accident to reduce or eliminate compensation. This is the primary reason that admitting fault for your accident to anyone could lead to little or no compensation.

Assigning shared liability can be a complex process, but it will almost always have a profound impact on the potential size of your insurance settlement or court judgment. Minimizing or eliminating your liability for an accident is another skill that an experienced personal injury lawyer is uniquely qualified to bring to your case, especially when the attorney is involved early in the process.

While some states follow some form of comparative negligence rule that allows you to receive compensation even when you are partially at fault for an accident, California follows a pure comparative negligence rule. All parties to an accident can pursue compensation for the percentage of negligence assigned to another party, no matter how small or large the percentage assigned to each party.

This means you may be assigned a proportion of the blame, which reduces the amount of your award proportionally. So if the amount would be $100,000 but you were found to be 20% at fault, you may receive $80,000, which represents the 80% that was not your fault.

Occasionally, These Cases Go To Court

Filing a personal injury lawsuit

Although the vast majority of personal injury cases are settled with an insurance company without going to trial, sometimes they just won't make an offer that you consider reasonable and negotiation ends without a settlement. If you decide not to accept the insurer's best offer, another option is to file a lawsuit to pursue reasonable compensation for the cost of your medical treatment and damages in a court of law.

You can file a personal injury lawsuit on your own behalf, and you might even decide that this is a good option in a case involving relatively minor injuries. But beware that insurance company attorneys can always be expected to be experienced, skilled, and highly motivated to do whatever they can to minimize or eliminate your compensation.

If your losses and injuries are substantial, you can reasonably expect a much higher probability of winning your case. This could bring a substantially better compensation award with the help of a seasoned personal injury accident trial lawyer.

This is especially true the earlier your attorney is involved in your accident case. And because accident attorneys have experience negotiating with insurance companies, you are more likely to obtain a reasonable settlement before trial, avoiding going to court altogether.

The statute of limitations in California allows injured parties to file claims within two years of an accident, but this time frame shrinks to just six months if the defendant is a government agency. Generally speaking, filing a claim sooner rather than later is always a good idea.

How To Find the Right Personal Injury Attorney to Represent You

If the process described here sounds challenging, it is. That's why professional accident attorneys devote their careers to ensuring injured parties receive appropriate compensation for accidents caused by others. A qualified and experienced personal injury attorney will essentially handle every aspect of your case on your behalf, so you can focus on your recovery and your life.

Look for a lawyer who starts with a free initial consultation. Most good injury lawyers don't get paid unless/until you receive financial compensation for your injuries. At your initial consultation, there should be no obligation. It’s an informal meeting, or even a phone call, to help the lawyer figure out whether they feel they can help you, and for you to get a feel for whether you would like for this individual or firm to represent you.

An attorney will get an initial impression of your situation by asking about:

  • The details of the accident
  • Your insurance coverage
  • Your medical treatment
  • Whether you've spoken with anyone about your case, such as an insurance adjuster

They may also ask you to sign a form authorizing the release of your medical information from health care providers or request detailed medical information about your injuries. Based on their research about your case after your initial consultation, the attorney may:

  • Indicate a desire to research your case further
  • Decline to take on your case because it may fall outside their area of expertise or be unlikely to result in compensation
  • Refer your case to another attorney better suited to your needs
  • Accept your case and request that you sign a retainer (contract) stating that you wish to have them to represent you

If the lawyer or firm decides that they would like to represent you, they will typically then present you with a clear plan for how they intend to proceed, including:

  • Further information they need
  • How long your case is likely to take
  • With whom you should and should not discuss the details of your case
  • How much your case may be worth

Factors that Determine How Long the Financial Recovery Process Takes

Four primary factors will typically impact the amount of time between your accident and when you receive compensation.

Length of Treatment

An insurance company will almost always require that you waive any further claims in a settlement, so it is essential that medical treatment is complete or you are stable enough for a reasonable prediction of future medical costs and damages. The timeline may vary, but an experienced personal injury attorney will often be able to help you make arrangements to cover any treatment costs that are not covered by your insurance until your settlement is complete.

Negotiation Time

Pre-trial settlement negotiations with a private person or company's insurer can often be completed within several weeks. But a trial could take months or years. So plan for some negotiation and resolution time.

Government Entity Involvement

Deadlines for filing claims against government institutions are generally substantially shorter than the normal statute of limitations in almost any jurisdiction. In California, you have six months. Nevertheless, despite these narrow timelines for filing a claim, the process of actually negotiating a settlement with a government entity can last several months or even a year or more.

Legal Expertise

If you go it alone without a lawyer, it will probably take longer. An experienced personal injury attorney whose goals are aligned with yours will have a solid understanding of all the processes involved in your particular case and can be expected to orchestrate the quickest possible resolution.

At Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers, we’re personal injury traffic accident experts and we love to help California people! If you’re wondering what to do after a personal injury accident, we’re here as a resource. Contact us for a free initial consultation to discuss your situation and whether we’re the right fit for you.

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