When you are involved in a motor vehicle accident, you might be overwhelmed and feel confused. Car accidents can be disorienting because of several factors, including pain, shock, dealing with property damage, and the rush of adrenaline your body releases in response. Many people do not know what to do when they are involved in car accidents. However, there are specific steps you should take following an accident to protect your health, wellbeing, and your ability to recover compensation through a car accident claim. While the steps might vary based on your situation and the location of your accident, here is a general checklist of steps after a car accident to follow.
1. Call 911.
The first thing you should do following your accident is to call 911 to report it. Some states require you to report your accident immediately. All states require people who are involved in accidents causing damage over a state-specified amount, injuries, or fatalities to stay at the scene until help arrives. Make sure you immediately call the police to summon them to the scene of your accident. When they arrive, the police will complete a short investigation to determine who was at fault and might write citations. They will also write an accident report that can be useful when you file a claim.
2. Check Yourself and Others for Injuries.
Following a collision, it is common for people who are injured to not immediately realize that they are. This is because of a combination of adrenaline and shock. Both the surge of adrenaline that occurs as a part of the body’s natural fight-or-flight reaction and shock can mask pain signals, meaning that you might not realize you are injured. Make sure to carefully check yourself and others for injuries. If someone has an obvious injury, provide first aid while you’re waiting for help to arrive.
However, unless it is absolutely necessary for safety reasons, avoid moving anyone who might have a back or neck injury because doing so might exacerbate their injuries. If you are hurt, let the paramedics who arrive treat you and transport you to the hospital. If you think that you are not injured, do not say that to the other motorist or the police. You could have suffered injuries with delayed symptoms. Instead, you should simply say that you want to get checked out by your doctor if you are asked about injuries. On the other hand, if you are badly hurt, ask a friend or family member to complete the other steps for you and concentrate on getting to the hospital.
3. Exchange Information With the Other Driver.
If you were driving, you are required to exchange your information with the other motorist. Make sure that you also get the other driver’s information, including the following:
- Name and address
- Driver’s license number, type, and expiration date
- Registration information
- Insurance company and phone number
This type of information is necessary when you file your claim. It can also help your attorney determine whether other parties might be liable in addition to the driver. For example, if the vehicle is registered to someone other than the motorist, your lawyer can determine whether the vehicle’s owner might share responsibility. Similarly, if the motorist has a commercial driver’s license and was driving a company car at the time of your accident, that type of knowledge might allow your lawyer to explore the potential vicarious liability of the motorist’s employer.
4. Take Photographs.
Most people have smartphones, which can come in handy when you are involved in a collision. If you can, take pictures to document the accident scene and your injuries. You should take more photos than you might think are necessary, and taking video of the scene is also a good idea.
Photograph the positions of each vehicle relative to each other. Make sure to take multiple pictures of the damage to both your vehicle and the other car from several angles and distances. Photograph the other car’s license plate number, make, model, and color. Take pictures of other relevant details, including any debris left on the road, the road conditions, the weather conditions, tire skid marks, nearby traffic control devices, street signs, speed limit signs, and anything else that you might think is important.
Once you have taken plenty of photographs, take a video of the broader accident scene. Photographic and video evidence can be important to support your claim for damages. If you have visible injuries, take photographs of them both as soon as possible after your accident and after you begin to heal from them.
5. Talk to Witnesses.
If anyone saw what happened, ask them if they can wait for the police and explain what they saw. If they aren’t willing to wait, try to get their names, phone numbers, and email addresses so that they can be contacted later to provide statements. Ask the witnesses what they saw in the moments leading up to the accident and during it. In some cases, witnesses might have seen something you didn’t, and the information could be important. Third-party witnesses are also important for proving your claim since they are considered to be neutral and not biased in favor of either you or the other driver.
6. Talk to the Police.
After the police arrive, tell the responding officer what you remember in the moments just before your accident and during it. Avoid speculation and stick to the facts. Tell the officer anything you observed about the other driver. For example, if you saw the other motorist talking on a cell phone right before your collision, tell the officer what you saw. Similarly, if you smelled alcohol on the other motorist’s breath while you were exchanging information, tell the officer.
If the officer asks you if you were injured, do not say that you were not. As previously mentioned, some injuries have delayed symptoms. If you are not sure whether you were injured, you can tell the officer that you plan to see your doctor so that he or she can determine whether you are injured.
You should also avoid apologizing or accepting blame for your accident. While many people feel like saying sorry following an accident, something might have happened that you are not aware of. Let the officers do their investigations, and let your lawyer and the insurance company make determinations of liability.
After the police have investigated your accident, they will write an accident report. Ask the officer for his or her name and badge number. You should also ask when a report will be ready and where you can get a copy. Make sure to follow through, and get a copy of the police report.
7. Seek Medical Attention.
If you are seriously injured, take an ambulance to the emergency department. The paramedics can provide critical care to you while you are being transported. If you are unsure if you have been injured or have only suffered relatively minor injuries, you should still seek immediate medical attention. Some injuries can have delayed symptoms but are still potentially serious. For example, internal bleeding or a traumatic brain injury might not be immediately noticeable but can be potentially life-threatening without prompt intervention.
