Know Your Rights. Understanding Your Rights

If you have been in an accident, or a family member has been injured or killed in a crash or some other incident, you have many important decisions to make. It is important for you to consider the following:

Make and keep records – if your situation involves a motor vehicle crash, regardless of who may be at fault it is helpful to obtain a copy of the police report, learn the identity of any witnesses, and obtain photographs of the scene, vehicles, and any visible injuries. Keep copies of receipts of all your expenses and medical care related to the incident.
You do not have to sign anything – You may not want to give an interview or recorded statement without first consulting with any attorney, because the statement can be used against you. If you may be at fault or have been charged with traffic or other offense, it may be advisable to consult an attorney right away. However, if you have insurance, your insurance policy probably requires you to cooperate with your insurance company and to provide a statement to the company. If you fail to cooperate with your insurance company, it may void your coverage.
Your interests versus interests of insurance company – Your interests and those of the other person’s insurance company are in conflict. Your interests may also be in conflict with your own Insurance company. Even if you are not sure who is at fault, you should contact your own Insurance company and advise the company of the incident to protect your insurance coverage.
There is a time limit to file an insurance claim – Legal rights, including filing a lawsuit, are subject to time limits. You should ask what time limits apply to your claim. You may need to act immediately to protect your rights.
Get it in writing – You may want to request that any offer of settlement from anyone be put in writing. Including a written explanation of the type of damages which they are willing to cover.
Legal Assistance may be appropriate – You may consult with an attorney before you sign any document or release of claims. A release may cut off all future rights against others, obligate you to repay past medical bills or disability benefits, or jeopardize future benefits. If your interests conflict with your own insurance company, you always have the right to discuss the matter with an attorney of your choice, which may be at your own expense.
How to find an attorney – If you need professional advice about a legal problem but do not know an attorney, you may wish to check with relatives, friends, neighbors, your employer, or co-workers who may be able to recommend an attorney. Your local bar association may have a lawyer referral service that can be found in the Yellow Pages or on the Internet.
Check a lawyer’s qualifications – Before hiring any lawyer, you have the right to know the lawyer’s background, training, and experience in dealing with cases similar to yours.
How much will it cost? – In deciding whether to hire a particular lawyer, you should discuss, and the lawyer’s written fee agreement should reflect:
a. How is the lawyer to be paid? IF you already have a settlement offer, how will that affect a contingent fee arrangement?
b. How are the expenses involved in your case, such as telephone calls, depositions costs, and fees for expert witnesses, to be paid? Will these costs be advanced by the lawyer or charged to you as they are incurred? Since you are obligated to pay all expenses even if you lose your case, how will payment be arranged?
c. Who will handle your case? If the case goes to trial, who will be the trial attorney?

This information is not intended as a complete description of your legal rights, but as a checklist of some of the important issues you should consider.

Frequently Asked Questions

If I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt at the time of my accident, will that impact my ability to seek damages?

ANSWER: Failure to wear a seatbelt does not prohibit you from seeking recovery for your injuries. The current statute prohibits the failure to wear a seatbelt to be used as evidence of negligence or contributory negligence at trial. However, due to the Tort Reform Act, if it is found that the failure to wear a seatbelt contributed to the injuries from the accident, then it can reduce your recovery of noneconomic damages. Noneconomic damages include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of consortium and any other non-monetary damages. It does not reduce your recovery for medical bills, lost wages, or other recoverable monetary damages. (R.C. 4513.263(F)(1))

I’ve heard that sometimes right after an accident, a person may not feel any pain, but with time, they can start to feel their injuries. Should I go to the doctor right after the accident, even if I don’t feel anything, or should I wait to see how I feel?

ANSWER: It is not a bad idea to go get checked out immediately after an accident as a precaution if you have any concerns at all. However, it is not uncommon for symptoms of injury to be masked by adrenaline initially due to the stress of the accident. Once the adrenaline wears off, the aches and pains become apparent. Therefore, it is not uncommon for people to go see a doctor later the same day or even the next day after an accident. The longer you wait to see a doctor the more difficult it becomes to relate your symptoms to the accident.

Does it matter who’s fault the car accident is? Someone was driving in front of me and pressed their breaks to an immediate halt. And although I thought I was maintaining enough distance between the two of us I crashed into him from the back. How do I know who’s fault it is and does it even matter?

ANSWER: Absolutely. If your own negligence was more than 50% of the cause of the accident, you cannot recover for your damages, except for any property damage and medical payments coverage you have on your own insurance policy. Generally, the law requires you to maintain an assured clear distance from vehicles in front of you. An assured clear distance is enough distance for you to stop your vehicle without colliding with the vehicle in front of you if that vehicle stops suddenly. Therefore, a driver who fails to maintain an assured clear distance is generally at fault in an accident. There are factual circumstances where a rear-end accident is not an assured clear distance violation, such as when another driver negligently pulls out in front of you or changes lanes in front of you, and cuts off your assured clear distance. So it always depends on all the factual circumstances of each accident.

One time I got into an accident and found out the officer’s report about what happened was not correct. What should I do in that situation?

ANSWER: Contact the reporting officer and explain the error. Request that they change the report. If the officer refuses, then request that the officer at least supplement the report with the additional information of what you believe was inaccurate in the original report. The officer may still refuse and you cannot force them to change the report. Each police department may have different procedures, so ask the officer what the procedure is to request the change. You can also talk to the supervising officer who’s name should also be on the report as the reviewing officer.