Succeeding with a personal injury claim following a car crash in Virginia requires showing that the other driver was completely at fault for causing the collision. The injured victim must also document that their injuries were severe enough to require medical treatment and, usually, keep them out of work or school for some period.
Gathering evidence from the scene of the crash, going to the emergency room and complying with doctors’ orders help. Here are some tips for how to do those things that are based on my nearly four decades of advising and representing car crash victims throughout Virginia.
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Collecting Evidence at the Scene
These recommendations should only be implemented when doing so will not put a person at risk for further injury. Witnesses and passengers can take these steps when a driver is too injured to do so.
Call 911 Immediately
Virginia law requires the notification of police and emergency medical personnel any time a crash occurs on a public road or highway. Calling 911 satisfies that requirement, ensures EMTs or paramedics will arrive, and brings law enforcement to the scene to begin conducting an official investigation.
Stay With Any Injured People Until Police and EMTs Arrive
Virginia has a Good Samaritan law that protects untrained individuals from lawsuits for providing first aid following a car crash. Additionally, anyone who was in a vehicle that was involved in a crash can be charged with a hit-and-run offense if they leave the scene before speaking with police.
If possible, take down witnesses’ names and contact information (e.g., addresses, phone numbers, email addresses). A personal injury attorney can follow up with witnesses to clarify information in the police report and, possibly, contradict the version of events being pushed by the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
Scan the Area for Surveillance Cameras
Many businesses and houses are equipped with cameras that would record a collision. That footage can be requested (sometimes with a subpoena), reviewed and submitted as evidence. Be aware, though, that obtaining surveillance camera footage almost always requires quick action by a lawyer. Many businesses erase or record over surveillance tapes after a day or every 72 hours.
Use Your Phone to Take Pictures of the Vehicles and the Crash Scene in General
Doing this documents property damage to the cars while preserving images that convey the force of the collision and the angle at which the vehicles collided. Try to capture images shots that show items such as bushes that may have obstructed a driver’s vision, damage to the pavement, skid marks, the distance vehicles traveled after colliding, and all relevant traffic control devices (e.g., traffic lights, stop signs, pavement markings, lane lines).
Look Inside the At-Fault Driver’s Car
Never enter a crashed car except to rescue an occupant. But do, if you get a chance, look through the windows for a dropped phone, open container of alcohol, drug paraphernalia or half-eaten food. Distracted or impaired drivers cause many serious wrecks.
Seeking Treatment and Following Doctors’ Orders
Notify Your Own Insurance Company as Soon as Possible
Wait until you return home. You can also have a family member handle this if you wind up hospitalized. The ting to know is that your auto insurance policy almost definitely requires you to notify the company even when someone else crashes into you. Failing to contact your insurer can nullify certain coverage provisions. Plus, you may be able to access coverage immediately through your own policy while claims against the at-fault driver’s insurance move forward.
Keep All Your Medical and Therapy Appointments
Fill prescriptions, use recommended medical devices such as a cane or brace, and stick with at-home rehabilitation programs. The at-fault driver’s insurance company will try to use evidence that you failed to fully comply with a treatment plan as “proof” that you never suffered serious injuries or needed to miss work or school. The insurer may go so far as to monitor your social media accounts and hire a private investigator to monitor your day-to-day activities.
Seek Competent, Reliable Legal Advice
The at-fault driver’s insurance company may contact you within hours or days of the crash to discourage you from filing a claim or to pressure you into making a recorded statement that could be used against you later. Your own call should go to an experienced Virginia personal injury attorney who can offer advice on your legal rights and options, as well as take over communications with the insurer.