What To Do After a Car Accident
Between your injuries, emotions, and the checklist of ensuing tasks, it can be hard to know what to do after a car accident. But taking the wrong steps now can cause a variety of headaches later.
As a personal injury lawyer, I see my fair share of car accident victims. Each one that sees me has a different set of circumstances, but there are some pieces of advice that are universal.
1. DO Purchase Good Insurance
Knowing what to do after a car accident sometimes involves doing the right thing before the accident. And one of those things is having good car insurance coverage.
You can take as many defensive driving courses as you like, but the truth about driving is that it’s inherently risky. There is no way to know whether your next car crash will be a fender bender or a serious one that puts you in the hospital.
Having adequate car insurance coverage ensures that you will be taken care of no matter what life (or, more accurately, traffic) throws your way.
2. DON’T Leave the Scene
Never leave the scene of an accident without stopping your car to assess the damages.
Not only is it your legal obligation, it is important that you have a record of the accident and the other party’s information in the event that a “minor” accident ends up a much bigger deal than you expected.
If the vehicles are interfering with traffic and are operational, move them to the side of the road. Otherwise, leave them where they are.
3. DO Remain Calm
Above all, remain calm.
This is not the time for a shouting match or road rage incident. (You definitely don’t want to say something you’ll later come to regret!) Take a deep breath and gather your thoughts before you say anything.
4. DO Assess Injuries
First, determine whether you (as well as any passengers) have been seriously injured. Next, check on those in the other car(s).
If a serious injury has occurred, call 911 immediately.
5. DON’T Assume You’re Uninjured
If you have determined that you don’t need emergency medical attention (i.e. an ambulance), don’t assume that you are 100% fine.
Adrenaline, shock, and general stress about the accident can mask injuries for hours, days, or even weeks. Therefore, you shouldn’t be surprised if pain and other symptoms develop over the next few days.
Watch your language very carefully following a car accident. Never say, “I’m fine” or “I’m not hurt.” Instead, use phrases like, “I don’t need medical attention at this time.”
6. DO Call the Police
Calling the police after a car accident is not an attempt to accuse anyone of a crime, but to create an official record of the accident while it is still fresh in everyone’s mind.
Police reports can be very helpful when dealing with the insurance company and also help determine who was at fault. It is very common for at-fault drivers to use convincing arguments not to call the police…only to change their story later on and accuse the victim of causing the accident.
7. DO Collect Everyone’s Information
The police officer will be responsible for this, but it’s a good idea to collect this information on your own, if possible.
Exchange the following information with the other party:
- Contact information
- Insurance companies
- Policy numbers
- Vehicle description
- License plate number
If there were any eyewitnesses to the accident, gather their contact info as well.
8. DO Take Pictures
These days, nearly everyone has access to a smart phone with a camera feature.
Take clear, up-close photos of both cars, inside and out. If you have visible injuries (such as bruises or broken bones), take pictures of those as well. Include pictures of the entire scene of the accident, how you were sitting in the car, and (if your cars have been moved) where the accident happened.
As soon as possible, make sure your photos are backed up or saved to the cloud to prevent them from getting lost.
9. DON’T Admit Responsibility
Even if you think it was your fault, avoid saying anything to admit responsibility for the accident.
Limit your conversation with the other driver to just what is necessary to assess injuries and deal with your accident. Leave everything else to your insurance companies and attorneys.
10. DO Report the Accident
Notify your insurance company of the accident as soon as possible and find out what type of coverage you have.
It might be tempting to keep insurance out of it and pay for any damages out of pocket, but even minor car accidents can cause more damage than you’d think. What you thought was a minor issue could turn out to be a whole lot more. You’ll be glad when you have insurance to pay for it.
Even better, have your attorney report the accident for you. A good car accident attorney will have no problem doing this (and it actually helps your case).
11. DO Keep an (Organized) File
It’s one thing to know what to do after a car accident; it’s another to know where to put everything.
Keep the police report, insurance forms, and other relevant information in a central, organized location. You will be surprised how often you will need this documentation.
12. DO Get Medical Treatment ASAP
Whether you are experiencing pain or not, always seek medical treatment as soon as possible following your car accident!
Car accident injuries don’t always surface right away. It can take days or even weeks before you feel the pain, dizziness or other symptoms caused by a car accident. By this time, you might not even realize that the car accident is truly to blame.
A licensed medical professional, however, may be able to identify an injury sooner than you can. At the very least, you now have a record of medical attention that will help you later on.
13. DO See a Doctor With Car Accident Experience
Car accident injuries might be common, but that doesn’t mean that your family physician knows how (or wants) to treat them.
Soft tissue injuries are not as obvious as, say, a broken bone, so a doctor who isn’t used to treating car accident victims may not have the knowledge or experience needed to identify and treat these injuries properly.
In addition, many don’t want to take on the hassle of dealing with your car insurance company, as this is outside their typical wheelhouse.
Instead, find a doctor who is familiar with car accident injuries and how to treat them.
14. DO Use Your PIP
Even if your car doesn’t need extensive repairs, you may need to rely on your insurance for any injuries you have sustained.
Under Florida law, all licensed motorists are required to carry a minimum of $10,000 of Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. PIP covers your injuries as the driver, as well as any otherwise uninsured passengers (such as minors).
You already pay for this protection, so it’s a good idea to use it.
However, you only have 14 days following a car accident to use your PIP. This is why it’s especially important to seek medical treatment ASAP after an accident.
15. DO Review the Police Report
As soon as you receive it, read through the police report to make sure that it coincides with your memory of the event.
If there are any mistakes or discrepancies, have them fixed as soon as possible (before submitting it to your insurance company).
16. DON’T Give A Recorded Statement to Other Party’s Insurance
If the other party’s insurance company contacts you for a statement, remain polite, but do not discuss the case with them. You can advise them to look at the police report or contact your attorney.
Despite what they may tell you, you do not have a legal obligation to talk to them. In fact, many insurance companies will try to trick you into admitting responsibility for the accident.
17. DON’T Sign a Release
Sometimes, the other party’s insurance company will offer a settlement check in exchange for your signature on a Release of Claims form.
If you sign this document, you are essentially waiving your right to seek further compensation for your injuries and damages.
It’s not always easy for a layperson to know whether the settlement check is a reasonable amount or not. Never sign a release form without speaking to a personal injury attorney.
18. DO Know Your Rights
It would be a mistake to assume that your insurance company is going to fight for you and deposit $100,000 in your account without question.
At the end of the day, your insurance company is a business. Their focus is on taking in as much money as possible and giving away as little as they can.
While this doesn’t necessarily mean that your insurance company is out to get you or deny your claim, it does mean that you should not assume that they have your best interests at heart.
19. DON’T Try to Settle It Yourself
“It’s just a minor car accident…I can deal with this on my own, right?”
I respectfully disagree.
Trying to deal with your own car accident is a lot like performing your own surgery: not only are you too emotionally invested to do a good job, you lack the education and experience required to do it.
20. DO Call a Personal Injury Attorney
Dealing with an attorney is the best way to protect your rights. When you hire a personal injury lawyer, you are hiring them to do just that.
Schedule a free consultation with a trustworthy personal injury attorney to ensure that your needs are being met and your rights protected following your car accident.