Experiencing a car accident can be absolutely devastating, and you may feel disoriented if you’ve been hit. However, there are some simple steps that you can take afterwards to make sure that you and your passengers get the care you need and to make sure that the parties responsible for the crash — not you — will be liable for the damages.
- Stay in your car. Whether your crash happened on the highway or at a busy intersection, it is important for you to stay where you are. Many fatalities occur on roadways after the initial accident, where people may have stepped out of their cars and are hit by passing vehicles. These make up a significant portion of the 4,432 pedestrian deaths each year.
- Observe how others are behaving. Take notice of whether or not other people involved in the accident are injured or appear to be hurt. In some incidents, injuries can manifest after an accident. Whiplash, for example, occurs about 120,000 times per year, and because it results from soft tissue damage, the injury may occur later. However, it’s also crucial to note how other drivers and passengers act after an accident, so you can prevent fraudulent injury claims later.
- Request a police report. After any sort of accident, you should always ask for a police report — and make sure to file one. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, around 10 million or more crashes go unreported annually.
- Get names and contact information of witnesses. If witnesses were present at your accident, you should be sure to exchange contact information with them. In the event that there were surveillance cameras in the area, such as red light or security cameras, you may want to request the tapes. These resources can help you objectively determine who was at fault for the accident. Some states, however, will only allow you to recoup your losses if you were less than 50% responsible for the accident.
- Stay alert to the signs of intoxication. Be on the lookout after the accident for any signs that the other driver was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Alcohol-related crashes are costly to all Americans, resulting in expenditures of about $59 billion annually. If you notice the driver stumbling or using slurred speech, make sure to call the police immediately.
- Take photos. These days just about everyone has a cell phone with a camera. Use yours to take pictures at the scene: get the other driver’s license plate number, driver’s license number, and insurance policy information. You can also take pictures of the damage at the scene for both vehicles; if possible, do this when emergency responders are present.
- Don’t move the car. In order to assess the scene for an accident report, the police will need to see the cars exactly where the accident occurred. Do not move the cars if someone is injured or it would be dangerous for you to do so. If you have to get away from traffic for your own safety, then make sure that you and any other drivers or passengers move a safe distance away. You may also want to pay attention to the gauges in your car or any strange smells (like oil or gasoline) after an accident.
- Note what contributed to the accident. If there were other cars, pedestrians, animals, or inclement weather that may have played a role, make sure to note this when you talk to the police and your insurance company. Approximately 23% of all car crashes are weather-related, so rain, sleet, snow, and other conditions can play a huge factor in causing an accident.
- Look for pre-existing damage. When you observe the other driver’s car, look for damage that wouldn’t have been caused by the current accident. An estimated 85% of cars on the road require repair or preventative maintenance. Therefore, if the driver has other dents on the other side of the car, for example, note that when you talk to the police.
- Never admit fault. Finally, make sure that you don’t admit fault if you talk to the other driver or the police. This includes apologizing or giving any other indication that you may have caused the accident. In terms of legality with car accidents, there are four basic levels of fault: negligence, recklessness, intentional misconduct, and strict liability. Admitting that you hit someone could put you into one of these categories, which means that you and your insurance company will end up paying the penalties.
If you have any questions concerning a car accident, make sure to speak to an attorney as soon as possible. This will help settle any questions you may have concerning your situation, rather than relying solely on the general advice given above.