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Writing down the details is far easier -- and more accurate -- than relying on your memory.

One of the first things you should do after you are injured is write down everything you can about your accident, including details of your injuries and their effect on your daily life. These notes can be very useful two or six or ten months later, when you put together all the important facts into a final demand for compensation. Having notes to remind you of the details of what happened, and what you went through, is both easier and more reliable than counting on your memory.

Get into the habit of taking notes on anything you think might possibly affect your claim and carry it through the entire claims process. Whenever you remember something you had not thought of before -- while you're in the shower, just before you fall asleep, as you're biting into a pastry -- write it down and put it with your other notes. Here are some specific things about which you should make notes.

The Accident

As soon as your head is clear enough, jot down everything you can remember about how the accident happened, beginning with what you were doing and where you were going, the people you were with, the time and weather. Include every detail of what you saw and heard and felt -- twists, blows, and shocks to your body immediately before, during, and right after the accident. Also include anything you remember hearing anyone -- a person involved in the accident or a witness -- say about the accident.

Your Injuries

In the first days following your accident, make daily notes of all pains and discomfort your injuries cause. You may suffer pain, discomfort, anxiety, loss of sleep, or other problems which are not as visible or serious as another injury but for which you should demand additional compensation. If you don't make specific note of them immediately, you may not remember exactly what to include in your demand for settlement weeks or months later. Also, taking notes will make it easier for you later to describe to an insurance company how much and what kind of pain and discomfort you were in.

In addition, writing down your different injuries may help your doctor diagnose you. For example, a relatively small bump on the head or snap of the neck may not seem worth mentioning, but it might help both the doctor and the insurance company understand why a bad back pain developed several weeks after the accident. Also, by telling the doctor or other medical provider about all of your injuries, those injuries become part of your medical records that will provide evidence later that such injuries were caused by the accident.

Economic or Other Losses

You may be entitled to compensation for economic loss and for family, social, educational, or other losses, as well as for pain and suffering. But you will need good documentation. Begin making notes immediately after the accident about anything you have lost because of the accident and your injuries: work hours, job opportunities, meetings, classes, events, family or social gatherings, vacation, or anything else which would have benefited you or which you would have enjoyed but were unable to do because of the accident.

Conversations

Make written notes of the date, time, people involved, and content of every conversation you have about your accident or your claim. In-person or telephone conversations worth noting may include those with any witness, adjuster, or other insurance representative, or with medical personnel.

If you intend to file a claim for your injuries, it's important to notify potential defendants after the accident.

You don't have to know who was at fault for your accident; you must simply think about who might have been at fault. And in the beginning, you don't have to give the people involved, or their insurance companies, any detailed information about the accident or your injuries. All you have to do is notify them that there was an accident at a certain time and place, that you were injured, and that you intend to file a claim.

Determine Who Might Be Responsible

Before you can notify those responsible for an accident of your intention to file a claim, you must decide whom to notify. Notify all those who might be responsible. This usually depends on the type of accident in which you were involved. For example, in a vehicle accident you'll need to notify the drivers of all vehicles involved, the owners of the vehicles, the employers of the driver if the car was on company business, and your own insurance company -- and there may be others, depending on the circumstances each type of accident -- vehicle or slip and fall -- requires you to notify different sorts of people. For more about who to notify, see How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim, by Joseph Matthews (Nolo).

Write Notification Letters

Once you have determined those who might be responsible for your accident, your next step is to write letters telling each of them that the accident happened and that you were injured. You may need to send more than one letter -- for example, one letter to the business where you fell and another to the person who owns the property.

Write a letter of notification even if the others involved have assured you that they will notify their insurance companies. Your notification should be a simple, typed letter giving only basic information and asking for a written response. It should not discuss fault or responsibility, or the extent of your injuries; you will get to those things later on.

For detailed information about what to include in a letter of notification, and sample letters, see How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim, by Joseph Matthews (Nolo).

