Part I: The Accident
By Chris Dixon
Car Accident Basics
There are several dangers associated with driving on Missouri and Illinois roads. Inexperienced drivers, distracted drivers, and rage-filled drivers are all regularly known to cause accidents. Relatedly, even though several localities in Missouri and Illinois ban or restrict cell phone use while driving, statistics show that cell phones still cause a large percent of car accidents.
While we all know the rules of the road and can control our own driving, we are helpless when it comes to the behavior of other drivers. With knowledge of the unfortunate truth that accidents are inevitable, we wrote this eBooklet to give you the ability to confidently address any scenario you may encounter after a collision.
Most Common Causes of Car Accidents
Car accidents are caused for a variety of reasons. However, nearly all car crashes that are not caused by faulty equipment can likely be avoided. This is because a large number of drivers fail to drive with the reasonable and ordinary care required of them by law. As such, some of the most common causes of Missouri and Illinois car accidents are as follows:
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Reckless driving
- Distracted driving
- Ignoring road conditions
- Weaving in and out of lanes
- Failing to yield
- Failing to maintain vehicle
- Failing to obey traffic signals
Damages Recoverable from Car Accidents
Car accident victims often have a very vague and imperfect understanding of the difference between the multiple types of personal injury damages. It is important to note, however, that just because you were injured does not necessarily mean you are automatically entitled to every type of available damage. The type of specific damages that might be available to you will depend on the details of your case including the type and extent of the injury you sustained and the circumstances surrounding the crash.
If you have been injured because of another person’s negligence, however, you may be entitled to recover personal injury damages. But, in order to collect the full extent of these damages, you will likely have to file a personal injury lawsuit. These lawsuits are governed by the applicable civil law in Missouri or Illinois.
In some circumstances, you might be able to recover compensation for your Missouri or Illinois car accident even if you were at fault or if the other driver was uninsured. To be sure, it is important to review your insurance policy. Certain policies provide that the insurance company must repair your car and pay for reasonable related medical expenses even where you caused the accident. If, for example, you carry uninsured motorist coverage, your losses will likely be paid by your insurance company if the other driver who was at fault did not have a minimum liability policy as required by Missouri and Illinois law. Insurance policies can be complex and it is recommended that you contact an attorney who has experience reviewing these policies in light of litigation.
Where the other driver is determined to be at fault and where the adverse insurance company accepts liability, an insurance adjuster may make a settlement offer to you as an attempt to settle any claims you may have for property and personal injury damage. Before entertaining any settlement offers you should take inventory of what damages were caused as the result of the other driver’s negligence. For example, did you incur any of the following:
- Replacement and repair costs for your car
- Pain and suffering
- Lost income
- Medical or funeral costs
- Lost support or companionship
Missouri and Illinois caselaw provides a clear framework of damages accident victims might be entitled to, which are typically above and beyond what may be offered in settlement. For example, in certain circumstances damages not limited to future medical expenses, past and future pain and suffering, emotional distress, lost wages and/or earning capacity may be recoverable. More specifically, the following is a list of expenses that, if proven, can be recovered from the at fault party’s insurance company in a lawsuit:
- Medical expenses including emergency transportation, emergency room treatment, hospital expenses, doctor visits, physical therapy, medical devices, and chiropractic care;
- Future medical expenses are recoverable where the injured individual shows that he is likely to need continued medical care because of the accident;
- Pain and suffering damages may be granted for physical and mental pain resulting from the car crash depending on the nature of the injury, the severity of the pain and the length of future suffering;
- Property damage including recovery for the value of damaged property;
- Lost wages, or the amount of money the injured person would have earned between the time of injury to the time of the final judgment if they were not injured;
- Loss of earning capacity may be recovered where the injured individual can show that his or her ability to earn money in the future has been impaired;
- Loss of consortium, applicable to a claimant spouse, where his or her spouse is injured or killed.
If you have questions about whether or not these damages are applicable to your specific case or if you feel that the insurance company is not offering appropriate damage compensation, you should contact a personal injury lawyer to discuss your claim. It is important to keep in mind that settlements are final. If you sign a settlement offer with the insurance company, you likely release the insurance company from paying you something else that may be owed or that may become owed in the future. When in doubt, consult with a Missouri or Illinois attorney before signing or agreeing to any damage settlement with the insurance company.
A. What Should I Do at the Scene of the Crash?
The following checklist may be a helpful resource for accident victims. After an accident and at the accident scene, it is recommended that you do the following:
- Call 9-1-1. If you are able to, you will want to immediately call and report the crash to ensure that emergency dispatchers arrive at the scene of the accident in a timely fashion.
- Get to a safe spot. If your vehicle and injuries permit, it may be necessary for you to make sure you are safe from further harm. To do so, get out of or away from your car and/or the highway or interstate.
- Evaluate whether others need medical care. If you are able to do so, check with the individuals in your vehicle, and where practicable, in other involved vehicles to see if they have been injured in any way.
