It can happen to anyone at any time: You're commuting to work, one hand wrapped around a hot cup of joe while you nod your head to the music. Suddenly, you hear the crunch of steel as your neck is jerked violently back and forth. The driver behind you has rear-ended your car, possibly while checking a text message or fiddling with the radio dial. It's not your fault, but now you have yet another item on your busy agenda to handle. What should you do?
Car accidents are never pleasant, but the following information will help you achieve the best possible outcome.
What to Do After a Car Accident When it's Not Your Fault: First Steps
Many of the steps you take following a car accident are the same regardless of who's at fault. But there are some things you can do to protect your interests in the event the other party leaves the scene of the accident, fails to report the accident, contradicts your account of the events, or is otherwise uncooperative.
Immediately Following the Accident
First of all, take a deep breath and remain calm. If you are injured, get immediate medical attention (take notes about your injuries if possible). Check on all drivers and passengers who may be involved in the accident and help those in need of emergency care, but don't move an injured person unless it's absolutely necessary for their safety.
If you can, safely take photographs of the vehicles in their original accident position. Then, make sure you promptly move the vehicles out of traffic and onto the side of the road if possible. You don't want to cause an unnecessary traffic jam or yet another collision.
If it's clearly the other driver's fault, such as the rear-end collision illustrated above, then he or she is responsible for reporting the accident to their insurer. But don't just assume the other driver will take care of it; leaving the scene of an accident is a felony, but only if there's evidence of the crime. That is why you want to collect the following information:
- Name, address, and telephone number of the other driver
- Insurance company name and policy number of the other driver
- Witness statements and their contact information (if applicable)
- Photographs of the scene (including the license plate of the other driver) and the site of the damage
- Security camera footage from nearby stores/buildings and ask them to provide you a copy or retain the footage.
Consider Calling the Police
Even if it's unclear whether you may have contributed to the accident, collecting the above information may help you make your case. If there are physical injuries (either to yourself, the other driver, or passengers) or significant property/vehicle damage, you may want to call the police. Although a police report may not be admissible in civil court, it will give you leverage when giving your version of events or reaching a settlement.
After a Car Accident: What to Do When You Get Home
Assuming you haven't sustained serious injuries, you'll want to take care of some additional steps after you get home (or the next morning, but as soon as possible). If you have injuries from the accident, be sure to keep detailed (and ongoing) notes. In a best-case scenario, the other driver will report the accident to his or her insurer and the insurance company will write you a check for your automobile damage and any medical expenses incurred.
Contact Your Own Insurance Company
Car accidents often happen in the blink of an eye, which means you might not have a full picture of the events that led up to the collision. And yes, perhaps you were at fault, if only partially. Also, there may be instances where the other motorist's insurance company denies responsibility or the at-fault driver doesn't have insurance.
In either case, your own insurance company will need to know, either to launch a legal challenge against the other insurer or to process a collision claim for your vehicle. And by proactively contacting your insurance company, regardless of fault, you establish a good-faith effort at reporting the accident.
Consider Suing the Other Driver's Insurance Company
In most instances, the other party's insurance company may accept coverage and pay you the damages you incurred. But occasionally, especially in the absence of a police report, it may take the side of its policyholder and deny coverage. In this case, your own insurer may either cover the damage, sue the other insurance company, or try to reach a settlement that works for all parties. But as a last-ditch effort, you always have the option of hiring a lawyer and suing the other party's insurer yourself.
But keep in mind, there may not be enough evidence to make a solid case. Or, the amount of money involved may not be worth the stress and time spent in litigation. In any event, you should weigh the pros and cons of doing so with an experienced motor vehicle accident attorney before taking additional action.
Have an Attorney Evaluate Your Car Accident Claim
Now that you know what to do after a car accident that's not your fault, you may have additional questions about your legal options. An attorney can help you decide what course of action to take if it isn't easily resolved.
Get started today and contact an experienced motor vehicle accident lawyer near you.