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The injuries you suffer in a motor vehicle accident can change your life in an instant. You may be unable to work, or may need extensive medical treatment. Learn more about how to protect your rights after a car, truck, motorcycle, bicycle or boating accident.

More people are hurt in motor vehicle accidents than in any other type of accident. When you have been in a collision because of someone else’s carelessness, you have a right to pursue monetary compensation for all your losses, from wages and income to unreimbursed medical expenses, from loss of companionship to physical pain and suffering. You can also seek payment for any damage to your vehicle that is not covered by your insurance company.

What You Need to Do to Recover Money for Your Losses

To recover compensation for any losses suffered in a car accident, you must show three things:

  • Another person acted negligently
  • That negligence caused the accident
  • You suffered losses because of the accident

To show that another person acted negligently, you must demonstrate that they failed to use “reasonable care” under the circumstances that existed at the time of the accident—essentially that level of care that an ordinary person would use in the same situation. Speeding, making an illegal turn, failing to stop at a red light—these are all common examples of a failure to use reasonable care. However, if weather conditions are bad, it may be unreasonable to travel at the legal speed limit.

To prove that the other person’s negligence “caused” the accident, you need to show that the accident would not have happened if they had exercised reasonable care. In addition, you have to show what is known as proximate cause, i.e., that the crash was a reasonable expectation based on the negligent behavior.

Finally, just because you were in a motor vehicle accident does not mean you have a right to a large financial recovery. The money paid in a car accident claim is intended to compensate you for losses you have suffered.

The Different Types of Compensation Available When You Have Been in a Motor Vehicle Accident

In most instances, when you have been hurt in a motor vehicle accident, your losses will be paid by either your insurance company or the other party’s insurer. You can also seek compensation directly from the at-fault party.

Your recovery for losses in a car accident is known under the law as “damages.” Damages may be compensatory—designed to reimburse you for actual losses—or they may be punitive, imposed to serve as a deterrent to further wrongful conduct by the defendant. Compensatory damages include both special damages and general damages. Special damages are those losses that are specifically economic in character, losses that can be fairly easily calculated–such as wages or income, costs of medical care, and any property damage. General damages do not have a readily determined economic value, and include pain and suffering, as well as emotional distress.

What to Do When You Have Been Injured in a Motor Vehicle Accident

Your first concern when you have been hurt in a car crash should be your physical well-being. If, for any reason, you don’t believe that you can move under your own power, don’t attempt to. Wait for emergency medical professionals to arrive, and let them determine exactly how you should be treated. Be certain to advise them of anything that seems out of the ordinary, regardless of how minor it may seem. Often, the most debilitating injuries—back, neck or spinal cord injuries— are the ones that are not as readily apparent in the initial moments after a car crash.

At all times, and with all medical caregivers, you want to request that everything be documented in writing. This can be critical when it comes time to pursue compensation for your injuries. Even if your injuries seem minor, and you are able to leave the scene under your own power, you should either go to an emergency facility or schedule an appointment with your personal physician as soon as possible. Symptoms may start to appear after a week or so—the more time that passes before you seek medical care, the more suspicious insurance providers will be that your injuries were not related to the car accident.

Two other critical steps after a motor vehicle accident—gather as much information as you can about other drivers, as well as any potential witnesses; and, if possible, take pictures of everything related to the accident, from your injuries to the damage to any vehicles to the road conditions at the time of the crash. Both of these steps will greatly assist your attorney when building your case for full and fair compensation for your losses.

If you decide to pursue legal action to recover compensation for your losses, you want to retain an attorney as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the greater the risk that evidence will be lost, or that witnesses will either forget what they saw, or cannot be located. In addition, under what is known as the statute of limitations, there is a limited time within which you can file a claim for your losses.