In my practice, clients will typically come in for a consultation concerning injuries sustained in a car accident more than one month after the accident has occurred. In general, it is after this time that people realize that they have sustained personal injuries which warrant a visit to an attorney for advice. However, what a person does or does not do in the first 30 days after a motor vehicle accident may have a significant impact on their ability to bring a lawsuit in the future.
First and foremost, it is important that individuals involved in motor vehicle accidents report their accident to the local police or proper authorities to ensure that there is a record of the accident and to obtain the other drivers’ information. In fact, N.J.S.A 39:4-130 specifically requires that any motor vehicle accident in which a person is injured or in which the property damage is greater than $500.00 be reported to the local police department. Often times clients will tell me that they and the other driver decided not to report the accident to the police in order to avoid having to “put it through” their insurance. In these instances, the other driver may attempt to deny that the accident even occurred. Thus it is important that the accident be reported promptly-especially where significant property damage or personal injuries are involved.
Second, it is important to know that any and all medical treatment that is required as a result of injuries sustained in a car accident be paid for by the applicable motor vehicle insurance policy as opposed to a health insurance policy. New Jersey law provides that automobile policies of insurance provide Personal Injury Protection coverage (PIP) to allow for those injured in motor vehicle accidents to receive proper medical treatment. If such medical bills are paid for by health insurance as opposed to automobile insurance, issues may arise in the future concerning the potential need to repay the health insurance company for any benefits paid. Thus, when visiting an emergency room or physician for treatment related to a car accident, you should provide them with your automobile insurance policy information.
Third, with regard to damages to your vehicle, you should obtain a copy of the police report as soon as possible (typically police departments will be able to provide same within a few days) for purposes of identifying the other drivers’ insurance company. Once the insurance company is identified, they should be contacted and advised that your vehicle sustained damage due to the negligence of their driver. However, when speaking to the other insurance company, no statements should be given concerning how the accident occurred or the nature and extent of any injuries suffered. Instead, you should only provide them with a copy of the police report to show them how the accident happened. If you provide the other insurance company with a statement, that statement may be used against you in any future litigation (including traffic court) concerning the accident.
Finally, any and all “evidence” should be recorded and maintained in the event a lawsuit arises. For instance, photographs should immediately be taken of the damage to your vehicle as well as the other vehicle if possible. Additionally, photographs of any injuries sustained (bruises, cuts, scrapes, abrasions, casts and bandages) should also be taken. If anyone approaches you at the scene of the accident you should take down their contact information for potential future use.
If you are aware of these issues and comply with the actions suggested, it will make it easier for you and your attorney to properly and efficiently pursue any claims against the other drivers. However, your failure to abide by all or some of the suggestions, your failure to do so may make any claims much more difficult to pursue.
Of course, if you have any questions concerning the above, please do not hesitate to contact our office for a consultation.