The immediate aftermath of any roadway accident is chaotic. Too often, car accident victims take action following a car accident which puts them in jeopardy of having their insurance claims denied or the settlement from the insurer reduced. Here are some things you should know about what to do following a car accident in Tampa.
Immediately Get to Safety
One of the most important things you must do is make sure you are out of harm’s way. This is often challenging, especially if an accident occurs along Dale Mabry Highway, a multiple-lane roadway with turning lanes. This highway is also very congested, particularly during the morning and afternoon rush hours.
Contact Law Enforcement in Tampa
Whether you use 911 or contact Tampa’s local police, you should notify them of the accident. Under Florida statutes, all accidents require the filing of a written report. While it may seem unnecessary to notify law enforcement, this is an excellent way to protect yourself legally.
Obtain Information at the Scene
If you are physically able to do so, you should collect certain pieces of information at the scene while waiting for law enforcement to arrive at the location.
Some of this information includes:
- Name and contact details for the drivers involved – name, driver’s license, and contact information are crucial. This information will be needed later, particularly if the accident is not your fault.
- Contact information for witnesses – if other drivers witnessed the accident and stopped, you should gather their information as well.
- Photographs of scene whenever possible – photos of the damage to any involved vehicles, skid marks or other signs of the accident, and pictures of any traffic signals or signs in the area can also be helpful. You may also want to photograph any signs of injury.
Photograph or note everything, as you never know what might help your car accident lawyer later.
Provide Statement to Law Enforcement Officers
When the police arrive at the scene, you should provide them with the specifics of the accident. As challenging as it may be, attempt to be as calm as possible and avoid getting overly emotional or making accusations.
Keep a few things in mind:
- Do not say “I’m sorry,” as this could indicate you were at fault
- Do not elaborate any more than necessary. Provide facts only
- Do not speculate about any injuries (e.g., avoid saying “I’m fine”)
Law enforcement officers are trained to speak with everyone at the scene and assess what has happened. However, they are unlikely to mention anyone being at fault at the location of the accident. Ask the officer who takes your statement about the process of obtaining a written report and how to request it.
Seek Medical Treatment Regardless of How You Feel
One of the most important things you can do following a Tampa car accident is seek medical attention. Do this regardless of whether you believe you have suffered a severe injury or not.
Tampa car accident victims should always seek medical attention because of potentially hidden injuries. Increased adrenaline levels in your system following an accident can hide soft tissue injuries, internal injuries from airbags and seatbelts, and head injuries.
Make sure you advise the doctor who is examining you that you have been in a car accident. This acknowledgment is essential if you are not transported to a hospital, like Tampa General Hospital (TGH), a designated emergency and trauma center.
Notify Your Insurance Company
Florida is a no-fault insurance state, which means if you are one of the thousands impacted by a Tampa car accident, your first claim will be made with your insurance company, regardless of who is at fault for the accident.
Before you contact the insurer:
- Provide them a basic statement including the date, time, and location of the accident
- Provide them the name of the law enforcement agency that arrived at the scene
- Do not provide a recorded statement or speculate on who is to blame for the accident
Hillsborough County had more than 20,000 roadway accidents in one recent year. Unfortunately, many victims have jeopardized their legal rights by not correctly notifying their insurer after an accident. By informing your insurance company as soon as possible, you can avoid running into problems for missing deadlines.
In general, you should report accidents to your insurer no later than 14 days after the accident. If you are still hospitalized or unable to contact them on your own, have a family member or friend notify the insurer.
Contact a Tampa Car Accident Lawyer
You may initially believe that filing an insurance claim with your insurer will make the process much easier. However, this is probably a mistake on your part. When you have suffered an injury and your car is damaged, your insurance coverage may not cover all your financial losses. This means you may be entitled to go outside the no-fault system.
To file a claim outside the no-fault system, you will have to show that your out-of-pocket expenses exceed your cover or that you have suffered a severe injury as defined by Florida’s laws in a Tampa car accident.
Florida Statute 627.737 defines serious injury as any injury that results in:
- Injuries in which the victim lost a primary bodily function
- Injuries in which the victim suffered permanent scarring or disfigurement
- Injuries that are permanent (other than scarring)
- When the victim’s injuries result in their death
Under these circumstances, you will need to file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company to seek additional compensation over what you may have been able to collect from your policy.
