What Do I Do If I’ve Been In a Car Accident?
No one wants to be involved in an automobile accident. But if you are, being armed with the right information and taking the proper steps will not only ensure that you are in compliance with the law and your insurance contract, but that you can move on from the experience safely while protecting your rights.
Learn more below, so that if this unfortunate day does come, that you are prepared.
Right After the Accident: What to Do First
First and foremost, you must check to make sure that you and others in the vehicle with you have not been injured. In the moments after an accident, adrenaline is running high and you or others may not be aware at first that they are hurt. Check yourself and anyone else in the vehicle carefully.
If anyone is injured, dial 9-1-1 immediately. If you are injured and find it difficult to breathe or move, be patient, stay calm and wait for emergency services to arrive.
If you are able to do so safely, exit your vehicle and determine if persons in other vehicles or bystanders are injured. If so, call emergency services immediately.
Also, be aware of any potential dangers, such as vehicle fires, and act accordingly. Unless someone is in imminent danger, wait for emergency personnel before attempting to move an injured person.
IMPORTANT: Do Not Leave the Scene
Even if no one is injured and the damage to vehicles or other objects is minimal, do not leave the scene of the accident. Doing so can cause your driving privileges to be suspended or revoked.
Moreover, leaving the scene of an accident when there has been an injury or property damage is a crime in every state in the U.S. and can carry serious consequences. Wait for police to arrive and only leave after they have given you permission to do so.
Avoid Moving Your Vehicle
Unless the accident appears to be minor and you are blocking traffic or you are endangered by oncoming traffic, it is best to not move your vehicle. The position of all vehicles involved may be important in determining who is at fault for the accident and to what degree. When in doubt, it is best to call 9-1-1 and wait for the police.
Contact the Police
Even if you think the accident is minor and no one has been seriously hurt, it is still best to call the police.
Why? Police officers will speak to everyone involved, including witnesses, and compile an accident report, which may be instrumental when you or other parties later contact your insurance company and the Department of Motor Vehicles (more on that below).
The presence of law enforcement is also extremely important as they can determine if other drivers involved were under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the accident.
Limit Your Discussion with Other Drivers and Do Not Admit Fault
In the immediate aftermath of an accident, emotions are running high and it may feel right to you to apologize and/or admit fault. Do not do this. It may very well turn out, upon further investigation, that you were mistaken and the accident was not your fault.
By admitting liability for an accident to another driver you may irreversibly affect your ability to recover damages from the accident.
Similarly, do not make any promises to other drivers, such as a promise to pay for damage to their vehicle yourself, or to receive money from them for damages to your vehicle. Never agree to another driver’s request to resolve the matter without getting your insurance companies involved.
Limit your conversations about the accident to the police, emergency personnel and your insurance company. Do not lie, especially when you are speaking to the police.
Presuming you are physically able to do so, collect as much information about the accident as possible. The most important information to collect first is:
- The name(s) of the other driver(s)
- The other driver’s/drivers’ insurance information (company name and policy number)
- The other driver’s/drivers’ license number, address and phone number(s).
The best way to prevent any transcription errors may be to take a photograph of these documents and then email those photos to yourself.
Share your information with the other driver(s), but you should never give out sensitive information such as your Social Security Number. It is rare, but scammers have been known to stage an accident in order to later commit identity theft.
Next, obtain the name and contact information of any witnesses to the accident. Your insurance company and/or your attorney may use this information later on to verify what happened. Also, request and make a note of the names and the badge numbers of the police officers you interact with directly.
Finally, try to collect further information about the accident, for example:
- Take pictures of the scene, your vehicle and other vehicles involved in the accident. Make sure to record the license plates of the other vehicles and, if you can, the Vehicle Identification Numbers of each vehicle, usually located at the base of the windshield on the driver’s side of the vehicle.
- Take pictures of the road, including skid marks and other debris, as well as road conditions. For example, if there is a malfunctioning street light, or a road sign that has been knocked over, take a photo or video of that. If there are any traffic cameras, take pictures of them and note their location(s). These all may yield crucial pieces of information for any later claim.
Write It Down
As soon as is practicable after the accident, and once you have sufficiently calmed down, write out a detailed account of exactly what happened, including:
- the time of day
- what direction you were traveling
- the direction the other vehicle or vehicles were traveling
- the weather conditions
- the traffic conditions
- the address or nearest cross-street where the accident took place, etc.
In short, anything you can remember, however insignificant it may seem, as soon as possible after the accident.
Many smartphones have apps that allow you to make a voice recording and save the file to your phone. This can be a good alternative if you feel unable to physically write the details down.
Contact Your Insurance Company
You should contact either your insurance agent or your insurance company directly as soon as possible after the accident.
Keep in mind that you have a contract with your insurance company, and in that agreement you have promised to promptly provide them with information regarding any motor vehicle accidents you are involved in with your insured vehicle(s).
Failing to do so, even if the damage is minor, may void your policy or allow them to refuse to pay out on a claim you file.
Many people are afraid that contacting their insurance company about a minor accident will cause their insurance premiums to be increased. However, bear in mind that reporting an accident to your insurer does not require you to file a claim with your insurer.
There is a difference. The decision to file a claim with your insurance company should be made after you have consulted your insurance agent, if you have one, and/or an attorney, to weigh the possible advantages and disadvantages to doing so.
If Required, File an Accident Report
States vary on their requirements for reporting an accident, so be sure to check with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles as to your obligations.
In New York State, the driver of a motor vehicle that has been involved in an accident must file a Report of Motor Vehicle Accident with the DMV within 10 days if either of the following are true:
- The accident caused injury or death, or
- The accident caused property damage of $1,001.00 or more.
Failure to report an accident in these cases within the required 10 days may result in your license being suspended.
Keep A Record of Everything
If you require medical treatment either immediately or in the days and weeks after an accident, keep a record of every visit.
If you make an insurance claim and the process seems to be taking a long time, keep a journal or a diary of all correspondence between you and your insurance company, including the dates and times of all phone calls, who you spoke to, what was said, and all emails.
Don’t Sign Anything
If you were involved in a vehicle accident, especially an accident involving injuries and vehicle damages, it is extremely important to consult an attorney before signing anything, especially if it comes from another driver’s attorney or insurance company.
Contact an Attorney
If you, or anyone you know, has been injured in an automobile accident of any kind, the attorneys at Martin, Harding & Mazzotti, LLP have a wealth of experience in dealing with insurance companies and in protecting your rights to receive the compensation you’re entitled to.
Our attorneys handle all types of motor vehicle accidents, including those involving automobiles, motorcycles and all types of truck accidents, from eighteen-wheelers to delivery vans. Call our experienced legal professionals today for a free consultation at 1-800-LAW-1010, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Helping you is what we do.