Fear, worry, anxiety, anger, sadness, gratitude and frustration are just some of the heightened emotions you could feel in the immediate aftermath of a vehicle accident. At the same time, your system is probably flooded with adrenaline.
In the heat of the moment, it is difficult to focus — especially if you or someone else is injured. Even though it might be the furthest thing from your mind at that moment, there are important steps you should take to ensure your legal rights are protected after a collision.
Here are some critical actions to take after any accident.
If someone needs medical attention, call for assistance immediately. “If no one is injured and the vehicles can be driven, moving to a safer location will help facilitate the flow of traffic and provide you with a safer environment,” explains the Washington State Patrol.
Cell phone cameras make it easy to get photos of the accident scene. “You want your photos to show the overall context of the accident so that you can make your case to a claims adjuster,” explains Philip Reed, a senior editor for Edmunds.com.
If possible, get a photo of the other driver and of the license plate in case any of the other information turns out to be false. Do it casually, as you are taking photos of the scene. You do not want to provoke a confrontation. Also, snap photos of any cars parked or stopped in the area, as they may belong to witnesses. If you or someone in your vehicle was injured during the accident, you should also take photos of any visible injuries.
Write everything down
As soon after the accident as possible, write a detailed report about what happened. If there were witnesses, ask them to write a description as well. Bellingham attorney Ziad Youssef says having a written account written immediately after the event makes your version more reliable.
Always call the police, even if the other party says there is no need to involve them. The police will generate an accident report, which can be essential if the other party presents a different story about how the accident occurred.
It’s vital to get complete information about the other driver at the accident scene. Unfortunately, motorists who cause accidents are sometimes reluctant to report them, notes insure.com. Don’t assume you’ll be able to get the information later from a police report. You should get the other driver’s name, address and phone number. You should also find out the other driver’s insurance company and policy number. If there are witnesses, try to get their contact information as well.
Get a medical evaluation
Get checked out by a doctor immediately, even if there are no obvious injuries. It isn’t uncommon for some injuries to appear days after the accident. Seeking medical treatment right away is the smartest step for your health, and it can bolster a personal injury claim. Make sure you keep receipts and detailed records of any medical treatments.
Don’t admit fault
After any kind of accident, most people naturally feel bad and a few are inclined to offer an apology—even if they haven’t done anything wrong. Saying anything to that effect can jeopardize any claim you might have. Even if you believe you were in the wrong, let the insurance company and the police sort it out. Don’t accept a check or any sign release forms before you’re ready to settle completely. The Department of Motor Vehicles notes signing such forms can release the insurance company from the responsibility of paying on additional claims.
Call your insurance company
Insurance companies expect you to report an accident within a reasonable time after it happens, Youssef explains. If you don’t, the company can claim you have materially breached your obligations under the contract and deny coverage. If the accident was not your fault, the company usually won’t hold it against you.
If the accident was serious and you were not at fault, consider involving an experienced attorney as quickly as possible. Research has shown accident victims who work with an attorney get significantly higher claims payouts. By hiring an attorney soon after the incident, you can make sure you get the help you deserve and protect your rights as a victim.