What Should I Do After a Car Accident?

12 simple steps to preserve your safety and legal rights

A car accident can leave you in a state of shock, possibly injured, and likely confused—all within a matter of seconds.

What many people in this situation don't realize, though, is that what you do immediately following an accident can affect your ability to receive fair compensation for your injuries.

Here are some essential tips and steps to take after a car accident:

  1. Remain calm. 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.

  2. Turn on your hazard lights if you are able to do so.

  3. Check for 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.

  4. Stay safe. If the placement of your vehicle is creating a hazard, move your vehicle out of the flow of traffic—like 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.

    Note: 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Start documenting and taking pictures. Once 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. Additionally, take photos of insurance cards for each driver involved.

  7. File an accident report. When 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 in 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.

  8. 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. Finally, document the name of the responding officer.

  9. Seek appropriate 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 the first symptom of long-term injuries.

    Many people think “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, an adverse impact on your health.

  10. Keep organized and detailed records of photos, names, and documents you have collected. And when collecting these records, be as detailed as possible. We recommend that you keep all the documents and information related to the car accident in one place, with copies or backups in a second location, such as a safe deposit box or an online backup service.

    FindLaw has a 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.

  11. Notify your insurance company of the accident. However, do not give a statement to any insurance adjuster at this point. This is important and is one of the most common mistakes that individuals make after being involved in an accident.

    This is because 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. Therefore, 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.

  12. Consult with a personal injury attorney. An experienced and reputable car accident lawyer should be able to provide you with a free consultation, inform you of your legal rights, and let you know if they recommend hiring an attorney to handle 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.

Filing a claim with the auto insurance company

Baskerville Law is a top-rated personal injury law firm dedicating to helping car accident victims throughout New Mexico. We work hard to ensure that your legal rights are protected after an accident, and can help you receive appropriate medical care for your injuries. Call or text us at (505) 247-2774 for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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