After any kind of accident that could prompt you to file a personal injury claim, it's crucial to do everything you can to protect your right to fair compensation for your losses. One of the best first steps you can take is to write down (or type or tap out) everything you can remember about your accident, including details of your injuries and their effects on your daily life.
These notes can be very useful two or six or ten months later, when you put together a demand letter for the insurance company, or when you decide to file a personal injury lawsuit. Having notes to remind you of the details of what happened, and what you went through, is both easier and more reliable than counting on your memory.
Get into the habit of taking notes on anything you think might possibly affect your case, and carry it through the entire personal injury claim process. Whenever you remember something you had not thought of before (just before you fall asleep, as you're biting into a pastry, or at any other time) write it down and put it with your other notes—whether on paper, on your phone, or in a computer file. Here are some specific things about which you should make notes.
As soon as your head is clear enough, jot down everything you can remember about how the accident happened, beginning with what you were doing and where you were going, the people you were with, the time and weather. Include every detail of what you saw and heard and felt—twists, blows, and shocks to your body immediately before, during, and right after the accident. Also include anything you remember hearing anyone—a person involved in the accident or a witness—say about the accident.
In the first days following your accident, make daily notes of all pains and discomfort your injuries cause. You may suffer pain, discomfort, anxiety, loss of sleep, or other problems which are not as visible or serious as another injury but for which you should demand additional compensation. If you don't make specific note of them immediately, you may not remember exactly what to include in your demand for settlement weeks or months later. Also, taking notes will make it easier for you later to describe to an insurance company how much and what kind of pain and discomfort you were in. (Learn more about pain and suffering in a personal injury case.)
In addition, writing down your different injuries may help your doctor diagnose you. For example, a relatively small bump on the head or crink in the neck may not seem worth mentioning, but it might help both the doctor and the insurance adjuster understand why your bad back pain developed several weeks after the accident. Also, by telling the doctor or other medical provider about all of your injuries, those injuries become part of your medical records that will provide evidence later that such injuries were caused by the accident. Get tips on what to do when your accident injuries don't show up right away.
You may be entitled to compensation for economic loss, for missed special events, as well as for pain and suffering. But you will need good documentation. Begin making notes immediately after the accident about anything you have lost because of the accident and your injuries: work hours, job opportunities, meetings, classes, events, family or social gatherings, vacation, or anything else which would have benefited you or which you would have enjoyed but were unable to do because of the accident.
Make written notes of the date, time, people involved, and content of every conversation you have about your accident or your claim. In-person or telephone conversations worth noting may include those with any witness, adjuster, or other insurance representative, or with medical personnel.
You may want to return to the scene of the accident to take notes or pictures or locate and talk to witnesses who may help your case. Get more tips on preserving evidence to help your personal injury claim.
For a step-by-step guide to navigating the injury claim process after almost any kind of accident, get How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim, by Joseph Matthews (Nolo).