WHAT TO DO IN CASE OF AN AUTOMOBILE ACCIDENT
We hope you will never need this information, but in the event you do, the time you spend right now considering what to do in the event of an automobile accident could serve to avoid legal, financial and personal problems which can result from any accident. If you are involved in an accident, do not be frightened, stay calm, remember the following pieces of advice, and call an attorney – it is free!
Download: Accident Information Card
1. Do Not Leave the Scene.
Never leave the scene of an accident unless a medical emergency requires you to do so. It is normally better to wait for an ambulance and qualified medical personnel to arrive. You should stay at the scene until you provide your full name and address to a police officer or at least to the other driver(s) involved in the accident. Leaving the scene of an accident in which you have been involved does not look good and can submit you to criminal penalties.
2. Seek Help.
Call 911 to report where the accident took place and if anyone was injured in order to call the police or an ambulance. If you are unable to connect using 911, then call the local police or dial “0” for operator assistance.
3. Lend Assistance.
Attend to the medical needs of others involved if you are able. Do not move anyone unless necessary to avoid more serious injury. Unless you have received adequate medical training, only take basic emergency medical measures involving bleeding, breathing and shock if you are able.
4. Warn Others.
Take immediate steps to avoid additional injuries, first by warning other drivers of the accident and second, by moving the vehicles, but only if this is necessary. If you cannot take these measures because of your injuries or because you are already helping others, ask someone to signal other vehicles from a safe location. Use flares, reflectors, lanterns and your automobile lights, especially if the accident is at night.
5. Report the Accident.
Provide the police officer who comes to the scene of the accident your full name, address and other identifying information, and show him your drivers license and insurance identification card. That is all that you have to provide in the majority of the states, although depending on the situation, you could provide him the facts of the accident and details of any injuries. It is a judgment call on your part since cooperating with the police will be well taken in the eyes of the police officers who may be witnesses, while not cooperating could be seen as an attempt to deny fault for the accident. Whatever you do, never admit fault or responsibility for the accident to the police and do not speak about the case to anyone else. Even a simple statement such as “I am sorry” can be interpreted as an admission of liability which you may regret later. There will be plenty of time later to clarify the facts of the accident and to determine the extent of the parties’ fault. Do not sign any papers at the scene of the accident except a promise to appear in Court if you are issued a citation.
6. Obtain Information About the Accident.
Use the Accident Information Card available on this website to note necessary information to protect your legal rights. Apart from this basic information, you should also write down a detailed description of how the accident happened that you can rely on later in the event you forget some of the details. Pay attention to what each driver did wrong since the majority of the states’ laws permit an apportionment of fault between or among the drivers in accordance with the percentage of fault each driver has. Include a map of the scene of the accident detailing the direction of the vehicles involved before the impact and their positions after the impact. If you have a camera, take pictures of the accident scene, the vehicles and the people, or ask someone else to take photographs. If you are unable to immediately procure photographs of the scene, someone should return to the scene as quickly as possible to preserve in photographs any physical evidence which may change or disappear with time, such as skid marks on the pavement, glass or other accident debris in the street, bushes or trees which may have obscured vision, etc.
7. Remove Damaged Vehicles.
If your car is not drivable, you have to remove it from the scene. The police will usually call a tow truck but it is your responsibility to pay for this service. Find out from the tow company what the cost is, tell the tow truck driver where to take your car, and be sure to write down the name and address of the tow company. Never sell or dispose of your car if you are considering a claim for personal injuries since the nature and extent of the property damage will be important in proving your claim. In some cases, the loss or destruction of your vehicle can damage your claim.
8. Call Your Insurance Agent.
You should report your accident promptly to your insurance agent since some insurance companies have prompt reporting requirements which can affect coverage. If you are asked to give a statement or describe the accident or your injuries, do not forget the saying: “Anything you say may be used against you!” It is a good idea to speak to an attorney prior to giving any statements about an accident, especially if you have a claim for personal injuries. Statements, including those made to your own insurance company, can be obtained by the opposing party and without a doubt they will use them to defend an uninsured motorist claim or any other claim under your own policy.
9. See a Doctor.
It is also important to see the right kina of doctor if you have even the slightest physical discomfort. Make no general statements at the scene of the accident about your physical condition except to detail your symptoms to medical personnel. If you are asked “Are you alright?”, you just have to respond “I don’t know, I’ll have to wait and see.” You should be checked by medical personnel as soon as possible (at the latest within a couple of days of the accident), preferably in an emergency room because the extent of your injuries may not be known. The more time that passes between the accident and your seeking medical assistance the lesser the possibility that a doctor will make the connection between the accident and your complaints. This connection is absolutely necessary. If your symptoms persist in spite of receiving medical treatment, it will also be important to see the right kina of doctor – a specialist in the type of injury you have. You can receive a referral in the emergency room, from your private physician or from your family practitioner. Be sure to tell every doctor you see that you were involved in a motor vehicle accident and describe as correctly as possible what physically happened to you and how you have felt since. However, do not talk about any legal claim you may have with your doctor.
10. File an Accident Report.
Many states require an accident report to be filed with the state agency responsible for motor vehicles within a set period of time after the accident. Ask the police offer if you have to do this or call the appropriate state agency for information and/or forms to fill out. You should consult with an attorney first since this report can also constitute a report about what happened resulting in an admission of liability which can affect your legal rights.
11. Don’t Pay Anything.
Do not pay anything unless your attorney says it is alright to do so. A payment can be interpreted as an admission of liability and without receiving a waiver of rights in return, may not absolve you of legal responsibility. If you have liability insurance, your insurance company will provide you a defense in order to resolve any case against you or to pay any judgment entered against you up to the full amount of your coverage.
12. Call an Attorney.
“Those who do not know their legal rights lose them.” Speak with an attorney before speaking with anyone else about the accident. Many attorneys provide free information and will answer questions, including providing a free, no obligation consultation to speak about your injury claim. Otherwise, important evidence may be lost, unnecessary admission may be made, or the insurance company may be able to put you in a weak negotiating position. Later, if you decide to retain an attorney, you will have avoided the common mistakes that can hurt your case.
Should You Hire a Lawyer?
The more serious the injury or the more complicated the claim, the more you will need the help of a lawyer to explain your rights, represent your interests and to obtain just compensation. The majority of people do not know all their rights when injured in an automobile accident apart from the obvious claim against the responsible driver. For example, they usually are unaware of possible claims through their own insurance policy under the uninsured motorist coverage or underinsured motorist coverage or even other claims which may be available to them in many accidents, such as claims against the owner of the vehicle, the driver’s employer or for products liability. Finally, do not forget that for all claims there exists a Statute of Limitations which bars your legal rights if they are not pursued prior to the deadline – without exception. So call a lawyer not only to find out what your legal rights are, but also to find out what the Statute of Limitations is so that time does not run out on your claim!