If you have been in an automobile accident, you may know that they can be unnerving experiences. You might not always be thinking clearly in the immediate aftermath. (Presumably you are more concerned with the well-being of those involved in the incident rather than legal considerations.) However, there are several things you may wish to keep in mind that are time sensitive if you or a family member or friend unfortunately find themselves in a serious accident.
Preservation of evidence
It is important to preserve as much evidence from the incident as possible until you have an opportunity to meet with an attorney. Even if your bike/car was totaled in the accident, it could still be an important piece of evidence in the case. (Example: the defendant who hit you may have a minimal policy of $15,000. If the injury is serious, one might want to examine the car for a possible design defects.) Your insurance company may pay you and salvage the car, destroying it for any possible evidentiary use. It is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to pursue a product liability case against the manufacturer of your vehicle if the subject car has been destroyed.
For trip and fall, bicycle, pedestrian accidents: Save the clothing and shoes you were wearing, which may become important as well.
Names and phone numbers of potential witnesses
One may assume that the police will take down the information of all witnesses to the accident, however, there are times when the police may only document witnesses who viewed the actual accident. However, witnesses who did not view the accident, but arrived shortly thereafter may also have useful information to contribute, such as if they overheard the defendant admit fault, or viewed where the cars came to rest on the roadway before they were moved. Get the contact information for everyone at the scene to be on the safe side.
Take photographs-accidents and injuries
Most people will take photographs of the cars involved in a motor vehicle accident, however, photos of the scene of the accident may also be helpful for issues pertaining to visibility or roadway defects. On a trip/slip and fall case, it is also helpful if the scene could be photographed before the evidence is altered.
Photographing your injuries as they progress will also be helpful in the damages portion of a case. Bruises, cuts, and swollen areas generally heal quickly, so photographing them while they are present is a good idea.
Consult an attorney
You need not retain an attorney and pursue a case right away, but it is not a bad idea to find out what the legal "lay of the land" is, particularly with respect to the statute of limitations, which may vary on a case by case basis. Most personal injury cases are 2-years in California, but other types of cases may have a 6-month or 1-year statute of limitations. If you wait too long to consult an attorney, you may be forever barred from recovery. Read more about statute of limitations at our blog entry here.