Many car-wreck victims take their time in pursuing auto accident claims – and for good reasons. Their normal lives are turned upside-down in a flash by someone else’s negligence, followed by time-consuming medical treatment and pain which makes concentration on legal matters very difficult. The law recognizes that fact by allowing negligence victims 2 years to file a lawsuit (if necessary) for a wrongful death claim, and 4 years for a personal injury claim.
Just because you can wait, however, doesn’t mean that you should wait. Generally speaking, the sooner that you are able to pursue such claim, the better able you and your lawyer will be able to accomplish critical steps, such as:
- Obtaining photos of the vehicles involved – yes, many times the insurance companies involved will take photos, which can be obtained through the discovery process. However, the photo quality is often bad, or the photographer (employed by the insurance company – and not an engineer) overlooks a critical scratch or dent which could well be the difference between winning or losing a tough-fought battle regarding fault (e.g. did the 1st vehicle rear-end the 2nd vehicle before or after it was rear-ended by the 3rd vehicle?). Likewise, the photographer may have overlooked the bent frame/undercarriage of your vehicle, which makes all the difference in establishing that there was indeed serious impact even though the energy-absorbing bumper isn’t badly damaged.
- Obtaining photos of the accident scene – contrary to what most folks believe, investigating law enforcement usually do not take photos of the scene – except when there’s a fatality. Then what happens? The grove owner or homeowner comes along and trims the trees or bushes that were obscuring the stop sign, or the county comes along and paves the road, filling in and covering over the gouge mark that was the critical piece of evidence in establishing the point of impact.
- Finding and interviewing witnesses – it’s a very mobile society these days, and important witnesses frequently move away to other states or even countries. Even if you are able to find them, it’s a much more difficult and expensive process to take their deposition, bring them to trial, etc. If you can’t find them, your case may be seriously compromised. For example, in an intersection collision under a traffic light, an independent eye-witness may be the only way to ever prove that you had a green light or that the other guy had a red light.
- Preserving/downloading the Event Data Recorder (the “Black Box”) in your vehicle – or in the at-fault vehicle. Such information varies by vehicle type, but generally includes a multitude of data which could be critical to your claim, such as speeds, seat belt status, turn signal status, steering input and brake/head/tail light status. If the crash was sufficient to deploy the airbags, the black box will permanently write and capture data, but if that unit is replaced when the vehicle is repaired, measures must be taken to collect and preserve it. On the other hand, if a relatively low-impact collision does not deploy the airbag, the black box may nevertheless still trigger and write data, and then retain that data for a limited time period, such as during the next 250 engine-ignition cycles. Then when that vehicle is cranked up the 251st time, the data is lost forever.
By all means, take the time you and your family need to deal with the collision’s immediate effects on your lives. Then focus on obtaining the justice you deserve by timely taking those steps necessary to prove what happened. Don’t become a victim yet again by the inability to be fairly compensated because some critical evidence has disappeared with the passage of time.