If you were in a car accident in Montana, there are a few things you should do right off the bat.
- CALL THE POLICE AND REPORT THE ACCIDENT
Call 911. It’s always a good idea to call the police after a crash to report it. Sometimes the police are busy and they may not be able to respond to the scene immediately. Dispatch will be able to take the initial report and tell you if a police officer will respond.
When the police arrive, tell them what occurred. If you saw the at-fault driver on their cell phone, tell the police so they can question the at-fault driver about it. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,166 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2017. In addition, in most cities in Montana, driving and talking on your cellphone is illegal.
If the crash involves more than $1,000 in vehicle damage, you are required to call the police. In today’s world, the cost to repair vehicles for most crashes cost more than $1,000. So play it safe and call the police.
- TAKE PICTURES IF YOU CAN
A picture is worth a thousand words. Photos preserve the evidence at the time of the crash. The police do not typically take photos of the vehicles unless it is a more severe crash. If you or someone else is able, take photos of the scene and the condition of the cars. This allows attorneys and insurance adjusters to see the damage at the scene. Be sure to take close-up photos of the damage and wide-angle photos of the crash scene to paint a picture of what things looked like at the time of the crash. This can help your attorneys and their experts deduce what the at-fault driver was doing at the time, how distracted the other driver may have been, and whether there was enough time to stop before the crash.
Did you air-bags go off? Document it. Cracked windshield? Take a picture. . .You get the idea.
- EXCHANGE INFORMATION
When the police arrive, they will ask you for your insurance information. Be sure to have it ready to make the process go smoothly. If the police are busy with other crashes (sometimes in the winter this can happen), the police dispatch might ask you for your information and the other driver’s information.
Be sure to get the following so that you or your attorney can properly follow up with the at-fault driver’s insurance company to make a claim.
YOU MUST GET:
- The other driver’s insurance information – name of insurance company, policy number, and the contact information for the insurance company.
- The other driver’s contact information – name, phone number, and address.
- The other driver’s license number and license plate number.
- SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION
If you are injured, you should seek medical attention. Under Montana law, the at-fault driver’s insurance should cover these bills if you do not have insurance of your own. The initial medical notes from the hospital or urgent care are often important because they document what you remember immediately after the crash. In the “reason why you are here” section of your medical notes, the doctors will dictate what you told them about the crash. This helps in two ways, it preserves the evidence at the time and lets you refresh your memory much later during the litigation, sometimes years later.
Just after a car crash, when adrenaline is coursing through your body and your mind is dazed from the crash, you likely won’t know all of your injuries. And you may feel belittled by the insurance adjuster when you try to explain some of your more complex injuries.
For example, the insurance adjuster may tell you that because you didn’t go to the doctor the day of the wreck, you can’t possible be injured. Medical professionals know this is nonsense, and juries do too. Don’t let the insurance adjuster frighten you out of making a justified claim or use this fact to try to force you to settle your claim early, when you are still treating. If you feel like your injury is related to your wreck, it probably is. You know your body best. You certainly know it better than an insurance adjuster reading your limited medical records with no context about how this injury has affected you, your family, and your course-of-life.
If you’ve never felt that type of pain before in your neck, back, shoulder, etc., or if you’ve never had headaches like are experiencing before—even months after the crash—your injury is likely related to the wreck.
Schedule an appointment with your primary care provider and tell primary care provider everything you are experiencing. It’s your doctor’s job to sort out what is relevant and what is not, not yours. When you are open with your doctors, they can get you the care you need and they document your injuries so that you have proof down the road. Your primary care doctor can then recommend appropriate follow-up treatment—be it physical therapy, chiropractic treatment, or whatever is needed to help you recover.
Make sure you follow up with your doctor; you don’t know whether any relief you may experience is temporary or lasting. Regular medical visits also held document that your injury is ongoing and show that you still suffer from your crash injuries. Finally, regular medical visits prevent the insurance company and their defense lawyers from claiming that you stopped treating and therefore made your injuries worse.
Another common misconception is that you have to lose consciousness to sustain a concussion or brain injury. Not true. A concussion or mild traumatic brain injury can occur from a strong jolt and whipping of the head, like what occurs in a car crash. The Mayo Clinic lists the symptoms of a concussion as: feeling dazed, confused or disoriented; a headache; fatigue, drowsiness, nausea or vomiting; speech issues, difficulty sleeping, feeling extra tired or sleeping more than usual, loss of balance or dizziness. If you have these symptoms, you should report them to a doctor. It takes time and rest to recover from a head injury or brain injury. Often a doctor will prescribe days off of work so you can rest and recover. In this case, the at-fault driver’s insurance company should cover lost wages while you are off work, but you will need a doctor’s prescription to document it.
There are many other injuries that require immediate medical attention such as a broken bone, lacerations, etc. that are not discussed here; however, you likely sought medical treatment for them and they are well document in the medical records.
Take away, be sure to document your visits. If you are hurt, you should try to seek medical care for your injuries. But how do you pay? Luckily, in Montana that is less of an issue as it can be in other states. In Montana, the insurance company is required to pay out medical bills, prescriptions, or even lost wages, that result from the crash.