Following a car accident, dog bite, or any other personal injury, you may have a lot of questions. Much of this information can be found online but can be hard to find, confusing and convoluted. So, the personal injury attorneys at Bowman Law LLC, compiled a consolidated resource to help guide you. This Personal Injury Guide was based on our firm’s core values and will help you understand the Colorado legal system while our attorneys tackle your case. We hope these resources will help you put your questions to rest so you can continue to recover.
While much of this Guide targets motor vehicle accidents, the basic steps will remain the same in all personal injury situations.
Table of Contents
- Steps To Take Immediately After An Accident
- The Most Common Mistakes After an Accident
- How to Take Effective Accident Scene Pictures
- The Various Damages in a Personal Injury Case
- Medical Payments Coverage
- Uninsured Motorist Coverage
- Links, Forms & Additional Resources
Steps To Take Immediately After An Accident
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are nearly 10 million automobile accidents each year, from minor fender benders to fatal crashes. While it’s impossible to predict when or where an accident will take place, knowing what to do at the time can help save lives, reduce injuries, and also make the claims process simpler easier. Accidents can be filled with adrenaline and confusion. Drivers should remember these necessary steps after an accident to help protect everyone involved.
1. Pull Over
Parties to an accident should absolutely never drive away from the scene, even even it seems relatively minor. The parties should take care to move themselves and vehicles out of traffic or away from any further risk of harm, but stay close to the scene. Turn on hazard lights and set up emergency cones or triangles to alert other drivers. The parties should not move their vehicles unless they interfere with traffic. Nor should they exit their vehicle until it is safe to do so.
2. Call the Police
It’s against the law to not report an accident that results in injuries. Even if the accident is minor and there are no serious injuries, it’s still advisable to call the police. The officer will merely file an incident report, which functions as an information exchange and documents the details of the situation. If the accident is more serious, the officer will create an accident report to assist the insurance process and establish legal liability. A police report may be necessary to deal with property damage. A police report provides an objective view of the accident and protects against either party changing their stories afterward.
When the police arrive, the parties should tell the officer exactly what happened to the best of their ability. Drivers should never speculate about the causes of the accident or mistate the facts. If asked about injuries, it’s okay for the parties to inform the officer they’re not sure. Often, injuries become apparent hours, even days, after a collision.
3. Take Photographs
If the parties are able to do so, they should take pictures of the scene of the accident. If there are any visible injuries, photographs should be taken of those as well. In doing so, it is important not to interfere with the ongoing police investigation. If it’s impossible to take photographs at the scene of the accident, the parties should take them as soon as possible afterwards.
4. Exchange Contact Info and Report the Accident to Insurance
Regardless of whether or not police report to the scene, parties should obtain the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of all persons involved in the accident. If there are witnesses, the parties should get their contact information as well. Should the case require litigation, witness information will be vital for both parties.
The parties should also exchange insurance information with other parties involved. They should be sure to give the name of the insurance company and policy number. As soon as possible, report the accident to your insurance company and provide this information. Many policies require immediate reporting and full cooperation to even consider a claim. It’s important to find out whether a party’s insurance policy has Medical Payments Coverage and Uninsured/ Underinsured Motorist Coverage.
5. Seek Prompt Medical Attention
Often, injuries caused by accidents are not immediately apparent. In fact, as personal injury attorneys, we see clients all the time who reported feeling pain several days following an auto accident. Unless you are absolutely, 100% certain that you’re not injured, we recommend that you seek medical attention at your local emergency room or visit your primary care physician immediately. Even accidents involving minor impact can cause serious or long-term injuries.
6. Contact Our Denver Personal Injury Lawyers
One of the most important things you should do following a motor vehicle collision is to consult experienced personal injury lawyers. Bowman & Chamberlain, LLC personal injury lawyers can review your accident from an expert legal perspective to protect your rights and make sure valuable evidence is not destroyed.
Oftentimes, insurance adjusters attempt to take statements immediately after an accident. It’s important to receive legal advice before speaking with the insurance company because what you say during your statement may be used against you. Your attorney can help you protect yourself as well as advise you on issues ranging from compensation to treatment and property damage. Personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, which means there will be no legal fee unless you receive compensation for your injuries.
The Most Common Mistakes After an Accident
Like all metro areas, Denver roadways handle high-volume traffic daily, especially with the increasing number of drivers in recent years. As motor vehicle usage increases, so does the likelihood of motor accidents. Some auto accidents are nothing more than fender benders that can generally be handled through direct contact with insurance, while many, unfortunately, involve physical injury, fatality, or other significant damages. These types of accidents can leave victims and their families traumatized and uncertain about the steps to follow and more likely to make mistakes.
