After you’ve been injured – whether in an automobile accident, slip-and-fall, or any other incident – there are several steps that you can take to help ensure that your legal claim is preserved to its fullest extent. In the wake of an injury, many plaintiffs are confused, frightened, and anxious. As such, it can be difficult for plaintiffs to figure out what to do, and perhaps most importantly, what not to do.
Seek treatment for your injuries as soon as possible.
Following your injury, do not delay in seeking appropriate medical treatment. Delaying treatment can hurt the overall success of your claim, as it will give the defendant a legitimate reason to doubt the seriousness of your injuries – in other words, the defendant will argue that, because you did not seek appropriate medical treatment soon after the accident, then the injury cannot have been particularly serious. At trial, the defendant will use this information to sow the seeds of distrust, thus de-legitimizing your personal injury claims.
Also, make sure to follow up on your treatment and that you receive total medical care, as is reasonable for the injuries suffered. If you do not seek reasonable medical care for your injuries, the defendant may assert that you did not take proper steps to mitigate your damages. Personal injury plaintiffs must mitigate their damages to the extent possible. A plaintiff cannot injure his back, for example, and then refuse to or forget to see a specialist, thus worsening the condition of his back. Even if the defendant is found liable for your injuries, the defendant will use the mitigation issue to reduce their damages, and will argue that certain physical conditions that the plaintiff is suffering are a result of the plaintiff’s failure to mitigate, rather than as a direct result of the accident.
Keep a personal record of your injuries and of the circumstances surrounding your injuries.
Once you receive medical care for your injuries, make sure to keep copies of the relevant medical records. After the claim is filed and the defendant and their counsel are aware of the lawsuit, you’ll want to assert a realistic estimate of your damages. Proper documentation that reveals the extent and cost of your treatment, as well as any future treatment that you may have to undergo, helps to build an accurate damages demand.
Keeping a personal record of the accident itself is also very helpful, especially to your attorney. A defendant may later attempt to manipulate the facts so as to portray themselves in a better light, or to portray you in a worse light. By keeping a record of the incident – with photos, written notes, etc. – you can establish a fact narrative for you and your attorney to use to help identify when the defendant and their counsel attempt to deviate from the truth.
Keep a personal record of missed work as well as any out-of-pocket costs.
A significant portion of your personal injury damages may be attributable to wage loss from missed work (or alternatively, from your injury forcing you to do less work). Keeping a personal record of any missed or reduced work will help speed up the process for determining your damages from wage loss.
Out-of-pocket costs such as medical co-pay, prescription costs, any reasonable adjustments and investments made to preserve quality-of-life (for example, if you sustained serious leg injuries, resulting in the need for installing ramps in your home to aid wheelchair use) can add up, putting a great deal of financial pressure on you and your family. In California, out-of-pocket costs may be counted towards your damages claim. Do attempt to keep track of even small out-of-pocket expenses, as they can add up to a significant amount over time.
For more information on damages factors in California personal injury claims, please read our article here.
Take down the contact information of any witnesses.
It can be a difficult process for your attorney to identify all the witnesses and to gain their cooperation. To help make this process easier and more straightforward, do try to get the contact information of any nearby witnesses. Witness testimony may bolster the strength of your personal injury claim.
Do not admit fault or make any potentially compromising statements.
As a general rule, it is good practice not to speak with the defendant’s insurance representatives after an accident without the guidance of a qualified personal injury attorney. The defendant’s insurance representatives will converse with you in an attempt to get you to unwittingly admit to fault and shared responsibility for the accident. The defendant’s insurance company may also attempt to have you sign a statement that could negatively affect your personal injury claim. Any contact with the defendant and with their insurance company should be passed through your attorney.
The rules for evidence in California are such that any statements you make can be used against you – in other words, they are admissible in court. California Evidence Code section 1220, for example, states: “Evidence of a statement is not made inadmissible by the hearsay rule when offered against the declarant in an action to which he is a party…”
Do not communicate any information that does not need to be communicated. It may be natural for you to downplay your injuries at the time of the accident (or afterwards, even), but resist the temptation to do so. Do not admit to any fault or mistakes, and do not make any statements indicating that you are “feeling okay.” These statements can be used against you at trial.
Seek effective legal representation as soon as possible to preserve your claim.
The standard statute of limitations in California personal injury actions is two years from the date of injury in suits against private individuals or entities and a mere six months from the date of injury in suits against government employees and entities. Alternatively, if you do not discover your injury until much later, California law provides a safe harbor which grants you a one year statute of limitations period from the date of discovery of the injury – it is thus especially important that you seek medical treatment as soon as possible, so that any and all injuries can be identified early.
If you fail to bring your personal injury claim within the prescribed time limits set by the statute of limitations, then you will no longer be able to bring your claim. Put simply, if you fail to meet the statute of limitations deadline, then you will have given up your right to sue the defendant on that claim.
Seek legal representation sooner, rather than later. The sooner that you contact a qualified attorney, the more time that the attorney will have to gather all the requisite documentation and to effectively assess your claim.