Car Accidents: What to do Immediately After
Car accidents happen even to the most careful drivers. They are unexpected and can leave you with serious injuries. When car accidents happen, regardless of the severity, emotions often run high, and it is important to keep a level head and know what steps you should take to protect yourself and your interests.
Be Prepared, Assess the Situation, Be SafeThe best way to handle an accident is to be prepared for one. Keep a vehicle safety kit in your car that can include items such as a first aid kit, a flash light and batteries, jumper cables, cones, and flares. You should also keep important documentation, such as your car insurance card, registration, emergency contacts, and vehicle registration, in an easily accessible place such as your glove box.
If you are involved in a car accident, regardless of fault, the first thing you must do is stay at the scene. Even if the accident is minor, never leave the accident scene until it is appropriate to do so. If the accident is minor, you can move your car to a safe, nearby location out of traffic, such as the shoulder of a highway or a nearby parking lot, but do not leave the scene. If you leave, particularly where someone has sustained injuries or was killed, you can face serious criminal penalties for being a hit-and-run driver.
Once everyone is stopped and out of their vehicles, ensure everyone involved in the accident is okay. Attend to any persons who need medical attention. If a person is unconscious or has neck or back pain, do not move them until qualified medical help arrives, unless a hazard, such as traffic or a fire, requires moving the person. If you are unsure whether someone is injured, call an ambulance.
Call the Police, Document, & Exchange InformationFor fender benders, it may not be necessary to call the police, but in most situations, calling the police following an accident is a necessary step. If the police come to the scene, you will have an official report to give to your insurance company. In some cities, an officer will not be sent out if the accident is minor, in which case you can file your own report with the police.
Next, start documenting the accident as soon as it is possible to safely do so. Take photographs of the scene, as well as the damage to your vehicle and the vehicles of others. If you have visible injuries, photograph them as well. Photos will help your insurance company determine who is at fault should that issue arise. Next, exchange information with the other driver(s). You should be courteous and polite, but you should never apologize or say the accident was your fault unless you are sure it was your fault—do not apologize to comfort another driver. If police are at the scene, they will facilitate this process and will provide you with a police report number; however, if police are not there to assist, it is important that you obtain the name, address, telephone number, and insurance information of all persons involved in the accident, including passengers. If there are witnesses, you should get information from them as well, so that you, your insurance company, and/or your attorney can contact them in the future.
Seek HelpPromptly notify your insurance company if you’ve been in an accident, and give them as much information, including pictures, as possible. If warranted, you should also seek medical attention. Sometimes injuries caused by car accidents are not immediately apparent, and even accidents with minor impact can cause major damage to your neck and back. If there was damage to vehicles or people injured during the accident, it is of utmost importance that you consult an attorney. You should consult an attorney before making any statements, signing documentation, or accepting any settlements. An attorney can help you maximize your recovery if you’re injured or help you defend yourself if you are accused of being at fault.
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