Getting into a car accident in Albany, or anywhere in the Capital Region, will cause anyone significant emotional, if not physical, distress. The aftermath of an accident, especially one in which you got hurt and wasn’t your fault, can feel overwhelming. It’s often difficult to know what steps to take to protect yourself and your family.
With that in mind, below we’ve collected some suggestions for actions you can take that may help to preserve your legal rights while providing some structure to what often seems like an utterly unstructured and chaotic situation.
At the Scene: Your Legal Obligations
New York’s Vehicle and Traffic Law contains specific provisions dictating the actions every driver involved in an accident must take in its immediate aftermath. In a nutshell, you must:
- Stay at the scene of the accident until you have taken the two steps below (and, usually, until first responders have arrived and given you the “ok” to leave)
- Give your contact, vehicle registration, and insurance information to others involved in the accident (they must also give the same information to you)
- Report the accident to the police, preferably by calling 911.
Neglecting to fulfill these basic obligations could expose you to criminal liability. It could also put your rights to receive compensation for your injuries at risk.
At the Scene: Other Things You Should Do
The items above constitute what you must do under New York State law if an accident in Albany, whether it happens on a highway like I-787 or the streets of a neighborhood like Helderberg or Buckingham Lake. They do not, however, necessarily reflect everything you should do at the scene of your Albany car accident, especially one that isn’t your fault.
Here are some additional suggestions for steps that can protect your rights.
Cooperate With Police, but Stick to the Facts
Police responding to the accident will likely ask you for some basic information about what happened. Always answer their questions and give them accurate information, but remember to stick to the facts.
It’s best not to get drawn into a discussion of who was at fault, even if you think someone else is to blame. Be aware, too, that anything you say can get misinterpreted.
Don’t say to a police officer that you should have seen the other car coming or even that you’re sorry—don’t say anything that, taken out of context, could sound like you’re taking the blame for the crash. Resist the urge to characterize what happened or to second-guess yourself, and instead, focus on politely but concisely answering the officer’s questions.
Let an EMT Examine You and Guide Your Immediate Medical Care
Calling 911 summons not just the police, but also emergency medical technicians (EMTs) who can assess your physical and emotional state, provide trauma care, and transport you to a hospital if need be.
Always let an EMT check you over at the accident scene, even if you feel “fine” after the crash. EMTs are trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of potentially dangerous injuries and health conditions—including shock, brain trauma, and the first signs of a spinal injury—that you may not even recognize in yourself, but which could get a lot worse if left unaddressed.
If an EMT recommends you receive emergency care at an Albany hospital, then let the EMT transport you there. It might feel inconvenient at the time, but it might also save your life.
Take Pictures or Video of the Scene, But Only If You Can Do So Safely and Without Getting In the Way
Images of an accident scene, either stills or video, can provide helpful evidence for accident investigators and others in determining what happened and who should bear the blame. It’s not always possible, but if you can do so safely and without interfering with first responders and clean-up crews, try to snap some photos of the scene, including the damaged vehicles, the road surface, and the surrounding area.
Remember, however, to make safety your first priority. The police will likely take similar photos. Anything you do is additive, and you should never put yourself at further risk.
After Leaving the Scene: Medical Care Takes Priority
If an EMT signs off on you leaving the scene on your own, and not in an ambulance, that does not mean that you should assume you’re out of the woods, injury-wise. EMTs perform triage and spot emergent health conditions. They’re not necessarily equipped to spot every potential injury you might have suffered in an Albany car accident.
Many injuries, not just life-threatening ones, may not show symptoms right away, but may worsen if you do not promptly address them. For that reason, it’s always a good idea to get a check-up from your family doctor or at an urgent care clinic within 24 hours of your accident, even if you still feel fine. When it comes to your health after a crash, safe is always better than sorry.
In addition to protecting your health and wellbeing, seeking medical care within 24 hours of an accident serves to document your injuries promptly, drawing a direct connection between the accident and any harm you suffered. This documentation and the link it demonstrates between the accident and injury can serve an important function in securing you compensation from insurance providers and at-fault parties.
After Leaving the Scene: Insurance Considerations
You may have an obligation under your auto or health insurance policy to notify your insurer of the accident within a specific amount of time, to ensure that you receive the coverage you have paid for. Check the terms of your insurance policy or, if you’re not sure of your obligations, discuss them with an attorney (see below).
In contacting your insurance company to report the accident, follow the same suggestions we made when it comes to talking to the police: stick to the facts. Again, even if you believe someone else was at fault in the accident, it’s often a risky proposition to discuss your perspective with an insurance representative, even one from your own insurance company.