Don't Delay in Giving Notice

The important thing about giving others notice and starting your claim is to not delay too long. While you need not give notice within any specific number of days following an accident (except for claims against government entities), it is always best to start early, within the first couple of weeks after the accident.

Also note that filing a notice of an injury accident with people or agencies does not obligate you to file a claim against them. But if you do file a claim later, they will not be able to say that the claim has unfairly surprised them.

Act quickly to protect evidence and find witnesses who can help you prove your case to an insurance company.

The first few days immediately following an accident are often the most important for finding and preserving evidence of what happened -- and documenting your injuries. You should take the following steps as soon as you are able.
Return to the Scene

If an accident occurred somewhere other than in your home, return to the scene as soon as possible to locate any evidence and photograph any conditions you believe may have caused or contributed to the accident. You may be amazed to find something you were not aware of when the accident occurred but which may help explain what happened: a worn or torn spot on which you fell, a traffic light that isn't working. And while looking around, you may also find someone who saw what happened, or who knows of other accidents that happened in the same spot.

Take photographs of the accident scene from a number of different angles -- particularly your view of things right before the accident -- to keep a good picture of it in your mind and to give to the insurance company later on to indicate how well prepared you are to get the settlement you deserve. Photograph the scene at the same time of day as your accident occurred, and for vehicle accidents, the same day of the week, to show the appropriate amount of traffic.
Protect Physical Evidence

Who was at fault for an accident is sometimes shown by a piece of "physical" evidence -- something you can see or touch, as opposed to a description of what happened. Examples include a broken stair that caused a fall, the dent in a car showing where it was hit, or an overhanging branch that blocked visibility on a bike path.

In addition, physical evidence can help prove the extent of an injury: Damage to the car can demonstrate how hard a collision was, and torn or bloodied clothing can show your physical injuries dramatically. Try to preserve any physical evidence exactly as it was at the accident. If you can't preserve the actual object, take photographs of it. You can later show your evidence to an insurance company as proof of what happened.
Taking Good Photographs

Here are some tips for preserving evidence with photographs:

Regular photos are better than Polaroids. They usually show greater detail and more accurate light conditions.
   
Take a number of photos from different angles so that you can later pick out the ones that show most clearly whatever it is you want to highlight to the insurance company.
   
Take the photos as soon as possible so that they will accurately represent the condition of the evidence immediately after the accident.
   
To establish the date the photos were taken, ask a friend to both watch you take the pictures and to write a short note stating that he or she observed you taking the pictures on that date. Also, get the film developed immediately and make sure the photo shop indicates the date on the back of the prints, or at least on your receipt.

Locate Witnesses

A witness to an accident can be immensely valuable to you in making your case to an insurance company. Witnesses may be able to describe things about an accident that confirm what you believe happened, backing up your story. And they may provide you with information you were not aware of but which shows how the other person was at fault. Even a witness who did not actually see the accident may have seen you soon after you were injured and can confirm that you were in pain or discomfort. Or, a witness may have heard a statement made by another person involved in the accident indicating that someone other than you was at fault.

However, time is of the essence. If witnesses are not contacted and their information confirmed fairly soon after the accident, what they have to say may be lost. People's memories fade quickly, and soon their recollections may become so fuzzy that they are no longer useful. Also, a witness might no longer be around if you wait too long; people move frequently.
Document Your Injuries

The best ways to preserve evidence of your injuries are by promptly reporting all of them to a doctor or other medical provider, and by photographing any visible marks, cuts, bruises, or swelling, including any casts, splints, bandages, or other devices.

Without an early medical record of all your injuries, and photos if possible, it will be more difficult to later convince an insurance company that you were injured in the ways and to the degree you claim you were. Visible injuries heal and will not look as serious later, and failing to seek immediate treatment can lead an insurance company to believe that your injuries were not so serious, or even that you invented or exaggerated them after the accident.
 

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