Motor Vehicle Accidents
What Kind Of Accident Were You In?
You have been in a car accident in New York. Maybe you were driving on 347 on your way to the Smith Haven Mall or you were driving to pick up your daughter from soccer practice at West Islip High School. Perhaps you were driving on Sound Avenue on a beautiful Fall afternoon going to the wineries or you just pulled out of Tanger Mall in Riverhead onto route 58 heading home. You come to a light and gradually bring your car to a stop. You glance in the rear-view mirror and see a vehicle heading towards you rather quickly. You think for a moment that the car will stop safely, but they had better slow down soon. Then you realize they are not slowing at all, they don’t even seem to realize that you are stopped. You know now that you have to get out of the way of this speeding bullet. You turn your wheel to the right and move your foot to the accelerator but there simply is not enough time to do anything. You feel the impact. Your body is thrown forward against the seat belt then back, hard, against the seat and headrest. Your car is pushed into the middle of the intersection, another car just barely missing yours. It takes a moment for you to gather your senses. You are in shock, and suddenly there is a knock on your window. Someone is talking to you. You roll down the window and a bystander asks if you are okay. You mutter something, "I think so".
After a few moments, you get out of the car and see the person who hit you. They are young and inexperienced or they are older but became distracted. They say that they don’t even know what happened. They didn’t see you. Or they begin to yell at you for suddenly changing lanes, cutting them off or slamming on your brakes suddenly and without warning.
You are confused. Weren’t you the victim here? Why are you being yelled at?
The police arrive. They want to know what happened. They want to know if you are okay or need an ambulance. They tell you your car is unable to be driven and has to be towed. You just want to call your spouse or parent or child or friend tell them what just happened and get out of there. The police may be friendly and cooperative of they may be impersonal and callous, barking orders at you and unsympathetic. You can’t believe that this is happening.
You may be back-boarded and given a neck-brace by EMT personnel and taken to the hospital by ambulance, you may be airlifted by helicopter or you may be picked up by a friend or relative and driven to the hospital. Eventually at some area hospital you are made to wait for a lengthy period of time before being called to the triage nurse. You are questioned and eventually X-rayed, CT-scanned, admitted or released with instructions to follow-up with your family doctor, an Orthopedist or Neurologist, given a prescription for medications you never heard of before.
You get home much later in the day and you are exhausted. On your answering machine is a message from an insurance company representative for the other driver in the accident. They want you to call. You are unsure of what to do so you call them and they record your interview of the facts of the accident and ask you about your injuries. They may offer you money on the spot to settle your case. Or you may have a call from your insurance company asking you the same questions. They may want to know whether you want to go “first party” or “third party” for the repair of your car. What does that even mean, you wonder? You know that you have a deductible but you’re not really sure how much it is or how it works.
The next morning you wake up, you are stiff, achy; something doesn’t feel right in your neck or back. You force yourself out of bed but showering is difficult. Raising your arms hurts or maybe you are feeling numb in your hands or toes. Something is definitely not right but you have a job and responsibilities. You have to go to work. You can’t risk not having a paycheck or worse, losing your job. But you’re not even sure you can drive to work you are hurting so much. What do you do? Do you stay home in bed? Go to the doctor? Or just suck it up and go to work? And then it dawns on you, you are going to be hurting for a while. Shouldn’t the other driver be responsible for your pain?
This is a typical scenario. I have heard some version of this story literally hundreds and hundreds of times in my 20 years of practice.
Of course there are answers to all of these questions. Some of the answers are satisfying and some not so much. I will attempt to answer some of them here.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO AT THE SCENE OF AN ACCIDENT?
In the aftermath of an accident, probably the most helpful investigative tool is the witness. If you think anybody witnessed your accident, you should try to get a name address and telephone number. Do not simply assume that the police will do this! I cannot count the number of clients who have told me that the police took the witness information on the police report. Later, when we receive the report, there is no witness listed and the information is possibly lost forever. It only takes a moment to get a name, phone number or even e-mail address.
In certain situations, we place signs at or near the scene of an accident or advertise in the paper for witnesses but as a practical matter it is simply much more expedient to get the witness information at the scene.
Believe it or not, statements that you make at the time of the accident can come back to haunt you years later. If you are experiencing pain at the accident scene, tell the truth when asked. Don’t think that you are being a burden or that if you complain you will be hauled off in an ambulance. Take stock of yourself and assess whether you are achy in any part of your body and then respond accordingly if questioned by police or ambulance personnel. You should assume by this time that you will probably not make it to your intended destination and you will need to make arrangements for someone to communicate with the place or person you were on your way to when you got into the accident. Somebody may have to call your home, your office or your kid’s school and tell them that you were in an accident and you may not be coming. You may be permitted to leave the scene on your own even if you complain of injuries. The standard police report has a notation of whether there was a complaint of pain and to which part of the body. It is very helpful in establishing a crucial element of your case later on if you have given early information regarding your complaints.
If you are within earshot of the other driver or their passengers and you clearly hear them giving a differing version of the accident, do not engage in a shouting match in front of the police! But you should be given an opportunity to dispute the opposing version of the facts on the police report. Make sure the police know your version and tell them you are disputing the opposing version if it is different. Of course, this is a