I was in a car crash – what do I do now?

According to recent CDC reports, each year more than 40,000 people lose their lives and about 2 million people sustain injuries in car crashes. Most drivers will experience at least one accident in their lifetime, and some three or more. In Vermont alone, an estimated 2000-4000 people each year are injured and killed on the state’s roadways.

Being involved in a car accident can be traumatizing both physically and psychologically. Along with suffering injuries, you may also incur lost wages, medical expenses, and other unforeseen challenges caused by someone else’s negligence. But there are steps you can take right away to protect yourself and your potential legal claim. Gathering evidence is crucial, because strong evidence supporting your case significantly increases your odds of recovering fair compensation for your damages.

Call 911

Despite what our criminal defense attorneys might say, this is a situation where you do want to talk to the police.

If you are involved in a vehicle collision, immediately call 911 and request an officer to come out to the scene. When law enforcement arrives, make sure to relay as much information as you can based on your own observations. The chaos of the scene might make it difficult to focus on small details, but try to collect names, contact numbers, and insurance information of any drivers involved in the crash. Also make note of any witnesses at the scene and get their contact information if you can. (Don’t assume the officers will be thorough in their investigation or have an opportunity to interview all of the witnesses.) If you have a smart phone or camera handy, take photos of your injuries, as well as any damage to the vehicles. Also take photos of the scene itself, including any irregularities in the road. If possible, make note of any businesses in the surrounding area, as the crash may have been captured on surveillance video – another piece of evidence that could help your case.

If you are injured, don’t try to take photos or gather information. Your health and safety is the most important thing. But, if possible, ask a friend or family member to take pictures and note witnesses.

Seek Medical Assistance

Seeking medical assistance immediately is important, even if you don’t feel seriously injured right away. Delayed symptoms of injuries following a car accident can include:

  • Headaches

Even if your head was not directly impacted during the crash, you may experience post-traumatic headaches. These headaches can emerge several days after the accident and may indicate serious injuries such as head trauma, brain damage, or blood clots. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience post-traumatic headaches after a car accident.

  • Neck Pain

Neck pain, specifically whiplash, is a common consequence of car accidents. Whiplash often occurs in rear-end collisions where the neck is abruptly forced beyond its normal range of motion. This type of injury can cause mild-to-severe headaches and may persist over time. A medical professional can often identify signs of whiplash before you feel any pain.

  • Back Pain

Delayed back pain can be indicative of various injuries including strains, sprains, muscle or vertebrae damage, or herniated discs. See a doctor as soon as possible after the collision to make sure your back has not been injured.

  • Numbness or Tingling in Extremities

Numbness or tingling in your arms or hands after a car accident could be a sign of damage to your back or spinal column. When a disc ruptures, it can compress the spinal nerves, leading to these sensations. A thorough medical examination, including x-rays, can detect injuries in your back or spinal column.

  • Abdominal Pain

Delayed abdominal pain may indicate internal bleeding, sometimes caused by a cluster of injuries known as “seat belt syndrome.” In some cases, dizziness, fainting, or lightheadedness can accompany the pain. If you experience any abdominal issues after a car accident, seek medical help right away to rule out internal injuries.

  • Heart Attack

People 65 and older may be at a higher risk for a heart attack in the weeks following a car crash. If you feel like you are having a heart attack, communicate your symptoms to medical staff or officers at the scene. In the weeks following the crash, continue to pay close attention to any unusual symptoms and seek medical help immediately if you feel unwell.

Often adrenaline will mask injuries after a wreck. It’s important to follow up with your doctor and make sure all your injuries are documented in the medical record. Insurance adjusters assessing your claim often ignore any injuries that are not properly documented in the medical record.

Consult a Personal Injury Attorney

Don’t accept any settlement offers, give any statements on a recorded line, or sign any documents from insurance companies without first consulting with an attorney. Insurance companies are notorious for taking advantage of car crash victims by pressuring them to accept small settlements. An experienced personal injury lawyer will review the facts of your case and advise you about what steps you should take to best protect your legal rights.

In some cases, it may be possible to handle your claim yourself. An experienced attorney can tell you if that is the case – and advise you what pitfalls to watch out for.

Dont Post on Social Media

Social media has become such an issue in personal injury claims that many attorneys now ask clients not to post on social media for the duration of their claim. Even if you keep your accounts on “private” you should not post on social media if you can avoid it. Almost anything you post can and will be used against you by insurance companies and defense attorneys seeking to undermine your claim.

That said, do not delete anything you have already posted, as this can make you seem dishonest. Just do your best to stay off social media, and if you must go online, keep your posts limited and neutral, and do not post any pictures or locations.

Vermont Laws  

Compensation for injured passengers can cover medical costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, and mental anguish. The statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim in Vermont is three years from the date of the accident, although exceptions may apply depending on the situation.

Under Vermont law, a driver or passenger who did not contribute to the accident is entitled to full compensation. But Vermont is a modified comparative negligence state, meaning if you are partially at fault for your injuries (e.g., if you rode with an intoxicated driver or were partially at fault for the accident), your settlement will be reduced equal to the percentage that you were at fault, up to 49%. If you are found to be 50% or more at fault, you will not be entitled to damages.

Every personal injury case is unique, and there is no average settlement amount for an injured driver or passenger of a car crash. But a knowledgeable personal injury attorney can help you determine the value of your case and guide and defend you throughout the claims process.

If you’ve been in an auto collision and could use some guidance, feel free to call us at 802-479-0568 to discuss your situation. We don’t charge for an initial consult, and we’ll never pressure you to sign up with us.

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