Seeing a doctor immediately after an accident serves two purposes. The primary and most important reason is to get a prompt diagnosis and treatment. Being promptly diagnosed and treated can help to protect you by preventing your injuries from worsening.
The second reason to seek immediate medical attention is to show that your injuries were caused by your collision and not by something else. Insurance companies typically try to search for other events that might have caused your injuries to reduce their exposure. If you seek immediate medical care, it can be much easier to prove that your injuries were caused by your accident and protect your claim.
Once you have sought medical care, make sure to follow any recommendations you are given. Keep all medical appointments and take your medications as prescribed. Keeping your appointments and following your doctor’s instructions can help you to recover from your injuries and demonstrate their severity.
8. Deal Appropriately With the Insurance Company.
The insurance company that will be responsible for your claim will depend on whether you live in a fault or no-fault accident state. In a fault state, you will file your claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. If you live in a no-fault state, you will file your claim with your insurance company and your personal injury protection (PIP) coverage.
If you are contacted by the at-fault driver’s insurance company, don’t agree to provide a statement about your injuries or what happened in the accident. Insurance adjusters frequently contact accident victims to try to get them to provide recorded statements. They are skilled at asking questions in such a way that they can elicit statements that could harm the victims’ injury claims. You are not legally or contractually obligated to provide statements to the at-fault driver’s insurance company. The best way to handle this type of request is to politely decline and tell the adjuster you want to consult an attorney before you will make a statement.
Make sure to contact your insurance company to report your accident. Unlike the at-fault motorist’s company, you do have a contract with your insurer. Most insurance policies include provisions requiring their insureds to promptly report accidents, so make sure you comply with your contract. However, it might be a good idea to get help from a lawyer when reporting your accident or filing your claim. An attorney can help to prevent you from making statements that might harm your ability to recover compensation.
10. Call an Attorney.
Finally, you should consult a personal injury lawyer following a motor vehicle accident when you have suffered injuries. A lawyer at Lamber Goodnow can review the evidence you have gathered and the police report and help you determine whether you might have a valid claim for damages. If your claim has legal merits, your lawyer can handle everything for you while you work on recovering from your injuries and help to gather additional evidence to build the strongest possible claim showing the other driver’s liability.
11. Avoid Social Media.
Most people have social media accounts and post intimate details about their lives. While it might be tempting to post about your accident on social media, you should avoid doing so. The other driver’s insurance company will likely pore through your social media pages to try to find posts and photographs that discount your claims. If you can, the best approach is to avoid social media completely while your claim is pending. A photograph of you on vacation or participating in sports can harm your claims about the severity of your injuries, for example. At a minimum, don’t post about your accident or your injuries.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions the attorneys at Lamber Goodnow receive from car accident victims.
Q: Should I Sign a Medical Authorization for the Insurance Company?
A: An insurance adjuster might contact you and tell you that the company needs a medical release so that it can confirm your injuries. The company might tell you that it needs access to your medical records before it can resolve your claims. You should never sign a medical authorization for the insurance company without speaking to a lawyer. Insurance companies commonly use these types of releases to dig through medical records to try to find a different incident on which to blame a victim’s injuries. Tell the company that you won’t sign a release until you have spoken to an attorney.
Q: What Should I Say to an Insurance Adjuster?
A: Insurance adjusters might seem like they are compassionate and care about your injuries and wellbeing. However, you must remember that they work for insurance companies. Consequently, their primary loyalties lie with their employers and not with you. The job of an insurance adjuster involves trying to help their employers minimize how much they might be forced to pay in claims. If an insurance adjuster contacts you and asks you about your injuries and accident, you should tell the adjuster you don’t want to discuss anything without your lawyer. Provide your attorney’s name if you have already retained one. If you haven’t, tell the adjuster you plan to do so and that your attorney will contact them.
Q: Should I Accept an Offer From the Insurance Company?
A: Some insurance companies will send early settlement offers to accident victims when their insureds’ liability is clear. In many cases, however, early settlement offers will be much lower than the actual value of the victims’ claims. You should never agree to an early settlement offer without asking an experienced lawyer to review it. It is also not a good idea to accept a settlement offer before you have completed treatment for your injuries. If you accept an early settlement offer, you will waive your right to pursue a claim for compensation even if you later learn that it wasn’t enough to cover your losses. Don’t agree to sign anything until you have talked to an attorney.
Q: Who Will Pay for My Injuries?
A: The costs of medical treatment can be expensive. You might wonder who will be responsible for paying for your injuries. If you live in a state that requires PIP insurance, you will submit a claim to your insurance company, and your PIP coverage will pay for your treatment up to the PIP policy limits. If you live in a fault state for car accidents or exhaust your PIP coverage, you will file a claim with the other motorist’s insurance company to pursue compensation for your medical expenses. The other insurance company should be responsible for paying for your injuries, but it could take months to resolve your claim. In the meantime, you can use your private health insurance to cover your medical bills. Your insurance company might then subrogate your damages award for reimbursement of the reasonable value of your medical care.
Contact Lamber Goodnow
Being injured in a motor vehicle accident can be devastating. If you sustained injuries in a collision that was not your fault, you should talk to the experienced injury attorneys at Lamber Goodnow. We have helped many accident victims recover fair compensation for their losses and can help you understand your next steps. Contact us today for a free consultation.