Steps To Take After A Car Accident
Check Your Passengers. Make sure your passengers are not injured. Call 911 immediately for medical assistance if you or any passengers are injured.
Call the Police. Always call the police and request an accident report. Even if there are no injuries, your insurance company may require a police accident report. The report will be crucial evidence if the case is litigated. A police officer may also help keep the peace and prevent the unfortunate situation from getting worse.
Take Notes and Gather Evidence. In this day and age, there is no excuse for failing to do your part to protect your rights by gathering evidence. Use your cell phone to take photographs of the damage to your vehicle and all other vehicles involved in the accident. Use your cell phone to record all conversations at the scene (in California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington, it is illegal to secretly record the conversations, as you must obtain the consent of all persons being recorded in these states). Open your note app on your cell phone and make a note of the weather conditions, whether you smell alcohol on the breath of the other driver, and any other fact that may be relevant but not obvious from your photographs and audio recordings.
Do Not Apologize, But Be Polite. Do not, under any circumstances, apologize or make any comment that may be interpreted as taking blame for the accident. Such a statement will be detrimental to your case or defense. And do not attempt to place blame on the other driver. You may come off as defensive or rude, or, worse, you could provoke a physical altercation. Conduct yourself in a reasonable, responsible and polite manner. Always assume that the other driver is recording you with their cell phone, and that anything you say or do may be seen or heard by a judge or jury at some point.
Get Other Driver’s Information. Politely request the other driver’s insurance information, name, address and other contact information. There is nothing wrong with asking to photograph their driver’s license. Photograph the other driver’s car, and make sure to include their license plate in the picture.
Talk to Witnesses. Politely talk to everyone at the scene. Use your cell phone to record these conversations (see Step 3, above, to make sure you do so legally). Ask the witnesses what they saw, heard, smelled, felt or otherwise observed before, during and after the accident; whether they observed the accident as it happened; whether any obstacles obstructed their view; how far they were from the accident, and where they were in relation to the accident; and whether they were wearing any required glasses or contact lenses. Politely request their names, addresses and other contact information.
Get the Name and Badge Number of the Police Officer. In order to subpoena the police officer, you will need his name and badge number. Ask the officer for his precinct information as well. As with any other potential witness, be polite, courteous and do not argue.
Get Medical Help. Always seek immediate medical attention. Some injuries, such as whiplash, may not be apparent at first. It is better to be safe than sorry. Make sure the healthcare provider documents any and all injuries and complaints you may have, and makes a note in your medical records concerning whether they were caused by the accident.
Report to Your Insurer. In order to avoid a denial of coverage, promptly report the accident to your insurer immediately upon returning home, or as soon as you are otherwise able to competently discuss the matter with the insurer. Do not admit fault or apologize. Be calm and polite, and answer all of the insurer’s questions to the best of your ability.
Do Not Discuss the Matter. After you talk to your passengers, the other driver, witnesses, police officer, healthcare provider and insurer, do not talk to anyone else about the accident, other than an experienced personal injury lawyer. Whenever you speak about the incident, you risk making a statement that may be construed negatively against you, and you thus risk making the listener a trial witness.
Get Damage Estimates. Promptly go to at least two car repair shops and obtain written estimates of the damage to your vehicle.
Keep Track of Damages. Keep a diary of any lost time from work and lost wages. Also keep a diary of any pain you experience, and how any injuries affect your daily pving and prevent you from engaging in routine activities. Keep records of any receipts for medical bills, rental vehicles, and any other expenses resulting from the accident. Your attorney will need this evidence, along with the police report, photographs, recordings, medical records and damage estimates in order to fully evaluate your claim or defense.
Do Not Settle Early. As mentioned before, you may have incurred injuries that will take time to fully develop. An early settlement may omit compensation for these ongoing or future medical expenses. Do not accept any settlement until you have consulted with an attorney and been evaluated by a competent healthcare provider.
Call a Lawyer. Always consult with an experienced personal injury attorney. A lawyer can advise you on how to avoid unnecessary exposure to liability, and what steps to take to protect your rights to any full and fair compensation. In some cases, the attorney may be willing to represent you on a full contingent basis, meaning you pay nothing unless you win. Contingency fees often range from 33% to 40% of any settlement, jury award or other monetary recovery. However, keep in mind that, in cases where there is no permanent or severe injury, it is not uncommon for the lawyer to request some upfront fees, either on an hourly or flat rate basis. Hourly and flat rates vary depending on the skill and experience of the attorney.
Statute of Limitations. As with any case, there may be timelines, often referred to as statutes of limitations, which may bar your ability to pursue your rights. The statute of limitations that applies to a particular case varies from state to state. It is, therefore, imperative to promptly seek the assistance of counsel to make sure you are not in danger of losing your rights.
Image Credit: Rian Castillo