AUTO ACCIDENTS IN KENTUCKY AND OHIO: WHAT TO DO BEFORE AND AFTER AN AUTO ACCIDENT.
This blog is part of a two-part series of blogs that deal with auto accidents, car wrecks, personal injury claims, and truck accident claims, in both Ohio and Kentucky. Of course, we will always say “CALL AN ATTORNEY IMMEDIATELY,” but let’s face it: you have to deal with the immediate emergencies before you even get to that point. And, you need to be educated on the whole process of how claims work.
First, we will deal with what to do in the event of an accident.
What to do and What Not to do:
The first thing you want to do is triage your accident, and not just the people! Here are the steps:
Don’t panic!!! Keep your composure and assess the situation. Are you injured? Check everyone in your vehicle for their injuries. If there are injuries, don’t move anyone and keep seatbelts on.
Get Help! If you have a cell phone, call 911, the police, or whatever emergency service is available. Let them know there has been an accident and that someone is injured. Going back to triage, limit your conversation with 911 and the other driver(s) and witnesses. This is important. Do not discuss how the accident happened or who is at fault. The call with emergency services is most likely recorded. Issues can develop later regarding any inconsistent statements on how the accident occurred if you accidentally make a misstatement. Those accidental misstatements will be hard to correct, especially if recorded by 911, or the other driver(s), for that matter. Just limit the discussion to what the emergency is: Someone is injured; you need help, your location; there was an accident; and send the police and an ambulance. If the police arrive, certainly explain the accident to them, just refrain from doing it on a 911 call. Whatever you do, do not admit fault.
Safety! You should stay in the vehicle until help arrives or until you determine it is safe to exit the vehicle. However, be careful! If you are on a highway or busy road, other vehicles may come along and be distracted by the accident scene or not see the accident at all. Many people have been injured or even killed when a vehicle strikes them after the accident has occurred. Slippery conditions could cause subsequent accidents. And so can visibility. So if it is raining or snowing, or if it is night time, that can increase the danger of being outside your vehicle. The safest place is usually your vehicle and still wearing your seatbelt. You may check on the occupants of the other vehicle to see if they are injured as well. Do not talk about fault or how the accident happened or who was at fault. Tell them help is on the way. If the other driver tries to point the finger at you, remain calm and do not respond or get into an argument.
The accident scene. Police or no police, observe everything. Not every accident requires an ambulance or a police officer to respond. So, regardless if there is a responding officer or ambulance, there are things to take note of. Observe your surroundings. Look at where vehicles are located, witnesses, skid marks, landmarks, street or highway signs and/or markers. Sometimes, you have to move your vehicle to the side of the road so as not to impede traffic. If the accident is not serious, it’s often required to move your vehicle to the side of the road. Do not do that if there are injuries, and you may not be able to move the vehicle if the cars are severely damaged.
If at all possible, take photos of the scene. Capture the vehicles, landmarks, skid marks, interior and exterior damages. Take photos of the other vehicle(s) as well. If you have to move your vehicle to the side of the road, this can disturb the accident scene. If there are any witnesses who stopped, take a photo of their license plate, and then get their name and contact information. Be careful of taking photos and offending the other driver and witnesses. You will have to feel out whether taking photos is possible because some people don’t want their photo taken, and you may make a bad situation worse. If there are police there, they will more than likely do this for you. You can still talk with the witnesses and ask what they saw. Try to take notes of what they say and get a phone number if possible. Don’t be pushy or insist on taking a bunch of photos, just accumulate as much information and evidence as possible without making the situation worse. Make sure you get the name of the police officer and what police department he/she is with. You will need your accident report later on.
Of course, if you are injured and being taken in an ambulance, you will not be able to do any of this. Do not worry though. If that is the case, the officer usually conducts a more thorough accident scene investigation. If there is no officer responding, you must get the contact information and insurance information of the other driver. Ask to see their driver’s license and insurance policy and you should do the same for them. Do not become angry if they do not have an insurance policy. (See our blog: Auto Accidents in Kentucky and Ohio: the Basic Law and Insurance Law). Again, do not assess blame, and do not admit fault. Above all else, make sure you and the occupants of your vehicle are being treated for injuries and are safe from further harm.
After the accident. By now, you have either been transported in an ambulance, the officer has completed his/her investigation, or you have taken down the other driver’s information. Make sure you know where your vehicle is being taken if it is towed. If the vehicle is drivable, then go directly to your destination or home so that you can deal with the rest of the issues to come. The car may break down, and you do not want to be stranded. Even if you haven’t been transported by an ambulance, you may still need to go see a doctor. You have a duty to “mitigate” (i.e. alleviate, diminish, lessen) your injuries and damages. If you feel you are injured, go see a doctor as soon as possible. You’ll want to see your primary care physician, either after the ER, or on a first visit if you feel you are injured.
Medical Care. Be careful with chiropractors, especially ones that call you the day after the accident. Some, but not all, can run up a bill and chiropractic care is frowned upon by insurers and juries alike. Chiropractors can be helpful, but see a regular doctor first, preferably, your regular physician. Statistics show that pain and suffering awards are drastically lower for chiropractic-only care. Take notes while you are at the doctor. Know your diagnosis, get referrals out to specialists; the doctor may refer you out to physical therapy, and maybe even a chiropractor, some of which offer physical therapy. Regardless, let the doctor do the recommendations, because all your treatment must be related to the accident, and must be necessary. Keep track of all of your expenses, lost time at work, medications and prescription costs, and any other out of pocket expenses you incur, etc. You will need this for any subsequent settlement negotiation or lawsuit.
In Kentucky with Personal Injury Protection (also known as PIP/BRB, or Basic Reparations Benefits), or in Ohio with Medical Payments Coverage (which is the same as Kentucky’s PIP but not mandated by law) medical bills should go directly to the auto insurance company AND not your health insurer. That’s important, as I will discuss in another blog called Auto Accidents in Kentucky and Ohio: the Basic Law and Insurance Law, because those coverages actually pay for your medical expenses in the event of an auto accident. The basic damages you are trying to recover are pain and suffering, which is usually based on the value of your medical expenses. I will explain that in
Contact a Lawyer. Last, contact a lawyer. Be wary of the letters you will get in the mail from lawyers, and they will come, especially in Ohio. I have even received some. You can of course contact our firm, or do some research online, or ask a friend who knows a lawyer. Check out the lawyer’s credentials and check for any bar complaints/discipline either on the KBA website or the Ohio Supreme Court’s website. You will need a lawyer because the issues will become complex and a lawyer can help you determine what the best options are. The hard stuff comes after the accident, where fault is being determined and what your injuries/damages are. If your damages are not that high or you are not injured at all, maybe you don’t need a lawyer. Not all lawyers are evil, and most will give you an honest assessment of whether you have a case or not. I would recommend calling a lawyer before you speak with your insurance company or the other driver’s insurance company. Both will attempt to call you and take a recorded statement, and both will attempt to settle the case early. If all of the above has already occurred and you have not talked with an attorney yet, it is not too late. Even if it is a year after the accident, an attorney may be able to help you. And that’s why you should talk with an attorney on the front end, so you don’t have problems a year later.