Rob Mazow and Kevin McCullough from the Law Office of Mazow-McCullough talk with John Maher about what not to do after a car accident. They explain how certain actions could affect the viability of your case or reduce your insurance claim.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Rob Mazow and Kevin McCullough of the Law Office of Mazow-McCullough. Today, we’re talking about what not to do after a car accident. Welcome Rob and Kevin.
Rob Mazow: Thanks, John.
Kevin McCullough: Hello, John.
1. Don’t Leave the Scene of an Accident
John: So I want to talk about a number of different things that people should not do after a car accident and get your thoughts on those. Kevin, the first one is don’t leave the scene of an accident.
Kevin: Yeah, so we frequently talk with clients about what things are important to do and what you must do and what you should do after an accident. But it’s also a good topic to talk about some things that you shouldn’t do, things that may hurt your case, that may even be illegal. And sticking around after an accident is obviously important. You want to remain on the scene for a number of reasons. You may be injured, but you also need to gather information from the other side or the other party.
But even more important to that is you have an obligation to share your information with the other side even if the other person is clearly at fault. It’s not only important for your civil case to get your car fixed and repaired, or potentially an injury claim if you have one, but also it’s the law. You can be charged criminally if you are in an accident and you leave the scene of the accident, even if you’re not at fault. So it’s very important to stay on the scene, get any medical treatment that you need, if it’s necessary and share and exchange that information with any of the other parties that may be present.
2. Don’t Forget to Call the Police
John: Okay. Rob, the next one is don’t forget to call the police. I think a lot of people in an accident probably don’t want to spend the time waiting for the police to show up. Why is that important?
Rob: Well, like Kevin said, it’s important to make sure that what happened is properly recorded. Because believe me, everybody’s got different opinions as to what happened in an accident. And six months, a year down the road, that’ll have even another opinion as to what happened. So it’s important while, it’s not a 100% necessary all the time, but if there’s injuries or if there’s significant property damage, it’s a very good idea to call the local police or the state police if it happened on a state highway, to have them come down and make a proper report. If you have the proper police report, then things are documented and people are less likely to change their story than if there’s no police report at all. While it’s not mandatory that you do that, if there are injuries involved or there’s significant property injuries then it’s a very, very good idea to do so.
3. Don’t Apologize or Admit Fault
John: Okay. Our next one is don’t apologize or admit fault.
Kevin: Oftentimes, people have a tendency to care about others obviously, and to feel bad for others. But if you did nothing wrong, if you’re clearly not the person who’s at fault or that caused the injury, you don’t want to apologize at the accident scene because those are things that… people may be coming over to the accident who weren’t involved or who witnessed the accident or maybe they didn’t even witness the accident, but they’re now present. If they hear you talking like that, and again, they may have seen nothing, they just happened upon the accident scene and want to make sure everyone’s okay. If they hear you apologizing to someone, they’re just going to assume that you’re at fault or that you did something wrong.
It can be a natural human tendency to want to make sure everybody’s okay. And that’s perfectly fine to do. Check on yourself to make sure that you are not injured. And if you are, do what’s necessary. Check on the other person or persons at the scene, “are you okay?’ That’s certainly something fine to say, but things will be documented and people will remember if you say, “I’m sorry”, or ‘”I apologize”. It just gives the assumption of belief that you did something wrong when you didn’t. And that will come back at some point in the future and be used by the insurance company to either not pay your claim or try to pay less on your claim.
4. Don’t Get Angry
John: Okay. Rob, don’t get angry.
Rob: Well, it’s easier said than done. I mean, if you’ve ever been in an accident, even a small one, adrenaline runs high. I mean, even if you have a near miss, I mean, you know that feeling when you’re shaking and your heart is racing. So to say, don’t get mad is again, is easier said than done. However, you want to make sure that, like Kevin said, that you’re okay, that anybody in your car is okay, and that anybody else involved in the accident is okay.
