Talk to anyone in auto insurance, and they’ll often say, “it’s not a matter of if you’ll have an accident, but when.” With roughly six million auto accidents each year in the United States alone, there is a strong chance that you might be involved with one yourself.
We’ve put together a helpful checklist for new and veteran drivers to help you understand what you need to do after being involved in an automobile accident. Following these steps will help you protect yourself, your financial interests and keep you safe.
1. Stop and assess.
No matter the circumstances, if you’re involved in an accident, even a minor one, you need to stop and assess the situation. Ensure that you, any occupants that you may have in your vehicle, and the occupants of an involved car are all okay before taking further steps. You should never leave the scene without performing the steps outlined below. Should you do that, and you could be charged with severe crimes.
2. Guard and the scene.
Depending on the location of your collision, your accident could lead to other vehicles becoming involved unintentionally. To avoid those situations, do your best to control the scene. If you happen to be in a dark area, start by activating your vehicle’s hazard lights. If those are disabled, attempt to use a flashlight or the light from your mobile device to safely warn upcoming drivers while tow and emergency make their way to your location. Make sure that you stand off the roadway in a safe area.
3. Contact the police.
Even if you’re involved in a non-injury collision, it is always best to contact the police so that there is a record of your accident. Although regulations vary from state to state, it is common practice for insurance companies to require an official police report while filing an insurance claim — even if you’re attempting to file a claim regarding damage to your vehicle alone.
4. Create a written record.
As soon as you’ve made your way to safety, make sure you begin to record the details of the accident so that you have a clear and unclouded record of the events. Record information such as your speed, direction, time, date, and how you recall the accident occurring. Once the police arrive on the scene or file your police report, you will be asked to tell the investigating officers everything you can remember about the incident. Be sure to deliver the facts in a clear, concise, and completely truthful manner. If you are asked about injuries and are unsure of your current condition, say that “you’re unsure” instead of stating “no.” The adrenaline from accidents can often mask the physical pain of injuries that don’t become apparent until much later.
5. Document with photos.
Mobile devices and cameras inside vehicles are commonplace today. Be sure to capture any relevant images of your accident as soon as you’ve assessed the medical condition of all parties involved: photograph vehicle damage, the location, and other relevant details. If you or anyone involved have suffered injuries, be sure to document them, too. Try to avoid obstructing any ongoing investigation that police may be conducting. If you are unable to take photos immediately after the accident, do so as soon as possible. These images will often be helpful for legal and insurance purposes.
6. Exchange all information.
Whether it is a minor fender bender or a significant collision, you need to exchange all relevant legal information with any other drivers and passengers that may be involved. To that end, you need to obtain their name, address, and telephone number. In addition, you will need to see the insurance cards of any vehicle involved in the accident.
It is also wise to request the contact information of any witness. Often, witness information will be used by attorneys or insurance companies to determine additional facts surrounding the incident. If the police arrive at the scene, they will record all data from all involved parties, and this information will be made available in the police report.
7. Report the accident to insurance.
Whether you believe that you are at fault or not, you should always report an automobile accident to your insurance carrier immediately. In many cases, your policy will expressly stipulate those accidents must be reported immediately and that you must provide full cooperation. When you report your accident to your insurance carrier, be sure to reference all the details you recorded about the accident, including the location of the accident, the condition of the vehicle(s), and any injuries sustained by anyone involved. Additionally, be sure to relay all the information regarding other drivers.
8. Seek medical attention.
In some instances, injuries may not immediately present themselves. People involved in automobile accidents often report feeling the most pain within 24 to 48 hours of an accident. Unless you are confident that you are uninjured, you should always seek medical treatment if you are experiencing significant pain or having other issues that may represent a medical problem. Visit your local emergency room or physician as soon as possible. If you experience confusion, dizziness, or become dazed, you may have suffered a concussion or another head injury. Left untreated, these can cause severe issues, and it is best to be cleared by professional medical staff. Also, should you have suffered any injury, there will be a record of that injury on file that your insurance will need to be made aware of, potentially earning you more significant compensation.
9. Maintain your records.
Automobile accidents take time to resolve, whether they are single-vehicle accidents or multivehicle accidents. During this time, you need to maintain an accurate record file to hold any accident-related documents. You should have your claim number, the claim’s adjuster’s contact information, contact information for all parties involved, and any expenses incurred directly related to the accident.
10. Protect yourself legally.
If you are involved in a collision that results in criminal charges or involved in a multivehicle accident, it is always best to consult your attorney before providing official statements. Many attorneys, such as a personal injury or a truck accident lawyer, specialize in automobile-related accidents. Your attorney will protect your rights and make sure that any evidence that may support your case is not lost or destroyed. In many cases, insurance companies will want to record your official statement immediately following an accident. Your attorney will guide you through the process and ensure that you protect yourself in the most effective way possible.