An accident can be stressful and dangerous, even if you aren’t injured. It can be difficult to remember exactly what to do in the event of an accident, from exchanging insurance information to dealing with injuries. Here is a complete guide for what to do after a car wreck.
Don’t Move Until You Know You’re Ok
The first thing you should do is nothing. Unless you are in active and immediate danger, don’t try to move or even look around. Compose yourself and try to calm your racing heart. Don’t move your head and neck until you have calmed down enough to pay attention to any discomfort or pain.
If you can move your head and neck just fine without discomfort, then examine the rest of your body in a similar fashion, both physically and visually. Pay close attention to any strange sensations and use the mirror if you can to check yourself for blood.
Once you confirm that you are not immediately in danger or injured, you should check the other people in the car. Even if you have children, make sure you review your own injuries first, as you will not be able to help others if you make your injuries worse. Also, move carefully, as you may have injuries that hide until after the adrenaline has died down.
If you or anyone else in the vehicles or outside them have been injured, call 911. Do not leave the car unless it is in a dangerous location. If you or another person appears to have a neck injury, make sure you or they stay in their position and wait for medical help.
Contact the Proper Authorities
Even if no one is injured, you should still contact the police. They can help identify witnesses, record the crash details, and gather contact information. You should include the police report in the documents you deliver to your insurance agency.
If you suspect anyone has been injured, you should call for medical assistance.
Calling the authorities is also important if your accident is blocking cars or in a high-traffic location. Police can reroute traffic and help keep further accidents from happening.
The only time you may not want to contact the police is if the accident was minimal, such as a fender-bender in a parking lot. But even in this case, do what you can to record what happened and exchange insurance information.
Document the Accident Scene
If you have already contacted the authorities and ensured that no one was injured, then you should document the scene. Take pictures, even if you aren’t certain you need or want to make a claim. If you can, don’t let the other driver leave before you can get their information and take pictures of the cars.
Take pictures of both vehicles and their license plates and the surrounding area so you can have a record of the situation. Also, take pictures of or record the other person’s insurance information.
The police will also be able to document what they witnessed at the scene and write up the incident. You can ask them for copies of these documents as well. Make sure you get the police officers’ names and badge numbers as well as the local police station phone number.
Contact Your Insurance Company
Once everyone is safe and you have documented the scene, your next step is to call your insurance company.
You should also call your insurance agency promptly, regardless of whether you were at fault. Perhaps at the time, the damages seem minimal, but later, if you want to file a claim, it will be made easier if you already notified them of the accident. You will also need to be prepared in case the other driver files a claim against you.
Your insurance company may deny your claim if you don’t report it when it happens, leading to a lengthier settlement process.
Keep Track of Medical Expenses
Often, injuries caused by car accidents are not immediately apparent. It may take hours, weeks, or even months for injuries caused by the stress or impact of an accident to occur. Because of this, it is important to monitor your condition and get checked over by a doctor as soon as possible.
Do not accept the first settlement you are offered; often insurance companies will give you a fast offer so that you’ll accept before the full extent of potential injuries is revealed.
Keep track of your medical expenses, doctors’ bills, and any other related expenses. This can include lost earnings for the time you had to take off work to recover or the cost of replacement or rental vehicles while your main car is being repaired.
Call a Car Accident Lawyer
If your insurance company refuses to pay or the other person won’t admit fault, then you may need the help of an experienced lawyer. A car accident lawyer can help walk you through the process, and in most cases will give a free consultation explaining your options.
Often, a car accident lawyer may be needed if the other party accepts then withdraws responsibility or if the exact events are hard to prove. In addition, a car accident lawyer can help you if you accidentally did or said something that made you seem at fault at the moment.
Immediately after the accident, you should keep in mind that anything you say can be held against you. Never admit fault or say anything that could show you take responsibility for the crash, even something as empathetic or conventionally polite as “I’m sorry.” If you did accidentally admit fault, a car accident lawyer may be able to argue your case.
As a general rule, a local car accident lawyer will be better than one who lives in a different city or state. Local lawyers will be familiar with relevant laws and codes in the area in which the accident took place. This means that if you got into an accident while traveling far from home, it may be better to get an attorney in the area rather than call your usual lawyer if you have one.
Deborah Goldberg researches and writes about car safety and insurance for the legal site, FreeAdvice.com. She is passionate about driving safety and providing legal help for consumers.
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