What should I do if I have been in a collision?
An automobile collision, motorcycle accident, truck crash or drunk driving accident can be a traumatic and overwhelming event. Before you suffer an event like this, learn the procedures that can help you deal with such a difficult experience. Here are tips on what to do if a collision occurs:
- Stop immediately and be safe. Stay calm and do what you can within reason to avoid blocking traffic. Be certain that you do not place yourself, your family or other victims in a position where they may be hit by a passing vehicle or further harmed. Make sure that other vehicles can see the scene of the crash and avoid it. This is especially important at night.
- Check to see if anyone is injured. Give as much comfort and aid as is appropriate, but try not to move any person who is injured, if possible.
- Remember that victims of an accident may be confused or in shock by a sudden accident. They may not be thinking clearly, and they may act irrationally.
- Call 911 immediately. Get help and fully cooperate with police officers and emergency personnel. Provide the information necessary to explain what happened, but do not give your opinions such as assuming you are guilty or at fault.
- Get the names, addresses and phone numbers of all witnesses, to the extent possible. Make a mental note of (and then as soon as possible write down) what witnesses say, like “That red truck was flying.”
- Immediately go to the hospital, if you think you are injured or if you are in pain or if emergency personnel or others at the scene think you should go. Trust the professionals on the scene who may be better able to evaluate your condition.
- Seek treatment from a doctor or other health care provider of your choice immediately. Do this in addition to going to the hospital. Do not allow the insurance company to choose your doctor. Report all injuries to your doctor even those that may initially seem minor. Sometimes, initially, an injury that does not seem to be severe can actually be a serious injury that can cause long-term pain and suffering. It is important to advise your doctors of all of your medical concerns.
- Take pictures of all injuries, particularly wounds, bruises, any medical devices and hospital visits that are required. Remember, you need a record of all that you suffered to allow others to know the seriousness of your injuries and, as the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.
- Take pictures of vehicles, the accident scene and anything else that might be relevant, if you or someone else can do so.
- Notify your insurance company of the accident, as soon as possible. Again, before signing anything or giving any recorded statements, consult a qualified lawyer.
- Do not sign anything from an insurance adjuster. If one shows up at the scene, at the hospital or at your home, do not sign anything or give any statements to the adjuster without consulting a qualified lawyer. This includes recorded telephone statements.
- Keep complete records of accident-related experiences and expenses. A written record of details of how you were feeling, problems you were having, pain levels and descriptions ranging from one to 10, as well as receipts for prescriptions and medical supplies, payments, bills and household services like cleaning or lawn mowing, mileage for traveling for treatments, car rentals, and any other out-of-pocket expenses. These documents are valuable tools in presenting a personal injury claim to the insurance company or to a judge and jury in court.
- Also, strongly consider calling a qualified personal injury attorney like Jeff Heck or Jeff Stiffler at Heck & Stiffler.
What things should I consider in selecting a lawyer for my case?
Selecting an attorney to handle your personal injury or wrongful death case is a very personal and a very important one. While you may not immediately think of the need for an attorney when you or a member of your family has been seriously injured, having the right attorney who can help you figure out how to deal with mounting medical bills and lost wages will become more important. There are several things you will want to consider in finding that attorney:
- Seek a lawyer with experience — Does that lawyer have the experience you want and need for your case? Do some homework and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If the attorney you are considering hiring does not have experience handling literally thousands of cases, you should ask yourself:
- Will they be able to handle and recognize whatever issues may come up with my case?
- Will they have enough experience to evaluate and handle my case correctly?
- Do they actually take cases to trial, so if my case has to go to trial, do they know what to do and do they have the confidence and experience to do it well?
- Will the insurance company take them seriously enough to know that my lawyer will do whatever it takes to get a fair and just result for me?
- Consider a local qualified attorney — The internet is a good starting place for your search. You should be aware, however, that the anonymous electronic communication that the internet provides allows many out-of-town or out-of-state lawyers to “troll” for cases anywhere. Make an appointment to meet with the lawyer in person at his or her office — or who is willing to come to you and your family in your home or the hospital if necessary. Choosing a qualified local attorney can be the best choice for your case as they will know the state laws, local laws, local practices and jury verdict potential in the local courts that they can use effectively to pursue your claim. They are also much more likely to be able to meet with you regularly and consistently as needed as your case proceeds and by doing so can provide the emotional and comfort support you need through that process.
- Only choose a lawyer who works on a contingent-fee basis — Again, this means that if you don’t recover any money in your case, you don’t owe the lawyer any fee. A contingent-fee agreement provides that the lawyer will get a specific percentage of whatever you may get in a settlement or at a trial. Many attorneys who work routinely in this area of the law will also advance the out-of-pocket expenses for you as the case progresses (although this depends on state law somewhat). You should ask the attorney how he handles these issues.
