In case of a car accident, several crucial steps must be taken both at the accident scene and following the accident. The steps you take could make a significant difference in the compensation amount you receive in a personal injury claim, or in a worst-case scenario, if you get a settlement at all.
At the Accident
If you are injured and those injuries allow you to document the accident, you should do so. Emotions may be high, but it is imperative that you try to get as much of the information needed to help a car accident attorney help you win your case.
Stay at the Scene
First, if you leave the scene of major damage or serious injuries before it’s appropriate to leave, you could be charged with hit and run. This crime comes with serious penalties. It’s always better to stay at the scene. Plus when paramedics get there, you will be able to get checked out.
Check on Everyone
If you are physically able, check on everyone in your vehicle and in the other vehicles. If anyone seems to be hurt, call paramedics. If anyone is not conscious or is complaining of back or neck pain, don’t let them move and don’t move them until the paramedics come. If a fire or another hazard necessitates moving the person, move them as carefully and as quickly as possible.
Call First Responders
Call the police and the emergency medical technicians if you haven’t already done so. If no one is hurt, but there is a lot of property damage, you still need to call the police. Request that the police file a report and get a copy of the police report if they show up, even if damage and/or injuries are minimal.
Documentation and Information
While you are waiting for the police, start gathering information. From others involved in the accident, obtain their insurance information, name, address and phone number. From passengers in other vehicles, obtain names, addresses and phone numbers.
While you are speaking with other drivers, be cordial, but never apologize for the accident, even if you feel it is your fault. If you say something like, “I’m sorry I ran the stop sign,” you are admitting liability for the accident. Until the investigators check the scene, it’s not always clear who was at fault – or who would be more responsible if both of you were at fault. The only people you should discuss your accident with are your attorney and your insurance company. Always steer phone calls from the other person’s insurance company to your attorney or your insurance adjuster.
Speak to people who witnessed the accident. Get their names, addresses and phone numbers and write down what they saw. If any locals are around, ask them if there have been other accidents in the same place. Some roads and intersections, by design, are dangerous and could contribute to the cause of the accident.
Almost everyone carries a cell phone that has a camera. Take pictures of the accident, including damage to the vehicles. The pictures may help your insurance adjuster determine the amount of damages. The pictures may also help during settlement negotiations or at trial if your car accident cases won’t settle.
After the Accident
After a vehicle accident, you still have some steps to take, including calling your insurance company. Some people call the insurance company right after they call the police. It’s up to you whether you call the insurance company from the scene or after, but if you do it from the scene, be sure your conversation is private. Be sure to tell them the truth about the accident in addition to the extent of your injuries. If you are found at fault and didn’t tell the insurance company all of the facts, the company could deny you coverage of the accident and may drop you. As soon as you get a copy of the police report, call the insurance company back to let them know what laws were broken and who broke them, or if the report discusses fault, who was at fault.
One of the most important actions after an accident is to document, document, document. This includes your medical treatment. Keep track of doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists and other doctors that see you. Write down appointment times and what transpired during those appointments. Keep all documentation from the doctor, even if it’s information sheets on medications or aids such as crutches or a brace.
Make sure you get copies of medical bills and reports even if your insurance pays the bills – these documents will help you prove how much you spent on medical treatment and what was done.
You’ll also want to keep a diary of how you feel after the accident. Pain and suffering are not as easy to document as medical bills. Keep track of how much pain medication you need to take. In this diary, include days missed at work, even if you only miss a partial day. Also, list routine activities that you are not able to do, along with a time frame of your inability to do those activities. Finally, document how your injuries are affecting your family life. Are you able to cook and clean for your family? Bathe your children? Pick up your baby? All of this is important if you are going to file a lawsuit against another driver.
Get the damage valuation from your insurance company. If possible, get two independent repair estimates, unless you are satisfied with the insurance company’s valuation. If you and the insurance company cannot agree on a valuation, contact a personal injury lawyer.
Reporting a Car Accident
If you know you are going to file a car accident claim for personal injury compensation, you should always call the police to have a police report made. Sometimes, injuries don’t show up for a few days or even a few months after the accident. It is better to report an accident and to retain a personal injury attorney for this and other reasons, including the possibility of getting a higher settlement offer.