Car wrecks can be traumatic. Folks involved in a crash can be faced with a bewildering set of problems, and often a lawsuit is the last thing on their mind. However, some early attention to a potential personal injury claim is usually worth the effort. Here are five actions that an injured person can take to maximize the value of a personal injury claim:
1. Get necessary medical treatment and follow all medical instructions.
This may seem obvious, but it can be tempting to try and tough it out, avoiding expensive co-pays and time-consuming medical visits. This is a terrible idea! Your goal should always be to try and get back to 100% health. Your best bet to do this is to follow medical advice. Even if you are not sure that you need to go to the hospital, it's best to get thoroughly checked out. Some symptoms may not materialize for weeks or even months after a wreck- if this happens you should make sure your treatment professional is aware of the wreck because it may affect the approach to treatment. Having a full and clear view of the injuries suffered in a car crash is probably the #1 important factor in securing adequate compensation for your injuries. "Toughing it out" will often cloud the picture regarding the injuries and make full and fair compensation more difficult to obtain. Remember, not only must an injured party prove the nature and extent of their injuries, they must also establish that their injuries were the result of the wreck. In the case of pre-existing injuries, the injured party must prove that those injuries were "significantly aggravated" by the wreck.
By obtaining early and complete medical treatment, you can make sure that a clear picture of your injuries is developed, and give your treating physician and staff the opportunity to make an accurate determination of causation. Another reason to make sure you follow all medical advice is the requirement under North Carolina personal injury law that an injured person "mitigate" their damages, meaning they must do everything reasonably possible to recover. This makes sense: an injured person shouldn't claim that a car accident caused their ongoing pain if they blew off the physical therapy their doctor prescribed. Both for physical well-being and any legal personal injury claim, it doesn't pay to "tough it out"!
2. Preserve evidence.
Evidence is key when determining the value of a personal injury case. At trial, a jury will review the evidence and make certain factual determinations. Before that, an insurance adjuster will consider the strength of the case in deciding whether to make a reasonable offer of settlement. In anticipation of these considerations, it is best to preserve as much evidence as possible for your attorney's review and possible use in making a strong settlement demand or argument to a jury.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Photographs of a catastrophic car wreck can be extremely compelling for a jury trying to determine the nature and extent of injuries suffered in a wreck. Twisted metal means injured people. Similarly, photos of injuries can help tell a compelling story that justifies a jury award. Even if pictures can't be taken at the scene it can be possible to get later pictures of a wrecked car. Also, a series of pictures depicting the different stages of healing can be illustrative and helpful. Of course, many injuries can't be accurately depicted by photographs, but to the extent that they are, they can be very useful. Other evidence that might need to be preserved includes names and contact information for witnesses who might be helpful.
Medical records contain evidence, also. It is important to remind treating medical professionals that the wreck happened, and that the symptom you are treating (for instance pain in your right shoulder) began after the wreck. Sometimes pain that is a result of an injury does not manifest for weeks or months- it is important that a physician be aware of past trauma so they can properly evaluate an injury. It is also helpful to see references to a wreck in the medical records. Two years later when the doctor is asked about the injuries, it is likely that they will not have specific memory and will be forced to rely upon their past records; certainly the insurance company will rely upon those records when making an early assessment of their financial liability.
3. Keep records.
The value of a personal injury claim may be significantly enhanced by diligent record keeping. This means keeping track of expenses related to injuries, keeping track of specifics of missed opportunities, detailed tracking of specific pain levels and activities, and any other factors that might be relevant to the injuries whether physical, financial, or mental/emotional. For injured folks with ongoing pain issues, it is often helpful to keep a "pain diary." This record can be very important and helpful when, years later, the injured party is asked to recount the details of the pain and suffering that resulted from a car wreck. Having a record of the specifics is invaluable for creating a compelling narrative that can convince an insurance company or jury that the pain and suffering, which can be difficult to prove, is real and must be compensated. A "pain diary" with details regarding dates, activities, levels of pain experienced, and effects of the pain (such as work or other opportunities missed) can be priceless to refresh details long after specific memories have faded.
4. Be patient.
A personal injury case can take time to develop. While it is a good idea to speak to an attorney early, it is important to be patient with a settlement. In the case of serious injuries, it can take several months or even years of treatment to determine the nature and extent of the injuries and the prognosis for full recovery. Sometimes treatment is ongoing when the (3 years in North Carolina) statute of limitations is approaching. There are plenty of firms with big advertising budgets that seek to "churn and burn" cases, making a financial decision to process and settle a case as quickly as possible, but this approach can often leave money on the table. The best approach to a personal injury case requires patience as well as diligent record-keeping and treatment followup.
5. Talk to an experienced personal injury attorney early.
An early consultation with an experienced and knowledgeable personal injury attorney can be invaluable in helping an injured person avoid some common pitfalls in a car wreck case. There is no substitute for a face to face meeting to discuss the specifics of the individual wreck, injuries, and medical treatment. In the case of very serious injuries, obviously, such a consultation can wait. The most important goal for anybody hurt in a car crash should be a full and total medical recovery. No amount of money can compensate a person for prolonged pain. However, for a person facing the real possibility of a painful foreseeable future, it can be very helpful to meet with a lawyer as soon as they are physically able to make sure that they are doing everything possible to preserve and maximize their claim.
Our firm has years of experience helping injured people. We cover the entire state of North Carolina. Like most firms who do this kind of work, we provide free consultations to folks who are injured in a car crash that was not their fault. Give us a call at (919) 828-1456 or use our contact form in the sidebar to schedule a personal consultation with a personal injury lawyer at our downtown Raleigh office. If you are too hurt to travel, we will often agree to meet with you at your home or a place convenient to you.