- Cooperate with law enforcement. The first responders will likely ask for information regarding how the accident occurred. Stay calm and provide them with all of the relevant facts about the accident.
- Obtain insurance and contact information from the other driver. Do not rely on law enforcement to obtain this information. Ensure that you have names, contact information, and insurance information for the other involved driver(s).
- Obtain witness names and contact information. Again, you should not rely on law enforcement to get all of the necessary information. Witnesses can be crucial to your claim and they may leave the scene before law enforcement even arrives. Further, law enforcement can overlook documenting a witness’s identity or may incorrectly do so. In the event any witness is not cooperative, take a photograph of his or her license plate and write down the color, make, and model of his/her vehicle. If you hire an attorney, he or she can use this information to secure the witness’s identity.
- Take pictures. Where practicable and possible, take pictures of the vehicles involved and of any physical evidence present at the scene. Beyond vehicle damage this can include skid or tire marks, road conditions, traffic conditions, and/or any pertinent signage. If you are unable to take these photos yourself, you can ask a witness or other person present at the scene to do so.
- Seek immediate medical care. It is vital to seek medical care after an auto accident as injury victims are often overcome with adrenaline and are unable to accurately assess their conditions. A qualified healthcare professional will likely want to perform a physical examination and/or diagnostic testing to evaluate conditions. Failure to seek medical care after a car accident can lead to further injury and will likely even be used as a defense to any claim of injury you attempt to make later.
- Talk to an attorney. Accident victims need to know their legal rights. Speaking with an attorney following an accident can help victims navigate through the legal procedures that follow.
- Contact your insurance company. After a crash, you have a duty to notify your insurance provider that an accident took place. If you are injured and are unable to contact the insurance company, it is recommended that you ask a family member to report the crash.
- Do not speak to the at-fault insurance company. The at-fault insurance company, their adjusters, and/or their investigators will likely try to contact you after the crash. They will try to obtain a recorded statement from you. As such, these individuals are trained in asking questions to elicit certain responses in an effort to avoid their accountability. It is important that you do not speak to the at fault insurance company. Where you have already hired an attorney, you may want to answer the at-fault insurance company only to inform them that they can contact your attorney.
B. Should I Seek Medical Care?
As explained in the checklist, you should seek immediate medical care following a car crash even if you do not think your injuries are severe. It is vital both for your health and for any potential claims you may have, to be honest about your injuries. This means that you should not exaggerate any injuries or downplay any injuries either. Immediately following an accident, however, victims are often too overwhelmed to accurately evaluate their own injuries. Pains that you may perceive as minor, such as cuts, scrapes, bruises, bleeding, tingling, numbness, muscle spasms, dizziness, jaw pain, muscle stiffness, reduced range of motion, tightness, aching, blurred vision, headaches, swelling, shortness of breath, or soreness may all be signs of developing injuries. Seeking the care of a qualified medical professional can ensure that these symptoms are managed and that you take appropriate steps to tend to your pain. Further, physical examinations and diagnostic tests that treating medical professionals often provide after a car crash can uncover injuries that may be masked by the excess adrenaline produced following an accident. Failing to seek medical attention after a car crash may lead to further injury and can be used against you as a defense by the at-fault insurance company.
If you decide to seek medical care, you may wish to assess your pain to decide which type of care to seek. Obviously more serious injuries should be dealt with at emergency facilities. More acute pain, however, may be dealt with at an urgent care, at your primary care physician’s office, or at a chiropractor well versed in auto accident care. Of course, where none of the acute care options are available to you, you should seek treatment at an emergency room. There, physicians can provide you with a variety of care including ordering x-rays, prescribing anti-inflammatory prescriptions, pain relief prescriptions, or muscle relaxers, and/or recommending follow-up care for persistent symptoms.
At the medical facility, you should provide a concise summary of the accident. The medical provider will want to document exactly what happened so that he or she can accurately evaluate your condition. For example, if you were rear-ended by another driver, recount the positioning of your body before and after the event. You’ll want to report on the commencement of all symptoms as well. Did symptoms start immediately on impact? Or, did pain come on gradually, starting, for example, once you detached the airbag? It is also vital that you tell your provider how the pain has changed since the accident occurred. Pain may have gotten worse, improved, or changed course with time or activity. For example, does the low back pain feel worse after sitting down?
After seeking treatment and providing a detailed account of the accident and your injuries to the providers, you’ll want to fill all prescribed medications and purchase any additional medication or equipment that may help your injury. It is advised that you save all such receipts as documentation of expenses paid because of the accident. Next, where needed, it is important that you stay diligent with follow-up care for your injuries. For example, where your doctor prescribes physical therapy, chiropractic treatment, or otherwise, it is important that you comply. Medically supervised management of your injury can be an extremely helpful healing mechanism. However, in some circumstances, injury victims find that the conservative care provided by physical therapists and chiropractors is not enough to manage their pain and injuries. If you find that you’re not getting relief from these types of treatment, you may need to request an MRI or other type of diagnostic test to determine whether any soft tissue issues are present.