- Ask friends or associates for advice or a referral — Referrals can be a great source of information, but you should be sure of the experience of the people you are asking (either as past plaintiffs in cases or locally within the legal field). Again, however, just because your friend has a friend or relative who is an attorney, that attorney may not work extensively in this area of the law and, frankly, may not be the most qualified person to help you with your case. Those lawyers, however, may be able to refer you to another attorney who they feel is the best option for you in that area. Remember that you want to find an attorney for your case who handles injury cases and “does it for a living,” instead of someone who usually writes wills, handles estates or handles mostly criminal or domestic relations cases. Always seek out someone with the expertise and experience needed for the kind of case you have.
- Make an appointment and meet personally with the lawyer — Don’t be afraid to call. Most personal injury attorneys will almost always give you a free initial consultation. Make an appointment to meet and talk to the attorney who will handle your case – not just a staff member – in person. When you do actually visit the attorney in person, it is important to ask yourself if you like the attorney. Do they seem to know what they are talking about? Do they have a plan of action to take if I hire them? Do they seem concerned about my problem? Are they experienced in handling this type of injury case? Again, choosing the right personal injury attorney to handle your case is crucial. If you don’t feel comfortable and confident with the attorney you’ve met with, you should talk to a different one.
At Heck & Stiffler, we are happy to meet with you personally to discuss your case, your concerns and how we can help you with your case or that of your family member. We handle personal injury, wrongful death and medical malpractice cases on a contingent-fee basis, so you pay no attorneys’ fee unless you recover. We offer a free initial consultation for these kinds of cases to meet with attorneys Jeff Heck or Jeff Stiffler personally to answer your questions and give you advice and a plan on how to best handle your particular case. Put their experience and qualifications to work for you.
How much money is my case worth?
The value of a case is ultimately decided by an agreement to settle with the insurance company or defendant or, ultimately, by a verdict of a judge or jury. Generally, the amount awarded depends on the type and extent of injuries and damages, the length and frequency of medical treatment, the cost of current and future medical bills, the effects of doctor-supported permanent disabilities as well as other documented damages. An experienced personal injury lawyer like Jeff Heck and Jeff Stiffler at Heck & Stiffler, will examine all of these aspects to determine a figure that represents fair compensation. We will study all of the details of your case and negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf to ensure that you get the money you deserve for your injuries. Of course, if and as necessary, we will fully prepare and present your case to a jury or a judge for a decision if no agreement on settlement can be reached with the insurance carrier.
How long will it take to get a fair and reasonable settlement offer?
Reaching a settlement can take weeks, months or even years, depending on the extent of medical injuries and damages. However, the sooner you retain a personal injury lawyer, such as Jeff Heck and Jeff Stiffler, the sooner they can investigate and begin to develop your case. Typically, it is better to wait until your doctor determines that you have reached maximum medical improvement (MMI) as to your injuries before presenting your settlement position to the insurance company and seeking compensation. The purpose of waiting until you have reached MMI is to be as certain as possible as to the extent of any permanent damage from your injuries and to ensure that the maximum healing has occurred. Once we know the long-term extent of your injuries, if any, and the financial impact of them, we can more accurately determine what your case is worth. In the meantime, we will be investigating your case and obtaining your records and information to be fully prepared to do just that when the time comes. As experienced Ohio personal injury lawyers, Jeff Heck and Jeff Stiffler will move your case toward settlement as soon as it can be done given all these factors.
What if I have to go to court?
When a client first comes to our office, one of the first things we begin to think about is what we will say to a jury in the closing argument and how to best try the case. It is not necessarily our goal to force a case to trial, but our simple and consistent goal is to get the best resolution for the particular situation and each client’s particular needs — whatever that is. That may mean the case does need to be decided by a jury or it may mean that the case can be settled without the need for a trial. However, each situation differs, and we make sure that we handle each case according to what is required for that particular case and client. We truly feel that, often, our clients can usually make better decisions about their own needs than strangers on a jury will make for them. Thus, it is sometimes better to reach a fair negotiated settlement in order to keep control over the process. However, there are also times and cases where that is just not possible. We have the experience and knowledge to take those cases to trial, and we will do so aggressively and forcefully so that the legal system can do best to work for our clients.
If you (and your attorney) and the insurance company can agree on a reasonable figure to resolve your case, you can settle out of court. This commonly happens when a case is prepared properly and the insurance company is reasonable. Your case will only require formal trial proceedings, if the insurance company refuses to settle out of court. In either situation, it is critical to hire an experienced personal injury lawyer with an extensive background in handling, negotiating and trying personal injury cases. At Heck & Stiffler, as noted above, we prepare all our cases as if they are going to trial, which is actually why so many of our cases are able to be successfully settled outside of a formal court setting. We believe that our preparation, presentation and diligence give you a better opportunity of receiving fair compensation — in or out of the courtroom.
