We never know how we will react to a given event until faced with that reality. Car accidents are a perfect example. Accidents happen every day, yet they are often something we usually think of as happening to someone else. If you have been in a car accident, it’s natural to experience a whirlwind of emotions. These emotions can leave you confused, angry, and completely overwhelmed. But at a time like this, everything you say and everything you do can affect your future.
In South Carolina, if a motor vehicle accident injured you, you have certain rights under the law. These rights may include the right to seek financial compensation from the at-fault party to reimburse you for your accident-related costs. To learn more about your rights and what happens next, contact an experienced South Carolina car accident attorney right away.
Four Steps to Take After a Car Accident
For the past several years, the South Carolina Department of Transportation has compiled a comprehensive database of motor vehicle safety data. Their traffic collision factbook logs injury statistics, fatalities, and the total number of motor vehicle collisions, along with other pertinent information. In its most recent report, the department of transportation concluded there was approximately one traffic collision in the state every 3.7 minutes. In all, there were 2,629 serious injury collisions during that year.
If you were in an accident, protect your rights and take these four steps as soon as you can:
1. Prioritize Your Safety
Accident scenes can be chaotic. Your number one priority should be everyone’s safety. For this reason, it is important to move your vehicle out of the road as soon as possible. This will help prevent a secondary collision. Do not leave the scene of the accident. After all cars are safely out of danger, check on your passengers. If there are any serious injuries, call 911 right away. After you have ensured everyone’s safety in your vehicle, check on the occupants of the other vehicle. Once again, if there are injuries, call for help.
2. Talk to the Other Driver
South Carolina law is very clear about your responsibilities after an accident, regardless of who was at fault. After you check for injuries, the next thing you should do is exchange information with the other driver. Not only is this the law, but doing so can help protect you if you are injured.
This information should include:
- The driver’s full legal name;
- The driver’s phone number;
- The driver’s address;
- The name of the driver’s insurance policy and contact information;
- The policyholder’s name; and
- The policy number.
One of the easiest ways to collect this information is to take a picture of the other driver’s license and insurance card. Be sure to include a picture of the front and back. It is also a good idea to store the driver’s contact data in your phone so this information doesn’t get lost. Limit any conversation to the exchange of this information. Do not apologize or acknowledge any fault for the accident. The other party may attempt to use these statements as an admission of guilt later on.
3. Evaluate the Scene and Gather Evidence (Safely)
Under the law, you do not have to call the police to the scene if there are no serious injuries. However, if there are any injuries at all or property damage exceeds $1,000, you will need to make a police report. You will need to file a report within 15 days of the accident.
In these circumstances, call the police:
- If the accident caused severe vehicle or property damage;
- If one or more vehicles needs a tow;
- If the other driver is combative; and/or
- If the other driver left the scene.
Whether or not you call the police, if you can safely move around the accident scene, now is a good time to collect evidence. While you may not be sure at the time whether you plan to make a personal injury claim, it is always a good idea to have evidence if you do. Get out your phone and take pictures of the scene. These pictures can serve as evidence in a personal injury case.
Take note of:
- Damage to both vehicles;
- Any property damage, including skid marks, tread marks, or other damage;
- The other driver’s license plate; and
- Identifying landmarks.
If any witnesses stopped to help, be sure to get their contact information. Witness statements can provide critical information in the event the two drivers have different versions of how the accident happened.
4. Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney
If you have ever been in a car accident, your first instinct may be to call your insurance company to make a claim. What most people don’t realize is that the law does not require you to make a claim right away. While the insurance company’s job is to help you pay for your costs after an accident, it is also their job to limit their costs to as little as possible.
One of the best things you can do to protect your rights after an accident is to talk to an experienced car accident attorney. Most attorneys offer a free initial consultation, which means this conversation is at no cost to you. During your consultation, your attorney can advise you on whether you have a good case and the steps you need to take moving forward. Even better—once you hire a lawyer, your attorney will take care of all future communications with the insurance company.
When to Seek Medical Care After an Accident
It’s always a good idea to visit the doctor after a motor vehicle accident. Even if you “feel fine,” shock and adrenaline may be covering up your injury symptoms. While the ultimate decision to seek care is yours, there are a few situations in which you should seek immediate care. These include:
You’re in Pain
Pain is extremely common after motor vehicle accidents. But just because it’s common does not mean it’s normal. Pain after an accident is a sign that something is wrong and should never be ignored. If you are in pain, it may be a sign of an emergency condition.
