After having been in a car accident, you can get a bit mixed up. The accident itself is often traumatic, and honestly, most people don’t practice what to do in case of an accident. This means you will most likely “wing-it” if you haven’t already thought through how to act in advance.
If you are looking for a great list of steps to take in case you are in an accident someday, this is for you. And if you’ve been in an accident, help us to make this list better by adding your own advice.
The first and most important piece of advice in this whole article is that no matter what, you need to seek safety. This might just mean moving your vehicle to the side of the road if it makes sense to do so, or staying put if you’re in the middle of a freeway. In this respect it’s somewhat of a judgement call. However, when in doubt, play it safe.
Sometimes, the biggest risk to your safety is someone in another vehicle, often the other vehicle involved. If that’s the case, make sure you contact the authorities as soon as you are able, and disregard the next step!
Stay Nearby – Don’t leave the Scene of the Car Accident
Most likely, everyone is going to be a bit shaken up by the car accident. You, other drivers involved, passengers, bystanders, pets, your family once you let them know… Immediately after a car accident is usually a very confusing time for all parties. It’s important that you don’t leave the scene of the accident without having filed a police report and given a statement though.
Assess Yourself and Others
After you’ve determined you’re safe and you have a little bit of situational awareness returned, you should do a quick assessment of yourself and others in the immediate area. This will help you in informing 9-1-1 if there are immediate medical needs to be taken care of. An excellent way to do a quick assessment of your physical condition after an accident is to start at your toes and move up through your body – wiggling, moving, touching, and physically looking each major area, if you’re able.
You may be in shock at this time, so it’s possible that you don’t feel something that is indeed a significant problem. For this reason, it’s good to look as well as feel for injuries, in your self assessment.
This doesn’t have to take much time, the point isn’t to provide a thorough examination. You are only trying to get a quick assessment of your own situation as well as anyone else in your immediate area (your vehicle). A more thorough assessment can be made after you contact 9-1-1 and help is on its way.
Look for Landmarks
Take a quick glance around. Do you see street signs? Is there a mile marker on the road? What road are you on?
Car accidents are unexpected. The locations are often in between roads, or somewhere between exits on a freeway. You are about to call 9-1-1, they are going to ask you where you are. Think for a brief moment, how you’re going to be able to tell them.
If you cannot figure out where you are, which is possible from the shock of the accident, don’t let this piece of advice hold you up from calling 9-1-1. However, if you can take a moment to mentally catalog a landmark or two, it will help you in both letting the authorities know where you are, and in your memory of locations relative to those landmarks when you are recalling the accident later.
Call 9-1-1. If they are not already on scene
The previous steps probably didn’t take more than 30 seconds to a minute in total. It’s possible someone has already called the police and that someone is on the way to take an account of the scene of the accident. However, don’t count on it. You need to call too. Make sure there is someone on the way, and don’t feel like you’re somehow in the wrong to call for help.
Sometimes the other party will ask that you don’t call 9-1-1. You need an officer on scene to take a report, and it’s probably not in your best interest to not reach out for one. Call 9-1-1 and let them decide if it’s something they are going to send an officer (and other emergency services) out to address. You won’t get in trouble for calling. In fact, you might put yourself in a much worse circumstance by not calling.
Exchange Car Insurance Information
While you’re waiting on the authorities to show up, this is a perfect time to take care of things that will help you in the following hours and days. At the top of this list is getting the car insurance information from other parties involved. This isn’t about assigning blame, or claiming the other person is to blame. At this point, this is about getting the information you, your insurance company, or your personal injury attorney may need at some point.
Assess the Car Accident Scene & Document
Do you have a camera on your cell phone? Start taking pictures. In this way, you’ll be able to document the damage, if any, to your property and other people’s property. A great benefit of doing this is that it can help you to establish a timeline as well.
“I got in the accident, checked myself, called 9-1-1, exchanged information, and took this picture at 11:12 AM.”
^ You know this because the picture established a timeline.
By looking at the scene like this, you also may notice things you otherwise might not see. Potholes, missing road signs, bald tires, road debris, etc.
This falls under the category of C.Y.A – or cover your posterior. But, at some point it’s possible someone, or someone’s insurance company, will try to assign blame, and it’s a great thing to be able to demonstrate with pictures how someone else’s story doesn’t add up.
Keep It Cordial
At this point, you’re starting to look like you have this car accident thing under control. You are doing all the things you should be doing, you’re covering yourself for potential future issues, and the police will be here shortly to take a report. It’s very important that to the best of your abilities you keep things cordial between yourself and other people on the scene.
Others may not be able to keep it cordial, and if you feel in danger, you may need to leave the area temporarily. However, the issues that might affect you or them in the future won’t be figured out until later. In all likelihood the issues will be negotiated between insurance companies and/or personal injury lawyers, if necessary. It won’t be hashed out in an argument, a fight, or any other adversarial interaction.
Do your best to get along. It will make the rest of a very stressful day just a little bit less stressful.
Get Police Report
When a law enforcement officer shows up they will take statement’s, assess the situation, and file a report. It may be nothing more than a barebones accounting of the situation, where it happened, and when it happened. But it’s important that you get a report nonetheless.
While building a report, the officer will likely ask you what happened. Be sure to tell them the truth, but not share things that aren’t clearly established by the facts of the situation. In statements, people often admit some form of guilt for accidents, even when there is other, sometimes bigger, reasons for the accident that they didn’t know.
You may not feel it at the time, but after a car accident is often looked back at as a confusing time, even by people who thought they were well aware and composed at the time. Keep the report about what you experienced, how you know you experienced it, and how it’s affecting you. And remember that you won’t often feel the physical or experience mental health impact of a car accident until a day or two afterwards.
Report the Accident to Your Insurance
After you have the police report, you will need to report this to your insurance. This is the beginning of figuring out who is to blame for the accident, so when you report it to the insurance, this is not the time to lead with, “it’s my fault!”
The police report will provide more information and you also will have pictures, and other documentation that can help to figure this out. It’s possible the other party already admits fault, in which case, your insurance won’t be doing anything except getting their insurance to pay for things on your behalf.
So, report your accident. Don’t declare guilt right away. You need some time to decompress from the situation and potentially to seek professional advice.
See a Doctor
After the accident, you may leave the scene in an ambulance – or you may be fully capable of leaving on your own. It’s possible you have no apparent injuries, and so you won’t wish to go to get evaluated by a doctor. Then again, you might have injuries you don’t realize you have yet – due to shock and/or adrenalin.
You can go to an emergency room if you feel some immediate medical emergency is imminent, or people often schedule a follow-up within 24-48 hours after a car accident with their primary care physician.
Whether you go to your doctor or to an emergency room. You will want to start documenting everything related (even in a small way to the accident). How small…?
- Added daycare expenses due to car accident
- Lost sleep due to car accident
- Lost work due to car accident
- Missed work due to car accident
- Long-term disability related to injuries from the car accident
- Cost of rental car not covered due to car accident
- Cost of work on vehicle covered, or not, due to car accident
- Cost of getting home from car accident
- #, description, & value of lost goods in vehicle from car accident
and, so on… You get the idea. Keep a list, and start discussing the impact with an attorney.
Consult with an Attorney
Consulting with an attorney about your car accident is still in the category of “Cover Your Behind.” You need to make sure the value of your vehicle is taken care of, the costs associated with the accident (see Start Documenting) are covered, and that you’re not bearing the burden (financially, physically, mentally, or otherwise) for something that may not be your fault. Or that may not entirely be your fault.
Consulting with an experienced attorney after you car accident will help to protect you from accidentally making very expensive mistakes.