Q. I have a possible personal injury claim. Someone else carelessly or intentionally injured me. What information and documents must I obtain early-on to support my claim?
A. I am providing below a list of what you need to collect. However, first I must emphasize that it is crucial that you retain an experienced personal injury lawyer. Do so as soon as possible after your accident. The attorney will likely be able to obtain many of the required items without your direct involvement. Moreover, not all cases are the same. A veteran lawyer knows exactly what evidence YOU need to support YOUR specific claim. Your attorney can guide you better than any internet article. Remember that, with time, evidence can disappear. Having a good personal injury attorney by your side sooner rather than later usually leads to a better outcome. Further, don’t forget that some cases have very short deadlines to take legal action.
All that said, you should try and obtain the following items as soon as possible to support your personal injury claim. (Some items won’t apply in every case):
GENERAL PERSONAL INJURY CLAIM INFORMATION
1. Contact information of the person or business that injured you. This information includes name, address, phone numbers, email, etc.
2. Similar contact information for all witnesses.
3. Emergency room report.
4. Other medical records that document your specific injuries, such as reports, x-rays, and MRIs.
5. Any police report. (This may not be available for several days).
6. Any ambulance report. (This, too, may not be available immediately).
7. Photographs of the accident scene, showing any people, animals, defects or hazards that may have caused your injury, vehicles, skid marks, etc.
8. Photographs of your injuries.
9. A copy of any videos that capture the accident, such as store surveillance videos. These can be erased or taped over in as little as 24 hours, or even sooner. You need to make the request for the video in a written letter and get a signed receipt that your letter was delivered. The letter should also demand that any video be preserved pending a lawsuit. Preferably the letter should be hand-delivered the same day as the accident. If that’s impossible, get the letter to the recipient as soon as possible by other means. For example, by overnight delivery (by a carrier that provides a delivery receipt).
FOR MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENTS
In case of a motor vehicle accident, in addition to the above items, you should obtain the following:
10. A copy of the declarations page (summary of coverage ) for any car insurance policy you own, or that covers you.
11. A copy of the other driver’s insurance card. (You can take a picture. Make sure that all writing comes out readable, though.)
12. Photographs of any damage to all vehicles involved.
13. Damage estimates for your vehicle.
14. A copy of the other driver’s license and car registration. (Again, you can take a clear, readable picture of them.)
FOR SLIP AND FALLS
In case of a slip and fall personal injury claim, in addition to items one through nine above, do the following:
15. If the accident occurs at a business, report the accident to the business while you are still on scene. Request a copy of any written report about the accident that the business makes.
16. Keep and don’t wear again the shoes and clothing that you wore when you fell.
FOR MEDICAL MALPRACTICE
In case of medical malpractice, in addition to items one through nine above, obtain the following:
17. Any records/test results from later medical professionals that document the error made by the first doctor.
18. All records from the medical professionals and/or institutions that you feel committed malpractice.
FOR DOG BITES
In case of an animal bite, in addition to items one through nine above, do the following:
19. Report the incident to the local animal control bureau. If possible do so while you are still on-scene. Afterward, obtain the animal control report.
20. Keep and don’t wear again the shoes and clothing that you wore when the animal bit you.
FOR NURSING HOME ABUSE
In case of nursing home abuse, in addition to items one through nine above, obtain the following:
21. Any records/test results from medical professionals that document the abuse or neglect of the nursing home.
FOR DEFECTIVE PRODUCT CASES
If a defective product injured you, in addition to items one through nine above, keep or obtain the following:
22. The defective item itself.
23. Any user manuals or instructions.
24. Any purchase or credit card receipts.
A FINAL REMINDER
Each personal injury claim has different facts. Therefore, no “to-do” list can ever be complete for every case. Indeed, the above list includes only the main documents that you need early-on in the case. You will likely need to obtain additional documents as your personal injury claim progresses. Accordingly, your best bet is to retain an experienced personal injury lawyer immediately after your accident. A lawyer can relieve you from the burden of collecting evidence.
Of course, some items, including but not limited to accident scene photos and the contact information of the witnesses and others involved, need to be obtained by you immediately at the scene of the accident. Those items may not be obtainable later. If, because of your injuries, you are unable to do so, ask someone else whom you can trust to do so for you, if at all possible. Similarly, if at all possible, make sure that you immediately report the accident to the applicable authorities, such as the police, the premises owner, animal control, etc.
Afterward, your personal injury attorney can likely obtain most of the remaining items that you will need without your involvement.