In southern California auto accidents and other personal injuries happen around town all the time, in fact, just a few months ago my hubby was in an auto accident and the car was totalled! So keep this post handy…. fellow Mommy Esquire Shannon Lamb provides a concise and practical guide for “What to Do Next?” if you or a loved one finds themselves injured.
Every month, I receive several calls from people who have been hurt in an accident. They are usually scared, and need some help making their way through the legal system. Whether their injuries are minor or catastrophic, these people all want to know one thing – what should they do next? Using common sense is a good strategy, but here are a few things I recommend they consider:
1. If You’re Hurt, Seek Medical Attention Immediately
I often tell my clients they should first be a patient, and then a litigant. If you’re injured, getting better should be the first order of business. Don’t wait for permission from a lawyer (or anyone else) to get medical attention – seek treatment immediately. Delay can make your injuries worse, and, less importantly, can have a negative effect on any legal action you may take.
At your first doctor visit, let your provider know you’ve been in an accident, and truthfully provide whatever detail you can about what happened. Explain your symptoms as accurately and as thoroughly as possible, so you can receive appropriate treatment for your injuries. Keep in mind that notes are being taken for your doctor’s future reference. Sometimes, these notes include a nurse’s or a doctor’s opinions about how you present yourself.
If your doctor recommends follow-up treatments with other providers or prescribes medications, take these recommendations seriously and follow through. If you’re uncomfortable with the recommendations, seek a second opinion. If your pain doesn’t resolve after heeding your doctor’s orders, make another appointment. Otherwise, follow your doctor’s advice to the letter.
By the way, if you have medical insurance, use it. If you don’t have insurance, consider treating with a provider that will provide medical care on a lien basis (you pay the bill when and if you settle your case).
2. Get Organized
A dear family member suffered a catastrophic injury and sought my assistance. Although she complied when I told her to keep all the information about the accident in one place, that one place was in random piles contained within two large boxes. This system was better than nothing, but not much.
The information you keep should be readily accessible. It shouldn’t require you to hunt through piles or track things down. Your efforts should be focused on getting better, not wading through stacks of paperwork. Make it easier on yourself by organizing documents as you receive them. Getting (and staying) organized is much easier to accomplish as you go along.
Keep all your notes and documents about your accident in one location, including the police report, contact information for witnesses and medical providers, medical records, pain journal, and receipts for out-of-pocket costs. Use file folders, not stacks, to separate documents. This will make your life a lot easier. Trust me.
3. Obtain Your Medical and Billing Records
A question often asked by my potential clients is – do I have a case? I can’t even begin to answer this question without first taking a look at their medical records.
Remember that I told you notes were being taken during your doctor visits? These notes and other similar records are very helpful to me in determining whether a potential client has a case. An accurate and complete set of medical records provides an expert’s point-of-view about the cause and extent of injuries, the resulting symptoms, the treatment rendered and recommended, and the prognosis. Billing records provide detailed information about the cost for treatment, as well as a snapshot of the treatment provided. They also give helpful information about any monies paid by your medical insurer.
You’re entitled to your medical records. All you have to do is ask. Some medical offices have a nominal charge for obtaining your records, but it’s worth the cost. Consider getting copies of the following records: ambulance, emergency room, x-rays (reports and films), MRIs (reports and films), treating physicians, physical therapy, and pharmacy.
Detailed billing invoices should be sent to you without asking. As soon you receive one, place a copy in one of your organized folders (don’t forget to pay the bill!).
4. Get a Copy of the Police Report
When a police officer responds to the scene of an accident, he or she will often write a report. This report includes the details of the accident, lists any witnesses, sets forth statements made by parties and witnesses, provides insurance information, and documents the nature and extent of any injuries sustained. It will also contain the officer’s opinion about who was at fault for the accident, and will indicate whether anyone was cited.
All of these things are useful to know. So, if there is a police report concerning your accident, get a copy. Often, your own insurance company will request the report and will provide you with a copy. Otherwise, you should contact the department directly to find out how you can obtain your own copy.
Once you receive the report, you should verify that all of the information contained in it is correct. If appropriate, avail yourself of the procedures for providing corrected or supplemental information to the reporting officer. It’s wise to consult with an attorney before doing so.
A wise person once said “The shortest pencil is better than the longest memory.” The litigation process can be a lengthy one, and so it’s important to document your injuries when they happen. Bruises and scrapes usually heal quickly and it’s hard to remember everything that transpires after an accident.
Have a family member or friend take pictures of any injuries, and consider keeping a pain journal. Write down how you are feeling, where your pain is, what your pain feels like, and note your pain level on a 0 to 10 scale. This journal is also a great place to document disruptions to your daily life, and to keep notes regarding your medical treatment.
If you find yourself being asked what happened six months after the accident, you’ll be happy you took thorough notes.
Shannon Lamb is a partner with the Newport Beach litigation firm of Stephens Friedland LLP. She has negotiated more than 1,000 successful settlements, to include analysis of liability exposure and prediction of appropriate settlement value. Shannon is proud to be AV® rated – her peers rank her at the highest level of professional excellence. She and her husband have been together for nearly 20 years, and married for 13. They are the proud parents of the sweetest sixteen-month-old that ever existed.