Shortly after the accident, everything is fresh in your mind. But with each passing day, your memory of the events fades. For example, it is common for a driver to be apologetic at the scene of an accident, to explain that he was “in a hurry” or that he “was late.” These are important admissions if the other driver’s insurance company decides to deny coverage and blame you for the accident. So write down everything that happened at the scene, including exactly what was said by all drivers.
If you were hurt on the job, write down how the accident occurred, as well as the names of the witnesses and the name of every supervisor you informed. If you were injured as a result of faulty equipment, record all of the details about the product, including the manufacturer and serial number, if possible. If a safety engineer or supervisor made a comment about the failed product, write it down! You cannot record too much information.
In addition to your medical bills and lost earnings, the driver at fault is responsible for your physical pain and suffering, and for your loss of enjoyment of life. Because it could be several months, or possibly years, before you are asked to describe the impact of the injury on your life, a written record is essential.
Keep a daily record of headaches, insomnia, medications taken, pain suffered, etc. And don’t forget to keep up with activity you previously enjoyed, but in which you cannot now participate (i.e. exercise, golf, dancing, automobile trips, etc.).
Mental suffering is also something you should be compensated for, so record your discouragement, sadness, and frustration that is related to your rehabilitation process.
The doctor’s office is no place to be a hero. Your doctor (or nurse assistant) is trained to record everything you complain of and everything else you say related to your condition. For example, he records your comment that you “feel pretty good today” or that you are “much better.” Likewise, he makes a note when you tell him that you “can’t sleep” or that “it hurts whenever you roll over in bed.” When the doctor’s records are provided to the insurance company of the other driver, these notes are important. If the doctor is asked to testify on your behalf, these notes are critical because the doctor will rely heavily upon them. If you contend that your shoulder was keeping you awake at night for two months after the accident, but you never told your doctor about it, the claim is questioned. On the other hand, the doctor can powerfully corroborate every complaint you are making if you properly inform him during the course of your treatment.
Your doctor’s records will reflect exactly what limitations and instructions he gave you. And the other driver’s insurance company will almost always see these records eventually. If they can find evidence that you did not obey your physician, then they limit the liability of their driver. For example, if the doctor told you to stay off work for a week and you returned in three days, then you can be held responsible for your slow recovery. Similarly, if he prescribed an exercise regimen that you ignored, then you will be blamed for the lingering problems.
After you, your doctor will be the single most important witness on your behalf. If he likes you, it is only natural that he will want to help you with his testimony. On the other hand, if he found you abrasive or argumentative, his testimony will be nothing more than the reading of his office notes.
Lost earnings are an important element of the compensation due to an injured person. But the injured individual must connect the work absences to his injury. Even if your employer does not require written excuses, a note from the physician will be valuable when you are later trying to prove that your absences were the result of the injury.
Missed appointments are kept in the doctor’s records. They are blemishes on your character and the authenticity of your need for medical treatment. Do everything you can to keep your appointments or call to reschedule.
Nothing can sink an injury case faster than false testimony. Many times the injured party is not lying, but is only exaggerating slightly the extent of the injury. For example, the injured individual tells the insurance company or the other attorney that because of his pain he can no longer take automobile trips and has not taken one since the accident. Yet the doctor’s notes reflect that he drove to Florida over spring break with his family. Another example is a person who claims he can no longer play sports with his son, yet a private investigator has a video of the man in squatting position catching a child’s 70 m.p.h. fastball. These cases are doomed, despite the fact that a significant injury was suffered.
You know that a picture is worth a thousand words. So it should come as no surprise that photographs of the damaged vehicles and of your physical injuries are powerful witnesses. Take lots of pictures throughout your rehabilitation and date them for later use.
The responsible party’s insurance representative is trained to show you courtesy and concern in an effort to minimize your claim. His effort to win your confidence is aimed at one goal – to keep you from retaining legal counsel and thereby be required to pay you all that you are owed. Any payment for your pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life is tempting, but you must be patient. You only get one payment for the injuries that you may suffer for the rest of your life. A lawyer with personal injury expertise will guard your right to be fully compensated.