We prepared this short guide to give you a step-by-step process to follow if you have been in a car accident. We cannot make it as if the accident didn’t even happen. But if you follow our advice you will be on your way to making sure you don’t make things worse now that the car accident is over.
(1) Call 911
Call 911 and report the car accident. If someone is injured, or even if they may be injured, you should be sure to specifically report that, so the dispatcher sends an ambulance. An ambulance can provide critical care that can save a life.
A person may not look injured if they have internal injuries, are in shock, or sometimes just because their adrenaline is pumping after the accident. Don’t take a chance with your health or that of another person. Better safe than sorry.
You must tell the police officer what happened. You should also be honest when describing your injuries to the ambulance crew. You do not have to talk to the other driver, or any witnesses.
You should never talk to an insurance company representative before consulting a lawyer. And you should never sign anything from an insurance company unless a lawyer has reviewed it first.
(2) Gather Information About the Car Accident
Be sure to get the police officer’s name, badge number, and accident report number. You will want a copy of the car accident report. Your attorney will certainly order one. Notice whether the officer is State Police or the County Sheriff.
Get the name, address, and telephone number of any driver involved in the accident. It may be helpful to write down a physical description of the driver too. Get their insurance information, including the company, the policy number, and the company’s address and phone number. Were they working? Is it a company vehicle? Get the employer’s information. Also, get the same information from any other cars involved in the collision. Write down as much information as you can.
Don’t just take their word for it. Ask to see their driver’s license and insurance card. We have had cases where a driver made up a name, number and even used a fictitious insurance company!
(3) Watch What You Say After the Car Accident
Be very careful about making comments at the scene of the car accident. The adverse driver could take it the wrong way, and it could be used against you later.
Our best advice is to NEVER talk about how the car accident happened. It is over, so that is irrelevant anyway. Technically, you do not have to explain it to the police officer either. However, we advise clients to be honest with the police. By then, you will be able to tell a coherent, organized story. It is usually the offhanded comment to the other driver that will get you in trouble later.
(4) Listen to the Other Driver
This is the flip side of the advice above. If the other driver makes one of those offhanded comments, you should remember it and write it down. Apologies are admissions of guilt. Other hot headed comments by the adverse driver can be very revealing as to what they were doing when they caused the car accident.
(5) Get Witnesses to the Car Accident
Get the name, address, and phone numbers of all witnesses to the car accident. This will be vital later if a dispute arises about who was at fault. Do not necessarily trust the police officer to get this information. We have seen many cases where they fail to get the witness contact information, probably because the witness left the scene before they could get it.
You should be your own private investigator, to the best of your ability, and gather evidence at the scene.
(6) Take Pictures of the Scene
Cell phone cameras are very common today. If you have one, take some pictures of the car accident scene, and the vehicles involved, and even the person who hit you.
Take pictures that show the complete scene, including where the other driver was coming from. You want to be able to prove they were negligent. This is true no matter what they say at the scene, or how obvious you think it was that the other person was at fault.
I have two personal stories that prove that point.
Years ago, a woman rear-ended me and apologized profusely on the scene. She was very nice, but it was obviously her fault, and she admitted it. It was just a bit of minor property damage, so I didn’t think much of it. We exchanged information and went our separate ways. Later, I got a call from her insurance company because when she called them, she claimed I rolled backwards into her! Lucky for me, they caught her in that lie (I had an automatic transmission and was on an incline, so I couldn’t have rolled back) and she had to pay for my bumper, but I was completely shocked that the “nice” lady who apologized for hitting me tried to lie like that. After 20 years as a practicing attorney, I would almost expect it today. But I did not then.
That is why, when someone pulled out in front of me a few years ago in a parking lot, I took pictures with my cell phone. He later tried to claim I was driving too fast, but my pictures proved the story and his insurer paid to fix my bumper. The earlier incident kept me from trusting him and I was glad later that I had the pictures to prove my side of the story.
So take pictures if you have a camera or your cell phone takes pictures. And not just one. Take enough pictures to accurately show the scene.
Also, take pictures of the cars and the damage. Property damage is often used by insurers to gauge whether you are really injured or not. This isn’t always fair, but they do it. If you have property damage, take pictures to prove it before the car gets repaired.
The last thing to take pictures of are any visible injuries. This may sound like something you do not want to do, but documenting your visible injuries will be very helpful to your legal case later.
(7) Write Down How the Car Accident Happened
Write a detailed description of the car accident very soon after it occurs. You should do this as soon after the accident as you can. Do it even if you think the car accident was simple and will be easy to remember.
Do not trust your memory. What you think are minor details now may become important later. And you may not remember the smaller details as well as your attorney will wish you did.
Do not show this description to anyone other than your attorney. Do not provide it to anyone representing any insurance company. Do not even tell them about it until you have hired an attorney. When in doubt, consult an attorney.
(8) Report the Car Accident to Your Insurance Company
You should report the car accident to your own insurance company as soon as you can. You will have to give them a statement, but remember not to give them a recorded statement. Read more about that in this post explaining common mistakes people make during their accident case. Talk to an attorney first if you have any hesitation or get any flack from your own insurance company.
(9) Get Medical Care
Do not delay medical care if you need it. It is very common for a person to feel fine immediately after an accident, but develop pain an hour or more after the accident is over. Your body is in shock, and it takes a while for your muscles to tighten up. It is even more common to feel badly the next morning after you sleep that night.
If that happens to you, go to the hospital or your primary care doctor. You may just be sore, or you may have a serious condition that requires treatment. Only a doctor can tell.
Be honest with your medical provider when describing your injuries. Never exaggerate your injuries, but do not minimize them either. Be honest and be complete in describing your pain or symptoms. That is the only way they can accurately treat you.
The insurance company will carefully review your medical records for clues to the accident and its affect on you. So be complete when you are telling the doctor how you feel, and what happened to make you feel that way.
Your health care providers will write down what you say, and the insurance company will get a copy of that report. It should be as accurate as possible. This is not only important for your case – it is even more important for your medical care! The doctor cannot properly treat you if you do not tell him or her what happened and how you feel.
By the way, if the Doctor tells you to stay off work, be sure to get that in writing. This is true even if you are self employed. Most doctors will do this, but you may have to remind them if they are busy seeing patients. The insurance company will not pay for your lost wages unless you have a written excuse from a doctor.
Remember to do what we attorneys do – document, document, document.
(10) Get a Free Consultation
All attorneys who handle personal injury cases offer a free consultation. Take advantage of that. Do not try to handle your personal injury claim on your own. At the very least, get some free advice. You will not have to pay if you have an injury claim. If you do not want to go in the office, schedule a phone appointment. You have nothing to lose but your time.
Pick a lawyer who appears honest and ethical. If you feel like you are getting sales pressure to retain him or her, just ask to think it over and leave. You are never under an obligation.
These steps are, in a nutshell, the right steps to take after you have been involved in a car accident. Remember, if you ever have any questions about what to do now, you should contact an attorney for a free consultation. We would be happy to discuss your case with you if you contact our office today.