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After a Car Accident: First Steps

First Steps after a Car Accident

What should you do if you're in a car accident? When it happens, your personal injuries may be severe, and emotions may run high. However, there are important things to do at the scene of the accident and soon after the accident takes place.

Below is a list of actions to take after an accident, if possible. Keep this information handy by printing this helpful pamphlet on first steps after an auto accident and storing it in your car.

1. Stay at the Scene

Never leave the accident scene until it's appropriate. Instead, remain on the side of the road with your hazard lights on.

If you leave the scene of the accident, particularly when someone has sustained injuries or was killed, you can face serious criminal penalties for being a hit-and-run driver.

2. Check on All Drivers and Passengers

Before assessing property damage, make sure everyone involved in the accident is okay. Get medical attention for anyone who needs it. If a person is unconscious or has neck or back pain, don't move them until qualified medical help arrives unless a hazard requires moving the person.

3. Call the Police

If there's significant property damage, physical injury, or death, you need to call law enforcement and/or emergency medical services (EMS). Ask that a police report be filed in situations where a police officer arrives at the scene. Obtain the name and badge numbers of the responding officers.

4. Exchange Information

Get the names, phone numbers, addresses, driver's license numbers, license plate numbers, and basic car insurance information from all drivers involved. If there are passengers, also obtain their contact information and insurance policy numbers.

In talking to other motorists, try to be cordial and cooperative. However, you shouldn't apologize for anything at the scene.

For example, don't say, "I'm so sorry I ran that red light! Is everyone okay?" By saying that, you may be admitting legal liability for what happened.

Immediately after an accident, it might not be clear who was the at-fault driver. In many states, fault isn't determinative of which insurer will pay for any loss. Therefore, try not to admit guilt unintentionally or unnecessarily.

5. Talk to Witnesses

Ask every witness what they saw. Get their names, numbers, and addresses if possible. Ask locals if they've ever witnessed other motor vehicle accidents in the same place.

6. Inform Your Insurance Company

Promptly notify your insurance company that you've been in an accident. Cooperate with them. Tell them the truth about what happened and the extent of your injuries.

Explain the facts clearly. If the insurance company finds out that you've lied to them about anything during the claims process, you can get into serious trouble, including possible denial of your insurance policy for the accident.

If the police responded to the scene, they would have created an accident report. Obtain and review any police report filed so you can point out who broke what traffic laws at the time of the accident or who was at fault.

7. Keep Track of Your Medical Treatment

Note any doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors, or other professionals from whom you receive medical care. Also, note each medical provider that referred you to other caregivers. Keep a detailed account of the treatments and/or medications you receive. Also, request copies of all medical records and medical bills, as these can help you prove your expenses later. These can play a major role in determining how much you may settle your case for in the future.

Medical expenses are relatively easy to document, but pain and suffering are trickier to prove. Keep a record of how your car accident injuries have impacted your daily life. Include any missed workdays, list any routine activities you can't undertake, and describe how the injuries have affected your family life.

8. Take Pictures

Take photographs of any vehicle damage as soon as possible after the accident. Photos help your insurance adjuster determine how much you should be compensated for the damage to your car and can also help in court. Pictures of your car taken before the accident can offer a great "compare and contrast" to show the true extent of damage sustained in the accident.

9. Get a Property Damage Valuation

Obtain your insurance company's damage valuation. If you aren't satisfied with how your insurance company has valued your vehicle, don't give up. Get two independent repair estimates or replacement quotes.

Assertively inform the adjuster of your concerns. If you can't agree on your car's value, consider mediation or consult a personal injury attorney.

10. Use Caution in Discussing the Incident

Don't talk about the accident to anyone other than your lawyer, your insurance company, and the police.

Don't talk to a representative from another insurance company without the knowledge of your attorney or insurer. If called by the other insurance company, be polite but ask them to call your attorney or insurer to arrange an interview about your injury claim.

Also, tell your lawyer or insurer about the call. It is always in your best interest to speak with an attorney or have your attorney present if the insurance company asks you to give a recorded statement regarding the claim and/or accident.

11. Be Wary of Early Settlement Offers

Be careful if you're offered a settlement from an insurance company. Confirm all your serious injuries have been treated. Even if you were only involved in a fender bender, car crash injuries often don't show up or reach their greatest level of discomfort until many days, weeks, or even months later.

Don't settle an auto insurance claim until you know you'll be compensated for all your bodily injuries. Consult a car accident attorney before signing any settlement documents regarding your car accident claim.

12. Consider Getting Legal Advice From a Car Accident Lawyer

If anyone was injured in the accident, it's best to consult an experienced personal injury lawyer. An attorney can help you understand all the disclaimers in your insurance policy, maximize your recovery if you're injured, or better defend yourself if you're at fault. Many accident attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, which means that your lawyer only receives a fee if you're awarded damages or receive a settlement.

Contact an experienced injury attorney today and learn more about your car accident case.

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