If you’re a driver, it is likely that over your lifetime you will be in a car accident. Hopefully, that accident only involves injuries to your car and not to you.
The next time you find yourself in a car accident and you’re the offender, follow the tips below.
1. Evaluate the accident scene
Immediately after an accident you should evaluate the accident scene. This means you should pull over right away and call the police. Put your hazard lights on and keep in mind your environment. Be very careful if cars are driving around you that you’re safely to the side. Make sure you’re okay and everyone you’re with is okay. Take note of any injuries that you or anyone else has.
After you’re safe, call the police. Whether the accident is big or small, it’s important that you call the police to the scene right away so there’s a record of the accident.
Approach the person you hit and exchange contact information with him. Get his name, address, and phone number. If you can see his identification, that’s even better, because you can confirm his identity. If there are any witnesses at the scene, you should also get their contact information, too. The more information you have, the better. This may be done by you directly, or it may be done by the police. If it is done by the police, make sure that you get the information from the police officer, so you have record of it personally.
Take photos of the accident scene, including your vehicle, the vehicle of the person you hit, and any additional photos that could be relevant (like photos of the entire scene to show the exact space and geography of where the accident took place). If shooting a video is possible, consider recording the scene. The more documentation you have, the less opportunity there is for dispute over the scene itself.
2. Watch what you say (don’t admit fault)
While you are evaluating the accident scene and speaking with anyone other than the police, do not talk about how the accident happened or who was at fault. Do not admit that you were at fault and do not make monetary offers to the person you hit. It is tempting to apologize during a highly stressful situation, like a car accident, but it’s to your benefit that you do not say sorry or that it was your fault. Doing this could put you at risk for additional legal liability. Even if you think or know you are at fault, do not admit it.
It’s equally as important not to discuss how you’re feeling. If you say you are completely fine and later you discover you’re injured, it will be harder to prove with statements that you made saying you weren’t injured after the accident. The bottom line is that you should be very careful with what you say at the scene of the accident. Less is more.
When you are speaking with the police, be very clear about what you know happened. If you don’t remember or can’t recall exactly, then say that (don’t try to fill in the blanks).
3. Complete follow up actions after the accident
After you leave the accident scene there are follow up actions you need to take. If you are injured, seek medical attention right away. Even if you don’t start to feel pain until the following day, or some other time after the accident, make sure you get the proper attention you need.
Report the accident to your auto insurance company
Aside from the medical attention, you need to contact your auto insurance company immediately after the car accident and report the accident. As the person who caused the accident, it is your responsibility to report the accident to your insurer. But note that even if the police report puts you at fault, it is your insurance company that will determine whether you’re at fault for insurance purposes. If your insurance company does determine it was your fault, then it is likely that your insurance will be the source of your claim and the victim’s claim. However, your insurance company may fight with the victim’s insurance company or it may decide not to cover the victim’s claims if they are minimal and it’s unclear if you’re at fault. It’s not obvious what will happen because every situation is different. If the insurance company decides you’re at fault, then in most states, your insurance company will handle your medical claims and car repair claims in addition to the victim’s claims.
Keep your own paper trail
Get the name of the agent who is handling your call and who will handle your insurance claim. If you’re given a claim number, make sure to write that down and keep it on file. The more information you document, the better.
Check-in before getting repairs done
Discuss getting your car repaired with your insurance agent. Sometimes, insurers require you to get their permission before getting your car fixed. Be sure to get accurate information from the insurer and note that you can take your car where you want to be repaired – you don’t have to follow the recommendation of the insurance company as to where you take your car. When you get your car fixed, document your repairs and keep your receipts.
Decide if you need to meet with a lawyer
Your final course of action after an accident is to determine whether to pursue legal action or if you need to legally defend yourself based on the victim’s decision. You can meet with an attorney, typically for a consultation at no fee or a very small fee, so do not be deterred from an initial meeting due to fear that it will be expensive. You don’t have to commit to pursuing legal action until after you’ve met with an attorney. So, if you’re unsure about whether to move forward legally, you’re not risking much by meeting with an attorney. The attorney will also be able to advice you on whether your situation is worth pursuing legally.
A Final Note
State law governs the specific rules that will apply to you after you’re in a car accident. Check your state’s laws to determine the specific course of action you need to take. Your insurer should be able to help you with this.