Some people attempt to negotiate a settlement with the insurance company on their own behalf – to their own detriment. Remember that insurance adjusters are hired to minimize the payouts on claims. Essentially, their job is to avoid paying you. In addition, many injuries do not manifest until weeks or months down the road. If a claim is resolved before a victim realizes the extent of their injuries, the settlement will not properly take into account future complications. Thus, consulting an experienced Denver personal injury lawyer is essential. In addition, victims should know about and try to avoid these common mistakes:
1. Failing to Obtain Medical Care Quickly
Many accident victims think they can just “shake it off.” This is especially true in minor collisions. You should be seen by a healthcare provider immediately, even if you think you’re fine. Many serious injuries, especially to the structures of the back and neck, might not be apparent for hours or even days after a collision, so it’s essential to be evaluated – and treated – for any possible injury. Your medical treatment should be documented right away and will help provide a “paper trail” that will be hard for insurance companies to dispute.
Natural physical responses that help humans overcome trauma, like endorphins, may even mask pain and discomfort for a significant amount of time after a high-stress incident. It’s important to pay attention to your body and get medical attention if there is any indication you’re hurt. At the very least, you’ll know whether something is wrong so you can address it.
2. Failing to Call the Police
There is never a good reason to not contact the police. More importantly, it’s illegal in Colorado to not call the police when an accident involves injuries. Sometimes, the negligent party will plead with you not to report the accident. They may profess their fault and tell you how sorry they are, or have some other reason for not wanting police attention. No matter how sympathetic you might feel toward them, do not do it! There are legal, physical and ramifications to you that you may not even consider at the time of the incident – consequences you may end up paying for the rest of your life. By having the accident properly investigated by a police officer, you can discourage this kind of behavior.
3. Signing Anything
Putting anything in writing without legal guidance is a bad idea. Shortly after an accident, you’ll probably receive a series of documents from the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Before signing anything the insurance company sends you, consult with an attorney to help review the documents and discuss their purpose and potential legal impact. The primary factor used to determine the value of your claim will be your injuries and treatment. If you make a mistake in a written statement or sign a medical release may jeopardize your claim without even realizing it.
4. Admitting Fault
Admitting fault means you accept full liability for the accident. Instead of affirming the accident was your fault, you should let the police conduct their investigation without your opinion or interference. Try to state the facts as you remember them. The true cause of the accident may be something you’re not aware of, like a driver who suddenly slammed on the brakes. The police report plays a key role in helping insurance companies figure out what truly happened. Because the official version is more reliable than the descriptions of those involved (particularly when multiple parties have differing accounts and naturally reflect personal biases), insurance companies use the police report to get a clear idea of who erred.
5. Failing to Mention Previous Accidents or Medical History to Medical Providers
Insurance companies maintain huge databases of information they share with each other. Your lawyer and medical providers do not have this luxury. If you fail to inform or misrepresent your medical history during your accident medical treatment, your credibility will be lost. It is important the parties who want to help you have a complete picture of your previous accident and pertinent health history. Do not withhold information from your treating physicians because you think it is unimportant, irrelevant, or will not come up. Having prior accidents or injuries does not mean you’re not entitled to full recovery and compensation in an accident.
6. Exaggerating Injuries
Pain and suffering can be the biggest element of claims for damages. Complaining about or pretending to be worse than you really are is a serious mistake. You will not fool the insurance company or a jury. Although rare, insurance companies have hired private investigators to follow claimants with a video camera to capture false reports. If you claim your back injury prevents you from lifting and playing with your infant child, do not go to the grocery store and carry a 50 pound bag of dog food. Your credibility will be destroyed and your claim will be impacted. Do not claim an injury you do not have or exaggerate the impact of a legitimate injury.
7. Failing to Return to Work When Able Or Returning Too Quickly
Most victims return to work sooner than they should out of financial necessity. If your doctor advised you to stay off work for a certain period of time, it’s important to heed his medical opinion. He’s the expert, and insurance companies may look at whether you’ve correctly followed medical instructions. And try to return to work when your doctor deems it appropriate.
If a doctor did not advise you to stay off work, you’ll have a difficult time proving you should be compensated. If you feel you cannot work, talk to your doctor and explain what your job requires. If you doctor agrees with you, insist on a written note. Whether or not you need it for your employer, you’ll likely need it for your accident claim.
