What to Do After a Car Accident

by Team eLocal
insurance agent examines the car while the driver talks on the mobile phone. Accident claim process. African-American woman checking the damage to the car after an accident. Concept of transportation.

Do you know what to do after a car accident? The actions you take in the hours and days after you’re in an accident can impact your health and financial affairs.

This guide covers everything you need to know.

What Steps Should You Take Immediately After a Car Accident?

Your safety comes first following a car accident, so make sure you’re okay before you do anything else. If you’re injured, don’t move or attempt to move another person at the scene who’s hurt. If you’re certified in first aid, you may follow your training to help others until the paramedics arrive to provide medical treatment.

Whether you’re certified to assist with injuries or not, call 911 if anyone has been injured. Anyone who is able to move on their own should stay away from the vehicles involved.

Some people make the mistake of not calling the police after a minor car accident, and this can have consequences. Always call emergency services and make sure that a police officer arrives on the scene.

After You’ve Ensured Your Safety

  • Obtain the other driver’s contact information, vehicle registration, driver’s license number, plates and vehicle description and the location of the accident.
  • Exchange insurance information with the other driver or drivers so that you know where to initiate a claim.
  • Take pictures of both vehicles if you can, and make sure that the pictures clearly show the damage to both cars.
  • Get contact information from witnesses, such as the passengers in the other vehicle, witnesses at the scene and anyone else involved.
  • Make sure you write down the police officers’ names and badge numbers so that you have them later if there are legal issues.
  • Never admit fault following an accident. There may be circumstances you’re not aware of that contributed to the wreck.
  • Get an accident report so that there’s documentation of when the accident happened, and you have an opportunity to record your side of the story.
  • Contact your insurance company to notify them that you’ve been in an accident and to find out what steps they’d like to take.

If You’re Injured

If you feel any neck or back pain, dizziness, headache or physical pain, don’t refuse medical treatment. Some injuries, such as whiplash and traumatic brain injuries, can take time to show symptoms. Refusing to be treated doesn’t just make it harder to make a claim later in court. It could be detrimental to your health.

For example, if you have a concussion but aren’t aware of the fact until later, you could have internal bleeding in your brain that becomes far more severe than it would have if you’d allowed yourself to be examined. The prognosis for brain injuries is much better if you treat them as soon as possible. Delayed treatment can lead to lifelong neurological disorders.

Legal Steps

Document, Document, Document

Documentation is key to protecting your legal rights. Your insurance company or a qualified attorney will know what to do after a car accident to reduce your liability or help you recover compensation to pay for your car repair, medical bills and other expenses. When you’ve just been in a car accident, the last thing you’re thinking about is a potential lawsuit or insurance claim because you’re focused on making sure you’re physically okay.

Collecting as much data as you can is useful if you do end up needing an attorney to build a case on your behalf. Track the names of each doctor or medical professional that takes care of you, save your receipts and referral orders and get your treatment plans in writing. If your injuries force you to take time off work, document this as well. Your lost wages can be considered damages.

Evaluate the Damage to Your Vehicle

While insurance companies have claims adjusters to provide estimates for repairs, it’s a good idea to get two quotes from independent body shops. Claims adjusters don’t always provide estimates that you agree with, so having a second or third opinion helps.

Don’t Talk to the Other Driver’s Insurance Company

You might think that the other driver’s insurance adjuster is being kind by reaching out, but it’s a known tactic for insurance companies to try to obtain information that can be used to dispute a claim.

The better idea is to allow the insurance companies to communicate with each other. Or, use an attorney as an intermediary between you and the other driver’s insurance. People who are unfamiliar with what to do after a car accident often fall prey to quick settlement offers, which can cost them when they discover they have additional medical expenses that aren’t met through the settlement.

Know When to Contact an Attorney

If the car accident was minor, and you’ve been cleared by doctors or sustained no injuries, you may be able to settle things on your own through your insurance company. Some injuries aren’t apparent right away, so make sure you’ve made a follow-up appointment with your primary care physician and gotten the all-clear. In the case of extensive medical injuries or property damage, you might want to work with an attorney to make sure that you’re properly reimbursed.

One thing to keep in mind is that insurance usually pays out claims, even when the other driver is taken to court. If you take someone to court and win, that person typically isn’t responsible for paying all your damages because their insurance coverage will pay out the settlement or judgment.