Steps You Should Take After a Car Accident
At some point in your life, you will likely be involved in a car accident, either as a driver or a passenger. Do you know what to do after the accident occurs? Do you need medical attention? Are you going to have to hire an auto injury attorney? This checklist will answer some those questions and provide the actions you should take.
Always Stop and Remain at the Scene of the Accident
Even in a minor accident, most states have laws requiring that you stop and remain at the scene of the accident long enough to exchange information with the other driver, assuming you are physically able to do so. Otherwise, you could face charges of hit-and-run. The penalties for these charges increase dramatically if you leave the scene when there are injured occupants in the other car. In all states in the nation, it is a felony to leave the scene of an accident that caused the death of another person.
If possible, you should move your car off of the roadway to avoid creating a hazard for other drivers on the road. However, your occupants should remain seat-belted inside the vehicle until help arrives, as the accident may already cause a distraction to other drivers and there is a risk of an occupant getting hit if they’re standing on the side of the road.
Check to See if Anyone Is Hurt
Check your own injuries first, as well as any injuries that the other occupants in your car may have sustained. It is also a good idea to get out and check on the driver and occupants of the other car to see if anyone sustained injuries. If anyone has been hurt, you should avoid moving them, as it could make the injuries worse.
Call 911 immediately if anyone is injured. Depending on where your accident took place, you may be required to call the police to the scene to make a report, as well. Some states require this if the accident results in significant property damage to the vehicles. For minor accidents, you may be able to file a report with the police online or by going to the police department in person within a couple of days after the accident.
Following an accident, you will need to exchange information with the other driver. As noted by the Balance, the information you will want to collect from them and share with them includes:
- Name, address, phone number, and other contact information from the driver
- The name of the driver’s insurance company and policy driver
- Vehicle description, including its make, model, and year
- Vehicle registration information
- License plate number
In addition to the information collected from the other driver, you should also get the names, addresses, and contact information from anyone who witnessed the accident. You should also jot down information about how, where, and when the accident occurred. While this information will be part of the police report, it is a good idea to collect it on your own, as well. Some of the information you should gather from the scene includes:
- Date, time, and location of the accident
- The direction you were traveling in and that the other driver was traveling in
- Details as to what happened, which you should write down, as you may forget important details as time goes by
- Photos of all angles of both vehicles as well as any other pertinent features, including debris on the roadway, any sort of roadside hazards that may have led to the accident, and weather conditions that might have been a factor—such a low visibility
- The name, badge number, and contact information for the police officer who responds to the scene. You may need the officer’s information later, if questions arise from you, your insurance company, or your attorney about details of the case or the accident report.
What Not to Do at the Scene (and After You’ve Left the Scene)
You should take caution when speaking to the other driver or witnesses, as any information you provide may be construed as a statement and used against you later. Do not admit fault for the accident, and do not apologize. Likewise, don’t get into a shouting match with the other driver either. Even if you’re absolutely certain that the other driver caused the accident, you should let the facts speak for themselves. Escalating the situation rarely ends well.
When the police officer interviews you to get your information about the accident, answer his or her questions as honestly and completely as possible. It is important not to lie or exaggerate details, as doing so could cause legal issues for you later.
Another thing you should never do is agree to accept money from the other driver in lieu of filing an insurance claim or to offer money to the other driver for that purpose.
Seek Medical Attention (Even If You Don’t Feel Hurt)
Certain injuries demand a trip to the ER, including:
- Any head injuries, particularly those that present with symptoms like loss of consciousness, inability to recognize people, convulsions or seizures, or one pupil that is larger than the other
- Neck pain that could be indicative of whiplash or a spinal cord injury
- Pain in the abdomen that may be the result of internal injuries
After a car accident, your adrenaline may prevent you from feeling the full extent of any injuries. Additionally, some injuries present delayed symptoms, such as:
- Back injuries
- Soft tissue injuries
- Emotional distress
In the case of injuries, it is better to be safe than sorry. If you suspect anything is amiss with your physical or emotional health, you should go see a doctor.
Contact Your Insurance Company
Most insurance policies have provisions that require you to report an accident, regardless of who was at fault. While drivers are often able to fix minor accident damage on their own, the risk of doing so is that either the damage turns out to be more extensive and expensive than you initially thought or the other driver decides to change their story and file a third-party claim, at which point you have not complied with your policy requirements about accident reporting. Failing to report the accident to your insurance company could result in loss of coverage.
Talk to an Experienced Auto Accident Attorney
If the other driver was at fault for the accident, and you’ve suffered injuries or the damage to your car is extensive, you should talk to an experienced car accident attorney about your legal options. If eligible, you should seek compensation through a third-party insurance claim, a settlement, or a personal injury lawsuit. Contacting an auto incident attorney can help you with this process and to determine which strategy best suits your circumstances.