What To Do After a Car Accident

We all want to avoid them, but from time to time, car accidents do happen. Maybe you’ve never been in one or maybe it’s been years since your last accident. Either way, it’s important to know what to do in the moments, hours, and days that follow the event.

Here’s a detailed checklist to help make sure everything’s covered.

Immediately After the Accident

As soon as the accident happens, your first reaction will probably be one of shock. So before you do anything else, take a moment to breathe.

At the same time, take a quick physical inventory. Did your airbags go off? While you may be generally sore, does any one area hurt more than another? Can you move all of your limbs and extremities? Check this carefully just in case you have an injury you’ve not really felt yet due to your body being in shock.

Shut off your car, and get out if you’re physically able to do so and it is safe. If you’re on a busy road, make sure traffic is stopped and you’re not risking further injury by leaving your vehicle.

Make sure all other vehicles involved are shut off as well, and that either traffic is stopped or being directed around the scene, and that the scene is clearly marked if possible. To do this, you can use road flares, cones, or other devices to mark the area. These should be part of an emergency kit you keep in your car at all times.

Finally, document the scene. Take several photos and video with your cell phone. Write down anything you see, hear, smell and feel while it is still fresh in your memory. Even if you don’t have pen and paper, you can do this in your notes app on your phone or even by using the voice memo feature.

Things Not to Do at the Scene

Just as important as doing the correct things right away at the scene of an accident is remembering things you should not do.

  • Do not ever for any reason leave the scene of the crash. Stay put until help and the proper authorities arrive, even if other drivers flee or say it is no big deal.
  • Call 9-1-1. In the era of cell phones, it is likely that someone will call the police right away, but just in case they do not, call for help even before getting out of your vehicle.
  • Don’t lose your cool. Accidents happen because people do things that are not always smart. Don’t get angry or shout at them, just stay calm and wait for others to arrive.
  • Never admit fault. Maybe you were the one who did something wrong. Never admit fault at the scene. It makes things harder on your insurance company, and it can get you in real trouble depending on the nature and outcome of the accident.
  • Never say the words “I’m sorry” or “my bad” or “I should have seen you.” Those are all things that can potentially be used against you.
  • Never say “I feel fine.” You might not realize you’re injured until hours or even days later.
  • Never speak to the other person’s insurance company or anyone else about the accident before the accident report has been filed by the police and you have contacted an attorney.

Immediately after an accident you may not be thinking clearly, or you may be reacting in a way that is not normal or rational. Stay calm. Wait until you have time to process the accident and how you’re feeling before you talk to anyone. Let the officer investigate, and sort the details out with your attorney and the insurance companies later.

Collecting Documentation and Facts

Different states have different laws and regulations about what information you need after an accident if you decide to file a claim. Here is a checklist to follow if you have an accident in Utah. Even if you have an accident in another state, this list will serve you well and ensure you have all the essential information you need.

  • Full names of everyone involved.
  • Residential addresses and phone numbers.
  • Driver’s License Numbers.
  • Insurance information including policy numbers and expiration dates, usually found on insurance cards.
  • The Police Incident Report. (I-9 or Crash Report)
  • The incident report number and the badge numbers of first responders.

It is a good idea to have this list already created on paper or in your phone for reference when an accident occurs so you don’t have to try to remember these things. It should be part of the emergency kit you have with you.

Most of the time, when the police arrive on the scene they will gather all of this information. If they cannot come to the scene for some reason, which is rare, this documentation is even more important.

Dealing with Unhelpful Drivers

Your job in case of an accident is to keep your cool and do the things you’re supposed to do. However, you cannot control the actions of others. If other drivers are unhelpful or even hostile, here are some things you can do.

  • If the other driver does not stop, try to get a photo of the car and if possible the license plate number. This is information the police can use to track the driver down.
  • If the other driver in uninsured, get all the other contact information from them you can, including full name, driver’s license number, address and phone number. If they will not give you that information, get as much as you can and wait for the police to arrive.

