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Protect your Claim Steps to Follow After Leaving the Accident Scene

If you have had a serious car accident, here are 13 steps you can take after leaving the scene that will help you later on when dealing with your claim. TIP #1: Seek medical treatment promptly. If you do not go to the hospital immediately after the accident, go to your family physician as soon as possible. Tell your doctor about all of your medical problems.

If your symptoms persist after the initial visit, return to your doctor and request referrals to specialists who can help you. TIP #2: Contact your insurance company and tell them that you had an accident. Request accident benefit forms.

Don't miss the deadline to submit the paperwork. (You should consider meeting with a lawyer before giving a sworn statement to any insurance company or adjuster.) TIP #3: Take inventory of personal property lost due to the accident.

Wrecked shoes, smashed eyeglasses or shattered watches may be replaced by the accident benefit insurer. TIP #4: Keep all medical appointments. and always tell your doctors about all of your areas of pain. You should never exaggerate your symptoms, but you should also not minimize your ailments when talking with your doctors. This is not a time to be stoic. Make sure you tell your doctor about each and every symptom, including emotional concerns, fears and anxieties.

If you see any other doctors or therapists, make sure that you tell both your current doctor and your lawyer immediately. TIP #5: Do not talk to anyone about the accident. except your doctor or lawyer.

An accident victim in Ontario will face two or more insurers: yours and the other driver's. If there are more drivers, there will be more insurers. Be careful about speaking with the insurers and their adjusters or lawyers without notifying your lawyer so that he/she may be present if necessary. TIP #6: Keep any legal advice you receive to yourself. If you are considering filing a lawsuit as a result of the accident, your doctor's records will likely become part of the record on the lawsuit.

While your lawyer and doctor are on the same team (YOURS!), you should generally not repeat to your doctor what your lawyer tells you about the law suit in case it is recorded in the doctor's notes and is then disclosed to the insurance company's lawyer. TIP #7: Conduct a complete investigation. It is extremely important that you or your lawyer collect all witness statements, police reports, medical reports and anything else related to your accident.

To properly investigate, specialized engineers or detectives may need to be hired. The other party's insurance company will collect all sorts of information that may be used against you. You could be at a serious disadvantage if you do not conduct a thorough investigation.

TIP #8: Get photographs of all important elements in your case as soon as possible -- and record the date the photos were taken. After a car wreck, take pictures of your vehicle, the vehicle that struck you, the location of the incident and any marks on your body. If you are bruised, make sure the lighting is adequate and that the bruising is apparent in the pictures. Pictures are clear proof of what happened to you.

Photos of injuries are convincing evidence for juries. If you have taken pictures, tell your lawyer and provide him with the photographs or negatives. TIP #9: Don't have your car repaired until you have taken photos of your vehicle's damage. You don't want to rely on photographs taken by the other party's investigator.

These photographers are trying to lessen the look of the damage in the pictures. TIP #10: Don't sign a release for your medical records to any insurance company. A common error is to sign a release or waiver for an insurance company before consulting with a lawyer. You are effectively granting the insurer unfettered access to your whole medical file.

A lawyer can help you respond to requests for this sensitive information in a way that meets your legal obligations, without hurting your case. TIP #11: Never plead guilty to any traffic offence before you consult with your lawyer. If you are charged as a result of the accident, even if it is only a Highway Traffic Act ticket, ask your lawyer to evaluate your ticket or charge before the time and date set for the hearing. Pleading guilty to a traffic ticket after an accident is a bigger deal than a few demerit points or a fine.

TIP #12: Don't let the insurance adjusters pressure you into settling your case. Insurance company adjusters are trained to gather information that may be damaging to your case, and to settle cases for the lowest amount possible. TIP #13: Know all your damages. In Ontario, some of your damages will normally be paid by your own insurance company. They include: (1) the cost of medical treat¬ment that is not covered by OHIP; (2) a salary replacement if you can't return to your job because of your injuries; (3) the expense of having a caregiver for you; (4) the cost to have someone perform housekeeping tasks you can't do while you are injured; (5)the cost for psychological counseling caused by stress or some other aspect of the accident -- and possibly other money you paid out or lost as a result of your injury.

Extra damages may be payable by the other party's insurance company. Most importantly, if you have a "serious" and "permanent" injury, you may qualify for damages for your pain and suffering. In some of these cases, your immediate family members may have claims too.

Don't try to guess whether you meet the serious and permanent test. That is a legal question and the answer would surprise you in many instances. If you have doubts about whether you have a claim for damages after an accident, get the advice of a personal injury lawyer.

Brenda Hollingsworth and Richard Auger are lawyers at Auger Hollingsworth, an Ottawa law firm with a focus on personal injury. For a copy of their free book: "An Injured Victim's Guide to Fair Compensation" visit http://www.ottawalawfirm.ca ; email: info@ottawalawfirm.ca or call 613.233.4529.

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