This is the transcript of an interview with Attorney Richard Mitzel regarding car accidents. (edited to enhance readability)
Interviewer: Well, good morning. We are here with Richard Mitzel. Rick is a personal injury attorney in Tampa. And Rick, I think we discussed – you were going to talk a little bit about car accidents.
If someone is involved in a car accident, what are some of the steps they should take? What should they be doing to protect themselves?
Richard Mitzel: Well, very first thing is to call the police and wait for the police. I’ve had situations where people have been in an accident. The other person gave them their name and phone number, talked them out of calling the police and drove off. And they come to see me.
And I call the people that supposedly hit them. And they said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I wasn’t even in Tampa that day.” There’s no record, whatsoever, that that person was involved in an accident with you.
Now you may have a passenger in your car. They may have a passenger in their car. But the best thing you can do is call the police because that way, there will be a record on file as concerns the person who hit you. They’ll have his driver’s license number. They’ll have his address. They’ll have his date of birth, Social Security and insurance information.
And one thing the police will give to you at the end of their investigation is what we call Driver Exchange of Information. It will be a police report that tells you that you can get the person’s name, address, phone number, insurance information, policy number, etc. It doesn’t have a diagram of what happened. There is no finding of fault, no tickets given. But it gives you that information, the bare bones information. But at least, you can prove when you come to see me that you were in an accident and the other guy was there. He wasn’t in Hawaii that day or something of that nature. You’ll be amazed how many people try to get away with that. So the main thing is to make sure you call the police and wait for them.
The Next thing to be done while you’re waiting for the police – most people have cellphones that can take photographs. Take a photograph of the scene. Take a photograph of your car and the other car of the scene, depicting the weather, etc. That’s good information.
A client of mine came to see me and there was a police report done, a very meager barebones report like I talked about, Driver Exchange. But the person later told his insurance company that this lady had pulled out in front of him and hit him. And that’s actually not what the case was.
This client was driving down the road, to the right of the yellow line in the middle of the road. And this guy decided to pull off by the curb. As if he wanted to make a substantial U-turn going back the other way, and my client hit him. And he told his insurance company he was making a U-turn and she hit him. He had the right of away, etc. It would have saved a lot of aggravation if she had taken pictures of the cars as they came to rest and showed clearly what had happened.
And anyway, we were able to recover for her. But you must take pictures if you possibly can with a cellphone. You’ll be amazed what the other guy will tell his insurance company, assuming he has insurance, about what position he was and who was at fault. So do that to protect yourself.
Now another thing is a lot of police these days go out and investigate the accident. They do this little meager report, give you copies. But they don’t do a full report. By full report, I mean listening, drawing a diagram of the accident scene, how many lines there were, where the cars came to rest, what the speed limit was, etc, a real full-blown report. They don’t do it anymore in fender benders – it takes too much time I guess.
And a lot of times, people don’t feel like they’ve been hurt in the accident. A lot of times, it takes two or three days, maybe more for the pain and suffering to set in because of the jarring of the accident.
Another thing I might add at this point is that under the new PIP Law, the Personal Injury Protection Law, the No-fault Insurance Law in Florida, effective January 1st 2013, is that if you don’t seek medical care or attention for your injuries within 14 days of the accident, your insurance company does not have to pay PIP benefits or medical expense benefits to pay for your medical bills once you do seek treatment.
With your insurance policy you have what is called a PIP policy. They pay 80% of your medical bills and/or 60% of your lost wages, up to a grand total of $10,000. A lot of times, you need that $10,000 to pay your medical bills. Then you go to hospital, ER, X-rays, CAT scan, possible MRI, see a doctor too – that’s all eaten up.
And so many people unfortunately today don’t have their own health insurance. So the only money they had to put forward to get medical care from their accident injuries out of PIP benefits. And again, that’s all waived if you don’t see a doctor; go to an ER, at least a walk in clinic within 14 days. If you don’t do that, no matter what your injuries are ultimately determined to be. They do not have to pay this basic $10,000 coverage because you didn’t do it within 14 days.
Next thing you want to do of course is call your insurance company. They have the right to know. They want to know what happened, who was at fault. And give them a statement. I would suggest you do not talk to the insurance company from the person that hit you until you’ve talked to a car accident lawyer. So that’s good advice.
Its free, you can come see me for free. Call me on my phone number. I’d be glad to answer your questions and tell you how to proceed as far as contacting or being contacted by the insurance company for the other side. They’ll ask you a lot of questions. They’ll probably record it. They probably won’t give you a copy of it. So be very learned about that.
Again, the main thing to do is call the police, take photographs, if you can, of the accident scene, of the vehicles, get the report from the police and call your insurance company and then get medical care or attention if necessary. If you weren’t hurt, fine. Don’t do that. But if you have some aches and pains and these things happened to you, within 14 days, you better get to a doctor. Get a documented you sought medical attention for the injuries or again, they won’t be paying out these PIP benefits.
And these are benefits you’re paying for in your insurance premium. So there’s no reason whatsoever, not to take advantage of that. You paid for it. You’re entitled to it, but you won’t be entitled to it if you don’t see a doctor within 14 days.
Interviewer: Well, that’s great advice Rick. And isn’t it pretty common that a lot of times, even in minor accidents, people say, “I feel fine,” but then they’ll have a little ache or pain a week later?
Richard Mitzel: Oh yeah, that’s usually the case, especially in healthy, young people. They get hit – you know macho guys were like, “I’m not hurt. I’m okay.”
But pretty soon, your body has been jarred very dramatically in most accidents, especially when you’re in accidents with your neck being whiplashed. Whiplash means you’re forced forward but your neck goes behind, and that’s a whiplash, which could be very damaging. A lot of times, you end up with no permanent injury. A lot of times you do. So you best get checked out. The benefits are there use them.
Interviewer: Yeah. And if they feel fine and a week later, they’re feeling a little achy, that 14 days goes really fast.
Richard Mitzel: Oh, it does. I talked to a lady, just the other day, who hadn’t been to a doctor yet. She was feeling fine after the accident, but she was starting to feel awfully bad, nauseous, and so on. And when she called me it was the 13th day. I said, “You need to drop everything you’re doing right now and go straight to an emergency room of the hospital or walk in clinic, some place where a physician can see you, examine you.” Because if you don’t, again, you’re going to lose these benefits.
Interviewer: Excellent. Well, that’s great advice. And I’ve known Rick for a while, and he’s a straight shooter who will give you excellent advice. So if you’ve been involved in an accident or a family member or a loved one has, I would encourage you to give him a call and talk to him on the phone and get some good professional advice.
Richard Mitzel: There’s no charge either… as you know there’s no charge. I’d be happy to do that for anyone. Just call me at (813) 381-5410. I’ll be glad to answer questions. I feel like that’s my obligation to do as a member of the Florida bar.
Interviewer: Excellent. Well Rick, I appreciate your time today.
Richard Mitzel: Okay. Thank you.