Car accidents happen every day. You may be driving to work or school, or visiting friends or family, or just going out to the store. You have driven the route hundreds of times without incident, but all it takes is one time being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even if you do everything right, another driver can cause an accident. The very best drivers cannot control what other drivers around them do. If someone stops paying attention to send a text, or drives under the influence of drugs or alcohol, that other driver can injure you without your having any control over how or when it happens.
When you are injured in a car accident, you have far too many things to think about. You worry about how badly you may be hurt, whether you need to get a new car, and how you will take care of yourself or your family while you recover. In the midst of it all, though, you have rights that you need to protect. In New Mexico, you have three years after the date of the accident to file a lawsuit. In the interim, though, you must take the right steps to ensure the legal process can work for you. There are potential pitfalls all along the way, so the more you know going in, the more completely you can recover for the damages you endure: to yourself, to your vehicle, and to the people who depend on you.
File a Police Report
If you are physically able, New Mexico law requires you to report to the police immediately after the accident. If you cannot do so at the scene, you have five days within which to file your report. The state does this to ensure information can be gathered quickly and accurately. It also helps maintain orderly processing of insurance claims and gives an official record of what happens on the road.
This is one legal requirement that works in your favor. When you file a police report, you give your account of what happened. The police report is usually the first written evidence gathered for any accident, so it is important to provide as much detail as possible. The light available, how much you saw, what the road conditions were, and how the vehicles were positioned when the accident occurred all matter. Your vehicle’s damage tells a story, and your injuries give important information, but what you saw and felt happening creates the factual groundwork for who was at fault and why, and what if anything you could have done to prevent the accident. The police will look at the damage caused, hear from all drivers involved, and construct a combined impression of what happened. Making sure your experience helps form that impression is critical.
Seek Medical Attention
As soon as possible after the accident, you should see a doctor. Whether this is an emergency room visit, an urgent care visit, or an appointment with your primary physician will depend on the nature and extent of your injuries. If you see a general physician, though, look for a referral to a specialist. Some of the injuries you sustain may be obvious: broken bones, lacerations, and other apparent problems. But others are less clear. If you bump your head during an accident, you could suffer head trauma. And the impact of a crash usually jars your body, resulting in injured muscles or alignment problems.
Many injuries along these lines do not appear to be problems at first. Part of this stems from your adrenaline after an accident. Your body has a natural mechanism to bolster your energy and ability to function in times of stress. While this helps you in the moment of crisis, it can also prevent you from recognizing when you need medical care. In addition, the gradual nature of symptoms you experience may keep you from recognizing the need for help. You may write off headaches and general aches and pains as normal, but they may serve as quiet symptoms of more severe underlying problems. The longer you wait, the more these injuries can impact your health over time.
Beyond your health itself, waiting to see a doctor to diagnose and treat your injuries can impact your ability to recover damages. When you are injured, you have a duty to seek treatment for your injuries and mitigate the harm you have incurred. In other words, if your health deteriorates because you delayed treatment, part of your damages can be blamed not on the person who initially injured you, but on you for allowing things to get worse. You have the opportunity to recover from your injuries and get back to normal; if you choose not to seek the care that could help you do so, the defendant can argue that you are partially responsible for the losses you suffer as a result.
Gather Your Information
Compensation for injuries and damages you sustain in an auto accident often come after you travel a long road. After you file your lawsuit, the other driver has to answer the lawsuit, and then the sides exchange information, file motions, and negotiate. Sometimes over a year passes between your accident and an actual trial for damages. And unfortunately, as that time passes, some of the details of what happened can slip from your memory. The police report will contain some of this for you, but without keeping your own grasp of what happened, you stand to lose some ability to lay out your personal narrative to a jury. To avoid that damaging your case, you need to gather all the information you can on what happened and what you lose.
The first piece of information you need to collect is your own notes on the accident. As soon as you are able, write down all of the important details: when and where the accident occurred, how the other vehicle was moving, what you saw, and what you felt as it happened. Juries respond to people much more than information, so your personal experience is a critical part of your evidentiary puzzle. When you look like you are grasping for details, your experience won’t connect in their minds and hearts. It puts your ability to get the recovery you deserve at risk.
