Keep a Car Accident Diary to Protect Your Claim

It's one of the best ways to remember important details and strengthen your claim to ensure a fair settlement.

Updated By , J.D.

One of the most important things you can do after a car accident is keep a diary about the crash: how it happened, how it affected you physically and mentally, and the impact of the accident on your life in the days and weeks afterward. The most thorough approach—and the best way to strengthen your car accident claim—is to begin making entries immediately after the accident and continue making them (ideally at least once a day, at least initially) until you recover from your injuries. Read on for tips on what to include, how often to write, and more.

What to Include In Your Car Accident Diary

Begin the diary with a detailed description of your car accident. Include everything you can think of—a detail that doesn't seem all that significant at first can turn out to be crucial to a personal injury claim.

Be sure that the narrative tells who was involved, what happened, when and where, and how. Include a description of weather conditions, lighting conditions, the names and telephone numbers of witnesses, and the most precise times and distances that you can establish. Include a diagram that shows the point of impact and the points where the vehicles came to rest.

Then, periodically, add notes about your claim. Basically, you want your entries to answer the question "How has this accident affected my life?" You can keep the diary in any form that you are comfortable using. Write it on a paper tablet, save it in a three-ring binder or make it a document on your computer/device. But, one way or another, keep the diary.

How Often Should You Make an Entry?

Simply put, you should make an entry in your car accident diary as often as you have something to report. Initially, your entries will probably be more frequent (daily perhaps). Later, as your recovery progresses and your accident has less of an impact on your day-to-day life, you'll probably find yourself making fewer entries. But try to record at least one entry per week until your car insurance claim or car accident lawsuit is resolved.

Making Sure Your Diary Helps Your Case

Mainly, you are keeping your diary to collect and preserve information that you will need when you make your injury claim. But there is one other important use for your diary: to tell your doctor what you are experiencing. When you see your doctor, use your notes to report your symptoms and limitations because of your car accident injuries. You can even give your doctor (or physical therapist, or any other health care provider) a copy of your diary (hopefully a concise version) to be included in your medical records.

This is important because insurance adjusters give very little weight to what you tell them, but they give much more weight to information contained in your medical records. Therefore, give your doctor the information that is needed to fully document what you are going through.

You use your diary to remind yourself of all that you have experienced, and you use its detailed information to convey a thorough explanation of your experiences to the insurance company when you make your claim. With your diary to help, you don't have to state generalities—such as "I saw my doctor quite a few times over several months." Instead, you can look back at the notes in your diary and state, "I had 8 office visits with my doctor, received 18 physical therapy treatments and had the following diagnostic tests..."

With this type of information, your car accident demand letter will be specific, precise, and powerful. And it will convey to the insurance company that you know what you're doing, increasing the chances that they will want to settle your claim for a fair amount. Of course, if you hire a lawyer, you turn your diary over to him or her. As a professional advocate, your attorney will know how to use your diary to strengthen your case.

In addition to writing in your diary, be sure to include pictures of anything that is better documented by an image rather than through words. Take photos of such things as visible injuries like cuts and bruises. They will have healed and faded by the time that you make a claim, so preserve photographic evidence of them. If a laceration leaves a scar, photograph it at different points in the healing process. Also photograph slings, braces, casts or anything else that will help you show later what you had to go through, as part of the "pain and suffering" component of your damages.

Your Diary Might Not Stay Private

Here's an important caution about keeping a diary. If your car accident case ends up in court, a diary that you made on your own is "discoverable." That means the other driver's attorney can make you turn over a copy of your diary, and they can use it against you. Don't worry about this if all your diary has in it is an accurate report of your experiences. However, remember when you are deciding how to express your thoughts and experiences that your entries may be read someday by an adversary, or even by a jury. Make your entries accurate and business-like.

Here's one key distinction to keep in mind when it comes to privacy and your diary: A diary you make "on your own" must be disclosed to your adversaries if your case goes to court. However, if you make the diary at the request of your car accident lawyer, it will probably be protected by the "attorney-client privilege," which means that you will not be required to share it with the other side if you go to court (unless you and your lawyer decide to use it as evidence).

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