One of the most important things you can do after your car accident is keep a car accident diary. Beginning immediately after your accident and continuing until you recover from your injuries and are ready to make a claim -- no matter how long that is -- keep a diary.
Car accident claims are resolved based on facts, evidence and details. And since claims can take months, or even longer, to resolve, keeping a diary after your car accident is the best way to make sure you don't forget important details and weaken your claim.
What to Include in Your Diary
Begin the diary with a detailed description of your car accident. Include all of the details that you can think of, whether or not you think they are important -- a detail that doesn't seem all that significant at first can turn out to be crucial to an injury claim.
Be sure that the narrative tells who was involved, what happened, when and where it happened and why it happened. Include a description of weather conditions, lighting conditions, the names and telephone numbers of witnesses, and the most precise times and distances that you can establish. Include a diagram that shows the point of impact and the points where the vehicles came to rest.
An easy way to describe your accident is to complete this accident investigation form. Then, periodically, add notes about your claim. Basically, you want your entries to answer the question "How has this accident affected my life?" You can keep the diary in any form that you are comfortable using. Write it on a paper tablet, save it in a 3-ring binder or make it a word processing document on your computer. But, one way or another, keep the diary.
How Often Should You Make an Entry?
Simply put, you should make an entry in your car accident diary as often as you have something to report. Initially, your entries will probably be more frequent (daily perhaps). Later, as your recovery progresses and your accident has less of an impact on your day-to-day life , you'll probably find yourself making fewer entries. But try to record at least one entry per week until your insurance claim or lawsuit is resolved.
Making Sure Your Diary Helps Your Case
Mainly, you are keeping your diary to collect and preserve information that you will need when you make your injury claim. But there is one other important use for your diary. Use it to tell your doctor what you are experiencing. When you see your doctor, use your notes to report your symptoms and limitations because of your injuries. You can even give your doctor (or physical therapist, or any other health care provider) a copy of your diary (hopefully a concise version) to be included in your medical records.
This is important because companies give very little weight to what you tell them, but they give much more weight to information contained in your medical records. Therefore, give your doctor the information that is needed to fully document what you are going through.
You use your diary to remind yourself of all that you have experienced, and you use its detailed information to convey a thorough explanation of your experiences to the insurance company when you make your claim. With your diary to help, you don't have to state generalities -- such as "I saw my doctor quite a few times over several months." Instead, you can look back at the notes in your diary and state, "I had 8 office visits with my doctor, received 18 physical therapy treatments and had the following diagnostic tests . . ."
With this type of information, your "demand letter" will be specific, precise, and powerful. And it will convey to the insurance company that you know what you're doing, increasing the chances that they will want to settle your claim for a fair amount. Of course, if you hire a lawyer, you turn your diary over to him or her. As a professional advocate, your attorney will know how to use your diary to strengthen your case.
In addition to writing in your diary, be sure to include pictures of anything that is better documented by an image rather than through words. Make photos of such things as visible injuries like cuts and bruises. They will have healed and faded by the time that you make a claim. Preserve evidence of them by making photos. If a laceration leaves a scar, make photos of it at different points in the healing process. Also photograph slings, braces, casts or anything else that will help you show later what you had to go through.
Your Diary May Not Stay Private
Here's an important caution about keeping a diary. If you end up in court, a diary that you made on your own is "discoverable." That means that the other driver's attorney can make you turn over a copy of your diary, and they can use it against you. Don't worry about this if all your diary has in it is an accurate report of your experiences. However, remember when you are deciding how to express your thoughts and experiences that your entries may be read someday by an adversary or even by a jury. Make your entries accurate and business-like.
Here's one key distinction to keep in mind when it comes to privacy and your diary. A diary you make "on your own" must be disclosed to your adversaries if your case goes to court. However, if you make the diary at the request of your lawyer, it will probably be protected by the "attorney-client privilege," which means that you will not be required to share it with the other side if you go to court (unless you and your lawyer decide to use it as evidence).