These 12 important steps will help you stay safe, protect your rights, collect evidence, and build a strong claim after a vehicle accident.
Every year in the United States there are over 6 million auto accidents.¹ That means on average there are over 16,000 car crashes every single day.
The aftermath of a serious auto accident is a stressful and dangerous situation. People may be injured or disoriented, vehicles are often mangled and leaking fluid, and traffic can continue to pass dangerously close to the scene.
Here’s what you should do immediately after a traffic accident to protect your health and safety, and begin building a winning car insurance claim.
Here are 12 Steps to Take After a Car Accident:
- Move Your Car Off the Road
- Turn on Your Hazard Flashers
- Move Away from Your Car
- Call 911 and Let the Police Do Their Job
- Stay Calm and Don’t Admit Fault
- Get Immediate Medical Attention
- Gather Information at the Scene
- Identify Witnesses to the Accident
- Preserve Damaged Personal Items
- Notify Your Insurance Company
- Notify the Other Driver’s Insurance Company
- Consider Consulting an Attorney
If your car is drivable, move it off the road. You may only have the shoulder available, but that’s better than staying in the middle of an intersection or highway. Get as far off the road as possible without risking further injury. If your car is not drivable, you will have to leave it as-is.
It’s not your job to clear glass or other car parts off the road, or to direct traffic around the accident scene. Let the police do that when they arrive. Your job is to stay safe.
Do not leave the scene of a motor vehicle accident. Even if you’re not at fault, or it’s only a fender bender, you need to stay at the scene in a safe place near your vehicle. Leaving the scene of an accident could result in you being charged with a crime.
This will call attention to the scene and warn other drivers to slow down.
If you carry additional warning devices, such as flares or reflective safety triangles, now is the time to use them. But place them only if you can do so safely. Don’t put yourself in danger by entering a busy roadway.
Once your car is safely off the road, move away from it if possible. You don’t want to be the victim of a second collision because of some impatient driver. Never assume that other drivers will act safely just because they’re approaching the scene of an accident.
If there’s a safe place for you to wait until the police arrive, exit your car and go there. Use extreme caution when getting out of a car into oncoming traffic. If the crash happened in a busy intersection, or on a roadway lined with concrete barriers, the safest place to wait may be inside your car.
If it’s unsafe to exit your car, or you’re injured and unable to move, stay put and wait for police and emergency services to arrive.
As soon as you and your passengers are safe, immediately call 911 if you have a working cell phone. If you’re able, try to help others who may be seriously injured. Most states have Good Samaritan Laws to protect people who render medical aid in an emergency.
Police officers know how to secure an accident scene. They will set out flares, direct traffic around the accident, investigate the scene, and complete an accident report.
As part of gathering information for the police report, the investigating officer will get statements from you, the other driver, and any witnesses. The officer will also get both drivers’ contact and insurance information.
While you’re waiting for the police to arrive, avoid the temptation to talk to the other driver. Stay quiet. Don’t even talk to witnesses yet. The minutes following a car accident are stressful. Don’t let that stress cause you to start saying things you may regret.
At most, you can exchange information with the other driver. Share basic information, like your phone number, license plate number, and insurance company information. Most state laws require you to share your driver’s license number, if asked.
If you’re injured or not up to exchanging info, don’t worry, the police will get the other driver’s insurance policy number, vehicle information, and contact details when they arrive.
If the other driver wants to talk to you, great. Just listen. Let the other driver admit fault if they want, but never say anything that could imply your own fault. Use the video function on your smartphone to record the scene and any statements made by the other driver.
Don’t be quick to say you’re okay. Sometimes the stress and adrenaline that accompany a car crash can cover up the pain from injuries.
Never refuse medical attention at the scene. Allow the police and emergency medical services (EMS) to evaluate you. If EMS suggests you go to the hospital, then go to the hospital. If not, you should still go to your primary care doctor for an evaluation.
Getting immediate medical treatment not only protects your health, but also creates a medical record to back up any future claim for personal injuries.
Never talk or argue with the other driver about who’s at fault. Wait for the police and tell them what happened. You will eventually discuss fault and liability with the driver’s insurance company, but don’t do it with the driver at the scene.
If you’re able, take photographs and video of the damage to your car, the other car, and the scene of the accident as a whole. If it’s safe, take photos and video from many different angles and perspectives: wide views, close up, side views, etc. In addition, take photos of the scene itself, including any debris and tire skid marks, street signs, traffic lights, etc.
Try to get photos of your injuries at the time of the accident and throughout your recovery. Graphic pictures of injuries can be powerful evidence in an injury claim.
Finding an independent third party to verify what happened in the collision will help your claim. If you’re not seriously injured after the crash, try to find any onlookers willing to give a written summary of what happened. Ask them to sign and date their statement, and write down their contact information.
If you’re injured and unable to gather information after a car wreck, don’t worry. The police will gather driver and witness contact details, and other evidence for their report. You can get a copy of this report several days after the accident, and use the information when filing your insurance claim.
Save any torn or bloodied clothing from the crash, and any other damaged personal items such as laptops, cell phones, jewelry, etc.
Items like bloody clothing and shattered eyeglasses will clearly show the trauma you experienced during the crash. You’ll also need to verify any personal property damaged in the crash, so you can get fair compensation from the insurance company.
You do not need to call from the accident scene, but you should call your car insurance company soon after you arrive home, or the next day if it’s after business hours.
Letting your insurer know about the accident is important, as your auto insurance policy likely has a “notification clause.” This clause requires you to notify your insurance company any time you’re involved in an auto accident, and to cooperate with the company’s investigation.
A typical notification clause reads something like this:
“Insured (you) agrees to notify the insurer (your insurance company) of any accidents and thereafter comply with all information, assistance, and cooperation which the insurer reasonably requests, and agrees that in the event of a claim the insurer and the insured will do nothing that shall prejudice the insurer’s position…”
Not only are you contractually obligated to notify your insurance company of the crash, but doing so puts them in a better position to protect your interests. Most auto policies state the insurance company must provide an attorney to defend you if someone from the other car files a lawsuit against you.
If you have collision insurance coverage, you might want to let your insurance company handle your property damage claim. Your insurer will seek reimbursement for your vehicle damage repairs from the at-fault driver’s company.
Don’t talk to anyone from the other driver’s insurance company until you’ve had a chance to calm down and treat your injuries. Be very careful if a claims adjuster calls wanting to make a quick settlement. They are not looking out for your best interests.
The insurance adjuster will likely call and ask you to describe what happened, or ask to send them documents or other information. You do not have to give a recorded statement or send them anything at this time. If you plan to hire an attorney, simply inform the adjuster you will be retaining counsel.
If you have only minor injuries and plan to handle the bodily injury claim yourself, be careful when giving a recorded statement. Adjusters are expert negotiators and can get you to make admissions against your own interests.
If you’ve already retained an attorney, the best thing to do is refer the adjuster to your attorney.
If you suffered only minor injuries in the accident, perhaps missing a day or two of work with a few hundred dollars in medical bills, you may be able to handle your own insurance claim.
If you suffered more serious injuries, you will need a personal injury attorney to have the best shot at a successful insurance claim.
There’s a lot involved in a personal injury claim: determining who is at fault, your potential comparative negligence, MedPay under your own insurance, uninsured and underinsured coverage, medical bills and lost wages, liens and subrogation claims, and more.
An experienced attorney can be a valuable asset in helping you get the compensation you deserve.
Most reputable injury attorneys offer a free consultation to review your claim and answer your questions. Your attorney will also work on a contingency fee basis, so you will owe nothing if the attorney doesn’t settle your claim or win a lawsuit in court.
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