Every year, between 20 and 50 million people are injured in car accidents and another 1.3 million die as a result of an accident on the road. No matter how the accident happened, or who was at fault, it’s important to know what to do.
Keep these steps handy if you’re ever in an auto accident.
Get Yourself to Safety
Assuming you can, get your vehicle off the road and out of further harm. Put your vehicle into park and turn it off. This is the time to do a self-check and make sure you’re not hurt. If you don’t feel or see any obvious injuries, go ahead and get out of the vehicle. If you can’t move your car out of the way, and you’re not injured, get out of the vehicle as soon as it’s safe and move to the side of the road. Once you’re sure you’re okay, check your passengers, pedestrians, and other drivers for injuries. If anyone is hurt, call 911 and get help immediately.
Contact the Police
Contacting the police doesn’t mean you’ve accepted blame or placed it on the other driver. What you want is the police report from this accident. It will help your insurance carrier process your claim. If you contact an attorney for any reason after the accident, you’ll need it then, too. Cooperate fully with the officer and answer their questions honestly. If no one is injured, the police may not come to the scene of the accident. If this happens, you must file an accident report through the DMV.
Never Accept Fault or Blame
Your insurance company could deny your claim if you accept fault or blame for an accident. Worse, you may believe it’s your fault and find out later it wasn’t. Offer no more information than necessary, but be polite and helpful. Only discuss the accident with police, medical professionals, the insurance adjuster, and any other professional involved.
You can wait until the police arrive or do it while you wait, but go ahead and exchange information with the other driver.
- Names of the driver and any passengers
- License plate numbers of all vehicles involved
- Insurance information from the other driver
- Vehicle make, model, and year
- Location of the accident
- Name and badge number of police officers
You’ll also want to gather contact information from any witnesses that have stopped and are willing to give statements about what they saw.
Document the Scene
There’s a good chance you have a smartphone which includes a camera. Use it to take pictures of the location of the accident, the placement of the vehicles, and the damage from the accident. Get pictures from as many angles as you can. Take your time so the images come out as clear as possible.
File an Insurance Claim
As soon as you can after you’ve talked to the police officer and gotten all the information, contact your insurance company to file a claim. Stay on top of the process and follow up with information your adjustor needs. You should receive a damage valuation for your vehicle. If you don’t agree with the amount they’ve valued your vehicle or the damage, go get independent estimates for yourself. Two should be enough. Present this to your adjustor.
Track Your Medical Procedures and Costs
If you’re injured in the accident, track everything very carefully. Keep notes on all your injuries, what doctors you’ve seen, and what procedures have been done. This includes keeping copies of medical bills. Keep track of any days you’ve missed from school or work because of your injuries, as well as how you’ve been feeling. If you do end up in a courtroom, one thing that can be difficult to show is “pain and suffering.” While you’re dealing with injuries, keep a journal, take notes, or use a mood tracker app to show how you feel each day.
Consult an Attorney
You may decide to contact an attorney as soon as the accident occurs or wait until you hear from the insurance company. Whatever your reason or whenever you call, share all documentation you have — the police report, information from your insurance provider, and medical bills. From there, you and your attorney can decide the best path forward.
No one wants to get into an auto accident, and no one wants to have to go to court over it. Sometimes you run out of other options. Do everything you can immediately after the crash to document what happened and make the claim process as easy as possible. If you do need an attorney, following these steps will help in a future case, as well. Be safe out on the road, and take care of yourself before, during, and after an accident.