Personal Injury

Personal Injury Claim Do's and Don'ts

Reviewed By David Goguen, J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law

Do Get Witness Information. To the extent you are able, locate any potential witnesses to your accident. If the witnesses are cooperative, get their names and contact information (email address, phone number). Take careful note of what account others give of what happened. Pay particular attention to what they may say to police or other authorities.

Do Take Pictures. If you have a camera or capable cell phone, take photographs of the accident scene. Be sure to take photographs from different angles and viewpoints, and capture anything at all that might be relevant.

Do Call the Police. In some cases, the at-fault party will encourage you to not call law enforcement. No matter how slight the accident, if you have been injured, you need to do what you can to document what happened, and that includes calling the police. Without an incident or investigative report, you may be at a disadvantage.

Do Get Your Hands on the Police Report. If they come to the scene, law enforcement officers will prepare an incident report that details what happened. Get a copy of any report that is generated and read it. If there are any inaccuracies in that report, you should call them to the attention of your attorney and insurance adjuster.

Do Watch What You Say to the Adjuster. Be aware that the insurance adjuster for the other side will try to get you to make statements against your legal interests. The adjuster will want to record your conversation too, so it is best to seek legal advice before you make any statements.

Do Write Everything Down. After an accident, you should keep a daily diary of your activities and the effects that the accident and your injuries are having on you. Document your medical care too, including treatment dates and any medications taken. You should also document lost wages and incidental costs, such as travel to health care providers, purchase of medications, and rental cars.

Don't Admit Fault. Never admit fault or liability for an accident even if you feel you were responsible. Your subjective remorse for an accident may not coincide at all with the legal definition of fault and your statements could seriously prejudice your case.

Don't Say Too Much. Whenever a surprising event occurs, the first inclination is to talk about what happened. In the case of an accident that could give rise to a personal injury case, however, you should say very little other than seeing to the safety and security of anyone who may be at risk or injured.

Of course, you should cooperate with local enforcement when they arrive at the scene. Give the authorities a complete and accurate account of what happened. Just never admit fault, and don't exaggerate.

Don't Be Discouraged from seeking legal assistance for your personal injury claim, even if the police report assigns blame to you. Police reports are not the final word on who caused or contributed to an accident, and these reports are generally not even admissible at trial.

Don't Give Recorded Statements to insurance adjusters. As noted above, adjusters may attempt to couch their questions in ways that lead you to admissions that could end up being against your legal interests.

Don't Sign Anything. Insurance adjusters will often attempt to have you sign releases of liability. You should never sign a release until you have completed your medical treatment and have reached maximum medical improvement. Your physician must make that assessment. In any case of serious injury, you should never sign a release of liability without talking to a lawyer about your situation.

Don't Discuss Your Case. Other than conversations with your attorney, any communications with third parties about your case may be the subject of subpoena in legal proceedings. So it's wise to refrain from discussing your case with anyone other than your attorney.

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