You might be wondering what to do after an accident. According to Wikipedia, “in 2010, there were an estimated 5,419,000 crashes (30,296 fatal crashes), killing 32,999 and injuring 2,239,000.” If you’re reading this, it is likely that you or someone you care about has recently been in a car crash and is wondering what to do next. This article will cover what to do at the accident scene, and after you leave.
Safety First. Get to a safe spot as safely as possible. Safety is the key. If you can safely move your car off the roadway to a safe spot immediately off the road, you should do so. Do not drive more than 10-15 seconds or you could be charged with failure to remain at the scene of an accident (hit and run), even if you didn’t cause the collision.
Medical Needs. How are you feeling? How are your passengers? Were any pedestrians injured? If anyone was hurt, call 911. If a person is unconscious or has suffered neck or back injuries, do not move them, and try to keep them as still and stable as possible. Moving someone with back or neck injuries can cause significant additional injuries.
Contact Law Enforcement. Call 911 and be ready to identify yourself, your location, the number of people and cars involved, and whether anyone is injured. Make the call even if there isn’t a lot of damage to your vehicle, or people aren’t seriously injured. You should know that many law enforcement agencies will not send an officer if the accident happened on private property, or if there is less than $2,000 in car damage.
Something else to consider is that law enforcement officers will often cite the driver who caused the accident. This can be helpful later. If officers do not show up at the accident, then you may need to create your own collision report online, or the local law enforcement offices.
Exchange Information. In Washington State, in fact in most states, you are required to exchange information with the other driver or drivers. Be prepared to provide your insurance and contact information. Make sure you get the other drivers’ info as well as the contact information for all passengers, too. This is an emotionally difficult period, so try to stay calm and polite. The one thing you definitely don’t want to do is apologize for anything. If someone apologizes, or admits to anything, take careful notes about what was said, who said it, and when it was said.
Witness Statements. Talk to as many witnesses as possible and find out what they saw, and where they were when they saw it. You’ll need their contact information, so get it. You should also advise them that you might have more questions later, and ask if you can call them.
Take Pictures. Can you safely get pictures of the cars at the accident, and of the accident scene? If so, do it. This may be your only chance to document the damage to the other vehicles.
After the Accident.
Notify your insurer. Call your insurance company and advise them that you’ve been in an accident. If you feel any discomfort at all, tell your insurance person. Your insurance adjuster will have questions, and you need to answer them completely and truthfully. You do not have an obligation to answer any questions from the other insurance company.
Medical Treatment. If you are in any pain or discomfort, you need to go to the hospital and get checked out. It is very important that you see a medical doctor, and not a chiropractor for the initial diagnosis. Make sure that you are very clear about what happened, and how you are feeling. Take notes about where you went, and who you saw for treatment. If they give you exercises, do the exercises. It is important to follow the treatment recommendations as closely as possible.
You should also keep a journal with notes about how you feel on given days. If your back hurts, note where it hurts, and how badly it hurts on a scale of 10, with 1 being almost no pain, and 10 being horrible pain. For instance, if your back hurts on the back left by your shoulder, you might indicate that your “back on upper left back side hurt 5/10”. If you can’t do normal things, write that down, too. If you can’t pick up your child, or if you have to put on shirts differently than before the accident, write it down.
Document Everything. Photographs and documents are your best friend in your case. Take pictures of your vehicle and any other property damage. It will be important in establishing damages later. Damages are the value of everything that was damaged in the accident. If you take your car in for a repair estimate, keep records of that. Likewise, if your car was towed, keep those records, too.
Repair Estimate. Your insurance company will either send an adjuster to examine your vehicle, or it will have you take your car to one of their adjuster for a repair estimate. You are also encouraged to seek out your own repair estimates. You are not required to go to a repair facility recommended by your insurance company, so feel free to shop around.
Avoid Quick Settlement. The insurance company of the person who caused the accident will likely call you and try to make you go away by offering you a quick settlement. Do not discuss the accident with that insurance company. If they make you an offer, speak with a personal injury attorney before taking any action. The other person’s insurance company is banking on the fact that you don’t know as much about negotiating an accident claim as they do, and they’ll take advantage of you. Their goal is to pay you as little as possible, and they don’t care whether you get what you deserve.
Hire an Attorney. The insurance companies have huge teams of very experienced attorneys and adjusters whose primary job is to ensure that the company pays out as little money as possible. They are experts at negotiating settlements and they get raises, promotions, and special recognition for making sure that people like you don’t get paid. The only way you are going to even the odds is by hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer. Almost every personal injury lawyer in the country will take your case on a contingent fee basis, which means that your lawyer won’t get paid until you do. Put another way, you won’t have to pay money out of pocket to hire a lawyer to fight for you.