The moments following a car accident can be confusing and chaotic, particularly if there are injuries. Emotions and tensions are running high, and it's hard to know what to do. While it's understandable that accident victims would be shaken after a car crash, it's important to note that what you say and do right after an accident can make or break a future personal injury case. Follow these simple steps to protect yourself and your interests after a car accident.
Stay on the Scene
Never leave the scene of an accident, even if the accident is minor and no one appears to be seriously injured. Protect the scene by turning on your hazard lights and setting up flares, cones or emergency triangles. Move the car out of traffic to the side of the road if it's safe to do so.
Check for Injuries
Checking for injuries is one of the most important things you can do after an accident, for obvious reasons. After you've checked yourself and your passengers, consult with any other drivers and passengers for injuries, if you're able. If you're unsure of the severity of injuries, call an ambulance just to be safe.
Report the Accident
Report the accident to the police and your auto insurance company as soon as possible, and don't accept any offers to handle the matter privately. Reporting the accident to law enforcement is a great way to get the details of the accident on record, and make sure to ask the officers for a copy of the police report for your files. Notifying your insurance company of the accident is just as important; some insurance companies may refuse your claim if you drag your feet and wait too long to report the accident.
Document the Accident Scene
If your injuries aren't serious, document the scene while waiting for the police to arrive. Use a camera or a smart phone equipped with a camera to extensively photograph the scene of the accident, as well as any property damage to your vehicle or injuries you or your passengers sustained.
Once you've photographed the accident scene and related damage, exchange contact information with the drivers and passengers in the involved vehicles. Make sure to write down each person's full name, mailing address, phone number, email address, and insurance information. It's also important to exchange contact information with any witnesses so that your attorney can contact them, if necessary, should you decide to move forward with a personal injury claim or lawsuit.
Don't Play the Blame Game
It's only natural for people to want to apologize for their role in an accident, but accepting liability for an accident you didn't cause doesn't make you a “nice person,” it makes you legally liable for damages. Only discuss the details of the accident with law enforcement or your personal injury attorney, and never try to accept or place blame for the accident while on the scene. Additionally, don't sign any documents other than the police report.
Seek Medical Attention
If your injuries were minor enough that you were able to remain at the scene of the accident, it's important to seek medical attention as soon as the police take their report and tell you you're free to go—although it's wise to wait around so you're the last person leaving, if possible. When you see the doctor, tell them you've been in a motor vehicle accident and ask them to thoroughly document your injuries in your medical chart.
Document and save everything related to the accident: police report, medical bills, property damage estimates, repair receipts, photographs, and so on. Keep these documents with the information you exchanged with drivers, passengers, and witnesses.
Hire an Attorney
If you plan to file a lawsuit to seek compensation for damages sustained in the accident, it's wise to hire a knowledgeable attorney who knows the ins and outs of personal injury law and can fight to help you get every cent you deserve. Fort Worth-based McGartland Law Firm has more than 30 years' experience handling personal injury cases across the country. Don't wait to explore your legal options: complete our online contact form to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case.