In December 2017, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that the number of people killed in West Virginia motor vehicle accidents was higher than both the national average and that of surrounding states. Experts blamed speeding, distracted driving, driving under the influence, and even the state’s rugged terrain (67% of all fatal accidents in 2017 were in rural surroundings)for these alarming statistics.
For every person killed, many more are injured. You never travel the highways expecting to end up in an emergency room, but when it happens, it can be terrifying, especially for passengers. One minute your friend is driving you home from work, and the next you’re in the ditch, arm throbbing and the smell of burned rubber and oil in your nostrils. You’re confused, scared, and in pain. What do you do next?
This is the number one rule in any potential emergency situation. Take a few deep breaths until you feel calmer. Then, if you’re able to exit the vehicle, do so and walk a safe distance away from the accident site and traffic. Move slowly, so that you don’t exacerbate any visible or hidden injuries.
If you are bleeding heavily and/or have visible signs of broken bones or a catastrophic injury, stay in place and call 911. You should also call 911 if the driver is unresponsive and appears to be seriously injured.
Call the Police
Call the police to report the accident. When they arrive, get their names and badge numbers and ask for a copy of the accident report. You will need this document when you file a personal injury claim.
Get the Other Driver’s Information
If another driver causes the accident (e.g., they rear-ended or otherwise collided with your friend’s vehicle), collect their contact and insurance details. If there were any witnesses to the accident, get their contact information too.
If your phone is still working, photograph the general area of the accident site, making sure to document all vehicle damage and any elements that could have contributed to the crash, such as black ice on the road or a traffic sign obscured by trees.
Get Medical Treatment
After you have collected all the necessary information from the police, drivers, and witnesses, go to the nearest hospital emergency room for treatment if your family doctor cannot see you right away. A medical report will support a future personal injury claim, and it’s possible that you may be more hurt than you realize. Some catastrophic injuries can take days to manifest, and medical intervention can detect them before they can change your life permanently.
Be sure to comply with all medical instructions. If you fail to take prescribed medication or attend physical therapy appointments, it could affect your claim because the other side could argue that you were impacting your recovery.
Contact the Insurance Companies
The next step is usually to contact the insurance companies. Which one(s) you file a claim against for medical expenses, lost income, and other damages will depend on the circumstances of the accident.
If the friend who was driving the car you rode in was responsible for the accident, you can file a claim against their insurance policy. Some injured passengers hesitate at this stage because they don’t want to ‘sue’ their friend or relative. You are actually making a claim against their insurance, not them personally, and the policy exists for this very reason- to protect those injured in a crash caused by the policyholder’s recklessness or negligence.
If the driver of another vehicle is found liable, you can pursue a claim against their insurance policy. If both drivers are liable, it may be possible to seek compensation from both policies. You may even be able to file a claim against the medical payments section of your own insurance policy since it is not based on liability.
Hire a Personal Injury Attorney
As an injured passenger, you’ll be dealing with an insurance company that will try to downplay their client’s liability and pay you as little as possible. They may offer a ridiculously low settlement, implying that you were partially responsible for your injuries by (for example) not wearing a seatbelt or distracting the driver. What they won’t tell you is that under West Virginia’s comparative negligence law makes it possible damages even if you were partially to blame for your injuries.
This is where an experienced West Virginia passenger injury attorney can make a critical difference. At Johnstone & Gabhart, we will fight to obtain the settlement or award that represents fair and just compensation for your injuries. Our attorneys have over 50 years of combined experience protecting the rights of injured passengers, so let us take care of the hard part while you focus on recovering.