In the United States, there are six million auto accidents each year. Of these accidents, the CDC reports that a staggering three million people are injured. Helping clients navigate how to handle auto accidents and any resulting personal injury is a complicated yet critical process. In the aftermath of a collision, decision making may be difficult. So, it’s important to know what to do and with whom to speak. While we can never predict an auto accident, below are some important steps that clients can take to protect themselves in the event of injury.
Check for injury.
When an accident occurs, the first step should always be to check yourself and your passengers for injuries. In the event that an injury has occurred, call the police immediately and ask for medical assistance. Regardless of injury, it’s a good idea to contact the police anyway, because insurance companies may not cover a claim without a police report.
Once you’ve determined if there are any injuries, check your surroundings and make sure you’re safe. Ensure that your car is not on fire and that you’re not in immediate danger from passing traffic. If property damage is minor and it is safe to do so, you can move your car to the shoulder of the road. If there are any injuries, leave the car in place for the accident investigation.
Get as much information as possible.
Once it is safe for you to leave your car, check on any other drivers/passengers. Try to remain as calm as possible. Note if someone says they’re injured and assure them the police are on the way, but document if the driver and any passengers say they’re fine. Also, note if anyone takes blame for the accident. Gather as much information as you can about any other drivers, passengers, or witnesses.
Information to gather should include:
- Full names
- Phone numbers/email addresses
- Insurance company names and car insurance policy numbers
- Make, model, color, and license plate number of all cars involved
- Names and contact information for any witnesses involved
You can use your cell phone camera to document these items. If the driver’s name does not match the insurance or registration, try to determine how the other driver is connected to the car. Gather all pertinent information from witnesses before they leave the scene of the accident.
Once the police arrive on the scene, make sure you get a badge number or their business card. You’ll also need the accident report number for future reference. Take a photo of this information, or keep it handy in your wallet or purse.
Scan and document the scene.
Along with information about the other people involved, you should document as many details as possible about the scene of the accident. You should do this in writing and with photos. While an accident with severe injuries may limit your access to the scene, take pictures of the overall view of the accident. Try to capture any skid marks on the road, the time of day, weather conditions, and, if possible, take close-up photos of all four sides of each vehicle to document damage. Document ALL property damage caused by the accident.
Take a few minutes to write notes about what you can remember from the accident. Note the time of day, visibility, weather, and whether the sun hindered your view. Write down any missing or faulty signage. Document if you were using wipers, headlights, or turn signals, and note the same about the other driver. Hold onto these preliminary notes and share all of this information with your attorney.
Seek medical attention.
Even if you feel that your injuries are minor, you should still seek medical attention as soon as possible after an accident. A thorough medical evaluation will help you determine the difference between minor scrapes and bruises or something more serious.
Contact your insurance company.
You should contact your insurance carrier as soon as possible. Failure to quickly contact your insurance provider can result in a rejected claim. However, if you feel that your insurance provider will not cover the accident, you should consider first contacting a personal injury attorney to help you navigate the process.
What NOT to do.
While this guide provides steps to take after an accident, there are a few things you should NOT do. First, you should never leave the scene of an accident. Second, you should not make any statements or provide records to another driver’s insurance company without consulting an attorney. In the event that you are contacted by the other driver’s insurance company, politely decline to discuss the incident until you have obtained legal advice.
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