If you are involved in a car accident, the steps you take in the immediate aftermath can matter a great deal. It does not matter if you were the driver or a passenger or which party you believe was at fault. Even if you sustained no injuries in the crash, it is important to protect yourself, your property and your rights.
Making a wrong move at the outset could limit your right to recover for your injuries and property damage down the line. No matter how shaken you may be, it is important to keep your cool and take these critical steps.
Remain at the Scene of the Accident
In the immediate aftermath of an auto accident, there is a strong impulse to separate yourself from the scene. Staying on the scene of the accident can be upsetting, especially if there were injuries.
Even so, you should remain on the scene as long as it is safe to do so. If you have serious injuries and need immediate medical attention, you should seek it right away. Otherwise, you will want to stay where you are and thoroughly document the accident and its aftermath.
Memories fade over time, but photographic evidence is forever. That is why it is so important to document everything that happened, from the positions of the vehicles to the prevailing weather conditions at the time.
If there are road signs or stop lights, those should be documented as well. The more information you can capture, the better off you will be. Be sure to take multiple photographs of all the damage, including long shots of the vehicles in question and close-ups of any dents, dings or scrapes.
Check the Condition of Drivers and Passengers
Safety should always come first when an automobile accident occurs. No matter how extensive the property damage, injuries to drivers and passengers should be your number one concern.
As soon as possible, you should go around and ask about the condition of everyone involved in the scene, from the passengers in your own vehicle to the drivers and passengers of the other vehicles involved in the crash. Now is not the time to place blame or get angry – you need to make sure everyone is OK before anything else happens.
Call the Police if Appropriate
If the accident was a mere fender bender and no one is injured, you may not need to call the police. If, on the other hand, there are injuries or extensive property damage, you definitely need to call the authorities.
When they arrive, the police officers will take statements from everyone involved in the accident, including what they saw and heard, what they remember and what they were doing at the time. The police may also try to determine if outside influences played a role in the accident, or if one or more drivers were texting or talking on their smartphones at the time.
If a police report is filed, you will want to ask for a copy. If you have not received a copy of the police report after a week or so, follow up with the local department to obtain the information.
Exchange Insurance Information
All drivers are required to have adequate insurance coverage in place, and you will want to gather that coverage information as soon as possible. Get your own insurance cards out of the glove box, offer them to the other driver and ask them for their own insurance information.
Be sure to write down everything on the card, from the name of the insurance provider and the expiration date to the name of the policyholder and the phone number of the company. You will need this information to report the accident and give your side of the story.
Gather Witness Statements
Unless the accident took place in the middle of the night or the middle of nowhere, someone probably witnessed the chain of events. Now is the time to gather those witness statements and take down contact information.
Walk around the scene and ask everyone you meet if they witnessed the accident. If they did, ask them to write down what they saw, along with their phone number and other contact information. This witness information could prove invaluable when filing your insurance claim, especially if there is disagreement over who was at fault.
Let Your Insurance Company Know
It is important to inform your insurance company about the accident as soon as possible. If you have downloaded the insurance company name onto your smartphone, you may be able to start the claims process right away. Otherwise, be sure to call the company or go online to file your claim.
When contacting your insurance company, be sure to provide as much information as you can, from the names of witnesses to the information you gathered from the other driver. Now is the time to get out the insurance information you took down earlier and make sure your carrier has everything they need to start the claim.
Track Your Medical Expenses
If you were injured in the car accident, it is important to document those injuries carefully. Be sure to record all your doctor visits, treatment in the emergency room or urgent care center and treatment by any specialists.
You should also carefully track the cost of medical treatment related to the accident, including copayments and deductibles. Be sure to note other costs, like time away from work and any lost wages you sustained. Keeping track of your expenses will be very important if you hope to recover your damages.
If your vehicle was damaged in the crash, you will need to get estimates of the repairs. Whether your vehicle suffered a tiny almost imperceptible dent or more extensive damage, it is important to document everything.
Your insurance company may recommend a body shop or collision center. If so, that should be your first stop. Even so, you might want to get a few other estimates so you can compare repair costs and make the most of your claim.
Keep Your Thoughts to Yourself
It is tempting to tell the world about your accident, but for now, you should keep the events close to your chest. Resist the urge to discuss what happened, at least outside your family and a few close friends. Posting information on social media or pointing blame at the other driver could compromise your case if you need to go to court.
If the insurance company covering the other driver comes to you with a settlement offer, do not sign anything right away. Instead, take that settlement offer to your own attorney, who can review the documents, provide their expert insight and make a counteroffer if appropriate.
Knowing the right steps to take after an accident can make all the difference. Whether the accident was a minor fender bender or something more serious, it is important to follow the proper procedure. The steps outlined above can help you protect your rights and recover your damages down the line.