In Georgia, especially in the heavily congested traffic conditions of metro Atlanta, vehicle accidents are an everyday occurrence. Although you may be a very careful and conscientious driver, you can’t control the driving habits of others. Accordingly, sooner or later, you are likely to find yourself a victim of an automobile accident, the result of the negligence of another.
In this article, what you should or should not do if involved in an accident with injuries will be addressed. But first, you should be aware of the elements that must be proven in an injury case. And these same elements are applicable whether the injury is associated with an auto accident, a defective product case, a slip and fall accident, medical malpractice, nursing home negligence, aviation accident, wrongful death action, or other incidents involving injury or death in which someone’s negligence is the sole or a contributing factor. In an accident case, the elements that must be proven include: Duty, Breach of Duty, Causation and Damages. First, the duty element questions whether or not the liable party had a duty to protect you from the harm suffered. Second, did the liable party breach that duty. Third, was that breach of duty the proximate cause of the harm suffered. And finally, what harm have you suffered as a result of the liable party’s breach of duty (i.e., negligence).
Applying these elements to your automobile accident, “Rules of the Road” are designed to protect the community from harm. For example, if you are stopped at a traffic light and someone runs into the rear of your vehicle, more likely than not, the driver that ran into the rear of your vehicle will be charged with “following too closely”, in violation of the Rules of the Road. Accordingly, the liable driver had a duty to protect you from that harm but breached that duty by following too closely. Of course, there are other acts of negligence that may attributed to the liable driver’s actions. The driver could have been texting, reading an e-mail, talking on the phone, or other negligent acts which, if proven, may result in possible punitive damages (e.g., driving under the influence).
Thus, the issue of “Duty” is regulated by the laws of the State. Once an accident occurs, if you are not the cause of the accident, you should always call for a police officer to investigate the accident and write a report. You should not follow the advice of the liable driver if he/she requests that the two of you settle the case without notifying the police. Although the police officer likely did not witness the accident, officers are trained to investigate and help determine the cause of the accident, i.e., whether either driver breached the duty (violated the law). In many instances when the accident victim agrees to settle with the liable driver without notifying law enforcement, the victim is later dismayed to find that the liable driver and his/her insurance company are denying liablity. Accordingly, call the police and report the accident.
Always obtain the name, address, phone number, driver’s license number, insurance company and policy information, tag number, and color, make, and model of the other driver’s vehicle. Also, take photographs of the position of the vehicles (before moving the vehicles, if possible), as well as, the vehicles themselves, especially the damage to both vehicles. With so many mobile phones being equipped with camera and video, this should not be a major problem.
If there are any witnesses, obtain their names and phone numbers at a minimum. If they are willing to provide their addresses and e-mail addresses, obtain them as well.
If you are seriously injured, you may want to request an ambulance. And once the officer arrives, be sure to tell the officer of any injuries you can discern at the moment. If you discern that you have been injured, avoid telling the officer, “I’m alright.” or “I’m not injured.” The officer may ask you, “Are you alright?”. Be careful how you respond. The documentation of your claim has already begun. If you have a mild headache, tell the officer that you have a headache. In the event that you are injured, it’s better that the accident report indicates, for example, “Driver No. 1 complained of headaches.” As opposed to, “Driver No. 1 did not complain of any injuries.” Be truthful as to your discernable injuries. You should also note that, in many cases, the victim does not fully realize the extent of his/her injury and pain until two or three days after the accident. There is an initial period of trauma coupled with anxiety, stress and irritability following an accident.
If you have obtained contact information from any witnesses (if the witnesses have left the scene), give the witness information to the officer. If the witnesses are willing to write a statement, obtain their statements. If there are language barriers, try to have someone on your cellular phone who can communicate with the officer or witnesses.
Write down any statements of the liable driver, such as, “I’m sorry.” or “It was all my fault.” Document those statements and inform the officer.
Because it is difficult to determine the extent of an injury immediately after an accident, in an abundance of caution, you may want to have yourself checked out by an emergency room physician. The emergency room staff will take x-rays to determine whether there are any fractured bones or any other serious injuries.
Contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible. The attorney can obtain the accident report, establish your claim with the responsible party’s insurance company, arrange for a rental car, address the issue of vehicle repairs, and investigate the accident and issues of liability.
If you don’t already have a physician or chiropractor that you have used in the past, the attorney may be able to assist you in obtaining treatment for your injuries. And, once you have had an opportunity to review the accident report, notify your attorney immediately if you notice inaccurate or missing information. The attorney can contact the investigating officer to try to clear up any discrepancies.
During your interview with your attorney, as well as, the treating physician and/or chiropractor, the element of “causation” can be established, i.e., whether the negligence of the liable party was the “proximate cause” of the harm you suffered. If you missed time from work as a result of your injuries, have your attorney request a “Statement of Wages and Employment” from your employer. This document will provide information as to your lost wages, as well as, other necessary information.
From day one, you should keep a journal and document (daily) your pain, discomfort, lack of sleep, irritability, inability to perform your usual daily tasks, as well as, recreational activities. Your journal will be extremely valuable in detailing the extent of your injuries. Be sure to keep your doctor fully informed of ANY PAIN, DISCOMFORT, LACK OF SLEEP, STRESS, ANXIETY, etc., or any other injury-related symptoms that you are experiencing. Your doctor or his/her staff should be sure to document your pain and discomfort. Provide contact information for any witnesses, including but not limited to, co-workers, family members, friends, etc., who can provide sworn affidavits of their observations of you, both before your injuries, as well as, during your recovery.
A detailed journal, detailed medical/chiropractic records, an accurate accident report, photographs of property damage and injuries (if visible), sworn affidavits of witnesses of their observations, as well as, witnesses to the accident will provide your attorney with the ammunition he/she needs to prove the final element, DAMAGES, in order to obtain a maximum settlement or maximum jury verdict on your behalf!
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