Getting angry at somebody for causing harm or causing property damage is not going to help you do that. It is best to keep a level head, to get the facts from the other side, to get the name, to get their address, to get their license plate number, to get a copy of their license if you can, to take a picture of their car. To try to keep a level head, make sure that you’re well taken care of, that you’ve reported the accident to the police or that you’ve called 911, or that you’ve called for an ambulance if necessary, but it’s certainly best to try to not get angry.
John: Yeah. I mean, you certainly don’t want it to escalate and get out of the car and start yelling at somebody. And then all of a sudden, next thing you know somebody’s throwing a punch or something.
Rob: We see it all the time. We see what starts as a fender bender and ends up as people getting arrested for assault and battery.
John: Right. Right.
Rob: So we see road rage. It’s a real thing. And it’s always best to just try to get your breath back, get your heart rate down, get the information, get medical treatment if you need, and then get home.
5. Don’t Be Too Friendly
John: Right. Kevin, the next one kind of goes back to the, don’t apologize or admit fault one that you were talking about, but like, don’t get too friendly. And again, it sort of goes to that idea of maybe you might say the wrong thing. Where would that come into play?
Kevin: Yeah. It’s just for safety reasons as well. You want to protect yourself and be safe at the scene of an accident and there’s really no need to get too friendly. It’s certainly okay to ask some questions of the other parties involved if they’re okay and things like that. But it’s all about gathering the information that’s necessary and exchanging that information with the other parties involved and going on your way, whether that’s to go home, whether that’s to go to the hospital, whether that’s waiting for the police to arrive.
It’s not a situation where you want to get friendly with someone. There’s no need to get friendly with someone. It’s an unfortunate event that happens. And do what’s necessary to get the information to protect yourself. But also there’s absolutely no reason to get too friendly and cozy with somebody that’s at fault for an accident, because you just never know what their intentions are, why the accident happened, or what’s going on in their life or their day.
John: And you don’t want to be in a situation where you’re feeling bad for having to pursue damages from that person or something like that, or saying the wrong thing. Like you might say, “oh, don’t worry about it. It’s okay. I’m not really that hurt” or things like that. That then could come back to bite you.
Kevin: Yeah. It’s all about, as I mentioned, getting that information and moving forward with a claim to get your damages taken care of, your car fixed, medical bills paid. It can be a heated situation and again, I imagine the adrenaline’s flowing, but you want to be careful what you say. Get the information or the documents that you need and go about your day.
6. Don’t Refuse Medical Attention
John: Right. In the case where somebody is hurt, another one would be: don’t refuse medical attention.
Rob: Right. So if a person is hurt, if your passengers are hurt, if the other side, if the other party, the other person involved in the accident is hurt, call 911. Get an ambulance there and have them checked out. Now, sometimes you don’t know. And I mean, sometimes if you’re feeling okay, then great, exchange your information and go home. And if you’re feeling bad the next day, and you need medical attention, call your doctor, go to the emergency room, do what you need to do. But if you’re at the scene of the accident, let’s say you’ve hit your head or somebody is complaining of pain, absolutely call an ambulance, call 911, have them come down to the scene and take a report and get that person some medical help if necessary.
7. Don’t Forget to Collect Documents and Evidence
John: Okay. Don’t forget to collect documents and evidence.
Kevin: Yeah. Very important when you’re in the heat of the moment assessing what happened, how it happened, talking with people that may be present on the scene. You may forget some things, you may miss some things, but it is extremely important to gather the information about who was driving the other car, who owns the other car, who was in the other car with the driver at the time of the accident, who was present on the scene of the accident that may be helpful to show or determine how the accident happened and how you were not at fault.
The gathering of that information and that material is critical down the road after you leave the accident scene, when you’re presenting the claim to the insurance company as to what happened and how it happened. Memories fade.