There may be times when the other driver is angry or refuses to cooperate on the scene. They may even refuse to give you any information at all. These can be delicate situations, because you do not know the “why” behind their actions. Be careful, and do your best to protect yourself and others.

  • Take photos of the person and their vehicle, but do so carefully without being obvious about it.
  • Enlist an ally from the bystanders if you can, and stay with them as much as possible until authorities arrive.
  • Avoid personal risk. Don’t block their car, try to physically detain anyone, or threaten the person in any way.

An uncooperative driver is usually a matter for the police to handle, not you or anyone else on the scene. Use common sense or stay safe.

Who Should You Call and When

When you’re in an accident, it is important to contact some people as soon as possible, but there is a certain order to how you should do things. Here is another checklist for you.

Call 9-1-1 Right Away

We already talked about this, but it cannot be stressed enough. You want the police to control traffic, document the scene, and file an incident report for your own protection. At the same time, you want yourself and anyone else involved to be checked over by medical professionals.

This is for two reasons. First, you want to document any of your own injuries, and make sure that in your self-assessment you did not miss anything. Second, you want those at the scene to be examined as well. If the accident does end up being your fault, you do not want them claiming injuries later that were not present at the time of the accident.

Contacting an Attorney Right Away

Depending on the accident, you may need to contact an attorney. When? Here is the rule of thumb: contact an attorney before you talk to the other person’s insurance company at all. If you’re injured, you need to concentrate on healing. Since you must contact insurance companies within 24 hours, it is a good idea to contact an attorney almost immediately.

Also, an attorney will know the laws of your state and the jurisdiction where the accident happened. They will know many things you won’t, including how to read the incident report, who to contact at the other driver’s insurance company or yours, and what compensation you’re entitled to.

The initial consultation won’t cost you anything, and the headaches and compensation you receive will be well worth it in the long run. Remember, never talk to anyone at the other insurance company for any reason before you talk to your attorney, and always refer them and any bills you receive related to the accident to your attorney’s office.

Call Your Insurance Company Within 24 Hours

You need to contact your insurance company usually within 24 hours even if you’re not at fault. An intake specialist will ask you for information about the crash, including:

  • Persons involved
  • Date/time of accident
  • Weather conditions
  • How the accident happened
  • Police department information
  • Witness information, if any
  • Injury information

If you’re unsure about anything, don’t answer. It is best to have your attorney present and advising you on any answers you give, even to your own insurance company.

Contact the Other Driver’s Insurance Company

You also need to contact the other driver’s insurance company, and they are going to want the same information your company wants. It is especially important that you have your attorney present for this conversation. Remember, never talk to the other person’s insurance company without talking to an attorney first.

Deciding Whether to Make a Claim

The decision about whether to make a claim is an important one. How do you know if you will get compensation and what your chances are? How do you know when it is appropriate to file a claim with your own insurance company?

First of all, this is one of the reasons it is important to contact an attorney. They can tell you pretty quickly from the police incident report and the insurance information how likely you’re to be compensated fairly and whether you have a claim worth pursuing.

As to your own insurance company, this may depend largely on the circumstances of the accident, your deductible, your previous driving record, and the amount and reason for the claim.

In other words, if you hit someone or something in a parking lot and the damage is minor, filing a claim with your own insurance may cause your rates to go up, and maybe for a long time to come. It may better serve you to take care of minor repairs yourself.

However, if the other driver was uninsured and you have coverage with your insurance for that possibility, filing with your insurance means that they and your attorney will be fighting for your compensation. You also won’t have to wait to get your car fixed and your other bills taken care of until you’re able to collect from the other person responsible.

Ultimately, the decision to file a claim or not will be up to you, but often your attorney can help you make the right decision.

When a car accident happens, it can be a shocking and often traumatic event. Keeping in mind the things you should and should not do, keeping a checklist at hand in your phone and in your car, and knowing who to call when will go a long way toward making it less dramatic.

After all, you want to focus on recovering physically, emotionally, and financially from the accident. Knowing what to do when one happens is the first step along the way.

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