Keep a Record of Your Medical Condition
As you begin recovering from your injuries, it is essential to keep track of your progress. You should document unusual occurrences like unexpected pain, dizzy spells, or problems with your balance, and if warranted, you should seek advice from your doctor. They may be signs of additional problems caused by a Tampa car accident or tied to the previously identified injuries.
Avoid Dealing With Insurance Adjusters
If you have hired a Tampa car accident lawyer, you should refer any calls from insurance adjusters to them to address any questions. In addition, if you receive settlement offers, documents to sign, or other written communication from the insurance company, notify your attorney immediately and get the documents to them.
These steps are to ensure your legal rights are protected. Insurers could do everything possible to pay as little towards your claim as possible.
Some of the steps they may take include:
- Asking you to sign broad sweeping authorizations – rather than asking you to provide medical records related to your Tampa car accident, the insurer may obtain permission to review your complete medical history. This permission allows them to determine whether or not you had a preexisting condition which may limit their liability.
- Asking you for a recorded statement – recorded statements should never be granted to an insurance adjuster, even when your insurer asks for the information. Adjusters who ask questions of an accident victim are skilled in asking the same question in numerous ways to extract different answers.
- Offering a lower than anticipated settlement – in the hopes of settling for less than you might be entitled to, insurers may reach out with a quick settlement offer. These offers are seldom the maximum possible compensation you can collect. However, insurance companies know if you are out of work and have mounting bills, you may feel tempted to accept their offer.
Avoid Discussing Accident With Friends and Family
While you want to let your friends and family know you were in an accident, you do not want to discuss specific details with them. If the car accident case winds up in court, they may serve as witnesses. If you do not discuss the accident with them, you can prevent this.
Avoid social media postings while you are recovering. While these postings may seem innocent enough, if your insurer sees you going out for dinner, spending time with friends, or participating in activities that may undermine your claim, then they will feel free to use those postings in court if necessary.
Always Follow Your Doctor’s Orders
It may be tempting to miss doctor’s appointments, skip rehabilitation treatments because you are in pain, or alter the medication schedule. You may feel tempted to return to work sooner than you should. Above all, you should follow all medical advice provided. Your doctor wants you to return to maximum physical health. Everything they recommend is to help you get back to the best possible physical condition, despite any injury you may have suffered in a Tampa car accident.
Remain in Contact With Your Legal Counsel
Once you hire a Tampa car accident attorney, you should keep them updated about your physical recovery. Additionally, always advise your attorney if you receive any communication regarding your accident. Your attorney is going to be by your side from the day you initially file your claim until your case settles. The more information you provide, the easier the process will be.
Do Nothing to Hamper Your Legal Options
One of the most important things you should keep in mind is avoiding any situation which could jeopardize your car accident claim. If you are in any doubt, contact your lawyer and ask them before taking action. Your legal rights are fragile, and it is up to you to make sure you do not do anything which will jeopardize them.
Understanding the Importance of Hiring a Tampa Car Accident Lawyer
Victims of Tampa car accidents are often uncertain why they need a lawyer to handle their claims.
Here are some reasons why it makes sense to hire a car accident attorney:
- Knowledge of the law – no one expects you to have an intimate understanding of the law. However, an attorney with experience fighting to protect the rights of car accident victims knows which laws affect victims. They can put this knowledge to work to resolve your case successfully.
- Insurers have lawyers – insurance companies are not interested in a level playing field. They will have an army of lawyers looking for ways to minimize your insurance claim. When you hire a lawyer, you can help level the playing field.
- Investigative knowledge – the more complex your injuries, the more likely you are to need an expert witness to prove the severity of your injury and the impact the injury will have on your physical condition over the long term. Your attorney will be able to identify the needed experts and discuss your case with them.
- Reduce the stress you are under – healing from a car accident is stressful. Focus on regaining your physical strength. Dealing with insurers is also stressful. Working with a lawyer means you can focus on what is most important: Regaining as much of your health as possible following a Tampa car accident.
Protect Yourself After a Tampa Car Accident
Following a car accident in Tampa, the most critical step you can take is to protect yourself and preserve your legal options. Never make any rash decisions that could impact your rights. When you contact a Tampa car accident lawyer, you can find out what legal options are open to you, and you can make sure you do not take any steps that jeopardize your legal rights.