There are a number of important first steps to protect your rights in a New Mexico auto accident. These steps are very important to insure that you receive fair and just compensation for your injuries.
Keep in mind the following steps apply if you were not the one that caused the accident. In that case, you should contact your insurance company immediately to avoid any possible waivers of coverage.
Step #1: Call the Police to the Scene
If there are injuries that are to any degree serious, it is important to call the police to the scene. It is amazing how often negligent drivers will admit fault, agree to take care of everything and then later completely deny everything trying to place the blame on you.
It is very important to get a police officer to the scene to avoid this.
Step #2: Take Pictures and Identify Witnesses to the Crash
Assuming you are able, even if the police show up, you should take pictures of the accident including pictures of your car, the other car(s), the crash site and the negligent driver’s license plate (just in case).
You should also identify witnesses. You should obtain their names and phone numbers. Just importantly, you should do your best to make sure the police officer at the scene does the same.
Step #3: Provide a Complete Statement of What Happened to the Police
Again assuming you are able, give the police a complete account of what happened. This would include a full description of what the other driver did wrong such as running a red light, failure to yield, speeding, weaving and other driving behavior. It would also include behavior that might have contributed such as talking on the phone, texting, and any indication of drugs or alcohol.
It is important to speak up to make sure your account of the accident is fully reported. Be assured that the insurance companies will take silence as a suggestion or admission of fault on your part.
Step #4: Make Sure You Obtain Insurance Information
Insurance coverage is the key to compensation in car accidents, both the other driver’s and yours.
Other Driver’s Insurance: Unless you are transported by ambulance, make sure that you obtain insurance information. Police almost universally do this. It is part of the process. Make sure it is not omitted. Obtain it directly if there is no officer on the scene.
Your Insurance: Unfortunately, New Mexico has the highest rate of uninsured drivers in the country. Just as bad in serious accidents, most are grossly underinsured. As such, if you are to be compensated for your injuries, it will often come entirely through you own underinsured motorist coverage.
Step #5: Obtain Medical Treatment
In far too many cases this is not an issue because the injured driver and passengers have been transported by ambulance from the scene of the accident. However, in most cases, the drivers and passengers are fortunately able to walk away from the scene. On the other hand, this by no means they are not hurt. Moreover, many injuries in car accidents do not show symptoms right away. It is important to both seek and document your injuries if you are to receive fair compensation.
Step #6: Obtain the Police/Incident Report
The police report will often not be ready for a few days. In cases of wrongful death, the police report will include a full investigation including an accident reconstruction. This can take months. These delays can cause problems with deadlines in case the other driver was a governmental employee. The first deadline in these cases is the 6 month deadline on the Tort Claims Notice to the appropriate governmental authorities.
Step #7: Keep Track of Your Medical Records
Medical records along with insurance coverage is key to full and fair compensation in a car accident. To the degree possible, you should obtain your medical records on a regular basis so you can maintain a file. This can be a burden.
The other option is to collect all medical records once you have stopped treating or have reached maximum medical improvement. An attorney can help you with this.
Step #8: Get Uninsured Motorist Coverage if You Don’t Have It!
Unfortunately, this advice comes too late. However, for those who have not already been injured, underinsured is absolutely essential for protection in New Mexico car accidents due to the high level of uninsured and underinsured motorist.
For those that have been injured already, it will serve you well in case this happens to you or your family members in the future.
Step #9: Seek the Assistance of an Experienced Attorney
This step might very well be step 1 in case of serious injuries or wrongful death. Insurance companies are not in the business of writing checks willingly. Rest assured, even the very reputable ones will pay as little as they possibly can. Without an attorney, that amount will invariably be lower than it should.
An experienced auto accident attorney can insure that you get the most that you can in light of your injuries and the available insurance.
Collins & Collins, P.C. can be reached at (505) 242-5958.