There are as many as 6 million car accidents in the U.S. every year. These accidents result in 90 deaths per day and 2 million permanent, life-changing injuries per year. Plus, car crashes have the potential to leave drivers or passengers with lasting, psychological symptoms. At least 9% experience anxiety and recurrent memories severe enough to warrant an official post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis. “Traffic accidents have become the leading cause of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) since the Vietnam war,” American Family Physician (AAFP) adds.
These figures make it clear: Any car accident can take a considerable toll. A car accident at work can be especially upsetting and traumatic — and raise a lot of questions. Here is what to expect if you get into a car accident at work.
How Does It Happen?
There are several potential scenarios that can lead to a vehicle- or car-related accident at work — and some may not be as straightforward as you think. Learn about some of the most common accidents and the best ways to respond to them.
Scenario One: You crash the company car. It is a situation employees everywhere would rather not think about. You are using the company car as per usual when the unthinkable happens: you get into an accident, and it’s your fault. What happens next?
We’ll get into the specifics about what to do immediately following the accident later, but let’s clear up some common questions first — questions like, “Who pays?” and “How will this affect my relationship with my employer?”
According to FindLaw, your employer’s insurance will cover accidents in the company car if you are on the clock and performing work-related duties. If you are using the company car for personal reasons, you could very well end up being responsible for what comes next.
Knowing exactly how it will affect your relationship with your employer is an inexact science. Varying employment laws and diverse company policies make it difficult to provide definitive answers. A good rule of thumb is to review your company’s employee handbook if they issue you a company car.
Scenario Two: Another driver hits you while you are driving the company car. If you are in an accident and it is not your fault — once again — the outcome depends on your state and company policy. If you are in a state that protects you in this given situation, you may be eligible for worker’s compensation even if the accident takes place off-site.
Scenario Three: Your forklift overturns or crashes. Too few workers realize that a car accident at work or a vehicular accident at work may involve any type of vehicle, including a forklift. If you regularly perform a forklift service, know your rights in the event of an accident or crash. “Forklift overturn is the leading cause of fatalities involving lift trucks,” Safeopedia writes.
Taking sharp turns, driving uphill, driving on a wet surface, or driving on an uneven surface can all increase the likelihood of forklift overturns. Forklift collisions are likely in crowded environments, where operators risk crashing into walls or machinery.
Scenario Four: Gas truck and oil truck accidents. If you work at a drilling company, gas and oil trucks transport oil to and from your worksite. These trucks pose a significant hazard. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these trucks “cause over 40% of work-related deaths in the oil and gas extraction industry.” If you are struck on the job, know that you have legal recourse.
If you are in a car accident at work, most circumstances leading up to the accident are valid. No matter how you are hurt, it is important to act calmly and quickly. Follow the steps below to protect your employee rights.
Seek Medical Attention
One of the very first steps to take after getting in a car accident at work is to seek appropriate medical care. Putting this off can be a critical mistake — one that can leave you with life-altering injuries and medical bills piling up.
Start by checking yourself and others for any injuries. If you sustain serious injuries, call an ambulance, or ask the police officer on the scene to call for medical assistance.
Keep in mind that it is still important to document minor injuries. Mention them while the officer on the scene is writing up his or her report. If you notice injuries after leaving the scene of the crash, go to the hospital or an urgent care clinic right away. Get a complete checkup, and request all your medical records.
A final note: When in doubt, go to the doctor. Some symptoms and injuries may not manifest themselves right away. For example, whiplash can cause lasting, debilitating injuries, and patients may not feel them for days or weeks.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, some workers may believe that temporary symptoms are just that — fleeting. That may tempt them not to take them seriously and, ultimately, they may fail to document them. Because the symptoms may or may not go away, this is a mistake. If your hearing feels off immediately following an accident, for example, do not assume it will go away. Order a hearing test for concrete answers.
When it comes to sustaining injuries in a car accident at work — or even possibly sustaining injuries — caution is always best. Document and report everything.
Hire A Specialized Lawyer Or Two
Do you need a car accident attorney after getting in a car accident at work? While lawyers may not be necessary for clear-cut cases, work-related crashes, collisions, and accidents are rarely clear-cut. Consider teaming up with a lawyer if you find yourself in one of the four following circumstances.
One: Your injuries are permanent and/or life-altering. Unfortunately, some injuries may be so severe that you are unable to return to work. If that is the case, call a social security disability attorney to review your options.
