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Friday, February 8, 2013

Getting Through a Car Accident

If you've ever been in an vehicle accident, you know that there are any number of things that can make life harder for you in the days that follow. If you've ever been injured because of one, life isn't just harder, it is changed completely.

A few months ago my husband and I were hit by a woman who was driving horizontally across traffic to try and make it through a green turn signal light. Not only was what she was doing illegal, it was also incredibly dangerous since she couldn't see through the lines of cars to whoever was driving on the turn lane. That's where we were at when she hit the side of our vehicle.

Fortunately for us, my husband and I both knew people who had been in accidents before, and we knew what to do to get our car and everything else straightened out in record time. Unfortunately, we'd never gotten any advice on what to do to take care of ourselves physically after an accident, and my health suffered because of it. I was pregnant at the time, and because I am one of those people that doesn't want to take what isn't mine, I passed on going to the hospital for a medical check-up. I didn't want to make the insurance companies pay for something if they didn't have to. That was a big mistake.

Long story short, I had increasingly severe pain in my pelvis and back over the next few weeks, and it took me a while to get it diagnosed since I didn't have a proper healthcare provider at the time. It seemed like such a small accident when it happened, I couldn't believe that something that looked so minor had caused so much trouble! Pregnant women actually are at a higher risk of injury not just because of the delicacy of pregnancy, but also because the the looseness of their muscles can cause serious problems when they are jarred in a crash.

But it doesn't have to be difficult to get the help you need, and you don't have to go to court and fight endlessly for your insurance company to pay for your car repair or anything else. Here's how to make sure that if you are ever in an accident, your only worries are feeling better and arranging your rides to work for a few days:

1. Always keep an unexpired "throw-away" flash camera in your glove compartment, along with a tape measure, pen and yellow wax crayon. Don't rely on your cell-phone to take pictures of the accident for you. Digital photos aren't always accepted in court since they can be altered, but 35 mm film is much harder to argue with! Use the tape measure to make exact measurements, and the crayon to mark surfaces like your car or the roadways with notations before you take your pictures.

2. Print out and always keep a couple copies of a Motor Vehicle Accident Statement of Facts. The first page of the one found here is an excellent example of a statement, and covers all the information your insurance company and/or lawyer will want to know. Make sure to make yourself a copy before you send it off to anyone!

3. As soon as you are in an accident, call 911! Even if no one is seriously injured, request a police officer to come to the scene, especially if the other driver was doing something illegal. Next call your insurance company.

4. Do not admit fault of any sort, even if you were at fault. Let the professionals sort that out. If you allude to fault in the least, the other person may take you to court - even if you weren't really at fault or they were as much to blame as you were!

5. Take a few pictures of the accident scene before you move your vehicles. Take pictures after as well. If you are unable to do this due to injury, ask a nearby witness to do it for you.

6. Take names, addresses and phone numbers for anyone who stops to help, especially if there has been an injury. Their testimony could be invaluable down the road if you end up in court.

7. Fill out the vehicle statement of facts and have the other driver sign it. If they refuse to sign it, have a witness sign the paper if you have one. Don't throw away the statement if you can't get anyone to sign it. This is an excellent piece of evidence with or without a signature since it shows the facts while they are fresh in your mind. It's a lot harder to think back and recall something than you might imagine, especially if your insurance company or a lawyer requests information.

8. If the person in the other vehicle was doing something illegal, request the police officer to ticket them. Some states (Florida included) have no-fault laws for car accidents. This means that if you were in an accident and it truly wasn't your fault, your insurance company can still raise your insurance since "no-fault" pretty much translates into "both-fault". If the other person receives a ticket for doing something illegal though, this weighs heavily against them and the fault is considered to be theirs. Just make sure if you do this that you weren't also doing something illegal or it could backfire if the officer decides to ticket you too!

9. Go to the doctor or hospital within 24 hours to make sure that you are physically okay. I know that this seems like a no-brainer, but many people (like me) insist that they feel fine and don't want to waste anyone's time or money getting checked out. But it is far better to be safe and get a jump-start on any possible health problems than it is to save a tiny portion of the insurance company's money. Besides, you're paying for insurance so that you can take advantage of a free check-up when you get into an accident, don't throw away the opportunity.

As long as you follow the above steps, you should be able to get through a car accident relatively unscathed. Car accidents are terrible for all involved, whether you were the victim or the motorist that perhaps wasn't paying enough attention. No one wants to plan for the worst, but with millions of people finding themselves in vehicle accidents each year, it's one of those things that you've just got to be ready for.