Accident Victims Can Maximize the Compensation They Receive by Following These Five Steps
Like it or not, our system of justice attempts to compensate with money those individuals who suffer injury as the result of the negligent conduct of others. Questions concerning whether this is appropriate or even possible are philosophical, and beyond the scope of this article. If you have been injured due to the fault of another, there are five steps you must take to maximize your recovery.
1. Seek a diagnosis and treatment from a qualified medical professional as soon as possible. This may seem self-evident but many people wait days even weeks before seeking treatment for serious injuries. Most claims for injuries are handled by the agents and employees of insurance companies. Claims that cannot be settled may go to trial. Claims adjustors and juries have one thing in common. They want the accident victim’s injury claims to pass the “smell test.” In other words, the victim’s injury claims need to appear to be reasonable under the circumstances, and supported by a physician’s diagnosis. There must be evidence the treatment prescribed by the doctor was medically necessary.
Prompt diagnosis and treatment by qualified medical professionals maximize recovery by showing the adjustor or the jury that the injury was real, and that the victim is not trying to obtain unjust compensation. The diagnosis of the injury by the physician also is necessary to show the adjustor or the jury that the accident was the legal cause of the injury.
2. Photograph visible trauma signs immediately and over time. If an accident victim suffers lacerations or bruising these injuries are usually clearly visible. Photographs should be taken as soon as practical. Further photographs should be taken to document the healing process, and the amount of time the healing process takes. If surgery is necessary, make sure photos are taken before and after the surgery. Ideally, the photographs should be taken by someone who will be available to give a statement or testify as to when and where the photographs were taken. The victim may take the photographs if he or she is physically capable.
3. Photograph the accident location and obtain contact information for any witnesses. If the injury resulted from a car accident, photograph the automobiles and the accident site if possible. Even if the photographs are not taken on the same date as the accident they are valuable. If the injury resulted from a malfunctioning consumer product, photograph the product. If possible preserve the item in the same condition it was in when the incident occurred. In addition, keep all written instructions, warnings, labels, and packaging that accompanied the item. If you can, try to locate the original sales receipt for the item. If the injury resulted from a slip and fall, photograph the area where the accident took place. Make every effort to obtain the contact information of all witnesses. If possible do not rely on the police report, obtain your own contact information. The police do the best they can, but often names, telephones and addresses set out on the report are inaccurate.
4. Obtain and maintain clear records of missed work and expenses that are the result of the injury. A victim who claims she missed work as a result of an injury must be able to back up the claim with documentary evidence. The accident victim may also be compensated for accident related expenses such drug prescriptions, slings, canes and wheel chairs. However, these expenses must be documented. The burden is on the victim and her attorney to prove the expenses related to the injury.
5. Maintain a diary or log detailing the impact the injury has had on the life of the victim and her family. In serious cases a log describing the daily activities that have been interrupted and the added burdens created by the injury can be very helpful in allowing the adjustor or the jury to understand the severity of injury.
An injury caused by the negligence of another is not a lottery ticket. It is an attempt to compensate the victim, not reward them for being unlucky. The entity (usually an insurance company) that must pay the settlement is not interested in abstract concepts like justice and fairness. It wants to pay as little as possible. Take the steps outlined above and you will maximize the dollar value of the claim.