Written By Christopher B. Dolan and Taylor French
This week’s question comes from Peter L. from San Jose: I have been reading some of your articles and they are very informative. I was wondering if you can tell me what type of documents I may need if am ever involved in an accident and if I need to hire a lawyer?
Thank you for your question and reaching out, Peter. Dealing with the aftermath of a car accident can be an overwhelming experience. Most likely, the last thing on someone’s mind immediately following such a traumatic event is what documents are important or even necessary to obtain in order to pursue a personal injury lawsuit. However, it is extremely important to begin gathering and maintaining the following documents as soon as possible:
Traffic Collision Report
If a police officer arrived at the scene of the collision, the officer mostly likely prepared a traffic collision report. This report contains important information related to the car accident, including the involved parties’ driver’s license and insurance information, descriptions of the weather and roadway conditions, statements from the parties and other witnesses, whether any traffic laws were violated and by whom, descriptions of any reported injuries or property damage, etc. If a traffic collision report was created, either a crash victim or their attorney, if they have one, will need to obtain it from the issuing law enforcement agency. The information needed to request a police report includes the date and location of the incident (this can be an approximate address or an intersection), the names of the parties involved, and the requesting party’s name and address.
Medical Records and Bills
A person injured in a car accident should obtain all medical records and bills for any treatment related to the collision. Depending on the severity and the type of injuries suffered, the individual may need to obtain records related to emergency medical services (i.e., paramedic or ambulance services), emergency room treatment, primary care physician treatment, chiropractic care, physical therapy, pain management, pharmacy prescriptions, and treatment provided by other healthcare specialists.
Photos and Videos
The injured individual should gather all photos or videos taken of the incident scene, the vehicles involved in the collision, and the injuries sustained as a result of the collision. It is becoming increasingly more common for homes or businesses to have security cameras that sometimes capture car accidents, so it is important to obtain this footage if it exists. It is better to act quickly to obtain this footage as it often gets deleted within a short period of time. If a camera is found in the surrounding area, it is important for the crash victim to communicate this information to their attorney so that they can send a letter requesting that the footage be preserved.
Property Damage Estimates
If there is damage to one’s vehicle, as a result of the collision, it is important to maintain copies of any repair estimates, receipts for deductibles paid, and/or other documents related to the repairs. Typically, a body shop making repairs will take photos of the repairs to submit to the insurance companies, so these photos should be requested from the body shop or from the individual’s insurance company.
Records Related to Lost Income
In a personal injury lawsuit, an individual can recover income lost as a result of a car accident. In order to recover the lost income, detailed proof of the claimed losses must be produced. For this reason, it is important to obtain proof of income via paystubs, direct deposit records, or other financial documents, as well as documents establishing how much time was missed from work due to the collision.
Communications Related to the Collision
Following a car accident, it is likely that the parties’ insurance companies will begin to send letters or other communications to the parties. These letters should be maintained and provided to one’s attorney. Additionally, on occasion, a party or witness to the collision will text, call or email an injured party. If this happens, these communications should be preserved as well.
While falling victim to a vehicle collision can be both traumatic and stressful, it is important to try to remain as calm and clear-headed as possible so that all necessary documentation can be obtained. Retaining an attorney will, of course, ease the strain on an injured party following a car accident, but it is still crucial to gather the above documentation in order to prevail in a lawsuit.