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How to Protect Yourself After a Car Accident

After A Car Accident

A car accident can be one of the most disorienting and stressful events the average person can experience.  One moment you’re minding your own business just trying to get from one place to another, and the next you’re surrounded by airbags and disorientation.

In this article, I’m going to focus on what happens after that accident. After having an accident, most people are disoriented, confused, and just concerned for everyone’s well being. While it’s unfortunate, people should also be thinking about protecting themselves from liability right away. A collision can subject them to both civil and criminal penalties, and the decisions they make in the minutes and hours following a car accident can have long-term ramifications in their family, personal and financial life, and for some, even their jobs are at risk.  

The solutions to this problem are technology, knowledge and preparation.  Here are some things to consider if you are ever involved in a car accident.

When In Doubt, Call 9-1-1

Sometimes, people aren’t sure if their car accident necessitates a 9-1-1 call. Many traffic accidents reports can be taken at the police department at a later time as long as information has been exchanged between drivers. Others, especially those with injuries or disabled vehicles causing a hazard, require an emergency response. When in doubt, call 9-1-1.

Secure The Accident Scene & Check For Injuries

Naturally, if you are involved in a car accident, you should see to the immediate safety of all involved.  Move vehicles out of traffic, contact first responders, render first aid and make sure there are no potential or actual hazards nearby. If you are not able to move your vehicle, do what you can to secure the scene to avoid any secondary accidents.

Don’t Say Anything To Anyone About The Accident

 

One of the key pieces of advice you will get from your attorney is to remain silent in any situation where there is even theoretical criminal liability.  The reasons for this are legion, but the most practical and immediate consideration should be rather simple.  At the side of the road, you don’t know all the details that might lead to a criminal investigation, even if you did nothing wrong. 

Granted, there is some information you may be legally required to divulge, but you certainly should not get into any kind of conversation with anyone at the scene of an accident regarding fault, the details of the collision or any speculation as to what may have caused it.  Such statements can expose you to liabilities you may not even be aware of, and since most accidents eventually involve the police, those statements may later be used against you.  

One of the biggest mistakes people make after being in an accident is apologizing. Do not say you’re sorry or apologize in anyway. This sounds really cold, especially if you were clearly at fault, but apologizing is admitting fault and will be used against you in court. Say as little as possible about the accident. Best case scenario, you should call an attorney as soon as possible.

Do Not Consent To Police Searches Or Seizures

While you are exercising your Fifth Amendment rights and remaining silent, it is important you also assert your right to be free of any unreasonable searches.  Under no circumstances should you consent to any search of your person, property or vehicle.  In fact, you should lock your car and your car’s trunk as soon as you are able.  Roll up all the windows and store your personal belongings in a location where they can’t be seen.  You have a right to privacy, even at an accident scene.

The reason for this precaution is it will eliminate any possibility of an object in your car being used as a pretense for a fishing expedition.  It will also eliminate any possibility of any object in your vehicle being used as circumstantial evidence of fault.

Hire an Attorney

Leaving aside for the moment your potential criminal liability, you should not underestimate the possibility of civil entanglements, even if you have premium insurance from a reputable company.  If you have any experience with insurance companies you will recognize the ever-present potential your policy will simply be disclaimed on whatever grounds are convenient.  This is especially true if you make the mistake of divulging to your insurance company without adequate preparation. Insurance scams and accident fraud is rampant. The “innocent” person you rear ended may just be looking for a payday, from both your insurance company and you personally.

There are two major advantages to “lawyering up” as they say.  First, anything you divulge to your attorney is protected by attorney-client privilege.  Not only can no privileged statement you make be used against you as evidence, your attorney is bound by privilege to never disclose anything you reveal in confidence.  This can be a powerful advantage, as it gives you a way to fashion strategy amid frank and open discussion in a legal climate that may be ravenously unfair otherwise. 

Second, your attorney is intimately familiar with your state’s insurance code.  You likely are not.  This gives you an advantage when approaching either your own or your counterparty’s insurance company, as your attorney will know the difference between too much information and just enough.  The amount you save in increased premiums may likely offset much of the cost of hiring the attorney in the first place.  At the very least, you can be reasonably certain your attorney won’t inadvertently admit fault.  

Gather Your Own Evidence & Witnesses

The greatest invention of all time to date for anyone involved in a car accident is the portable television station they are carrying around in their pocket.  The very concept of a camera with unlimited film is like finding the keys to El Dorado, especially for anyone who is investigating the scene of an accident or a crime.  

If you are involved in a collision, even if you are just a passenger, you should record every detail you possibly can at the scene.  If you are an involved driver, this is even more important, as you will almost certainly be called upon to reconstruct the scene at a later date.  Take pictures of everyone’s paperwork in the best light available.  Make certain to get driver’s licenses, license plates, VIN numbers if available and insurance paperwork.  This information will be vital later as it provides a factual record of who was at the scene at the time of the accident.  

Get pictures of the damage to all vehicles.  Get pictures of the road and weather conditions.  Get photos of nearby street signs and intersections.  Take photographs of the interiors of all the vehicles.  Even if it isn’t obvious at the time, you may end up with a picture of something that changes the nature of the investigation later. Get photos of skid marks, tire tread and any unusual characteristics of any involved vehicles.  

If there are any surveillance cameras or automatic teller machines nearby, take pictures of them as well.  Look for convenience stores, banks and public transit facilities.  Get photographs of any addresses you can see.  If there are witnesses at the scene, and they agree, record them stating their name and birth date.  Get complete statements if you can.  Be sure witnesses state on camera where they were with respect to the location of the collision.  

Be sure to turn on your GPS tracking before you start taking photographs and familiarize yourself with the interaction between your camera and your GPS system so you can geotag your photographs as they are taken.  This geographic information combined with the timestamp will serve as unassailable evidence you and your phone were at the location at the time of the accident.  Depending on the circumstances it may also allow you to record the locations of any involved vehicles, obstacles, street signs or intersections.  This kind of forensic information will be valuable especially if the police or other investigators develop alternative theories of who may or may not have been at fault.  

While you are photographing the scene, remain quiet and do your work efficiently.  Don’t draw attention to yourself as that will likely provoke a response from other involved drivers or the police.  Get pictures of the license plates of all emergency vehicles and any tow trucks at the scene as well.  This will make it possible for you to determine which officials or uninvolved drivers were at the scene.  It will also make it possible to retrieve dash camera evidence.  If any police paperwork is generated at the scene, photograph that as well.  

If you have connectivity, upload your photographs elsewhere at your earliest convenience, as this will eliminate any possibility your evidence will be compromised.   

Four months after the accident, when you are the only person on Earth with a complete record of what took place, you will have an insurmountable advantage when it comes to establishing a fact pattern.  If you were not at fault, your photographs will be the evidence that proves it.  

If you are prepared in advance with this information, you will be in a much better position to defend yourself from any unfair accusation you were at fault.  You may find you avoid any insurance premium increases and it is likely any damages you suffer will be recoverable.  Even if you are at fault, having a clear picture of exactly what happened will prevent a feeding frenzy by parties wishing to take advantage of you.  

The key is to be prepared and then execute your plan if you are involved in an accident.  Those minutes and hours can be the difference between a financial disaster and being made whole again.  

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