It happens to everyone at some point. If you drive a vehicle long enough you are bound to be involved in an accident eventually. As we all know, car accidents come in all shapes and sizes, from relatively minor collisions with minimal damages and injuries to life-altering crashes resulting in catastrophic impairments.
Regardless of the particulars of the wreck, here are a few things that you should always do:
Most importantly, make sure everyone is OK. Check on your passengers, yourself, and everyone in the other car. Immediately. You will have time to be angry or upset later. Accidents happen, but regardless of who is or is not at fault, medical treatment needs to be sought as soon as possible. Sometimes injuries are obvious, such as broken bones and lacerations, but sometimes they are not so obvious, so-called “soft tissue injuries”, such as neck or back trauma. Err on the side of caution and if necessary seek immediate medical treatment. Nothing is more important than your long-term health.
Determine the need for an Ambulance or Police Assistance. For the reasons described above, if anyone appears to need immediate medical assistance then it is imperative you make the call. Similarly, if there are significant damages to the vehicles or obvious injuries, then it is important that the police are called out immediately. Police are trained and equipped to properly document the scene and assess the situation. A detailed accident report by a trained police officer can be essential in proving your case for damages from the at-fault driver or insurance company. It is the easiest and most valuable piece of evidence you can have in proving liability in a Court.
Be courteous, but be careful what you say. The aftermath of a car accident can be an awkward and nerve-wracking experience for most. During the idle time between the accident and the arrival of the ambulance or police, people often do and say strange things. For instance, I once had a client who was injured when another car ran a stop sign. My client did absolutely nothing wrong and was literally in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, this did not stop her from repeatedly apologizing to the other driver as they waited for the police. Was she intending to admit liability and fault in the case? Of course not, most likely it was just her nervousness and an awkward way of acknowledging that this was an unfortunate situation for everyone. Nevertheless, it didn’t prevent the insurance company for the other driver from trying to argue that the accident was wholly or partially her fault. Be careful what you say!
Get Witness Information, Take Pictures. Even if the police are called out, and especially if they are not, it is vital that you or someone with you document as much as possible. Oftentimes, other drivers will stop and check to make sure no one was hurt in an accident. These are potential eyewitnesses and most are more than happy to help you. Make sure to get their names and numbers as soon as possible. Many of these people often leave before the police ever arrive.
It is not uncommon for me to have a client tell me how he is certain we can prove that the other driver was at fault because there were several witnesses to the accident. Great right? Until we realize that we don’t know the names of any of them and they are not listed in the accident report. It is imperative to get the information before they leave!
Similarly, in this age of digital cameras and smartphones, it has never been easier to document an accident with pictures. Have someone take pictures of the scene as soon as possible – before everyone starts moving vehicles and changing things.
Consult an Attorney as soon as possible. Being that this is a blog written by a lawyer, I am sure this one doesn’t surprise you! But on a serious note, having a knowledgeable attorney on your side early in the process can drastically improve the odds of maximizing your case. You need an attorney before you decide to talk to the insurance company. You need an attorney before you make decisions that could jeopardize your chances for a fair and just recovery.
My partner and I are experienced in handling these matters and have made them a major focus of our practice. But truthfully, we are not the only ones. Whether you retain my firm or another, it is important that you seek out an experienced attorney that you are comfortable with and who will work to maximize your case.