No one wants to be involved in a wreck. It’s not easy to think about — to prepare for something you never want to happen to you or your family.
Odds are, however, that you will be involved in a few auto accidents throughout your life. Are you prepared to handle such an event if and when it occurs?
This post will provide important information you need to know in the event you are involved in a collision.
At the end, there is a link to a printable accident checklist for you to place in the glove compartment of all of your vehicles. It can serve as a handy reference for you or any one of your family members to use if you are in a wreck.
1. Stop Your Vehicle and Remain at the Scene
As soon as it is safe for you to do so, stop your vehicle. Make sure to turn off the engine and put on your hazard lights.
If you can, move your car to the side of the road or a side street. Most states require you to do this if the vehicle damage is minor, the car is driveable, and there are no injuries.
Do not leave the scene of the wreck. This is illegal. If you leave the scene of the wreck — even if there are no injuries — you potentially expose yourself to some harsh consequences, both civil and criminal.
2. Get Emergency Medical Help
Check all of the passengers in your vehicle to see if anyone is hurt. If you are able and it is safe for you to get out of your car, check on the other driver and their passengers as well.
If anyone is injured, call 911 immediately. If you have any kind of emergency notification device on your vehicle such as OnStar, activate it. Seconds can mean the difference between life and death with certain kinds of injuries.
Do not try and move anyone with visible injuries unless it is necessary to prevent further injury. If anyone is bleeding, attend to the wounds as best you can. It is a good idea to keep a first aid kit somewhere in your car.
Above all, stay calm. If you are on the phone with a 911 operator, listen to their instructions.
3. Notify the Police
Call the police to come to the scene of the wreck. It does not matter if you think it is a minor “fender bender.” You need to have the wreck documented by the police in an accident report.
It may take a while for the police to arrive. Do not leave. It is a huge mistake to just exchange information with the other driver and expect them to do the right thing.
It is extremely important for you to wait for an officer to arrive. This way, you can ensure you get as much information as possible about the other driver and their insurance, as well as an authoritative account about what happened.
4. Document Everything
Get as much information as possible from the other driver(s), witnesses, and people attending the scene of the crash, such as:
- A physical description of the other driver (including age, height, weight, and clothing)
- Full name
- Home address
- Home and/or cell phone numbers
- Make, model, color, and year of the vehicle
- License plate
- Insurance information (including the name of the insurance company, policy number, effective date of the policy, insured driver(s), and insured vehicle)
- Contact information for the vehicle owner if the driver does not own the vehicle
- Names and contact information for any witnesses to the wreck
- Location and time of the wreck
- Full name and badge number of the investigating police officer (oftentimes, they will have a card to give you with this information printed on it)
- Contact information for the towing company and the tow truck driver, as well as the location your vehicle is being towed
Using your smartphone or a camera, take pictures and video of the scene of the wreck. This also means getting shots of the vehicles involved, license plates, the damage to the vehicles, any debris from the vehicles, skid marks or gouge marks in the pavement, and any injuries.
If you have permission or can do so without causing a scene, photograph the other driver and witnesses to the wreck. This can be done by including them in the background of some of the photos you take.
Make sure you protect these photos and videos so they are not lost. Save copies to your computer and a cloud storage site.
However, if you are injured, do not risk injuring yourself further by trying to take photos. The defendant’s insurance company may be able to use that against you and argue that you weren’t that hurt by the accident.
5. Be Careful of What You Say
When you speak with the driver of the other vehicle, you should first ask if they are injured. If so, contact 911 immediately.
If not, you should only speak with them to get the information noted above. Nothing more.
Do not admit responsibility for the wreck or say “I’m sorry” as this could potentially be used against you by their insurance company. Even if you think your actions contributed to causing the wreck, do not say anything.
Negligence is a complicated legal issue. Even though you may think you were at fault to some degree, the law may not assign any legal blame to you for causing the wreck.
Do not make any kind of “agreement” with the driver at the scene. They may tell you that there is no need to call the police because the damages are minor. Or they may tell you they will cover all damages instead of letting their insurance company deal with it.
Nothing good ever comes out of those “agreements.” Your physical injuries or the damage to your car could be far greater than you may realize.
Also, if you delay notifying the other insurance company because of this side agreement gone bad, the coverage for that wreck may be lost because the insurer did not receive timely notice of the accident.
Do not blame the other driver — even if they are clearly at fault — as this could start an argument. If the other driver admits they were responsible for causing the wreck, make a note of what they said.
