Protecting Your Rights: 10 Steps to Take After a Car Accident
April 25, 2017
On average, there are 5.25 million car accidents in the U.S. every year—that works out to about 1 every 60 seconds, according to the National Highway Traffic Administration. Over the past 5 years, 1 in 4 Americans was involved in a car accident. Almost 3 million people a year suffer injuries, ranging from minor to severe, as a result of a car accident, and about 43,000 car accidents result in a fatality annually.
If you’re in a car accident, you’re shaken up, you might even be injured, and emotions are running high on both sides. It’s important to stay calm and take the appropriate steps to protect your rights. To make sure you don’t miss any of those steps, here’s a handy checklist of 10 things to do at the accident scene, and in the days after the accident:
At the Scene
1. First things First—Check to See if Anyone is Injured
Property is replaceable—people are not. Before you check for damage to your car, make sure you and your passengers, and those in the other vehicle, are uninjured. If someone has sustained injuries, call 911 for medical assistance immediately. If someone complains of neck or back pain, or if they’re unconscious, don’t move them unless it’s absolutely necessary.
2. Call the Police
You should always call police, especially if property damage is substantial, or if someone is seriously injured. When the police arrive, ask them to file a police report. Be sure to get the name and badge number of the responding officer(s) at the scene and get his (or their) business card(s).
3. Get the Other Driver’s Information
You want the other driver’s name and address, as well as his license plate number and driver’s license number. You also need to get his insurance information. Give the other driver the same information. Finally, get the names, addresses and phone numbers of all passengers. You should be civil, but don’t apologize. It’s normal to feel some sense of guilt (even when you’ve done nothing wrong), but if you inadvertently blurt out, “I’m so sorry—it was all my fault,” you’re setting yourself up for potential legal liability. Remember, you’re not an attorney, and determining fault is not your job.
4. Speak with Any Witnesses
If there are bystanders, take the time to ask them what they saw and heard. It’s good to also ask them if they’ve ever witnessed other accidents in this location—it’s possible that the road on which the accident occurred is unsafe, which could mitigate your liability for the accident. Be sure to get contact information for any witnesses.
5. Get a Police Report
A police report is important for your insurance claim, and if your case eventually goes to court. Call the number on the responding officer’s business card and ask him for a copy of the report. If for any reason he can’t help you, call the local courthouse and your insurer.
6. Contact Your Insurer
Call you insurer, provide a clear explanation of what happened and answer all his or her questions. Don’t misrepresent the facts or embellish. It’s important that you be honest about how the accident occurred—an insurance company can refuse to cover the accident if it finds out you’ve been dishonest. If you have a police report, review all the details with your insurer, including whether any traffic laws were broken.
7. Keep a Record of All Medical Treatments
If your accident results in a lawsuit, you might be seeking reimbursement for medical costs. Keep careful records, including the names of all medical professionals and medical providers, all medications you received, and all medical reports and bills. If you take your case to court, you might also seek money for pain and suffering. For this reason, you should also keep a record of ways your injuries negatively impacted your life, including any days of work you missed.
8. Photograph Your Damage
Take pictures of the damage to your vehicle—be sure to photograph damage from several angles and make sure the pictures clearly depict the nature and extent of the damage (you might want to share the pictures with third parties to see if damage is clear to them). Try to find any pictures of your car before the accident which show the areas which were damaged—this can be powerful “before and after” evidence.
9. Get Estimates
If your vehicle is drivable, take it to get at least two estimates for fixing the damage, or if your car is totaled, get two quotes on the cost to replace it. You should also get a damage valuation from your insurance company. If your insurer is offering less than either of your two estimates, contact your insurance agency. If you and your insurer can’t agree or come up with a reasonable compromise, you should consult with an attorney.
10. Consult with a Personal Injury Attorney
A personal injury lawyer has experience dealing with car accident cases and can give you good advice. For example, he’ll advise you to talk only to him and your insurance company—this is important, as anything you tell a third party could come back to bite you in court. He’ll also advise you about early settlement offers from your insurance company, which could low ball the extent of your damages.
Being involved in a car accident is unsettling, but it’s important to keep a calm head so you can take the right steps to hold the other driver and your insurance company fully accountable. At Dreaden & Cox, we have more than 50 years of combined experience practicing personal injury law and helping injured people recover the damages they deserve. We will work tirelessly to ensure your rights are protected. To learn more or to discuss the specifics of your case, contact us today.