Many people think that the actual crash is the worst part of a car accident. While it may be the scariest, most don’t consider what comes immediately after the car wreck.
Even if you’re lucky enough to walk away from an accident, the headaches are just beginning when it comes to paperwork, insurance, and the possibilities of long-lasting physical and emotional effects.
Knowing what to do immediately after a car wreck can help minimize the extent of any injuries and save you time and a significant amount of stress in the days and months that follow.
Below, learn what to do from a car wreck attorney so you can be sure you’ve followed the law, adequately prepared for an insurance claim, and protected yourself in the case of significant injury or legal action.
The age-old advice of safety first applies to car wrecks, as well. Before worrying about any of the legal or financial ramifications, you should first ensure that you and your passengers are safe.
Check for injuries.
Assess yourself for injuries before anything else. If you’ve been seriously hurt, you’ll want to make sure to call 9-1-1 right away or have a passenger or onlooker do it for you.
If you’re able to move and not too seriously hurt, ensure that your passengers are unharmed as well. Again, if anyone is seriously hurt, call 9-1-1 just as soon as possible.
Move to the side of the road.
Staying in a disabled vehicle in the middle of traffic can be highly dangerous. If your car can be safely moved, move it to the side of the road and out of the way of oncoming traffic as soon as possible.
If you can’t move your vehicle or it’s not safe to drive, turn off the engine, turn on your hazard lights, and get yourself and your passengers to safety while you wait for the authorities to arrive.
If you have them, you can place cones, caution signs, or even flares around your vehicle to alert oncoming traffic to danger.
Once everyone’s safety has been assessed, it’s time to communicate. Any car wreck attorney would agree, this is quite possibly one of the most critical steps to take following an accident. Good communication is vital, and it can save you from a major headache down the road.
Whether your accident is a minor fender-bender or a serious wreck, you will need to call 9-1-1. In fact, in some jurisdictions, it’s a legal requirement to call the police. Even if it’s not required in your state, you’ll want to ensure that the police properly document the accident by filing a police report. Your insurance company will likely need that police report to investigate the accident and file a claim.
While you wait for help to arrive, you’ll need to begin to exchange information with the driver or drivers of the other vehicles involved. Get as much information as you can, but at a minimum, you’ll want to obtain the other driver’s:
Of course, you’ll need to be prepared to provide this same information to the other drivers involved in the accident, so be sure to always have your insurance card handy. It may also be important to write down the name and contact information of any passengers in the other vehicle.
Notify your insurance if you are at fault.
Do not call your insurance company if you’ve been in a wreck unless you know it was your fault. If you are unsure which driver is at fault or you don’t believe the accident was your fault, let your personal injury lawyer contact the insurance company on your behalf.
Contact your employer.
A car accident will leave you feeling frazzled and shaken, even in the best of circumstances. Reach out to your employer and take the rest of the day off – or even a few days off if you can. Taking some time off will allow you the time you need to make sure that you haven’t sustained any significant injuries and to follow up on the insurance claims process or any legal action that might be necessary.
Document the Scene
Documenting the scene of the accident is not only the police’s responsibility. It’s also yours. You can’t always count on the police to thoroughly document every detail of the scene. After all, the officers are probably swamped and won’t want to spend any more time than is necessary at the accident scene.
Thoroughly documenting as many details as possible about the accident can mean the difference between winning or losing your insurance claim.
At a minimum, here are the things you need to do to document the accident properly:
Use your phone to take pictures of your vehicle and the other vehicles involved from multiple angles. Be sure to show the details of the damage done to any of the vehicles. Take photos of the other vehicle’s license plate, and even shoot a few photos of the surrounding area – up and down the street in both directions. These photos could help support you during the insurance claim. At the very least, they will help you remember the details of the accident clearly.
Get a copy of the police report.
The police officers who respond to the accident may not be able to provide you with a copy of the police report right away. Make sure to ask them where and when you can get a copy, and then follow up as soon as you’re able. Insurance companies will need this document during the claims process.
Identify the first responders present.
Write down the names and badge numbers of any police officers who respond to the accident. If an ambulance or fire truck arrives, be sure to get the names of any additional first responders present, as well as a way to get in touch if you need to.
Talk to witnesses.
If anyone witnessed the accident, be sure to collect their contact information as well. You may need to follow up with them in the event of legal action or as part of the insurance claims process.
Get Medical Help — Even If You Think You Don't Need It
Adrenaline can run high in the time immediately following a car wreck, and that can mask any symptoms of more severe injuries that you might not be aware of. Many car accident victims have woken up the next day to cracked ribs or pain they hadn’t previously noticed.
If an ambulance arrives at the scene of an accident, don’t decline the paramedic’s care. Allow them to check you out for things like concussions or signs of internal bleeding.
Even if you don’t feel you need to be taken to the hospital right away, it’s a good idea to follow up with your primary care doctor following an accident if you’re experiencing any pain or discomfort. Suppose you arrive home and begin experiencing severe pain or significant bruising, however. In that case, it’s a good idea to visit your local emergency room or walk-in urgent care center to rule out and document any potentially serious issues.
Contact an Experienced Car Wreck Attorney
You will probably have many questions following an accident that only an experienced car wreck attorney can answer. An attorney can also give you peace of mind. They’ll help you understand whether you could be eligible to receive compensation for the injuries you may have sustained.
Time is of the essence after your accident. Make sure to reach out to your car wreck attorney as soon as possible. You don’t want to rely on your insurance company to sort out the details. With a car accident or personal injury lawyer, you’ll have someone on your side who you know is working exclusively to protect your rights.
What Not to Do
Sometimes knowing what not to do in the event of a car wreck is just as important as knowing what you should do.
Don't lose your cool.
Tensions and emotions can run high after an accident. Try to keep your cool when dealing with the other driver and any passengers. Remember, no one wants to be there. Everyone involved wishes they could just go about their day as planned. Staying calm and keeping your cool will allow you to gather the information you need with less resistance.
Don't discuss fault.
The scene of the accident is not the time to discuss who is at fault. That will be left to the insurance companies, authorities, and your car wreck attorney to sort out. Pointing fingers and placing blame will only serve to escalate tensions and limit your ability to document the accident thoroughly.
Don't leave the scene.
You must remain at the scene of the accident and allow the authorities to do their jobs. Leaving the scene can place you at serious risk for legal action.
An Ounce of Prevention
No one plans to get into a car wreck. Whether we like it or not, accidents do happen – usually at the worst possible time. The old saying an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure applies to car wrecks, too. While we can’t entirely prevent accidents from happening, you can prevent costly mistakes from being made if one does occur.
Knowing what to do immediately afterward, keeping your cool, and protecting yourself by working with an experienced and trusted car wreck attorney like those at The Law Offices of Tim O’Hare could go a long way towards easing the stress that usually follows, and helping you fully recover from your injuries.