No one plans to get into a car accident, but they still happen. With the number of vehicles on the road these days, chances are that at some point in your life you will be in a car accident. With those odds stacked against you, knowing what to do in the event of an accident is crucial. The immediate aftermath of an automobile accident is confusing and stressful. If you are involved in an auto accident, you should know what to do in order to protect yourself and your legal rights.
STAY AT THE SCENE
Make sure you stay at the scene of the accident. Check to make sure everyone involved in the accident is okay, or if they might need medical attention. If a person is unconscious, or suffering from neck or back pain, it is best not to move them until qualified medical help arrives. Once everyone is safe, you can get the other information you will need.
CALL THE POLICE
In nearly every automobile accident, it is best to notify the police immediately. Regardless of whether or not there are injuries, an insurance company is much less likely to challenge coverage if there is police accident report. The law enforcement authorities will do an investigation of the scene, assess any damage to the vehicles, and will determine if issuance of a traffic ticket to one or more parties is appropriate. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for the person who caused the crash to tell the victim that he or she accepts fault, only to later change their story when they report the claim to their insurance company. If a lawsuit becomes necessary down the road, the police report can be a crucial piece of evidence to help support your side of the case.
GET MEDICAL TREATMENT
Your first priority is your health. If you were injured in the accident, an ambulance should be called and you should be taken directly to a hospital emergency room for evaluation. An automobile accident is a shocking experience, and the adrenaline that will be coursing through your system will often mask your pain. We have seen many cases where people declined an ambulance at the scene, only to go to an emergency room a few hours later after they “came down” and the pain set in. When in doubt, it is always best to go immediately to an emergency room for proper evaluation.
Many injuries from vehicle crashes, such as neck whiplash injuries, may not show up right away. Serious back injuries can start out as nothing more than a simple ache, but left untreated they can cause major health difficulties. Many people suffering a traumatic brain injury in a car crash don’t realize they’ve been hurt until hours or even days later. At the scene, they may feel like they are “in a fog” or in a “dream state, ” but they don’t realize or understand that these are symptoms of a concussion. However, several hours later they many began experiencing a several headache or start vomiting. If you do not go by ambulance to an emergency room immediately after a car crash, have someone drive you to an emergency room immediately should you begin noticing any symptoms several hours later.
If you did suffer injuries as a result of a car crash, the insurance companies will want proof that the injuries were promptly diagnosed and treated and were related to the accident. The easiest way to do this is to seek prompt medical attention as soon as you realize you have been injured. If there is a gap between the date of your car accident and the date on which your injuries were first recorded in your medical history, the insurance company will often contest your claim on the basis that your injuries were not serious enough to warrant medical attention at the time of the car accident and thus not deserving of compensation. This is why it is so important that you report any injuries to qualified health care providers as soon as possible. Don’t try to be “the tough guy” and ignore your injuries. If you’ve been injured, get medical treatment! This way, your doctor can document your injuries in your medical chart, which the insurance company will later use to evaluate your bodily injury claim.
Exchange names, addresses, telephone numbers and insurance information with other drivers. This information is very important for filing a claim with your insurance company. Also, make sure to get information about the other vehicles involved, such as license plate numbers, make, and model. Be sure to find out the insurance status of all vehicles and persons involved. If any drivers were not the registered owners, get the registered owner’s name, address, and telephone number(s).
You should also get the names, addresses and telephone numbers of any witnesses. Many eye witnesses will stop at the scene of an accident, but once the police arrive, they leave without giving a statement or their contact information to the police. Make sure you get their contact information in case you later need it. If the person who caused the accident later changes his or her story and tries to deny fault, an independent eye witness who can set the record straight is worth their weight in gold.
Again, it is important to document to the best of your ability what took place in the accident. Photographs are a great tool in doing so. Almost everyone today carries a cell phone that can take photographs. Photographs can demonstrate the time of day, the weather, the extent of damage to the vehicles, and are even helpful in reconstructing the way the accident occurred. You should try to take as photos of the accident site, the vehicles and people involved, and anything else that might have bearing on how and why the accident occurred, i.e., street signs/lights, skid marks, etc. Photographs also help the insurance adjustor determine how much you should be compensated for the damage to your car and can help should you need to file a lawsuit. If you are seriously injured in an accident such that you aren’t able to take photographs, try to find someone else to do it for you.
CONTACT YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY
Contact your own insurance company as quickly as possible to report the accident. Most insurance companies have policy requirements as to how quickly after an accident you must contact them, and failure to do so might mean your claim will be rejected. Once the claim is open, your insurance company will investigate the loss, take statements and inspect the damage to both vehicles in order to determine the merits of your claim.
Insurance companies will often want to take your statement immediately following the accident. Although you should report the claim as soon as possible, you should not make any statements or answer any questions until you have consulted an attorney. Be polite, but decline to discuss any aspects of the accident until you have obtained legal advice.
Do not talk to or otherwise communicate with the other driver’s insurance company until you have a chance to speak with an attorney. Do not, under any circumstances, sign any papers the other insurance company sends you. Remember, they do not have your best interests in mind.
CONTACT AN ATTORNEY
If you are in a car accident, an experienced attorney can help determine who was at fault and may help you get compensation for your property damage and personal injuries. An attorney can also advise you on how and when to communicate with insurance companies, and how to make sure you are fully compensated for any injuries suffered. And, a good attorney will tell you if your case is one that you can handle on your own.