Your child’s involvement in an accident is a traumatic experience, for your child, as well as you as a parent. On top of worrying about your child’s physical pain from injuries sustained, there’s the emotional turmoil that inevitably arises—the fear from not knowing what will happen and the confusion from not knowing what to do for them. In working with clients, I’ve seen that the sense of fear that parents feel about their child’s future can easily become overwhelming.
I hope that this chapter, which covers the most important actions you can take the following your child’s accident, will in some small way mitigate the sense of powerlessness, giving you a clear course of action and the certainty that you are doing the right thing.
Help your child write an account of the accident
Your child’s memory of the accident, as well as your own if you were involved or at the scene, is a valuable source of information, but it becomes less and less reliable as time passes, and important details can be forgotten. So, as soon as you can, sit down with your child and write a detailed account of the accident, being careful to leave nothing out. If you were a witness to the accident, you should write down your account separately.
To help you do this, I’ve created the Diary for the Injured: A Workbook for Recording your Injuries & Losse, an easy-to-use tool designed to ensure that all critical information regarding the accident is recorded. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend acquiring a copy. This record could make an important contribution to the success of your child’s case.
If you feel that the accident was clearly the fault of someone else, it’s tempting to assume that because the truth of the situation was so obvious, there’s little need to be so meticulous in collecting information and making records. The reality, however, is that claims can be denied for virtually any reason, no matter how unmistakable the other driver’s negligence was at the time of the accident. It’s impossible to know exactly what will later prove to be significant in the success of your child’s claim. By taking these steps, you are helping to ensure that you will be able to obtain the financial resources you need to help your child fully recover.
Take them to see a doctor
If your child sustained an injury in the accident, no matter how minor you think it is, take them to see their doctor immediately— this is one of the most important pieces of advice I can offer, not only for your child’s health, but also for the success of your child’s claim. Some injuries will be obvious of immediately—abrasions or fractures, for example. However, many of the most common injuries don’t become symptomatic until hours and even days later. Damage to soft tissue occurs immediately, but they may not feel it for some time. Additionally, children may not have the words to describe what is wrong. That’s why it’s so important to have your child see your family physician at once, and in-person. That way the doctor can give your child a full evaluation and document any injuries.
And don’t just see a doctor, but listen too. Your child’s condition can become chronic and permanent if not properly treated, and your physician is the best judge of the necessary treatment. If your physician recommends physical therapy and on-going care for your child, listen and follow those recommendations. Sadly, I’ve seen a great many people ignore the doctor’s directions, taking the attitude of “it’ll heal on its own,” only to find that their child’s injury gets worse as time wears on.
Document their injuries
When it comes to receiving fair compensation from insurance companies, documentation is everything. Records, we might say, are the language of insurance adjustors, and to get what you need to help your child fully recover, you have to learn to speak their language. But now, more and more, the work of insurance adjustors is being delegated to computers. To fully understand this what this means for your child’s case, I recommend you get a copy of my book, The Car Accident Survival Guide, which covers this issue in detail. Please call 800-4Accident (800-422-2433) and I will be happy to send you a copy at no cost.
Both you and your doctor are responsible for documenting your child’s injuries, but each of you is looking at the situation from somewhat different, though equally important angles. Your physician is responsible for recording the nature of the injuries, any diagnostic procedures your child undergoes, and all care and treatment your child receives—in other words, from a medical perspective. Your job is to record the ways in which your child’s injuries impact their lives from a personal perspective: the pain they feel, the activities they can no longer engage in, and any other ways in which the injuries have impacted everyday life.
To help you, your child’s doctor and your child’s attorney ensure that the full extent of his or her injuries are understood and well documented, I urge you to use The Injury Victim’s Diary, which I mentioned above. In addition to helping to record important details of the accident, it is also designed to help document injuries sustained during the accident. It contains both specific questions regarding your child’s symptoms and a convenient format for tracking them over time.
Report the accident to your insurance company
If you intend to make a claim, you should promptly report the accident to your insurance carrier. In my book The Car Accident Survival Guide I discuss the various types of automobile insurance and identify those that cover your child in different types of accidents. But for now, the types of coverage most likely to be relevant are
Medical Payments, Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist coverage and Personal Injury Protection (if it is offered in your state).
Contact a qualified personal injury attorney
Because the injuries children sustain in motor vehicle accidents can be severe, it is most often in your best interest to immediately contact an attorney with experience handling these types of cases. Unless your child escaped the accident with the most minor of injuries, you should consult with an attorney even before reporting the accident to your insurance company.
Why? Because your insurance company is not always on your side. It all boils down to money. If you are seeking compensation on behalf of your child under the other driver’s insurance policy, then your own insurance company can be a powerful ally. If, however, the situation requires that your insurance carrier cover some of the losses, suddenly their interests are counter to your own. While still honoring the terms of your policy, they are now looking to pay you as little money as possible. And when your insurance company is no longer on your side, you need someone who is—someone who can level the playing field, someone who can advocate for you and protect your interests. The problem is that it is not always clear ahead of time which insurance company is going to pay for what, and that’s why I recommend consulting with an attorney in the event of a serious accident.
I also recommend speaking with an attorney before discussing the accident with the driver’s insurance carrier. Think about it. You intend to show that the other driver was at fault and that their insurance should pay for your child’s medical treatment and pain and suffering. The other driver’s insurance company wants nothing of the sort. They would much prefer to show that you or your child were at least partially at fault in the accident, and that they should therefore only pay for only a certain percentage of your losses.
In my experience as an attorney, the most effective clients are continually seeking to empower themselves with an understanding of the legal process, particularly those that are protecting a child. They are committed to playing an active role in securing the fair outcome to which their child is entitled. In your relationship with your attorney, don’t hesitate to assert yourself. All attorneys worth their salt encourage their clients to ask questions, become involved and seek to understand the legal process.
In light of your circumstances, relaxing may sound absurd or impossible. You may be caring for a child with serious injuries who needs your protection; you may be facing a mountain of medical bills and an uncertain future. The healing process will take time, but healing will happen. Rest assured that, having hired a qualified attorney, you and your family are in good hands. When things go wrong, there’s great value in knowing that you have an experienced, professional advocate on your side. It’s your attorney’s job to fight for you and your child’s interests and rights. Though you should provide whatever assistance and information you’re asked for, your most important job is to take care of your family—body and mind— as best you can.
If you or someone you care about has been in an accident, we’re here to talk.
Contact us today for a free consultation.