Discussing fault for an accident with an insurance company is a nuanced exercise best left to an attorney who understands the legal and practical considerations involved in making sure insurance companies fulfill their obligations and pay you the benefits they owe.
Finally, when it comes to dealing with insurance companies representing the other parties involved in the accident, your best bet is virtually always to avoid contact altogether and to leave those interactions to an experienced Albany car accident attorney working on your behalf.
Treat any outreach to you directly from someone else’s insurance company as an attempt to avoid financial responsibility to you for the accident. Let a lawyer protect your rights, rather than risking them by speaking with that insurance company on your own.
After Leaving the Scene: Contact a Skilled Albany Car Accident Lawyer
Addressing your immediate medical needs after any car accident in Albany should always top your list of priorities. Right below it, however, should come contacting an experienced Albany car accident injury lawyer to learn about your rights to receive compensation.
Do not wait to take this step.
Your ability to secure payment for your injuries and losses may depend on a lawyer taking immediate action on your behalf, such as:
- Moving quickly to collect evidence you may need to prove what happened in the accident, such as data from cell phones and vehicle computers, or footage from traffic or security cameras that may have captured the crash.
- Notifying parties of your potential claim against them for compensation, especially if the party at fault for your accident is a local or state government agency.
- Interacting with insurance companies on your behalf, especially if a representative from another party’s insurance company calls you to discuss the accident or to offer you a settlement.
- Serving as your advocate in the course of any investigation of the accident by authorities or insurance adjusters.
Having an experienced lawyer on your side as soon as possible ensures that you meet important deadlines, avoids potential pitfalls, and relieves you of the worries and burdens that might otherwise get in the way of your physical and emotional recovery from the car accident.
The lawyer’s aim, in working on your behalf, is to secure you as much compensation as possible from the parties at fault for the crash.
That compensation can help to pay for your:
- Medical and other expenses related to the accident and the injuries you suffered in it
- Lost income and wages you do not or might not earn because of your injuries
- Pain, suffering, loss of quality of life and relationships, and other non-economic damages
In addition, through careful investigation and preparation of your case, a lawyer may have the ability to convince an Albany court to award you punitive damages, which are extra payments from the at-fault party designed as punishment for particularly outrageous or intentional conduct.
Contacting an attorney to talk about your accident does not cost you a penny, nor does hiring an attorney to represent you in a legal action for damages. Lawyers in Albany who represent car accident victims offer free consultations and represent their clients on contingency, which means they only receive a fee if they secure money for you.
In the Days and Weeks Ahead: Follow Doctor’s Orders
By making your physical and emotional recovery your top priority, you can simplify many of the decisions you may have to make in the days and weeks ahead. Your doctor’s advice and directions should serve as your guideposts for when it’s ok to return to work, or physical activity, or any other aspect of your life that the accident and your injuries put on hold.
Doing what your doctor says keeps you on the path to recovery. It also protects your legal rights to compensation by making sure that no one can claim you made your injuries worse by not taking care of yourself.
Remember, insurance companies representing the at-fault parties may even try to check up on you to find out if you are as injured as you claim. By obeying your doctor’s orders, you ensure that they cannot find fault with your activities.
In the Days and Weeks Ahead: Social Media Considerations
By the same token, remember that insurance companies will also keep an eye on your social media feeds, looking for any evidence they can find to undermine your claim to compensation for your injuries and losses.
Oftentimes, the smartest thing you can do is to simply stay away from social media altogether until your case has run its course. The fewer reasons insurance companies have to deny your claim or fight you in court, the better off you will be and the higher your odds of securing the money you deserve.
In the Days and Weeks Ahead: Financial Considerations
You may encounter financial strain as a result of the car accident and your injuries. If so, be sure to let your lawyer know right away. An attorney may have the ability to advocate on your behalf with bill collectors to find accommodations until your case has run its course.
Talk to your attorney, too, about how to keep track of the financial impact of your injuries. You have the right to receive compensation for any financial loss you suffered. The better and more detailed the evidence you can assemble of just how much the accident and your injuries cost you, the stronger the case an attorney can build on your behalf.
Trust an Albany Attorney to Help You Secure the Compensation You Deserve
No one expects to get into a car accident in Albany, but lawyers who represent accident victims work day-in, day-out, helping their clients navigate the uncertain waters of the aftermath of a crash. An attorney can help you, too. Contact a skilled Albany car accident lawyer today for a free consultation to learn about your rights.
Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties.
An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.