If you’ve ever been involved in a car accident—or witnessed one—you know the go-to emotions: fear, panic, even hysteria.
Here’s the challenge: it’s hard to pull yourself together after a car accident, but those initial, post-accident moments are critical for many reasons. The most important reason is your health. If you’ve been injured, you need to get help before things get worse.
Another reason is to protect your rights. If you were injured due to the negligence of another driver, you are legally entitled to compensation. Doing or saying the wrong thing after an accident can jeopardize that compensation.
To help you do the right thing in the aftermath of a car accident, our Salt Lake City car accident attorneys have compiled a list of the steps you should take before you leave the scene.
1. Stay safe.
The most important thing to do after a car accident is to stay safe. If you are able to move the car, get it off the road so you are not hit a second time. If you can’t move the car, get out of the vehicle and get yourself and your passengers safely to the side of the road.
2. Assess your condition.
Self-assess your own condition and that of any of your passengers to see if anyone sustained injuries from the crash. Check on the condition of the passengers of any other vehicle involved, as well as any pedestrians that were affected by the crash. If anyone requires medical attention, call 911 immediately.
3. Call the police.
Whether or not anyone is injured, you will still want the police to compile a report on the incident. Without a police report, filing a personal injury claim will be difficult. The police will collect key evidence, document the damages, and determine who was at fault. They can gather witnesses and even give a ticket to the party at fault (which, if it is the other driver, will stand as strong evidence in your personal injury claim).
4. Exchange information.
With all the drivers involved, you will want to gather certain information that your insurance company or lawyer may need later.
- License plate numbers of all vehicles involved
- Name of the other driver(s) and other occupants
- Make, model, and year of the other vehicles involved
- Location of the crash
- Insurance information of the other driver(s)
- Name and badge number of any officers that respond to the scene
- Contact information from the witnesses
5. Gather your own evidence.
Trust the police to do their job, but gather enough information to support your own claims, too. Document the scenario with pictures. Pull out your phone and snap pictures from as many angles as you can. You can deliver this (along with the information you gathered in the previous step) to your car accident lawyer, who will be grateful for the help. Your evidence may help fill in any holes
in the police report.
6. Watch what you say.
It is easy to get caught up in the moment and say something you might not actually mean, including accidentally taking the blame for the crash by apologizing to others. Anything you say can be used against you, so use care not to accept blame for the accident. Do not take the blame when speaking with anyone after leaving the scene, either. It is best to let your personal injury attorney talk to the insurance company. They’re familiar with the tactics of Big Insurance and can safeguard your legal case.
7. Plan to seek medical treatment.
You may want to leave the scene and pretend like this whole terrifying ordeal never happened, but you should make plans to see a doctor—even if you aren’t experiencing any major symptoms. Health issues like traumatic brain injury or whiplash may not show up at first, but a doctor may be able to help you recognize them and avoid worsening the condition. Delaying medical treatment may make it harder to recover. Where your legal case is concerned, delaying could make it more difficult to connect your injuries with the car accident.
After the Accident
Once you leave the scene of the crash, you will need to stay on top of a few more things:
- File an insurance claim. As soon as possible, file a claim with your insurance provider. The process may be lengthy but stay on top of providing all the information the adjuster will ask for. You can dispute their valuation of the car’s damages if you feel like it is too low. Just be prepared to gather your own estimates for comparison.
- Contact an auto accident attorney. Insurance companies will do everything in their power to deny your claims. Because they are so good at what they do, they could keep you from getting your rightful benefits if you don’t have a qualified attorney to act as your advocate.
- Document your health concerns, medical treatments, and expenses. Keep track of your property damage, medical bills, travel to medical appointments, medication costs, and missed work days. It’s a good idea to get a journal to document the events surrounding the accidents and how your health improves or worsens from day to day. Strong cases are built on evidence. The more you can provide to your attorney, the better off you’ll be.
- Stay consistent with your medical treatment. It will not look good for your legal case if your doctor diagnoses you with neck or back strain and you fail to follow up with the recommended therapies. Show that you’re committed to getting better by following your doctor’s orders.
While panic is a natural emotion after a car accident, do your best to work through these seven steps. If you can’t calm yourself down, arrange for a loved one or friend to meet you at the crash site to help you navigate these steps. Doing the right thing after an accident will help you hold the at-fault party accountable and get the compensation you’re entitled to.