Even if the wrongdoer lacks insurance or if you have uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, you may still have coverage that will compensate you for your injuries. This coverage is specifically for cases where the other driver does not have any or sufficient auto insurance. Personal injury accident attorneys like Jeff Heck and Jeff Stiffler can evaluate your insurance policy and all available insurance policies to determine whether you have this coverage.
How will I pay my expenses while I wait for a settlement?
You may well have a type of automobile insurance coverage called medical payments coverage (commonly referred to as “Med Pay”). This insurance can help pay your medical bills. You should immediately seek the advice of qualified injury attorneys like Jeff Heck or Jeff Stiffler after a crash to protect your rights so that the Med Pay can be used for these bills as available and so that it is distributed properly for you. We will also evaluate any other type of insurance and payment sources that may be available to you.
Should I release my medical records to the insurance adjuster?
Releasing certain medical information may seriously damage your case and should be done only under very limited circumstances and with careful consideration. Therefore, before signing any release of information, it is critical to consult a qualified personal injury attorney.
Is it true that the best lawyers in law firms never handle the small cases?
While this may be something some people say, it is not true for our firm. At Heck & Stiffler, we believe in a team concept where the attorneys and our staff work together to represent our clients most effectively regardless of the size of their claims. More than one person will work with you and all members of our staff are trained in their fields, from our paralegals to our attorney. We are committed to our cultural values of care, quality and respect, and we pride ourselves on staying personally involved in our cases. We are available to speak with you and handle your case every step of the way, again, regardless of the size of your case.
How much will Heck & Stiffler, charge to represent me?
At Heck & Stiffler, we believe that our clients should only pay for results in personal injury, wrongful death or medical malpractice cases. That is why we only get a fee if we recover for you. If in the unlikely event there is no recovery, you do not owe us for any attorneys’ fees incurred at all. Additionally, there is no charge for your first visit or telephone call for these types of cases. We will listen to your concerns, answer your questions and you have no financial obligation to us. If we do agree to represent you, we are paid a percentage of your recovery. Different personal injury and wrongful death attorneys may use different fee structures and arrangements. Make sure you are fully informed about these issues before you hire any attorney.
How do I deal with the other driver’s insurance adjuster?
Many accident victims and their families make the mistake of viewing the other driver’s insurance adjuster as their friend and advocate, but this is definitely not the case. In fact, an insurance adjuster’s primary job is not to protect a victim’s rights at all — it is simply to negotiate the lowest payment possible with the victim, which will save the insurance company — their employer — money. The insurance company is looking out for its own rights — not yours. This means that accident victims must know the law relating to their case and they carry the burden of proving that they deserve compensation by providing the information needed to convince the insurance adjuster to make a fair payment for the injuries involved. This can be very difficult for a lay person to do and this can feel overwhelming. Sometimes as well, insurance adjusters will be quite aggressive about how they perceive a case at the beginning and may make the accident victim feel like they are required to work the claim out directly with the adjuster. Indeed, some adjusters may even tell the victim that they do not need or should not hire an attorney to help them.
A qualified personal injury attorney like Jeff Heck or Jeff Stiffler will work hard to collect all the relevant evidence and build a case for full injury and damage compensation. Immediately following an accident, there are some important things that you can do that will help your lawyer eventually build that case. Of course, your first responsibility at the accident scene is to make sure you and your family are safe and that everyone who needs it is receiving the medical treatment needed. After this, you should try to accomplish the following if possible:
- At the scene of the accident, identify witnesses and obtain their contact information. Ask them questions and make notes about their responses.
- If an insurance adjuster comes to the scene of the accident, refrain from answering questions or signing any forms.
- If possible, take pictures of all vehicles involved in the accident whether at the scene or later.
- Make sure you and your family immediately obtain the medical treatment needed.
- As soon as possible thereafter, seek additional treatment needed from the doctor and other health care provider of your choice. Do not allow the insurance company to choose your doctor for you. Report all injuries, even those that seem minor, to your doctor. This is important because sometimes an injury that does not initially seem to be severe can end up being a serious injury that can cause lifelong pain and suffering. Take pictures of all bodily injuries, particularly wounds, bruises, any medical devices. Remember, you need a record of all that you suffered to allow others to know and understand the seriousness of your injuries.
- Keep complete records of accident-related experiences and expenses. A written record of details such as how you are feeling, sleep that you are missing, time you cannot spend with your family, pain levels ranging from one to 10 can help. Also, make sure to keep receipts for prescriptions, doctor bills, household services like cleaning or lawn mowing, mileage or other expenses incurred for traveling for treatments, car rentals and the like. These kinds of records are valuable tools in presenting a personal injury claim — whether to an insurance adjuster or, ultimately, a judge or a jury in court.
For an experienced advocate to help you receive the compensation you deserve, contact us or call 419-524-2700/866-640-7560. Our office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, and we make evening and weekend appointments as necessary. Attorneys Jeff Heck and Jeff Stiffler are also happy to make home and hospital visits as needed for those clients who are unable to come to us.