If you’ve never been in a car accident before, you may not know what to do. The uncertainty over your next steps can make an already stressful situation nearly unmanageable. As you’re dealing with a heightened sense of anxiety and fear, it may be difficult to think your way through the situation. Do your best not to panic, and try to remember that if you survived the accident, the scariest part is over. Contact car accident lawyers on your side can make navigating this process easier.
From here, what’s important is how you manage the situation. If you’re still at the accident scene, call 911 and wait for first responders. If you’ve already left the scene, make sure you seek medical attention and consider your legal options. All of these things can protect your rights and help you secure financial recovery.
What to Do at the Scene of the Car Accident
The steps you take at the scene of a car crash can affect your ability to obtain compensation for your injuries and losses. If possible, follow these steps:
Remain at the Scene of the Crash
It is illegal to leave the crash site if you were involved in a car accident that resulted in vehicle damage, bodily injury, or death. If possible, make sure your car does not obstruct traffic. Then, render first-aid to injured parties and exchange information with those involved.
The penalties for fleeing the scene of a car crash depend on your state but usually include a felony charge for crashes that result in serious bodily injury or death. You don’t want to face criminal charges in the aftermath of your accident. Instead, remain at the scene until law enforcement arrives and takes your information.
Check Yourself for Injuries and Provide Help to Anyone Who is Hurt
It’s imperative that you ensure your own safety after a car accident. Check yourself for any injuries, and don’t try to move too fast. Pushing yourself too far could exacerbate any physical trauma you’ve experienced. Once you’ve assessed your own condition, if it’s safe to do so, assist other drivers and passengers involved in the wreck.
The law requires you to render aid, which includes:
- Transporting the injured to the hospital to receive care or
- Calling 911 and waiting for law enforcement/first responders
Following in accident in most states, you must call the police and report the incident immediately. Officers and emergency medical services will arrive at the scene to help. The police will investigate the crash and document the collision in a crash report, capturing important information that you will need later when you file an accident claim.
Even in relatively minor accidents or accidents on private property, you should still call 911. Be sure to ask for the responding officer’s name, their badge number, and a copy of the police report.
The officer may provide the report number at the scene and advise you to contact the police department to obtain a copy later. You could also order the report online. The information in the crash report can help you build a car accident claim against the at-fault driver.
It may include:
- The names and contact information for drivers and passengers in the wreck
- The time and place of the accident
- A diagram and description of the crash
- The vehicle information for the cars involved, like the involved license plate numbers, vehicle registration numbers, colors, builds, and models
- Notes on injuries or property damage
- The name and badge number of the responding officer
- Witness and passenger names
Avoid Any Admission of Fault or Guilt
Do not admit fault or accept the blame for the car accident. Do not even apologize. Admitting you were at fault could negatively affect your right to compensation in a car accident claim. The police will likely note your admission of fault in the crash report, and the at-fault driver’s insurer will use it against you later.
Avoid any conversation regarding blame. Conversations like this turn emotional, and you may feel flustered enough to apologize. They can also get heated, leading to an altercation that could complicate things.
Always Tell the Truth
While you don’t have a legal obligation to accept or admit blame, you have an obligation to tell the truth. Do not lie to the police. It is a crime called obstruction of justice. When asked about the events, give only facts you know. Avoid speculation, provide your account in as few words as possible, and don’t overshare.
Exchange Information with the Other Driver
The laws in every state require drivers to exchange information after a crash.
Information you must provide each other usually includes:
- Your names, phone numbers, and addresses
- Your vehicle registration numbers
- The involved driver’s license numbers
- Insurance policy number and insurance company name
If the driver is not the owner of the car, be sure to also collect the contact information for the owner. You should also write down the other car’s color, make, model, and license plate number, as well as the exact location of the crash.
Speak to Witnesses at the Scene
You must act quickly to speak to witnesses at the crash scene. Once the police arrive, they may leave, thinking they are no longer needed. Ask what the witness saw and heard, how they think the accident occurred, where they were at the time of the crash, if they recorded any video of the collision, and their contact information.
You should also ask them to give a statement to the police, so their account is on the record. Having witnesses is essential to supporting your claim for compensation. You can provide the witnesses’ information to your car accident lawyer when they begin your case.
Document the Car Accident With Photos and Videos
Photographic evidence provides strong support for your car accident insurance claim. Take pictures of the damage to your car and other vehicles involved in the crash. Additionally, you should capture the resting position of the cars, nearby property damage, and the location of the accident. Snap photos of the street signs, roads, and nearby buildings.
