What to Do After a Car Accident
If you’ve been in a car accident, first and foremost, you should obtain medical help for you or anyone else who is injured in the accident. But even if there are no apparent injuries at the scene, there are several steps you should take to protect yourself in case of a future lawsuit.
At the scene of the accident
First, even if the accident is minor, but especially if there is damage to any of the vehicles involved, or to adjacent property (trees, poles, buildings, etc.), you should call the police and request that a police report be made. A police report can be extremely helpful in establishing who was at fault for the accident and documenting other important details, which can help prevent fraudulent claims later.
If you have a camera or smartphone available and it is safe to do so, take photographs at the scene of the accident. Photograph not only the damage to the vehicles involved, but also the scene of the accident, particularly if a temporary condition, such as a missing or broken sign, obstructed view from overhanging bushes or trees, etc. caused or contributed to the accident. Capture weather, lighting, driving, and roadway conditions too.
If there are any witnesses, get their names and addresses, as well as the names and addresses of all of the other drivers and passengers involved in the accident, license plate numbers, descriptions of all of the vehicles involved, and driver’s license and insurance information from all of the drivers. This is another way that a police report can be helpful – often, all of this information is recorded by the police when they respond to an accident scene and create their report.
When speaking with witnesses or other people involved in the accident at the scene, avoid making any statements that might indicate that you believe you were at fault for the accident, as these statements may come back to haunt you later.
Some people will try to avoid letting their insurance company know that they have been in an accident and will try to convince you not to call the police or report the accident to your insurance company. They may offer to pay your expenses out of their own pocket. This is extremely risky for many reasons; you may not be able to get payment from them, they may change their story later, or you may forfeit your insurance coverage for failing to report an accident, among other problems.
Contact your insurance company
You should contact your insurance company as soon as possible after the accident to report the accident and give them the other driver’s information, including their insurance information, even if there were no reported injuries at the scene. The insurance company will assign a claims adjuster to your claim, who will be your contact at the insurance company about the accident. They may ask to take a recorded statement from you over the telephone.
You may want to consider hiring an attorney before giving any statement, either written or oral, even to your own insurance company. You may also be contacted by the other driver’s insurance company. Do not give any statements, either in writing or by telephone, to anyone other than your own insurance company and your own attorney.
If you are injured
Document damages and injuries. Often, injuries do not manifest themselves until sometime after the accident. Whether you experience symptoms right away or days later, write them down. Keep track of all medical appointments, and names and addresses of any medical providers, including chiropractors or physical therapists, and even your regular primary care doctor or internist. Keep any receipts for expenses related to your injuries, including any costs for transportation or medical equipment.
Write down any changes to your regular activities resulting from the accident, including missed work or other limitations. For example, if you used to go to the gym to work out three days a week but could not do so for three months after the accident, or if you have difficulty brushing your hair, getting dressed, or performing other basic activities because of your injuries.
Assuming you are not at fault, you may receive an offer of settlement from the other driver or from their insurance company shortly after the accident. Do not agree to a settlement or sign any paperwork without consulting your own attorney first; once you agree to a settlement or sign a settlement agreement, you will not be able to file a lawsuit or obtain additional damages if your injuries are more serious than you initially thought.
If you’ve been in a car accident, use our website to find a personal injury lawyer to help you decide whether you should accept a settlement offer from an insurance company or file a lawsuit.
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