Anyone can be a victim at any time, so it’s important to know what to do if you are involved in a crash. Read on to learn more about what to expect after a car accident and the eight immediate steps you should take.
Most Common Injuries After a Car Crash
One of the most serious consequences of car accidents is the injuries they can cause. In 2019, 2.35 million people were injured or disabled in car accidents.
Injuries from a car crash can be debilitating and affect you for years. Injuries sustained in a car accident can keep you out of work, decrease the quality of your life, and leave you with serious medical debt.
The most common injuries sustained in car accidents include:
This is a very common soft-tissue injury that affects the neck and upper back after a rear-end collision. The force generated by impact pushes a person’s head forward before their chest is restrained by the seat belt. The motorist’s head then snaps back. This forward and back whip-like motion is what gave rise to the name “whiplash.” Some people also suffer whiplash in side-impact collisions, which cause their heads to snap side to side.
Ligaments in the neck and shoulders can be stretched beyond their normal range of motion, leading to constant, debilitating pain. Nerves in the upper back and shoulders can also be impacted.
Minor whiplash can clear up in a matter of weeks and might only require over-the-counter pills to manage pain. However, more serious whiplash can last for more than six months and will require massage and regular physical therapy.
Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI)
A person can suffer a head injury or TBI if they strike their head on the steering wheel or dashboard. Even if they don’t suffer a blow to the head, the whiplash motion can also shake the brain in their skulls, leading to a TBI.
Common symptoms of a TBI include confusion, mood swings, problems with balance and coordination, impaired senses, and compromised speech. Short-term memory can also be affected. As with whiplash, these injuries might clear up with rest and painkillers after a few months. More serious TBIs can require surgery, physical therapy, and antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication. TBIs are serious injuries, so follow your doctor’s advice closely.
As motorists shield themselves after a collision, they can suffer broken bones in their hands, arms, wrists, and face. If they are not wearing a seatbelt, they might also suffer fractured ribs, which can cause a host of complications, including a collapsed lung or damage to their kidneys, spleen, or other internal organs.
Fractures in the face might also cause temporary or permanent disfigurement, which is emotionally scarring. Some people need reconstructive surgery to regain a more “normal” appearance.
Spinal Cord Injuries
The impact of a collision can also damage the spine. A person’s vertebrae might fracture or shatter, which can damage the spinal cord. Many people suffer paralysis in parts of their body below the site of impact. Spinal cord injuries are very difficult to treat and often do not respond to aggressive physical therapy, so some loss of movement or sensation could be permanent.
Will a Pre-Existing Injury Affect My Injury Claim After a Car Accident
The purpose of a car accident lawsuit is to compensate the victim for any injuries and economic losses she has suffered. But what happens if the victim already had a pre-existing injury? For example, a motorist might have sprained her back at work while lifting something heavy. After the car accident, she complains that her back hurts, but is the car accident really to blame?
In short, whether you can receive compensation or how much you can be compensated will depend on several factors.
Has Your Injury Gotten Worse?
Let’s say you hurt your knee while playing football. You then get into a fender bender and your knee slams into the dashboard. Now you feel even more pain.
In this example, you might be able to get compensation because your pre-existing injury has been made even worse. If your knee was no worse after the accident than before, then you can’t receive any money for it. A negligent driver only needs to compensate you for the injuries they have caused.
Assess whether your injury is really worse after the accident. Pain is often a good indicator, as is difficulty moving or using the affected limb. If you feel much worse, then you might have worsened your pre-existing injury.
Can You Prove the Accident Aggravated Your Injury?
It’s one thing to claim you feel more pain, but you really need to prove that the accident caused material damage to your body. Often, this means getting an MRI or other scan that can show additional injury or damage.
Let’s say you had a hairline fracture on your rib before the car accident. Now, after getting T-boned, your rib cleanly breaks in two. In this example, you could present x-rays showing the additional injury that the car accident caused.
Things are more complicated if you have a degenerative illness. For example, you might slowly be going blind. If you struck your head on the steering wheel and are suddenly blinded, it can be hard to establish that the accident is the sole blame. After all, your blindness might just be the natural progression of the degenerative condition. In these instances, it’s best to have documentation from your medical provider for proof of worsened condition.
Determining Compensation When You Have a Pre-Existing Injury
If you can prove that the accident clearly aggravated your pre-existing injury, then you should be able to receive compensation for:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
The amount you can receive will depend on how much worse the accident made your injuries. You might have been rehabbing a knee injury using only a brace and physical therapy. After a car accident, you might need surgery, so the driver should cover the costs of this additional treatment.
8 Steps to Take After a Car Accident
1. Move out of the Road
After an accident, it’s a good idea to get out of the road to avoid further damage to you and your car. If your car is not in working order, at least turn on your hazards lights to alert other drivers that you can’t move out of the way.
2. Stay Put
Don’t leave the accident scene until you have assessed the situation. If another car was involved, check on the occupants to see if anyone needs medical attention. If anyone has suffered serious property damage or injury, call the police and wait for them to arrive so you can file a report. If you take off immediately after the accident, you could face hit and run charges if someone is injured or killed.
3. Exchange Information
After a car accident, you will need to collect as much information as possible for your records and potential claims.
If you’ve been in a car accident, make sure to record the following information for all drivers involved.
- Phone number
- Driver’s license information
- Insurance information
- License plate numbers
If any witnesses were present, get their information as well.
4. Document the Scene
Evidence is the basis for any claim. The evidence you get can be used to show who is at fault for the crash. Unless you are so badly injured that you need an ambulance, you should try to gather as much helpful evidence as possible at the scene.
Be sure to take photos of the damage, any tire tracks, and identifying information such as intersections, road signs, and landmarks. Take notes that show when and where the accident took place.
5. File a Claim with Your Insurance Company
Be sure to let your insurance company know about the accident as soon as possible. Do not lie about what happened. Tell the truth and be sure to inform them if you have any injuries. Show them a copy of your police report, if you have one.
Negotiating with an Insurer
You should report the accident to your own insurance company and the insurance carrier for everyone involved in the crash. Insurers will need to determine liability for the accident. Unless the cause of the accident is clear, insurers might fight between themselves.
You can make an offer to settle the dispute when you reach maximum medical improvement. This is the point in time where you can’t get better even with additional rest or medical care. At that point, the full extent of your losses should be known to you.
We recommend you do not negotiate a settlement on your own. Instead, hire an attorney. You can also receive a fair amount for pain and suffering and other intangible losses, but insurers rarely make fair settlements.
6. Keep Track of Expenses
If you have medical bills, lost wages, or other expenses as a result of the crash, be sure to keep track of them. You will need receipts in order to recover damages from the insurance company.
7. Don’t Admit Guilt
Even a simple “I’m sorry” can be an admission of guilt. While it might seem polite to apologize, it can be used against you and cause you to be held liable for the crash. If questioned about the accident, don’t say anything for the facts. One of the most common personal injury mistakes people make is making recorded statements to their insurance company. This information, however well-intentioned you may be, can be used against you. If an insurance company calls, it’s best to have a lawyer present.
8. Hire a Car Accident Lawyer
A lawyer is a huge benefit when making a car accident claim. A lawyer can make a compelling argument that you did not contribute to the crash, so you are entitled to full reimbursement of your expenses. A lawyer can also help document your pain and suffering to help make sure you’re being adequately compensated.
The expert attorneys at DC Law have helped countless victims make car accident claims, and we want to work with you as well. At DC Law, we will listen to you describe what happened and determine whether you can bring a solid claim. Reach out to us today for a free case evaluation.