You Have a Headache
Motor vehicle accidents are one of the most common causes of traumatic brain injuries. A traumatic brain injury can occur when your head hits a part of the vehicle during the accident. Traumatic brain injuries are serious, and in many cases, they are emergency conditions. For this reason, you should always go to the doctor as soon as possible if you experience a headache or you believe you may have hit your head.
Other symptoms of a traumatic brain injury can include:
- Mood changes;
- Loss of consciousness;
- Difficulty concentrating; and/or
- Memory loss.
You Have Sudden Changes in Mobility
If you have difficulty walking or moving your limbs, or have pain when you attempt to move, do not ignore these symptoms. Motor vehicle accidents are the most common cause of spinal cord injuries. What many people don’t know is the symptoms of a spinal cord injury don’t always show up right away. In some cases, your doctor may be able to reduce swelling and prevent permanent paralysis.
That’s why it’s so important to seek emergency medical attention if you experience:
- Extreme neck or back pain;
- Difficulty walking;
- Loss of bowel or bladder control;
- Numbness or tingling; and/or
- Difficulty breathing.
You Don’t Feel Like Yourself
Sometimes the symptoms of an injury aren’t straightforward. You may feel like something is off or you have trouble moving on from the accident. Too often, these are the symptoms accident victims ignore. Your health after an accident is important, and it is important to get the care you need.
Other symptoms that may require medical attention include:
- Mood changes;
- Changes in sleep habits;
- Increased anxiety or depression; and
While these symptoms can indicate a physical condition, they can also signal stress. Car accidents can be traumatic and it’s normal to have difficulty coping. It’s also okay to ask for help.
Steps to Take to Protect Your Rights After an Accident
We must make this very clear—insurance companies are in the business of making money. For that reason, when you open a claim against the other party’s insurance, they will do everything in their power to limit your damages. It’s unfair, but it’s a reality. And there are some things you can do to protect your rights. These include:
Do Not Talk to the Other Party’s Insurance Company
The insurance company’s job is to get information to use against you. When they ask, “How are you doing?” they aren’t just being polite. The insurance adjuster is trying to get you to say you are doing fine, or even worse, “better.” Remember, almost anything you say to the insurance company will be on a recorded line. Once you hire a lawyer, the insurance company cannot contact you directly. That’s why it’s always a good idea to talk to an experienced attorney right away.
Attend Any Follow-Up Appointments
The outcome of your car accident case will rely heavily on your actual damages. What injuries did you sustain and what effect do these injuries have on your quality of life? When you miss appointments, you show the insurance company that your injuries are not as bad as you claim. Try to make it to all of your appointments and attend and visit any specialists your doctor recommends.
Watch What You Say (and Do)
Once again, the insurance company is looking for ways to undermine your story. It is not uncommon for the opposing side to hire a private investigator. They may go through your social media, talk to your friends, or even follow you. This means you have to be careful with what you say or do. This does not mean you can’t go outside and participate in your normal activities.
However, you should:
- Lockdown all social media activity: The first thing you need to do is set any social media accounts to private. Make sure any posts are set to “friends only” and do not accept friend requests from people you do not know. Do not post to any social media accounts until your case concludes or unless your lawyer approves the posts.
- Don’t talk about the accident with anyone: Your friends (or you) may inadvertently tell an investigator information that can damage your case.
- Limit physical activity: Now is not the time to go kayaking or even lift weights at the gym. If someone sees you, it gives the insurance company reason to question the validity of your claim.
Honesty is one of the things that will make or break your car accident case. When you hide information, your attorney may have a hard time arguing your case. This is especially true when it comes to your symptoms. Often, victims will fail to describe symptoms because they feel they are not important. Your car accident case will look at not only your injuries but how these injuries affect your day-to-day life. In the same regard, do not exaggerate your symptoms or hide any previous accidents or injuries.
Get the Guidance You Need
Car accidents are serious and can lead to serious injuries. During a time like this, you need someone by your side who you can trust. Navigating the accident claim process can be difficult, but you don’t have to do it on your own. If you have been in a car accident, the law may entitle you to certain protections. To learn more, contact an experienced South Carolina car accident attorney.