8. Failing to Keep Records
Your lawyer will collect your medical records and bills and, when appropriate, submit them to the insurance company with your settlement demand. It is important you keep copies of your bills. Keep track of the names, addresses, phone numbers, and specialties of all medical providers. Also, make sure to keep receipts for any injury-related expenses, such as prescriptions and medical supplies.
Also, during the time following the accident, record how you are feeling and how your injuries affect aspects of your daily life. Resolution of your claims can take many months or even years. As time goes on, people forget the extent of their pain, suffering, and limitations. Keep in mind all of the above information, and do not exaggerate.
9. Accepting an Early Settlement
Keep in mind at all times that the insurance company is a for-profit business which offers settlements that are as low as possible. This is the standard practice, and insurance companies try to get injury victims to settle prematurely, hoping a quick resolution will be more appealing to you than the fullest compensation you’re entitled to, which may take longer. Too often, a personal injury victim makes poor decisions immediately following an accident due to the emotional stress, financial strain and urgent medical demands. By acting too quickly, you may make decisions you regret for a long time to come.
10. Not Contacting a Personal Injury Attorney
Contact Bowman & Chamberlain, LLC, today for a free consultation. Our personal injury lawyers will discuss your situation and avoid these and other mistakes accident victims often make.
How to Take Effective Accident Scene Pictures
Being the victim of a motor vehicle accident or other personal injury is unquestionably overwhelming, but taking photographs is essential, regardless of the situation. Photo documentation is absolutely necessary for a personal injury claim. Pictures help eliminate doubt and assign liability. Pictures are far more effective in a claim or trial than a verbal description of the accident. All parties to an auto accident should always photograph the scene if it’s physically possible.
It goes without saying that the most important factor following an accident is the safety of those involved as well as any witnesses. Immediately after an accident, call 911 and make sure the area where you’re waiting is safe. Move vehicles out of traffic when necessary, making an effort to preserve the integrity of the scene when possible. While waiting for the police to arrive, begin photo documentation. This is the most vital opportunity to photograph the scene exactly as it was at the time of the collision because police may clear the scene once they arrive.
To take valuable photos, try to consider a claim from an insurance adjuster’s vantage point. What do they need to see to understand the sequence of events, the physical surroundings and any evidence of negligence or the accident’s cause?
Make sure your camera has a time-stamp function. Take many more photos than you think necessary for a better chance of accurately depicting the scene. Take several wide shots from different angles to provide an overall view that will set the stage for more detailed photos to follow.
Take pictures of all traffic indicators, including traffic signals, stop signs, warnings or driver instructions. The vehicles should be photographed as close to the actual accident spot as possible. The photographs should demonstrate the general position of each vehicle at the time of the accident and should include close-up of the damage to each vehicle. If there is any debris from the impact, these should be photographed too.
Weather conditions should also be photographed. While seemingly unimportant at the time, the location of the sun and condition of the road surface, including rain and ice, can provide a better understanding of the cause of the accident. Skid marks should also be photographed. The length, breadth, and direction of the skid marks can help identify a driver’s negligence.
Finally, the parties should photograph everyone at the scene. This includes the participants (both drivers and passengers), witnesses, police officers, and paramedics. Having a visual record of the people at the scene will help connect faces with statements later on. Photographs will also help avoid confusion about the identity of participants versus witnesses. A visual record of injuries should also be obtained if possible, including clear images of lacerations, contusions, abrasions, blood, and broken bones.
The following day, it’s important to gather more evidence. Photographs of injuries should be taken on an ongoing basis to document the healing process. It may take a day or two before discoloration and swelling or latent injuries appear. Document them as they arise. In addition, it may be worth returning to the scene with a better digital or high resolution camera to document everything again or photograph something you may have missed at the time.
When faced with the stress of being in a car accident, the last thing most people want to consider it taking out a camera. But having photographic evidence of the event will help demonstrate what happened, refute opposing theories and help ensure a fair decision about liability and compensation.
The Various Damages in a Personal Injury Case
In personal injury cases, monetary damages are paid to an injured party, typically by the insurance company of the negligent party. This can happen through negotiations between the parties or through a verdict in court. Most personal injury damages are classified as “compensatory,” meaning they are intended to compensate an injured party for what was lost due to the accident. To the extent possible, a compensatory damage award is meant to make the injured party whole again from a monetary standpoint. Some compensatory damages are easy to quantify, such as reimbursement for property damage, medical expenditures, and lost wages. Other damages are not so easy to compute.
