If you are ever in a situation where you are asking the question “Should I get a lawyer?” the answer is probably yes. How soon? Now. In the case of a car accident, leaving aside all the details of the event, there are so many financial, civil and potentially criminal considerations you can’t possibly be expected to untangle them all, especially at the side of the road at 2AM.
The urgency of your situation will depend largely on what you do at the accident scene and how you handle protecting yourself against inaccurate testimony, unfair interpretation of the evidence and the path of least resistance.
After the Accident
After the accident, you should call 911 so police and medical personnel can get to the scene of the collision. Cooperate with law enforcement and state the facts as honestly as you can, but do not admit fault. Even if you feel you were at least partly to blame for the accident, there may be mitigating facts you are unaware of at that moment.
Seek medical care even if you feel you don’t need it. The shock of an accident can temporarily mask pain, and you may be suffering from injuries that will show up a few days later.
Document the accident, being sure to get:
- The other driver’s name, address, phone number, email, insurance information, license plate number, and make and model of vehicle.
- The contact information of all passengers and witnesses.
- Witness statements.
- Photos of vehicle damage, road conditions, witnesses, other people involved in the accident and any other elements of the accident scene.
- Police officers’ names and badge numbers.
- The police report number and a copy of the report.
Once you do retain an attorney, you will be able to speak extemporaneously and frankly about the accident without fear your words will find their way into evidence. The reason for this is something called “attorney-client privilege.” Your attorney is legally forbidden from sharing any privileged information you divulge to them. Such information is also verboten as evidence, so it can’t ever be used against you.
Privileged communications will allow you to fashion a defense from a position of strength instead of a position of having to defend statements you made at the scene. If you combine this with a shrewd evidence gathering discipline, you will find your likelihood of being forced to pay for ignorant mistakes reduced to insignificance.
The first thing your attorney will do to help save you money is handle negotiations with your insurance company. Lawyers love to argue with insurance companies. Entertain your attorney by giving them the first chance to make a statement to your insurance company about the accident. They may save you a considerable sum by reporting the accident in a way that doesn’t implicate you as the at-fault driver. You may not be so skilled.
The other talent your attorney will probably have is negotiating with the other drivers and their insurance companies to make certain you aren’t identified as the at-fault driver from the beginning and end up forced to fight uphill for the entire case.
Not only do attorneys not admit fault, they can’t. Your lawyer is legally obligated to zealously represent your interests. They will make certain your rights are protected every step of the way.
Car accidents are stressful enough without making things harder for yourself. Hire a good lawyer as fast as possible and let them do the talking. There really are few better ways to protect your rights.