When a person is seriously injured in a car accident or motorcycle wreck, he/she is immediately faced with a seemingly endless list of issues and problems. Such issues and problems include obtaining medical treatment; trying to secure a vehicle to drive until his/her vehicle is repaired or replaced; negotiating with the insurance company in an effort to get his/her vehicle repaired or replaced; dealing with medical bills from numerous hospitals or clinics; dealing with a loss of income because he/she is unable to work; and worrying about the possibility of losing his/her job. It is natural to focus on these things—because they affect your day-to-day living, they are often the most pressing. The thought of hiring an attorney is often low on the list of priorities . . . but, if the accident involved serious injuries, maybe it shouldn’t be.
Why should a person involved in an accident consider hiring an attorney promptly? If an attorney is involved soon after an accident, the attorney can take steps to secure evidence important to establishing liability for the accident. Consider the following examples:
- The condition of the vehicles after an accident is often one of the most compelling forms of evidence in a car accident case. Among other things, the damage to the vehicles can reflect the nature of the accident, the vehicles’ orientation at impact, and the force of the impact (which conveys how hard of an impact the occupant(s) sustained). This evidence is preserved by taking detailed photos.
- The scene of the accident also typically contains important evidence. For example, the vehicles may have left skid/tire marks—or in some cases gouges—on the roadway. Such evidence is helpful when analyzing vehicle speeds, vehicle locations, or post-impact movement of the vehicles. An attorney can hire an accident reconstruction expert to preserve this evidence.
- Most newer vehicles contain some type of event data recorder (“EDR”), which is sort of like the “black box” often associated with large airplanes. The EDR is often located in a vehicle’s airbag control module, but can be found in other locations, and typically records significant data in the seconds leading up to the accident. This data can include speed, change in speed, braking, and anti-lock brake activation. This data is obtained by downloading the information from the vehicle after the accident. Needless to say, this information can be critical in proving that the other driver was speeding, etc. However, this data can sometimes be lost if the vehicle continues to be driven or the key is turned in the ignition a certain number of times.
- Sometimes an accident may have been inadvertently recorded by a surveillance camera on a nearby property. If an attorney is involved promptly, he/she can visit the scene in an effort to determine whether there were any surveillance cameras that may have recorded the accident and, if so, try to secure a copy of the recording.
- If someone witnessed the accident, the attorney can attempt to contact the witness and secure his/her account of the accident while the incident is still fresh in the person’s mind.
In addition to preserving such evidence, an attorney can also assist with many of the other issues discussed above, including assisting with gathering medical records, medical bills, and wage loss information for submission to the insurance company and handling any negotiations with the insurance company.
In the days after an accident, the number one thing on the mind of an injured person is recovering from his/her injuries—as it should be. However, while he/she works toward a full recovery and returning to work, days and weeks will pass. During this time, evidence can be lost—vehicles can be shipped to salvage yards, skid/tire marks left on a roadway can disappear, EDR data can be lost forever, and witnesses’ memories can fade. The loss of this evidence can be devastating if the at-fault party or his/her insurance company decides to deny liability. For that reason, if you or a loved one is seriously injured or killed in an accident, consider talking with an attorney sooner rather than later.