Unfortunately, soft tissue injuries are extremely common car accident injuries. Oftentimes car crashes cause these types of injuries to the discs in one’s spine. Following a crash, disc issues are typically reported in the low and mid back as well as in the neck. Where a car accident victim suffers from a soft tissue or disc injury, orthopedic surgeons will likely prescribe an injury-specific treatment plan. This plans can include strengthening exercises, injections and other controlled interventions, up to and including spinal surgery. Of course, surgery is typically the last resort reserved for accident victims with persistent unbearable pain. However, where it is necessary surgery may be the only option that can truly help injured car crash victims recover and return to their normal lives.
Lastly, injuries stemming from a car crash are not always just physical. If you are experiencing any emotional or psychological injuries after a crash, you should seek medical treatment for those injuries as well. It is not uncommon for crash victims with debilitating injuries to experience depression or anxiety as a result of the changes in condition caused by the crash. Similarly, sometimes drivers suffer from extreme anxiety or fear as they attempt to get back in the driver’s seat. Where these types of psychological injuries affect the individual’s daily life, they should be addressed with a medical professional.
C. How Do I Read the Police Report
Police reports can be difficult to read, confusing, and oftentimes illegible. But, accident reports can be vital evidence in making a personal injury claim. The first step to understanding the police report is getting a physical copy of the report. Typically, Missouri and Illinois crash reports can be requested through the respective Department of Transportation. Each jurisdiction is different, but once processed the report may be available for immediate online purchase, physical pick up, or for delivery via mail. For more information on obtaining your crash report, check with the applicable Department of Transportation in your state or contact a personal injury attorney for assistance with requesting your report.
Once you have requested and received the police report, you’ll want to take inventory of its contents. The first step to analyzing your Missouri or Illinois crash report is to check the date, time, condition, and location of collision listed on the report. The location typically indicates whether the crash occurred on an interstate, highway, street, parking lot, construction zone, school zone, or some other area. Ensure that all of the details are appropriately listed and make note of any items that do not match your recollection of the facts.
The accident report should also list certain driver and vehicle information for all involved parties. The reported driver information typically includes all of the following for each involved driver:
- Name, address, and phone number
- Driver’s license details, including license type, license number, and state
- Insurance information
Additionally, the police report will usually state whether or not a sobriety or other test was given to any involved party for possible drug or alcohol use, the type of test given, and the results of the test. The vehicle information collected is generally as follows:
- License plate number and state
- Model, make, and body style
- Vehicle identification number (VIN)
- The name of the insurance company for insured drivers, and the associated policy number(s)
- Towing information, if applicable
- Estimated vehicle damage
Similar information is typically recorded for passengers and witnesses. Where applicable, passenger information may include the following:
- Type of safety restraint used
- Seating position
- Details regarding ejection or injuries
Further, where applicable, witness statements will be incorporated into the report along with witness names and contact information. Where injuries were suffered by any involved party, accident reports typically include a summary of injuries and list where the victims were taken for medical treatment. Lastly, police reports will typically include the name, department, and/or badge number of the responding officer.
While reading your accident report, keep in mind that the reporting police officer was (most likely) not a witness to the crash. Thus, his or her opinion of the crash recorded in the report is just that — an opinion. That opinion is based on information gathered at the scene from drivers, passengers, bystanders, witnesses, conditions, and physical evidence. Officers may draw a written diagram to accompany their narrative of how the crash occurred. But with both the drawing and the written summary, the information presented is merely an opinion that does not necessarily reflect the exact facts of the car crash.
If you read your accident report and find it factually inaccurate, you should contact a personal injury lawyer for assistance with disputing the report. A knowledgeable car accident lawyer can dispute and oftentimes correct errors or oversights in the crash report. Of course, this can be very important as many insurance companies cite the crash report in assessing compensation for the incident. If the report is inaccurate and wrongly favors the other driver, you may lose out on compensation that you are legally entitled to receive.
D. How Do I Determine Who Is At Fault?
The first step to determining who was at fault in the accident is checking the accident report. The law enforcement author may have ticketed one of the parties at the scene of the accident. While ticketing is an indication that some law was broken, it does not always establish causation. However, if a party was ticketed, the police report usually will reveal which driver, in the opinion of the responding police officer, should be held responsible for the crash.
If no tickets were assigned, or if you want to clarify who may be at fault for the crash, you can always consult the Missouri or Illinois statutes concerning the operation of motor vehicles for helpful language. These statutes can be extremely complex. Should you need help applying the relevant statutes to your case, you may want to discuss your claims with a qualified Missouri or Illinois personal injury attorney.
Of course, determining fault is important as it will generally decipher whether your insurance company or the adverse party’s insurance company will be required to cover the losses. It is important to note, though, that regardless of who caused the accident, you may still be able to recoup your property damages, lost wages, and medical expenses, depending on the specific insurance coverages that may available to you.