Getting involved in a car accident is not a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when’. Even minor accidents can leave drivers feeling shaken up and overwhelmed, so it is important to maintain a clear head and stay calm in an accident. The following is a list of 10 things to do if you find yourself involved in a traffic accident.
- Safety first. If your accident is minor, move all vehicles out of the way of other traffic and to a safe place. Turn off your vehicle, but keep your hazard lights on. Make sure you and no other drivers or passengers are hurt. If there are injuries, contact an ambulance for help. You should always call the police, even if the accident is minor. A police report is often used by insurers to verify any claims and also to help establish if anyone is at fault. And never leave the scene of an accident – even if it’s a minor fender bender.
- Keep a “Car Wreck Kit” with you. The worst thing that can happen is you are flustered and unprepared to document an accident. This can be crucial if there is any dispute about fault or further litigation down the line. Your kit should have a small notepad, pencil (so you can write if it’s raining), your insurance liability card, and maybe even a disposable camera. A disposable camera can be handy if your phone breaks and you can’t take pictures that way. Some states offer an ‘accident report form’ that you might consider printing and keeping in your vehicle.
- Use your Car Wreck Kit. Document what you can. The notepad should be used to record your immediate recollections, such as the date and time, weather and traffic conditions and a brief description of what happened. You should also obtain the names and contact information of the other drivers and any other witnesses, including the names and badge numbers of police officers. If you are unable to write this down, then consider calling a friend or relative and describing what happened, and what you see. They could serve as a witness to corroborate any claims. You should take photos of the scene, any damage to your car or others, and even injuries, if you are able to do so. This could be crucial evidence to any case involving the car wreck in the future.
- Swap Information. This sort of overlaps with the step above but it’s important you and any other drivers swap both contact information, as well as insurance information. Try to find out if the driver is a registered owner of the vehicle – if not find out who is registered. This can be particularly important if the vehicle is a company car, or the driver was driving during the course of their employment. Be careful though – you should only reveal your name, the vehicle information and insurance company. If you want, you may swap your cell phone number, but be careful about revealing your address to people you do not know.
- Don’t admit liability! Even if you think it is your fault, do not say it was. Often, there can be information that you do not know of when you make this admission, such as that the other driver was distracted, or your car malfunctioned. If you admit fault, this could be held against you later.
- Find out what you need to do to file a claim with your insurer. Do not admit any fault to them either – find out only very objectively what they require in order to start the claims process. At the end of the day, most insurers will attempt to reach a settlement that is as low value as possible, whether that is in your best interest or not.
- Keep a paper trail. If you speak to any insurer or company representative, write down their name, the date and a brief description of their conversation. Hang on to any receipts you have in connection with the accident, including repair costs, transportation, towing receipts or storage costs. Make sure everything is kept in a safe place, in an organized fashion.
- Make an appointment with your doctor. A lot of injuries are not apparent right after an accident. Your adrenaline is rushing, and your body has not yet adjusted. Most individuals feel pain the next day or two. You should consider setting up an appointment as soon as possible with your doctor on the date of the accident. If you have to visit the doctor shortly after, document the date, time, and what was discussed at the appointment. Keep these documents in your file listed in Number 7 above.
- If you are seriously injured, take stock. Focus on your health, of course, but start finding out how much your injuries will cost you – both in terms of medical expenses as well as lost wages and time. Start finding out how much your bills are, how far your paychecks go, and the effect your injuries have on your personal life. Once you start paying attention to this and recording it, this will help you in the future if you have to file a lawsuit.
- Finally, hire an attorney, it is never too early in the case to get an attorney on your side. Even if not formal lawsuit is filed, a car accident attorney can guide you through the settlement process with insurers. You should never sign a settlement without speaking to an attorney who is looking out for your best interests. Attorneys can begin investigating the accident shortly after it occurs, which will preserve evidence and witness recollection in case it is needed. And of course, if you have experienced (or perhaps even caused) significant injuries, having an attorney on your side earlier means they have more time to prepare any case or defense.
Car accidents happen every day, in all parts of the country. With this list, you can feel a little more confident and prepared about what you should and should not do when you get involved in one.