Here are some of the damages the attorneys at Bowman & Chamberlain, LLC, take into consideration when they help you with your claim:
A review of injuries resulting from automobile accidents indicate most injuries heal within 1-2 years, but that 25% of victims will develop ongoing chronic pain. Some of these will see improvement over a 2-year period post-trauma, but some may be unlikely to improve even after 2 years. According to one study, after an average of 10.8 years, 86% of victims involved in a pedestrian accident experienced ongoing, related residual pain on a long-term basis with 68% eventually displaying degenerative changes on X-Ray imaging. This finding is further supported by another study that found 43% of patients experiencing an injury related to a motor vehicle collision had discomfort sufficient to interfere with their capacity 2 years later.
The accumulated literature suggests 43% of people involved in a pedestrian accident will suffer long-term symptoms. Since ligaments and muscles do not fully heal once injured, victims of personal injury will continue to experience instability that will increase the likelihood of degenerative diseases over time without continued care.
Pain and suffering damages typically encompass compensable damages in personal injury cases that include not only physical pain, but also a wide range of intangible injuries relating to mental and emotional trauma. Physical pain is the neurological response to physical damage to the body and has been defined as “a more or less localized sensation of discomfort, distress, or agony resulting from the stimulation of specialized nerve endings.”
“Suffering” may take a number of forms and encompass a number of concepts that are generally viewed as a mental or emotional state brought on by a victim’s injury. Any definition of suffering, although not definitive, may include a broad range of emotional responses which may occur in conjunction with the trauma and resultant physical pain, or irrespective of any physical injury. Colorado courts have held that mental suffering constitutes an aggravation of damages when it naturally ensues from the act complained of, and includes nervousness, grief, anxiety, shock, humiliation and indignity as well as physical pain.
To clarify: in Colorado courts, pain is characterized broadly as physiological while suffering is more appropriately deemed psychological. Whereas pain refers to the physical sensations resulting from an injury, suffering is concerned primarily with the person’s emotional reactions to these sensations. Unfortunately, there is no formula to calculate pain and suffering because there is no obvious way to apply a monetary value to these things. Typically, in personal injury cases, juries and even insurance adjusters multiply the economic damages by 2-3 times in an effort to calculate the non-economic pain and suffering damages.
According to Colorado statute, in cases where the defendant’s conduct is attended by circumstances of fraud, malice, or willful and wanton conduct, a jury may award punitive, or exemplary damages in addition to the actual damages sustained. “Willful and wanton conduct” means the defendant must have realized their actions were dangerous, done heedlessly and recklessly, without regard to consequences, or of the rights and safety of others, particularly the victim. To justify exemplary damages, there must be some wrong motive accompanying the wrongful act.
These types of damages stem from a rationale quite different from the justification tied to compensatory damages, which attempts to “make someone whole.” Punitive damages are awarded to the victim but the real goal is to punish the wrongdoer for his conduct. They “hit him in the pocketbook” so to speak. Moreover, punitive damages are used as a deterrent to prevent similar future tragedies. Colorado, like most states, has a cap on punitive damages in a personal injury case.
In some cases, an injury victim may have contributed to the accident. Colorado has adopted by statute a modified form of comparative negligence. The Statute says that the contributory negligence of a claimant will not bar recovery if the claimant’s negligence was less than the defendant’s negligence. Some courts, however, have ruled otherwise and determined a claimant will not be barred from receiving compensation if his fault is less than 50 percent of the combined fault of all those who helped to cause the incident, including those non-parties whose fault is considered under the Statute. In situations where a claimant’s contributory negligence does not bar recovery, such negligence will reduce any damages awarded in proportion to the amount of the claimant’s negligence.
Medical Payments Coverage
When searching for ways to lower your car insurance, you may be tempted to drop Medical Payments Coverage from your policy. Colorado does not require drivers to carry this form of coverage. You would be mistaken, however, to write it off as unnecessary. In fact, the very limitations of most health insurance policies, combined with the slow pace of insurance settlements, argue strongly in favor of retaining, if not increasing, your Medical Payments Coverage. In a nutshell, this type of insurance will pay for reasonable expenses incurred for necessary medical expenses of an insured following an accident. In Colorado, insurance companies typically issue Med Pay in amounts of $5,000.00, $10,000.00, and $25,000.00.
What is Medical Payments Coverage?
Pursuant to Colorado law, Medical Payments Coverage makes good on medical bills up to the coverage limit for their insured and any others riding in the vehicle involved in an accident, regardless of who’s at fault. Further, Medical Payments Coverage covers the insured person (whether walking, biking, or riding as a passenger in another vehicle) as well as with the insured vehicle, regardless of who is driving. This coverage applies in limited circumstances. First, you must have been injured in a motor vehicle accident. If you were struck by a vehicle as a pedestrian, you can still tap into the coverage. Second, you must have incurred medical expenses. The insurance coverage does not pay for future medical expenses but reimburses you for actual medical expenses following an accident. Moreover, Medical Payments Coverage does not apply to non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering.
