Car-Crash-300x225As a private investigator that investigates personal injury claims I get asked on a regular basis, “What do you do after an accident?”  Anyone that has ever been involved in an accident can relate.  Immediately following an accident there is confusion, damage, injuries and trauma.  There will be police officers, insurance companies, other drivers, witnesses, family members all wanting to know what happened and how it happened.  After that there is anxiety and a process for making yourself whole again.  This whirlwind roller coaster ride that you’re on can leave even the most together person feeling confused and unnerved.  Don’t panic. Here are some simple tips to make things go a little smoother.

Gather information at the scene of the accident.

The first few moments after an accident are crucial for gathering information.  Attorneys, investigators and adjusters won’t get the information for hours, days, weeks or months later.  This can create problems for you.  Your recollection of events can change over time because of the way you try to rationalize what happened.  You forget witness information, weather conditions, traffic light cycle, etc.  That is why gathering information is one of the most crucial stages in dealing with the aftermath of an accident.  Here is a list of things you want to get:

  • Vehicle Information – Year, make, model, license plate and VIN if possible of all vehicles involved in the accident.  Make a note of the damage each vehicle received.
  • Insurance Information – Colorado requires every person operating a motor vehicle to carry liability insurance.  Get the name of the insurance company, the policy number, the expiration date and the name of the insured.  Surprisingly, the driver may not always be the insured person.
  • Personal Information -  Make a record of the name, address and phone numbers of  drivers and passengers in the vehicles.  Also record any injuries that people may have.
  • Witness Information - Witnesses can be key to supporting your case.  Like with personal information, make sure you get a name, address and phone number for each witness.
  • Environmental Conditions - As soon as possible, document what the traffic lights were doing, what the weather was doing and what the road conditions were.  These contributing factors can mitigate and/or negate your claim.
  • Pictures/Video – We have all heard the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words.  This holds true when dealing with accidents.  Take pictures of the location, the damage to all vehicles and property, and the vehicles in their resting positions after the accident.  Also take pictures of injuries at the time of the accident.  These pictures help tell the story of what happened and provide a visual reference to the actual conditions in the accident.

As you deal with the accident on scene, remember that everything you say has the potential for being recorded and used against you.  Your statements  on scene can have a lasting effect even months or years down the road.  Now that you have collected all of this information what do you do next?

Organize your information for easy recollection.

Many times claims are denied because of inconsistent statements.  You can avoid this by taking the time to organize the information you collected into chronological order with a detailed account of what happened.  This provides you with consistency and reduces the chance that your memory changes the sequence of events.  Why is consistency important?  From this point forward everyone involved with making you whole again will be asking you what happened.  The next question I get asked is who should I talk to?

Who should I talk to about the accident?

When deciding who to talk to about the accident there are a few things you need to ask and answer yourself.  Are you going to let your insurance adjuster handle all aspects of the claim, or are you going to seek restitution through civil litigation?  These are important questions to answer for yourself.  If you are going to let your adjuster handle things then you should talk to them and only them about the accident.  They can act as your mouthpiece when dealing with the other insurance companies.

If you choose to seek recovery through civil litigation then talk to your attorney.  Personal injury attorneys will have a list of approved people for you to speak to.  They may have case managers, paralegals, or investigators such as myself that are approved to speak to you.  Once you retain an attorney any correspondence should be directed to them.  Sometimes you can be your own worst enemy by providing unintended information.  The important thing is to follow the instructions that have been given to you.

Avoid the pitfalls of the information age.

In 2014 it is nearly impossible to find someone that does not have a cellular phone, tablet, pc or some other technological device that keeps them juiced in to the world around them.  Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are just a few of the social networking sites that consume our every moment.  Today we are more connected to the events of our lives than we have ever been before.  These social media sites are bad places to post your accident information.  Once you post information on the internet it is there for all to see.  Anyone with an ounce of technological ability can recover the information.

A few final thoughts.

Accidents are stressful situations that can leave many in a fog wondering what to do.  Keep calm and remember these tips.  You may not have been able to control the accident, but you can control what happens after.  Document the events thoroughly in writing and pictures.  If you were injured take pictures of your injuries and continue to take pictures of them as they heal.  The better organized you are, the more likely you are to receive a favorable outcome.