In “Car Accidents” we discussed the trauma of an accident at impact; the immediate aftermath; what happens when the police arrive at the scene; and how to assess your situation with respect to health insurance, car insurance and legal proceedings.
Car accidents are an event that many, if not most, people have experienced in their lifetime. It is an unexpected and traumatic occurrence that no one can really prepare for. However, these observations below may be helpful in dealing with a car accident if you should ever become involved in one.
Three traumatic impacts occur at the time of an auto accident; the impact where car hits car or the property damage, the impact where the driver’s body hits the interior of the car resulting in bodily trauma and the third impact of the body’s internal organs being jolted in the collision. The third impact is perhaps, least understood but can best be explained by the example of what can happen to the brain during the impact of a car accident. The impact of the collision thrusts the brain forward and backward in the skull, hitting the front and the back of the skull, resulting in a concussion.
Besides the physical impact of the car accident, the psychological state of a person after the collision should be considered. The emotional and psychological reaction to an accident can be varied but many people experience an adrenaline rush, feel shaken up or feel as if time has slowed down. Because an adrenaline rush is so common after such a stressful event, many people do not experience any physical pain in the immediate aftermath of the accident. Accordingly, they may refuse medical treatment at the scene of the accident. However, once this adrenaline rush has worn off, or even the next day, the person involved in an accident may then have pain or soreness. If that is the case, it is always a good idea to “get checked out”, whether at an emergency room or at their primary care physician’s office. This is important both for the health of the individual as well as for the benefit of any potential claim, as will be discussed later in this article.
The most immediate question for those involved in a car accident is “What do I do?” Should I get out of the car, stay in the car, call the police, talk to the other driver and try to work out this situation between ourselves? You should call the police. If it is a more serious accident, they will be coming anyway. However, even in a more minor situation where it might seem unnecessary to get the police involved, it is best to call the police as the police can assess the situation with a professional and experienced eye. A younger and more unexperienced driver who is persuaded to just “work this out between ourselves”, might be taken advantage of by a more experienced, unscrupulous driver. Additionally, if the police are not called, there is the potential that the one driver might later go to the police to the report the accident and the other driver could be cited for leaving the scene of the accident.
What will the police do at the scene of an accident? They will assess the scene, determine if there are injuries and property damage, obtain contact information for those involved in the accident and determine who is at fault and issue tickets. The police officer responding to the accident will use his or her experience, training and judgment to gather this information which will be put together in a report called an Illinois Traffic Crash Report.
What happens after the accident? After the accident has been reported and the police and any emergency responders have done their jobs, the driver must consider their injuries, health insurance, auto insurance and their legal situation.
As alluded to earlier, because of the adrenaline rush experienced at the time of the accident, a driver may have felt little or no pain at that time. However, the day after such an event, the driver in an accident may wake up stiff and sore. It is very important to obtain medical care at that time, if a person has not already done so, for two reasons. First, the sooner you can be assessed and treated for any injuries, the better the outcome for your health and well-being. Secondly, if you do have a claim for your injuries from an accident, it is important that your treatment is conducted in a timely manner and that you follow your doctor’s advice. If treatment is not sought in a timely manner, within a day or two of an accident, or a driver has not followed the advice of the doctor (such as not going to physical therapy as prescribed or following up with a specialist), the other driver’s insurance company will try to deny or limit their liability and your recovery. The insurance company may argue that the gap in treatment between the time of the accident and the time medical treatment was sought indicates that any injury you have was not caused by the accident but by another factor, such as moving furniture. Non-compliance with your treatment can also result in a denial or limitation of any recovery.
Along with medical treatment comes the question of who pays my medical bills if I am not at fault in a car accident? In a personal injury case, you pay your bills initially. At the end of your treatment and claim, you will be reimbursed by the other driver’s insurance company. If you have health insurance, your health insurance will pay your bills initially. Once you receive a settlement from the other driver’s insurance company, some of that settlement money will be used to reimburse your health insurance company for their payments. Another wrinkle regarding the payment of medical bills is Medical Payments or Med Pay from auto insurance. Your own auto insurance may make payments toward your medical treatment. It is important to know if your health insurance requires that any Med Pay needs to be exhausted( or used up ) before your health insurance will make payments for your treatment.
Another consideration in the aftermath of a car accident is the property damage to your car. Do you want to use your own auto insurance to pay for such damage because you trust your insurance agent or would you rather have the at-fault driver’s insurance pick up the tab and avoid paying your deductible?
Finally, you need to assess your legal situation. Were tickets issued? As an aside, it is important to know that though the police officer was on the scene of the accident, the officer came to the scene after the accident occurred and the officer is not a witness to the accident (unless the accident occurred right in front of the officer, thus making him or her, a witness). The police officer has no personal knowledge of the accident as he did not see the accident happen. If tickets are issued, and you as the non-ticketed driver who is not at fault, wants to make the ticket “stick” for the other driver, you must show up on the court date for that other driver. Conversely, if you are the ticketed driver and show up for the court date, and the other driver does not show up for court, the ticket will be dismissed because no one else has personal knowledge of that accident.
Finally, you will need to consider if you need an attorney to represent you in your auto accident. Will a lawsuit need to be filed? Can an attorney help me obtain a better outcome with the other driver’s insurance company than I can do myself?