Car accidents affect all of us. If you haven’t had a car crash yet, you may yet have one in the future, and you are almost certainly paying for car insurance right now — just in case you do have an accident someday. Car crashes are always unexpected and traumatic. It’s hard to prepare for them because you don’t know how they will affect you. But these notes from our show on WRLR 98.3 FM called “Everyday Law,” now available as a podcast on iTunes, on the topic of “Car Accidents” may help you know what to anticipate, should you have a car crash.
We are going to start with the trauma of the impact; followed by the questions you probably have in the immediate aftermath of the car crash; then we will discuss what the police do when they arrive at the scene; and we will end with how you assess your car insurance and health insurance situation and also your legal standing – either if you got a ticket or were injured.
The Trauma of the Impact in a Car Accident
With respect to the impact, there are actually three traumatic impacts occur at the time of an auto accident. The first is car versus car, causing body damage to the vehicles. The second impact is where the driver’s body hits the interior of the car – either pulling against the seat belt, pushing against the steering wheel or air bag, or even hitting the dashboard or windshield — resulting in bodily trauma. The third impact involves the body’s internal organs being jolted in the collision. The third impact is perhaps, least understood. Take the brain, for example. The brain is housed in the skull, floating in cerebral fluid. Because there is some room to move within the skull, 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 hematoma or concussion. This phenomenon is best explained in the video “Understanding Car Crashes: When Physics Meets Biology.”
A car accident can shake you up emotionally. You may experience an adrenaline rush or feel as if time has slowed down. Because these effects are so common after a car crash, 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. Often, people will believe that refusing treatment at the scene ruins their personal injury claim. However, it is so common for pain to surface the next day, after an accident, that, the claim is still good, even if you treat the next day, instead of at the scene, once this adrenaline rush has worn off. It is always a good idea to “get checked out”, if you feel pain the next day, whether at an emergency room or at their primary care physician’s office. This is important both for your health as well as for any potential claim.
The Immediate Aftermath of a Car Accident
The most immediate question for you when you are involved in a car accident is “What do I do?” Should I get out of the car? Should I stay in the car? Should I call the police? Should I talk to the other driver? Should we try to work out this situation between ourselves?
First, 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 an 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.
The Police at the Scene of an 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.
The Next Day After the Accident – Assessing Your Car Insurance, Health Insurance and Legal Situation
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, a driver may have felt little or no pain immediately after the accident. However, the day after, you 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 quickly, within a day or two of an accident, or a driver has not followed the advice of the doctor, 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.
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 the 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? This is really your decision and depends upon your relationship with your own insurance company and the funds you have available to pay the deductible.
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. The other drivers insurance does not pay as you go. Only 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. However, 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.
Your Legal Situation
Finally, you need to assess your legal situation. For example, were tickets issued? Did you suffer an injury, such that you might need a personal injury attorney?
As an aside, with respect to the ticket, 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 and is therefore generally not a witness to the accident (unless the accident occurred right in front of the officer, thus making him or her, a witness with personal knowledge). 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, because you are the only one with personal knowledge of how the accident happened. Conversely, if you are the ticketed driver and show up for the court date, and the other driver does not show up, the ticket will be dismissed because no one else has personal knowledge of that car accident.
Robert Monahan is a lawyer in Gurnee, IL with his own practice in personal injury. He has a radio show on Thursday nights at 7 pm, called “Everyday Law,” on WRLR 98.3 FM, where he tries to demystify the law for the ordinary person. “Everyday Law” can be downloaded as a podcast from iTunes or other various podcatchers. His two websites are www.monahanfirm.com and www.gurneepersonalinjuryattorney.com. He also has two Facebook pages – “Robert A. Monahan, Esq.” and “Everyday Law.”