Beyond the details of the accident, you have direct costs associated with your auto accident. You have medical bills and repair bills; if the other driver caused the accident, he or she is responsible for making you whole. Your other incidental costs from time at the hospital and time lost from work all come into play. The more you can document, the more fully you can recover what the accident takes from you. Your right to damages includes all of the direct costs that you have to pay, so the more you can document through invoices and receipts, the better.
Finally, your experience continues well after the accident as well. Your notes should go through what pain and what limitations you experience as you go through treatment, who you see for what effects, and how the accident affects your day to day life. A serious accident does not stop impacting you when you leave. Keep track of everything you go through, and write it down so you can remember it later. Any ongoing pain, any daily activities you can’t complete, and any limitations in your work or personal life matter. All are part of who you are, and part of what you lose after a serious injury.
When the Calls Come In
After an accident, you can often find comfort in calls and visits from friends and family. Your physical limitations and emotional responses mean you need support, and accepting it from loved ones can make a big difference in your ability to bounce back from your injuries. But unfortunately, not everyone who calls on you is working for your best interests. In fact, many are looking to take advantage of you in a moment of weakness.
One call you may receive early on comes from the insurance adjuster for the other driver’s insurance company. This person will ask questions about what happened in the accident, and then ask about the damage to your car and the injuries you’ve sustained. The adjuster may act dry and matter of fact, or may sound incredibly sympathetic. Either way, you need to remember that he or she is there for the company that represents the other driver, and works specifically to find a way to settle your claim for as little cost to that insurance company as possible. You should take the call and hear them out, but never agree to anything before you talk to your own lawyer.
Sometimes, you hear from law firms and personal injury attorneys even before you hear from the insurer. You get postcards and letters in the mail, phone calls, and emails asking you whether you have representation for your claims. They all proclaim that they will get you a huge settlement or verdict for your case—even though they don’t know you or the circumstances of your case! Many are calling and writing from firms in different cities or even different states. They monitor police reports and hospital records and respond to every one, but they somehow declare that they will represent you better than anyone else.
Many of these lawyers mean well, and will work hard. Still, the idea that based on a report they know what will be best for you just doesn’t hold up. If you are injured in the Albuquerque area, you gain tremendous benefits from working with an experienced local firm. We understand the local rules, judges, and legal culture, and come in with an important advantage over anyone who does not. We use our knowledge and experience to deliver real results for real people.
Finding the Right Strategy for You
Not every auto accident case will go to trial. In fact, most do not. Insurance companies settle claims every day, and sometimes that really is the best approach. Time has value; a case that might not go to trial for months can create a significant burden on you and your family, especially if you are losing time at work to recover from your injuries. A quick settlement may well work to your advantage.
The big problems arise when you or your lawyer determines the right approach before working through your options. An insurance settlement is designed to pay out less than what the insurance company believes it could lose in a trial. You should factor this in as well as the time and the energy you will expend in pursuing a trial for your case. Your losses are real, and you should look to the strategy that takes your needs into account and best fits your situation.
Before you talk to an insurance adjuster or an opposing attorney, you need someone on your side—not someone looking to line his or her own pockets, but a firm or attorney who will take the time to understand your case and your circumstances. Look for someone who will listen and learn before making recommendations, who will discuss pros and cons of different approaches before suggesting action. You have suffered serious injuries, and you deserve no less than to have someone ready to be on your side, to represent you in the way that best meets your needs.
At Lucero and Howard, we want the chance to represent you. We believe strongly in helping people in our community who have been injured. Sometimes that means negotiating the best settlement we can, while in other cases it means fighting hard to bring your case to trial. When it comes to fighting for your legal rights and your personal needs, one size will never fit all. We will talk to you and help you determine the best path for your recovery, whatever that may be. If you have suffered an auto accident due to someone else’s reckless or negligent driving, contact us today.