Two: You had a pre-existing condition before the accident. If you have a pre-existing condition, filing an injury claim may get complicated. Having a pre-existing condition can make it difficult to prove that your injuries or pain result from the accident. As always, get immediate and thorough medical care, and hire a lawyer to work with you to reasonably prove the origin of your injuries.
Three: Your insurance company denies your claim or is taking an undue amount of time to process your claim. If your insurance company denies your claim or if they are taking an especially long time to payout, you may need a lawyer. File your insurance claim as soon as possible. Claims can take a long time to process. However, if they are taking so long that you cannot pay your medical bills, seek legal counsel.
Four: You are trying to demonstrate something intangible or speculative, like suffering or lost wages. Some of the most painful conditions are “invisible illnesses” or conditions. In other words, it is difficult to see that you are suffering just by looking at you. Team up with a lawyer to get the compensation you deserve.
It is also important to call a lawyer when you work a job with variable wages. If you work in sales or in any line of work where you rely on commission, proving lost wages may be challenging. A lawyer can help.
A car accident at work is rarely simple. In tricky situations, do not go it alone. When in doubt, team up with a lawyer. A specialized lawyer will know the nuances of disability or injury law, which helps maximize the chances of your claim’s success.
Were Other People In the Vehicle With You?
Was anyone else with you, and if so, will their injuries be covered by your employer’s insurance?
Unfortunately, the most likely answer is no. The vast majority of companies pay for insurance that covers accidents in company vehicles while employees are working only. If you are off the clock or driving a company car for personal reasons, you will not be covered.
There are exceptions, of course. Some companies issue employees company vehicles for extensive travel and with the understanding that they may use them off-hours. If that is the case, then talk to a lawyer about whether your dog’s veterinarian bills will be covered if he or she was in the car with you. Talk to them about whether your loved one’s expenses will be covered.
In these cases, in addition to working closely with a lawyer, it is also wise to review your company’s policies to see if there are any clear guidelines or precedents in your particular situation.
Seek Financial Compensation
If you get into a car accident at work, chances are you may have medical bills to pay and you may lose several days, weeks, or even months worth of wages. If that describes you, take the appropriate steps to seek financial compensation.
Here are some of the most important pointers.
First, file your claim right away. Depending on the complexity of your claim, you may receive compensation in weeks, months, or even one to two years. Optimally, you should file your injury claim no more than three days after the collision or crash. Your chances are best if you file injury claims in 24 hours or less.
Second, keep the necessary documentation on hand. Want to speed up your claim? Getting together the right documentation can help. You will need a copy of the police report and/or accident report (or the police report number), medical records, witness accounts, witness contact information, and photos of damages. While it is imperative to have any of your medical examinations and treatments duly noted and documented, bear in mind that the other driver’s insurance company or your company’s insurance company may request a second, independent medical exam.
Next, have a backup plan. Some insurance claims take a long time to process. Ideally, your insurance company — or your employer’s insurance company — will process your claim as quickly as possible. Even so, you may get medical bills weeks or months before your claim is processed. Work with a private money lender to get quick, legal funding for accident-related expenses, including medical bills or legal counsel.
Finally, seek compensation for all damages. “It’s difficult to place a dollar amount on the pain and suffering a person experiences after being injured. Insurance companies have developed damages formulas to calculate how much to pay the injured for these types of non-monetary losses,” FindLaw explains. Take advantage of these formulas and calculations to get all the compensation that you are due.
A car accident at work is considerably worse when you’re footing the bill for all your medical expenses. Work with a trusted attorney to seek compensation for your injuries and lost wages.
What You Want to Avoid
Following a car accident at work, there are some circumstances you want to avoid altogether if at all possible.
For example, file personal injury claims and take out loans for expenses if need be. Take these actions now to avoid negotiations with a bankruptcy lawyer in the future.
Similarly, while a bail bond agent can help you in a pinch, take all due precautions to avoid needing someone to post your bail — especially if you are driving the company vehicle. If you will be driving a company car, don’t drink. If are using the company vehicle on a business trip, again, avoid drinking. If you want to get a few drinks to schmooze with clients, arrange a taxi or Lyft to and from your hotel.
Remember, in many states, employment is at-will. That means your employer can fire you for any reason. Do not give them a reason. Driving while under the influence and while using the company vehicle is playing with fire.
This may seem like an obvious suggestion, but it is one that many people ignore. “Each day, people drive drunk more than 300,000 times,” Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) reveals.
A car accident can be harrowing no matter what. A car accident at work adds several different layers into the mix and may result in more trauma. Start by knowing what to expect and the first steps to take in the event of a crash. From there, team up with trusted attorneys to ensure that you get appropriate compensation.