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Have you or someone you know been involved in an accident? What should you do? How do you protect your rights? One of the best ways to protect your rights is by documenting what occurs. Below are some of the ways you can do this.

It is always difficult to document facts in a situation where an unexpected injury occurs, but documentation can mean the difference in whether you or your loved one receives compensation and how much that compensation will be.

Why is documentation needed? As soon as an accident and injury occurs, statements are made and evidence needs to be collected. For example, someone you know is involved in a collision with an 18-wheeler. Guess who is on the scene within hours of the collision? The investigators for the trucking company or for the insurance carrier. Those investigators are taking photographs, taking measurements, and taking statements, and they are not gathering this information so they can pay compensation. They are gathering this information so they can avoid compensating the victim.

Who is documenting for you or someone you know? The investigating officers need to be given the correct facts. Someone needs to hear and write down what the truck driver has to say about the collision. Someone needs to write down the names and addresses of any witnesses who saw what happened. Also, if you can get their statements at the scene, you will be better off down the road. You may also find witnesses the investigating officers miss. Many times, clients come into our office after a car accident or a slip and fall incident, and they tell us there were witnesses at the scene, but they did not get any names and numbers. At that point, it is too late because we aren’t going to be able to find them either.

In a slip and fall case, are you going to rely on the store manager to document your accident? Is the store manager unbiased? Documentation in premises liability cases (more commonly called “slip and fall” cases) is key. You cannot win a premises liability case in Alabama unless you can prove the store knew or should have known of the defect and failed to do anything about it.

Let’s say you’re in a store and you slip and fall on some substance on the floor. Will the manager write down the names of witnesses? Hardly ever. Without a witness, your case may be impossible to prove. If another employee says, “I told them that needed to be cleaned up,” are you going to remember the name of the employee and what she said? Is the store manager going to provide that to you? I doubt it. In fact, I’ve seen it so many times where they don’t that I can almost say unequivocally, “they won’t”.

Documentation is important with respect to collections and disputes with others. How are you going to prove you told someone something over the telephone? You can’t. What can you do? Send a letter. What should you say? “This letter will confirm our telephone conversation wherein we discussed . . . “ . What if someone won’t respond to you? You can send them a letter which says, “As you know, I have left several messages for you, and you have not responded. If I do not hear from you within ten (10) days from the date of this letter, I will presume that you agree you borrowed $1,000.00, that you haven’t paid me according to our agreement, and that you owe me $1,000.00.

What if a debt collector is harassing you on a bill you’ve paid? Write down the debt collector’s name. Write down the debt collector’s number. Write down the date, time, and substance of your conversation. This documents the telephone call, and you can refer back to it when you need it.

What about your injury? How can you document your pain and suffering? Keep a log of your daily activities. If you typically did some gardening on Saturdays, but on this Saturday, you sat on the couch because you couldn’t get outside and do the work, write the date and time you intended to do the activity and the fact that you didn’t do it. In addition, what if you did go outside to do the gardening, but it caused you significant pain? Write that down too. Write down what you did for the next three hours, i.e.: “I took some ibuprofen and laid down for the next three hours.” Keep a log of the medications you take and when. Always put down dates and times.

As you can see, there are many ways to document information in order to protect your rights. Unfortunately, people like to rely on their memory, but when litigation takes months and years, it’s rare that you can remember all of the important facts. But, if you have properly documented the facts, you will have a leg up on the other side.

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