The beauty of Medical Payments Coverage is it kicks in immediately to cover your medical bills, health insurance deductible, and co-pays. When an accident happens, it can take months, or even years, for a car insurance company to pay out on medical bills. Your health insurance may pay, but often with high deductibles and co-pays that can stretch finances to the breaking point. Medical Payments Coverage covers those bills and co-pays, plus out-of-pocket costs that your health insurance probably will not touch, including ambulance fees, chiropractic, massage, and even dental treatment.
The premium is so small, often less than $20.00 per year, for up to $10,000.00 in coverage. Further, the use of this coverage will not increase your premiums. Your insurance premiums can only be increased if you have a chargeable offense. If there are multiple policies with Medical Payments Coverage available, you’re entitled to collect up to the exact amount of the total medical expenses you incurred. You cannot submit the same bills for duplicate payments to more than one insurance company but can submit anything in excess to a secondary insurance company.
Medical Payments Coverage can be especially important for drivers without health insurance. But forget about using it as a stand-alone substitute. You must carry auto liability coverage in order to purchase this coverage, and can only be claimed for injuries related to an auto-related accident
Uninsured Motorist Coverage
Colorado law requires vehicle owners to purchase bodily injury (“BI”) liability insurance and carry evidence of it at all times. In fact, motorists cannot register a vehicle unless the application is accompanied by a certificate of insurance. However, it’s not uncommon for irresponsible motorists to acquire liability insurance in accord with Colorado law only to let it lapse thereafter. Alternatively, some motorists simply drive without registration or insurance. In the event of an accident with one of these motorists, the victim remains uncompensated if the negligent motorist is otherwise financially unable to make up for the harms caused. This has become one of the most significant problems in the civil justice system. What happens when a negligent party does not have the capacity to satisfy liability?
What Is Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage?
Like most States, Colorado requires insurance companies to offer Uninsured Motorist (“UM”) Coverage with every automobile liability policy issued. UM coverage is both personal and portable. An insured is covered for injuries caused by an uninsured negligent motorist without regards to an insured vehicle. Otherwise stated, an insured is protected under all circumstances because the coverage follows the insured and not the vehicle. Accordingly, the injured party is protected regardless of whether he was struck while in a vehicle, on a horse, riding a bike, walking, or relaxing on the front porch.
Underinsured Motorist (“UIM”) coverage has its genesis in the inadequacies of UM legislation. It is a means to provide protection for victims of personal injury who would not be adequately indemnified by the BI carrier. More explicitly, UIM coverage comes into play following an accident when the BI coverage is not sufficient to fully compensate an injured party for the damages caused. UIM is another form of first party coverage intended to supplement inadequate BI coverage.
Why Purchase Uninsured Motorist Coverage?
There are significant advantages of purchasing Uninsured Motorist Coverage. First, both types of coverage will pay for injuries of not only the insured, but also any resident relative living in the insured’s household, even if your vehicle was not involved in the accident. This is known as Resident Relative Coverage. Second, and most importantly, when a person is injured in an accident that was caused by an uninsured motorist, the only way to collect damages for injuries and other expenses is through Uninsured Motorist Coverage.
Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage is affordable, especially considering the amount of protection it offers. It could pay for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. During a period of time when some people are struggling economically, many drivers do not have insurance or do not have enough insurance. The more coverage a driver has, the more protected they are.
In Colorado, Uninsured/ Underinsured Motorist Coverage are mandatory in the sense they must be offered in writing by the insurer and rejected in writing by the named insured. The statutory obligation to offer Uninsured Motorist Coverage extends only to the statutory minimum amount of coverage. If neither offered in writing by the insurer, nor rejected in writing by the named insured, the statutory minimum amount of coverage is imputed by operation of law into the policy.
Insurance can be very confusing at times. It is important to remember that insurance adjusters are not your friends, and their job is to save the insurance company money – not being fair to you. When dealing with an insurance company, it’s important to have an attorney standing up for your interests. Our experienced lawyers will fight for you and ensure you are treated with respect and obtain the compensation you deserve. We start by identifying all possible avenues of compensation, including your own Uninsured/ Underinsured Motorist Coverage.
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
- U.S. Department of Transportation
- Colorado Department of Transportation
- Colorado State Patrol
- Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles
Forms, Handbooks, and Manuals
Contact our Experienced Colorado Personal Injury Attorneys
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