When you’ve just been in an automobile accident or attacked by a neighbor’s dangerous pet emotions are running high. You have your immediate well-being to think about. Seemingly bureaucratic details like recording what happened and keeping receipts may be the furthest things from your mind. But, these can protect you from your injuries becoming a greater expense and protracted heartache.

First and foremost, get safe and get help. Make sure that your injuries receive timely medical attention. Call the police if there are serious injuries, damage to property, uncooperative or threatening parties on the scene, and any other time it seems appropriate. It is a role of law enforcement, in addition to resolving the crisis, to create a credible record of the event.

Facts are the foundation of a legal claim. When you are injured or in a wreck, it is useful to write down everything you know about the situation as soon as you can. Be inclusive. Given too much information a skilled attorney and staff can sort through the details to discover the building blocks of your strongest case. With too little information or inconsistent memories it will take greater effort to lay the groundwork for your claim. Photographs are very valuable also.

Record what happened in your own words while it is still fresh in your mind. It may be helpful to think of yourself as relating the story of your injury to a friend or journalist. Include the basic elements of: who, what, where, when, and how. Be as specific as your recollection allows with the physical facts. Your thoughts and feelings can also be important facts. For example: Did you feel apprehensive or fearful as events unfolded? If you were in pain, when did it start? What parts of your body are in pain? How have your injuries changed your day to day life?

Also keep any records you obtain from the police, emergency services, health care providers, and insurers. Keep all documents related to your accident or injury. If you see someone has made a document and does not provide you a copy politely ask if you can have one. You may be entitled to the copy. Even if you are not the worst they can do is decline. You won’t be any worse off than before you asked.

Your attorney can also obtain documents as part of the pretrial investigation called discovery. However, this process takes time and there are opportunities for the other party to obstruct disclosing information. You have an advantage when your own records are complete.

Finally, don’t let perfect become the enemy of the good. Even if you have missed some opportunities to keep complete records don’t give up! Contact an attorney who can help you recover the initiative and preserve your right to civil justice.

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