What to do if you're in an accident:
At the scene of the accident:
- Get out of danger.
- Get immediate medical attention.
- Notify authorities.
- Get contact information from any witnesses.
- Take photos if possible.
After the accident:
- Notify your insurance company.
- Follow up with medical treatment.
- Notify your employer.
- Interview and hire a lawyer.
- File a notice of claim.
What to do at the scene of the accident:Get out of danger. By far the most important thing to do after an accident is to make sure that you and your family are safe.
- If you see or smell smoke or fire get yourself and your family out of the situtation (car, house, train). Be careful not to move anyone with head/neck/back injuries, broken bones or serious bleeding unless absolutely necessary.
- If you're in a car accident, especially on a highway, try to stay in your car and move it off of the road. Standing in an active roadway can result in being hit by a moving car and can cause even worse injuries than the original car accident.
- Put out warning signs, flares, cones if you have them and you can put them out safely.
- Get away from any dangling objects which may fall on you or your family. If people are coming to help you, make sure they're aware of any dangerous conditions such as slippery conditions, unstable floors or falling objects.
Even if you think you're all right, it's a good idea to get checked out at least by the ambulance workers (EMS) at the scene. Let the professionals decide whether you should go to a hospital. If EMS tells you that you should be taken to the hospital, take their advice.
Getting immediate medical attention can make a big difference should you later have a claim or a lawsuit. Insurance companies take advantage of people who see if they will just get better on thier own and decide to go home or back to work. They will later try to argue that you couldn't be hurt if you didn't want to be seen by a doctor.
- Call 911 for all accidents. They will send the Police where necessary (car, sidewalk, assaults) and Emergency Medical Services.
- Notify your employer if you are hurt on the job. This will allow them to clear any immediate dangers and start the process of applying for Workers' Compensation.
- Notify store or building personell if you are hurt in a store or buidling. This will allow them to clear any immediate dangers and record the details of your accident. Try to get the name of any person you speak with and copies of any forms you sign.
Take photos if possible. Nothing can describe a dangerous condition more than a photograph. If someone is with you or a stranger offers to help you, ask them to take photographs. It is best to use a digital or disposable camera, but even cell phone pictures can be vital later on.
What to do after the accident:Notify your insurance company: It has become a popular belief that you should not notify your insurance company when you have an accident to avoid having your insurance rates go up. That is a dangerous belief that can cost you important benefits.
Many insurance companies have "accident forgiveness" programs where at least 1 accident will be ignored. Even where an accident is not ignored by your insurance company, your rates will only go up if the insurance company believes that the accident was your fault. If you do get a rate increase you can dispute this directly with your insurance company and file a complaint with the New York State Department of Insurance.
Immediately notifying your insurance company will preserve the following benefits you may be entitled to:
- No-fault benefits to cover medical bills, lost income and incidental expenses.
- Property damages for your home or car. This may include storage and rental fees.
- Liability protection in the event you are sued. This will include attorney fees.
- Workers' Compensation benefits to cover medical bills, lost income and incidental expenses.
- Death benefits and life insurance policies.
Follow up with medical treatment: You were most likely seen at a hospital emergency room immediately after your accident. The purpose of an emergency room is to make sure that you are not in immediate medical danger and not to fully diagnose and treat you. ER's have a popular acronyn "GOMER" which stands for "Get out of my ER." What that means is that once they determine that you are not in immediate medical danger they want to get you out of the ER and have you follow up with private doctors.
To make sure that your medical condition is thoroughly diagnosed so that you can get the proper treatment, it is vital that you follow up with the proper specialists after being released from the hospital. They will likely order more specific tests and give you a complete treatment plan.
Insurance Companies will look to take advantage of your failure to follow up with medical treatment. They will later try to argue that you couldn't be hurt if you didn't follow up with your treatment. For car accidents, they are likely to use your lack of medical follow up to completely deny your no-fault benefits (including lost earnings).
Notify your employer: Your accident can cause many changes in your life. Protecting your job and benefits will help you to deal with the other changes more easily. Notifying your employer about your accident and how long it will be until you can return to work are the first steps in protecting your job and benefits.
As soon as your employer is notified, they can start the process for getting you covered under Workers' Compensation if it is a job-related accident or NYS Disability if it is not job-related. Your employer (or their insurance company) is likely to require confirmation from your doctor that you cannot return to work. You will also need their help in confirming your employment information to recover lost earning under No-fault.
Interview and hire a lawyer: The sooner you hire your lawyer, the better. The lawyer will help you with notifying everyone that should be notified and start the investigation process. In many cases, early investigation is crucial to successfully settling or trying your case. Because conditions can change quickly, your lawyer may need to get photographs of the scene or have it viewed by appropriate experts, such as engineers, as soon after the accident as possible.
While you should hire your lawyer quickly, it should not be a snap decision. Take the time to interview a few lawyers to find the one you are most comfortable with. Not every lawyer is right for every case and not every case is right for every lawyer. The lawyer/client relationship in accident cases is a partnership which may last for several years. The time you put in now into how you hire your lawyer will pay off throughout your case.
File a notice of claim: If there is even a possibility that you will be making any type of claim against a municipality you must file a notice of claim within 90 days of the accident. Municipalities include the City of New York and its subdivisions such as the Police Department, Fire Department, Department of Parks and Recreation, as well as any specific Authority such as the Metropolitan Ttransit Authority, New York City Transit Authority, MBSTOA, and any municipal board, such as the Board of Education. There are some companies that do not sound like municipalities but are. For any accident involving real estate, especially apartment houses, you must consider whether or not there is some city control and a Notice to Claim must be filed.
The Notice of Claim is a brief statement about the accident, the claims that you will be making and your injuries. It is a formal document that your lawyer will usually file for you within the 90 days. It must give the municipality not only notice that you may make a claim, but sufficient details as to the location of your accident, how your accident happened and what claims you may make against them so that they can investigate your claim early on.
If you're having difficulty getting an attorney to take your case, you must still file a notice of claim within 90 days. You can use the Notice of Claim form or you can call the municipality or 311 to get a copy of the form and information on who to file it with. The Notice of Claim does not start a lawsuit, it only preserves your right to start a lawsuit at a later time.
After you file the Notice of Claim, the municipality is entitled to have a "hearing" which is similar to a deposition. A representative of the municipality, which is not always a lawyer, has the right to ask you questions under oath. The questions and answers will be recorded in a transcript, which can be used against you if you decide to sue later on. The municipality can also insist that you be examined by a doctor of their choosing.