So take pictures if you can, of documents of the vehicles involved. Maybe even take some pictures of where in location to the intersection or a stop sign, the cars came to a rest. Once you leave the scene of the accident, the person that’s at fault may come up with some other story about how it happened or why it happened. And to capture as much information and documents as you can at the scene of the accident is critical and may be critical to your case moving forward.
8. Don’t Forget to File a Collision Report
John: Okay. What about, don’t forget to file a collision report. And are there certain cases where you’re required to file a collision report and some that maybe you’re not?
Rob: Yeah. So Massachusetts requires that if there’s property damage in excess of,
Rob: $1,500, that you have to file, what’s called an operator’s report or an accident report with the registry of motor vehicles, with the police department in the town or city where the accident happened and with the insurance company. It’s important for a couple of reasons: the registry needs that documentation, the insurance company, and the police need the documentation. It also, it’s something that you prepare within a day or two or three of the accident. So the information is fresh in your mind.
It gathers all of your information, all the other party’s information, anybody who’s been injured, who’s in the cars with either of these parties, any witnesses. And a description of what happened in the accident. Now, there may not be a trial on a case, let’s say that this turns into a trial for years down the road. You’ve got a piece of paper here that was created within a day or two of the accident, which really explains what happens. So everybody can look at that document and see what happened, even if they’re looking at it many years later. So it’s an important piece of paper to fill out and to file.
9. Don’t Talk to the Insurance Adjusters Without a Lawyer
John: Okay. Kevin, what about, don’t talk to insurance adjusters without a lawyer.
Kevin: Yeah. So that sometimes can be difficult to do because when you’re in a car accident, especially with another vehicle, obviously there are usually two different insurance companies involved. There’s your insurance company and there’s the at fault driver’s insurance company. And clients have to be careful that there are certain obligations that you have, or may have to proactively communicate with your own insurance company. And to know when you have to do that, and when you don’t have to do that.
But as far as dealing with the at-fault driver’s insurance company or the other insurance company, there are no legal requirements or obligations that you talk to them at all. You don’t have to do that. And in fact, you should have your lawyer or legal counsel do that for you. And even in conversations and communications with your own insurance company to get your car fixed or to get your medical bills paid and processed, you also want to have a lawyer do that for you or with you as well.
There can be some nuances to that, which is why it’s even more critical to have an attorney representing you. Because as I mentioned, there are some coverages under the insurance policy where you do have to talk to your own insurance company, and there are coverages under your own policy and with the other party or the at-fault party’s insurance company where you don’t have to talk to them. So it’s important and it’s good to know when you should and when you have to versus when you shouldn’t and when you don’t have to.
10. Don’t Represent Yourself
John: Okay. Along those same lines, Rob is our final one, which is don’t represent yourself.
Rob: Yeah. Well, it’s never a good idea. It’s very hard to be objective obviously, if you are trying to represent yourself. First of all, if we’re talking about a non-lawyer, the person not experienced in the ways of dealing with insurance companies, they’re not experienced in negotiating, they’re not experienced in evaluating what their injury might be. They’re not going to be like I said, objective. So it’s hard to keep a fair idea of what the injury might be worth.
You might say something or do something that can end up hurting your case if you’re just not experienced in that world. You won’t know the ins and outs and the traps for the unwary. The insurance companies insurance policies have traps all over the place if you don’t give proper notice, if you don’t cooperate, if you don’t give them this documentation or that piece of information and next thing you know, your case is gone.
You’re not aware of statutes of limitations. You’re not aware of how you file a lawsuit if you need to. So it’s a bad idea to try to represent yourself. So you should definitely talk to an experienced lawyer if you ever get into a situation where you’ve been in an accident.
John: All right. Well, that’s all really great information. Rob and Kevin, thanks again for speaking with me today.
Rob: Thanks, John.
Kevin: Thank you, John.
Contact Us for More Info
John: And for more information, you can visit the website at helpinginjured.com or call (978) 744-8000.