Also try to remember or write down anything else they tell you, such as “I was on my way from work,” or “I was leaving my job trying to hurry to pick up my dry cleaning before the store closed.” All of their statements could be very important.
Cooperate with the police at the scene of the car accident, but remember: do not accept fault for the wreck.
You will be under a lot of stress. You may not be thinking clearly and assume facts that are not true. Statements you make can also be misunderstood or misinterpreted.
If it is the right thing to do later, you can always accept responsibility after you calm down, leave the scene, and discuss the details of the motor vehicle accident with your attorney.
Finally, do not start a fight. It is never a good idea to get involved in any kind of verbal or physical altercation with the driver or anyone else. Your conduct at the scene of the accident can positively or negatively affect the outcome of a claim.
Be professional and courteous to everyone.
6. Notify Your Insurance Company
Notify your insurance agent and the auto insurance company about the wreck as soon as possible, even if you do not plan on filing any kind of claim with them.
You may think the other driver’s insurance is valid only to find out later their policy has been canceled or never existed.
If you delay in notifying your company, you could be jeopardizing coverage. Document the names and phone numbers of everyone that you speak with at your agent’s office, as well as the insurance company, should you need this information in the future.
Your insurance company may require a recorded statement. Most insurance contracts require that you cooperate fully with their investigation of the claim, including providing a recorded interview.
If you were injured in the collision, we highly recommend having a personal injury attorney present with you or on the phone with you during this recorded statement.
7. Notify the Other Driver’s Insurance Company
It is always best to have your personal injury lawyer notify the other party’s insurance company about the accident. If you do not have a lawyer, you should consider hiring one.
Give the insurance company the basics about what happened in the wreck. Do not consent to a recorded statement until you speak with a car accident lawyer about your case.
If you were hurt in the wreck, you can disclose this to the insurance company. However, we recommend you also tell them you do not know the full extent of your injuries and medical bills. When you have completed your treatment, supporting materials documenting all of your claims will be provided to them.
It is also important to let them know the location of your vehicle so they can send a property damage appraiser to look at it to assess the repair costs.
Do not sign anything unless and until you have an attorney review it. This includes any property damage releases or any document that allows the insurance company full access to your medical records. Your lawyer can provide them all relevant medical records when you have completed your treatment.
8. Get Your Stuff
If you have valuables in your vehicle, and you can take them out and with you, then do it. Sadly, items will often come up “missing” after a vehicle has been towed to a storage lot. It is safer to take the items out before the tow truck driver takes your vehicle.
If you are physically unable, a family member or friend may be able to quickly help you retrieve important items from your vehicle.
9. Beware of Shady Practices
Some people may try to take advantage of your ignorance regarding the law and your rights. Watch out for the following individuals as they do not have your best interests at heart.
Claims adjusters who appear at the crash scene. Some insurance companies are now dispatching their claims adjusters to the scene of the wreck.
These adjusters will try to take your statement at the scene. They may even have the authority to make you a minimal offer on the spot of $500 to settle all of your injury claims.
We recommend you consider rejecting this offer. If you are hurt, there is no way you can know the full severity of your injuries moments after the collision.
Our law firm has received too many calls from people who have settled their claims for this low amount, only to find out they had injuries that would require thousands of dollars in medical testing and treatment. They were stuck with these bills because they settled all of their claims. Do not fall for this trap!
Attorneys who try to contact you after an accident. Do not hire an attorney or someone representing an attorney (referred to as “runners”) who contacts you out of the blue after your wreck. This practice is unethical and is not allowed in the state of Georgia. You will not be helping your case if you hire a lawyer or law firm that uses runners.
Chiropractors or doctors who contact you after a crash. These people do not have your best interests in mind. They are often working with unethical lawyers and may try to push you to hire a certain law firm so they can wrack up unnecessarily high medical bills.
If you have health insurance coverage, we suggest you consider using that coverage to seek out a health care provider to treat you for your car accident injuries.
The at-fault person’s insurance company usually will not pay for your medical treatment as you incur your medical bills. If you do not have health insurance, a good personal injury attorney can find doctors who are willing to treat you on a lien basis.
Car Accident Checklist
In the aftermath of a car accident, it can be tough to remember what to do. To help you recall all of the important steps listed above, we’ve created a helpful checklist you can download.
You can print out each sheet and staple them together to keep in your car. Or you can download them to your phone for easy access.
It also contains the contact information for Gary Martin Hays & Associates in case you have questions about your car accident. Our phone lines are open 24/7, so you can rest assured that we’ll get started on your case ASAP.