Ensure you take pictures from multiple angles and distances to give complete coverage of the auto accident. It’s important to also take pictures of any injuries you or your passengers sustained.
If possible, take video as well. Recorded footage provides additional insight into the crash and can depict its severity. Photos and videos provide essential proof of your injuries and losses. Your injury lawyer can use this evidence to investigate your accident, determine the at-fault party, and ultimately build your case.
Seek Medical Treatment
Always seek medical attention after a motor vehicle accident. It is unwise to assume you are completely uninjured. Feeling fine in the moment is misleading, as adrenaline can mask pain for a short while. Further, some injuries only appear with time, but a doctor could detect them early on. This is true of soft tissue injuries, like muscle soreness and swelling, which may only show up after you rest.
You need documented medical proof of your injuries to support your claim for damages, so do not forgo medical treatment. Let EMTs examine you at the accident scene. If they recommend going to the hospital, go with them. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Also, remember you can include the cost of medical expenses in your injury claim.
Moreover, taking the ambulance ride shows the insurance company handling your claim that you were genuinely concerned about your health and may have suffered serious injuries.
If you choose not to get medical attention at the scene, be vigilant about your health in the days and weeks to follow. See a doctor at any sign of injury. Ignoring your symptoms can prove fatal, especially if you hit your head during the collision. Ensure you also document any developments in your health with photos, notes, and videos.
What to Do After Leaving the Scene of the Car Crash
Your responsibilities do not end once you leave the scene of the crash, but you don’t need to adhere to such strict time constraints. Here’s what you should do after leaving the scene of a car crash:
Notify Your Car Insurance Company
Report your automobile accident to your insurance company. You don’t have to do this right away, but it is best to do so sooner rather than later. Your insurance policy may require that you notify your insurer of the crash within a specific amount of time.
You can review your policy for that information. Failure to report it may constitute a violation of your contract with the insurance company, resulting in the termination of your policy, a denial of first-party insurance claims, or an increased premium.
Keep Good Accident-related Records
When it’s time to file your personal injury claim, you need all your accident-related documents and information on hand. Store any information related to your case in a single location so you can access them when necessary.
Keep track of the expenses that result from your car accident, too. These expenses are recoverable through your accident claim, but only if you have proof.
Information to store inside your file includes:
- The crash report
- Photos of the accident and your injuries
- Medical bills
- Medical records
- Receipts or bank statements for accident-related purchases or payments, such as transportation costs or hired services
- Car repair estimates
- Notes on your injuries
- The other driver’s information collected at the scene
- Your claim number and insurance adjuster’s name and contact information (if you’ve already started a claim with the insurer)
Do Not Give a Statement to the Insurance Company
If you already initiated an insurance claim against the at-fault driver’s policy, the insurance adjuster may ask you to give a recorded statement. A word of advice: Don’t.
Never provide a recorded statement to a third-party insurance company without a lawyer. The statement is more akin to an interview where the adjuster questions you about the accident. The questions may dip into information they don’t actually need, such as your medical history, and are only designed to elicit answers they can use against you to deny or devalue your claim.
If you need to file a first-party claim with your own insurance company, you may have to provide basic information under the terms of your policy. Avoid speaking to the adjuster without a lawyer, if possible. If you must speak with any adjuster, whether yours or a third party’s, only give facts about the crash, avoid speculation, never say you feel fine, and do not go into specifics about your injuries.
Limit What You Post on Social Media
You may rely on social media to keep in touch with friends and family. Yet, posting anything during your claim’s progression could hurt your chances of recovering fair compensation. If the claims adjuster sees your posts, they could take them out of context and discredit the severity of your condition.
Consider this scenario to understand more. You suffer a spinal cord injury from a rear-end collision. You file your claim, requesting a seven-figure settlement. Then, you post a picture of yourself online at a football game, smiling and drinking with friends. If the claims adjuster sees this, they could question the severity of your condition and withhold compensation—even if you’re genuinely hurt.
While you don’t have to stop using social media altogether, you should be very mindful of what you post during your case’s progression. Be sure to check your privacy settings, too. Only you and your immediate family members should know about your case’s progression. Cyberspace does not.
A Car Accident Lawyer Can Explain Your Next Steps
To learn more about your legal options, you can consult with a personal injury law firm in your area. They can explain what you should do after a collision and complete any tasks relevant to your case.
This may include gathering evidence, speaking to witnesses, documenting your injuries and losses, and negotiating a fair settlement with the insurance company. It’s your attorney’s job to communicate with the insurance companies and fight for the money you deserve.