Whether you decide to negotiate your accident claim for yourself or to hire a personal injury attorney to help you with your accident case, you will need to gather and organize the documentation needed to prosecute your case. A well-documented claim is going to get more respect from an insurance adjuster or defense lawyer – and may result in a higher settlement for you.
We’ve discussed how documents and conversations become evidence in past posts. There is also our free e-book with tips for filing a Florida accident claim without hiring a lawyer. (You can find a link to our ebook in the right sidebar.)
In this article, we cover some of the practicalities and steps you have to take to gather evidence, so you have it ready either for your settlement conference or meeting with your lawyer.
Your Accident File and Chronologies: Organizing Your Claim
You need something to keep everything that concerns your claim. Whether it be for a car accident or a slip and fall in Florida, the paperwork can be surprisingly voluminous. It is advised that you create a filing system for your accident file with all your claim documentation.
1. Filing System
The exact filing system that you choose to use depends upon your preference. Using a series of manila folders in a Banker’s Box is one method, with each folder for a different evidence source. Another method is using an accordion file or paper portfolio.
Whatever you choose, this is the place where you will not only keep (1) evidence of your claim but also (2) information about the source of that evidence (like the name of the person you spoke with about getting that police report, etc.).
2. Chronology Lists
Keeping a list of documents as you receive them is a good idea in order to obtain quick and easy access to the information you need. This is called a “chronology.” Often, several chronologies are helpful: one for the medical records and one for the medical bills, for instance. (See more, below.)
3. Lawyer’s File
If you hire an accident attorney, he or she will investigate and gather documentation (like depositions, interrogatories, photographs, video surveillance, etc.) and evidence as part of his/her preparation for representing you as your advocate. How much documentation you will gather for the lawyer will depend upon your particular circumstance.
You will still have documentation related to your case even if you have legal representation, and preparing an accident file for your personal accident records is wise, even if you have delegated the job of collecting evidence to your lawyer.
Medical Bills, Medical Records and HIPPA
After an accident, you’ll be getting all kinds of medical bills. The EMS company may have an invoice out to you within days of the accident! It’s important that you keep all these medical bills, even if you have several copies from the same health care provider.
It’s also a good idea to keep a chronological list of each medical bill as it comes in, too. This is a chart that gives the date, the amount, the provider, and the service provided. You create this for your files and update it as new medical bills arrive. This tally can be used to help prove up your damages.
Medical Records vs Medical Bills
Each health care provider you were seen by will have records of what services were provided to you and what products were used for or by you as a part of your care and treatment.
Medical records can include ambulance, hospital, surgeon, therapists, your primary care physician and more. Any document pertaining to your medical treatment is a medical record, and is evidence supporting your accident claim.
Medical records include lab tests, drug prescriptions, wheelchair or bed rentals, hospital charts, doctors’ narratives, nurses’ notes, and any exams that were done during treatment (MRIs, EKGs, etc.).
These records and bills can be helpful in proving your damages in a car accident or slip and fall. They can be used to show that you experienced pain and suffering, disfigurement, emotional distress, and even support a lost wages claim (more on that below) as a result of the accident.
HIPPA Privacy Requirements
To get the medical records themselves, you will have to request them in a manner that meets the privacy guidelines of HIPPA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996). HIPPA places federal guidelines and requirements for requesting confidential information, and protects the patient’s privacy. In other words, if the information is considered “protected health information” (PHA) under HIPPA, then it cannot be released until the HIPPA guidelines are met.
Most hospital facilities have record systems in place for requests that meet HIPPA standards.
For instance, the University of Miami Hospital system has an online web page that gives specific information on how to make a medical records request from its administration. There is also contact information given for its Office of HIPAA Privacy and Security.
The Miami Medical Center also provides online information on how to request medical records in a manner that complies with HIPPA. This includes an online pdf form that you can download for use in requesting your medical records from the MMC (their “HIPAA-compliant release form”).
Each health care provider must meet the privacy protections of HIPPA, as long as they have “protected health information” pertaining to your care and treatment.
You may need to check with pharmacies, doctors’ offices, chiropractors, therapists, and more on their individual protocols on releasing medical records under HIPPA. Special steps have to be taken pursuant to federal law in order for health care providers to release your “protected health information” to you.
Police reports are a key part of any Florida car accident claim. They are usually ready for review within a few days of the incident, having been prepared and filed by the officer(s) at the scene of the accident.
Rest assured, law enforcement agencies will be organized and ready for your request. They usually have employees who are specifically tasked with the job of responding to requests for police reports.
Call the police department or county sheriff’s office that investigated your accident and ask them about their procedure for obtaining a police report.
For instance, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department has an online web page that provides its contact information and how to request your accident report. Their Records Unit is located at 1300 West Broward Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312, and can be reached at 954-828-5465.
Florida Statutory Requirements: Affidavit for Traffic Accidents
Police reports can be made for all sorts of accidents. It’s wise to call the police to a serious slip and fall accident, for instance (the EMS call may bring the police as well).
For motor vehicle accidents, you will have to do more for a police report than for other kinds of accidents.
Certain agencies set specific guidelines and requirements for obtaining a crash report for your car accident claim. Pursuant to Florida Statute 316.066, an affidavit is required if you ask for an accident report involving an auto accident or car crash.
The law requires your affidavit if you ask for the report within 60 days after the accident happened (After 60 days, the affidavit is no longer required). The affidavit must give details explaining why you are entitled to that police accident report.
Law enforcement agencies typically have an affidavit form on file for your convenience. Below are some links to downloadable affidavit forms for three major South Florida police agencies:
- Broward Sheriff’s Department
- Fort Lauderdale Police Department
- Miami Dade Police Department
- Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office
You can mail your request to the police with your Florida Statute 316.066 affidavit if you do not want to visit their offices.
Lost Wages and Wage / Salary Verification
A victim’s employer will have to be involved in seeking compensation after they have been hurt. To prove lost wages, a victim needs third party verification from their employer detailing their wages (if the victim is self-employed, then tax returns may be needed).
A victim must obtain verification of (1) how much money they were making at your job before the accident, as well as (2) any lost wages they have suffered as a result of the accident and (3) any future lost earnings that they will be facing during their recovery from the accident.
The exact documentation will depend upon the victim’s employer. If the victim is a salaried employee, then pay stubs may be a good starting point.
However, if the victim works on commission, as a real estate agent for example, then past history of commission earnings may be needed to verified by going back a significant period of time. Here, the real estate brokerage company will need to provide a commissions history going back 2 years.
Note: Although the above information can sometimes be found through pay stubs, it is not the best evidence. An employer should provide supporting documentation on company letterhead. Also, at the very least, an affidavit from an employer will likely be needed to support any projections of future lost earnings or lost earning capacity.
Documentation from an employer about wages should include the following minimum information:
- job title or position
- your rate of pay
- how many hours you typically work per week, including overtime
- how many days of work you missed
- how many days of vacation and sick days you used
- total amount of wages you lost
- expected lost future wages based upon doctor’s estimated date for you to be able to return to work.
What Should You Do?
After an accident, victims have a lot to face: recovering from their injuries, dealing with financial concerns, coping with anxiety and depression and pain. Having to coordinate and organize the gathering of supporting documentation for their accident claim can be overwhelming and stressful.
A good piece of advice if you have been injured in a pedestrian accident is to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer to learn about some of the issues that can arise with these claims, including the type of evidence needed to prove a claim and the type and amount of damages you can recover. Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person, whichever you prefer) to answer your questions.
Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.
If you found this information helpful, please share this article and bookmark it for your future reference.