An auto accident can happen in a flash, but its effects may be felt for life. No matter who was at fault (if anyone), if you've been involved in an auto accident you must take immediate action to preserve your own best interests. Here are four professionals who should be among the very first human beings you chat with following your accident.
1. The Police
The first professional you're likely to encounter is the police officer who responds to the accident. Always cooperate with the police and answer any questions put to you -- without volunteering anything further. It's important not to editorialize, cast blame, or assume blame for the incident. It's up to the police and the insurance companies to sift through all the available facts and determine who may have been at fault.
Even if you're sure you know who caused the accident, your perception of it may have been inaccurate. If you are accused of causing the accident, a good auto accident attorney can provide you with the best possible defense based on the facts of the case.
2. The Insurance Company
As soon as you've reported the facts of the accident to the attending police office, take pictures of vehicles involved and the general accident scene. Then take a good hard look at your insurance policy to see what it does and doesn't cover in an accident. You're now prepared to have your second conversation with a professional -- your insurance provider. Just as you did with the police, take a straightforward, honest approach to reporting all the facts to your insurer. If you fail to give a prompt report, you might disqualify yourself for receiving any recompense at all.
It's equally important to know what you shouldn't do in the course of your conversations with the insurance company. First and foremost, don't sign any written release forms without the advance knowledge and approval of your auto accident attorney. You might end up waiving important rights or even the bulk of the money you're entitled to receive for damage to your vehicle. Don't sign off on the insurance company's appraisal estimate without comparing it against an unbiased appraisal from an independent contractor.
3. Your Auto Insurance Attorney
This next conversation will definitely color your interactions with two other professionals mentioned above. If you are sued for damaged by the other party in the accident, you obviously need skilled legal help to advise and represent you in court (or out of court, if a settlement appears to be the wisest option). These experts will help you understand which laws apply to your case and build the strongest possible legal defense. For example, if you can establish that the other party should assume some of the fault, the court may either reduce the amount of damages you have to pay by that percentage of fault ("comparative negligence") or bar the other party from receiving any financial compensation at all ("contributory negligence"), depending on the laws of your state.
If you're suing the other party in the auto accident, your attorney will valuate the various damages to come up with a total dollar figure. The valuation may include tangible damages (vehicle repair costs, medical bills, et cetera) as well as intangible damages (such as physical and/or mental pain and suffering).
4. Your Doctor
Even if you walk away from your auto accident injury without a scratch, you need to have this fourth conversation as soon as reasonably possible, preferably alongside a detailed physical examination and spinal screening. That's because the damage done to the body may not make itself apparent right away through clear symptoms such as pain and stiffness. Musculoskeletal damage may "hide" for quite some time before blossoming into serious health problems. If you don't get the issue diagnosed and treated right away, internal scar tissue may form, making treatment much more difficult.
Speaking of doctors, medical bills can be an immediate and frightening complication of your auto accident. But the other party involved isn't obligated to pay those bills for you unless you have a valid personal injury case against him. If you do, then it's more critical than ever to have a skilled auto accident attorney on your side. Your attorney can employ a number of strategies to prove your case, including the calling of expert witnesses who can testify as to your condition.
Talk to all four of these professionals, go to sites, and you'll be in a much better position to come away from your auto accident in one piece -- physically, legally, and financially. Good luck!