After a Car Accident
Motor vehicle accidents typically happen very fast, without much time to process how they happened, while the consequences can be devastating and are often chaotic. FindLaw's After a Car Accident section focuses on what steps motorists and others involved in car accidents should take in order to best recover from injuries and successfully deal with the process. Articles cover first steps immediately following an accident (such as ensuring the safety of everyone involved), why it's important to take careful notes about the accident and any injuries, how to interact with insurers, whether to sue the other party, and more.
First Steps Immediately Following a Car Accident
Traffic accidents usually happen so fast that it's sometimes difficult to determine how it happened and who was at fault. It helps to have a general outline of first steps you should take. The key is to first ensure the safety of everyone involved. The first steps following a car accident include the following:
- Stay at the scene, but move vehicles out of traffic if possible (leaving the scene of an accident can result in serious criminal charges)
- Check drivers and passengers, getting medical attention for those who need it (be careful not to move anyone with neck or back pain)
- Call the police if there are injuries, death, or significant property damage (ask that a police report be filed when they arrive on the scene)
- Exchange information with the other motorists(s) involved, passengers, and any witnesses (names, addresses, phone numbers, driver's license numbers, license plate numbers, basic insurance information)
- Take pictures of the damage (this is particularly useful when comparing to "before" photos)
- Contact your insurance company, keeping in mind that they may deny your claim if you fail to tell the truth
- Track your medical treatment if you have sustained injuries in order to accurately estimate your costs and level of pain and suffering (where applicable)
Taking Notes About Car Accident Injuries
Taking notes soon after a car accident, assuming you're not seriously injured, is very important and will help your accuracy in reporting accidents or countering dubious claims. You will want to write down everything you can remember about how the accident started, how it unfolded at impact(s), and its aftermath. What were the weather conditions? Were there signs of driver impairment? Was anything said after the accident that might help explain who the responsible party was?
If you have sustained an injury, write down everything you can remember about how it happened but also take ongoing notes as symptoms come and go or as new conditions develop. Concussions and whiplash, for instance, may not be apparent at first but even mild symptoms may indicate a more serious injury.
And since virtually all mobile phones also have cameras, make sure you also take pictures of the damage, preferably showing the angles of the cars and any other visual information that would help explain what happened.
When to Report a Car Accident
There is no one right answer to soon you should report a car accident to your insurance provider, to the other driver's provider, or even if it needs to be reported at all. The rule of thumb is that most car accidents should be reported to your insurance company, especially if it's your fault, as soon as possible. Keep in mind that even a low-speed collision can cause costly but otherwise unseen damage.
Some insurance policies indicate how long insured drivers have in which to report an accident, so make sure you check your own policy if you're uncertain.
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After a Car Accident Articles
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