What Should I Do After a Car Accident?
You’ve been a cautious driver and, luckily, you haven’t been in an accident…until now. A car accident can leave you in a state of shock, possibly injured, and likely confused – all within a matter of seconds. What you do immediately following the accident can affect your ability to receive fair compensation. Here are some of the steps that you should take:
As difficult as it is, try your best to remain calm. A car accident can be a terrifying experience. Shock and adrenaline can cause anyone to panic. Take deep breaths and focus on staying calm.
Turn On Your Hazard Lights if you are able to do so.
Check for Injuries
Check to see if you or your passengers have sustained any injuries. If anyone in your vehicle needs medical attention, immediately call 911. If you’re unable to call 911, ask someone else to do so. If you are seriously injured, try your best not to move until the emergency response team arrives. The same is true for any of your passengers.
If the placement of your vehicle is creating a hazard, move your vehicle out of the flow of traffic (to the shoulder or into a parking lot) if it is safe to do so. If you cannot move your car, keep your hazard lights on and be prepared to honk. Please note that, in many cases, getting out of your vehicle may be more dangerous than staying in your car. Your vehicle can offer some protection and will be easier to see than you.
Call the Police
Call the police, even if the collision was not severe. Especially when you’ve been in a minor accident, it can be tempting to simply swap information with the other parties and avoid being late for work or school. However, a police report is an important piece to any insurance claim that you file. Be sure to call and wait for the police, no matter what is on your schedule.
Start Documenting and Taking Pictures
As soon as you are able and it is safe to do so, document everything that you can remember about the accident, including where the crash occurred and everything that you can remember about how it happened. Take pictures of all involved vehicles, including license plates. If you or your passengers have injuries that are apparent, take photos. Also take photos of insurance cards for each driver involved.
File an Accident Report
Once the police arrive, be sure to tell the officer what happened, as best as you can. If you are unsure of any fact, let the officer know exactly that. Never guess or speculate. With endorphins running high within your body, you may not know whether you are injured or not right away. If you’re unsure, then be sure to say that you’re unsure.
Exchange Information with the Other Driver(s)
The police officer should collect information for each person involved in the accident. However, it’s a good idea for you to document this information as well. Record the name, address, and telephone number of each person involved in the accident. Document the same information for anyone who witnessed the accident, as well as the number of the police report. Additionally, document the name of the responding officer.
Seek Appropriate Medical Attention
Seek medical attention as soon as pain is felt. Injuries sustained from a car accident may not be immediately apparent. Due to the adrenaline and endorphins flooding a person’s body after an accident, it may be hard to know whether you’re injured at first. It’s important to keep this in mind, since insurance adjusters often call for a statement as soon as they learn of the car accident. Minor pain felt following a car accident could be a first symptom of long-term injuries.
I can’t tell you how many people I know who thought “the pain isn’t that bad” or “I can’t afford to see a provider right now.” Unfortunately, delay in treatment – or foregoing it completely – is the worst thing you can do for both your health and your claim. Stalling for even two weeks following the accident can result in impaired legal rights, less compensation for your damages and, most importantly, adverse impact to your health.
Keep Organized and Detailed Records
Keep organized and detailed records. We recommend that you keep all documents and information related to the car accident in one place. Remember the information that you recorded right after the accident? Tuck it in your file. The photos that you took? Keep those there, too. Receipts for expenses incurred as a result of the collision? You get the point.
FindLaw has a pretty solid list of documents to show your attorney after a collision. A little time spent gathering and organizing these items will likely save you a lot of time and frustration down the road.
Should You Notify Your Insurance Company?
Yes, you can notify your insurance company of the accident; however, do not give a statement to any insurance adjuster at this point. This is important and one of the most common mistakes that individuals make after being involved in an accident. Insurance adjusters will usually request permission to record a statement or request a written statement from you shortly following the accident. You may not have adequate information at this point, including information regarding any injuries sustained. Giving a statement too early can negatively impact your ability to recover compensation for any medical bills that follow. Politely decline requests to provide a statement or any information other than a simple notification of the accident.
Consult with an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney
An experienced and reputable car accident attorney should be able to provide you with a free consultation, inform you of your legal rights, and let you know if he or she recommends hiring an attorney for your claim. Read our article on when you should hire a car accident lawyer for more information. There are important deadlines that you do not want to miss, so it’s important to consult with an attorney as soon as possible.