You’ve just been in a car accident. Your heart is pounding. You may be in shock; confused, disoriented, and worried about yourself and your passengers.
You and others may be seriously injured. It’s a bad situation, but it’s important to try to keep your head together in order to avoid making it worse.
After an accident, there are a number of things you can and should do to take care of the well-being of everyone involved and to protect yourself and your rights. Nine simple steps you should take after an accident:
1. Stop and get out of the way. Assuming you are able, stop as close to the scene as possible, and try to get out of traffic to avoid further incidents. Turn on your hazard lights; that’s why they’re there.
2. Call 911. Immediately contact the authorities to report the accident and request medical attention. If you don’t have a phone, try to flag someone down to call 911. Report the following:
Be calm and truthful in answering questions, but do NOT admit fault and do NOT discuss the accident with anyone other than police and first responders.
3. Collect and exchange information. It is crucial that you get the contact and insurance information of the other driver involved. While you should not get into an argument with the other driver, you should also not let them try to dissuade you from obtaining their information or try to convince you that you should resolve the matter without contacting insurance companies. Make sure you actually look at each piece of the other drivers’ identification and insurance information, and obtain the following information:
4. Take pictures. Use your phone to take pictures of the accident scene, including damage to all vehicles if possible. Try to do this before the cars are moved from the scene.
5. Identify witnesses. Take down names and numbers of any witnesses, including passengers, passers-by, or anyone who has stopped to assist.
6. Seek medical attention. If the first responders thinks you should be taken to the emergency room (ER), then you should go. If you are injured but do not go to the ER from the scene, you should seek medical treatment or evaluation — either at the ER or from your doctor — as soon after the accident as possible, even if you don’t think you are seriously injured.
7. Call your insurance company. Report the accident, giving a detailed description. But do not admit fault and under no circumstances should you agree to any settlement without consulting with an attorney. In fact, as soon as possible, you should take step 8:
8. Contact an experienced car accident lawyer. Even if a lawsuit or a lawyer is the last thing on your mind, it is crucial that you discuss your accident with an attorney before agreeing to any settlement or making any recorded statements. An auto accident lawyer can advise you as to how to proceed, how to protect your rights, and how to ensure that you are in the best possible position should disputes arise.
9. Know that it’s going to be okay. As traumatic as a serious accident can be, and as challenging as the aftermath may be, calm and smart decision making and a recognition that you will in fact recover from this setback can help you through this difficult process.
Don’t face this alone.
NEIL CHAPMAN, LAWYER