Steps to Take After a Car Accident
Stop at the Scene
Never leave the scene of a car accident unless a medical emergency requires you to do so. Usually it is better to wait for an ambulance and trained medical personnel to arrive. Remain at the scene until you’ve given your contact information to a police officer or at least the other driver. Leaving the scene of your accident does not look good, and may even subject you to criminal penalties.
Call 911 to report the location of the accident, and if anyone is hurt so they can dispatch police and ambulance(s).
Attend to the immediate needs of the injured to the extent you are able. Do not move anyone unless it is necessary to prevent more serious injury. Unless you have had appropriate medical training, limit your aid to basic emergency measures involving bleeding, breathing and shock that you can handle.
Take immediate steps to prevent further injury. First, warn other drivers of the car accident. Second, move vehicles, but only if necessary. If you cannot do so, ask someone else to signal oncoming vehicles from a safe position. You can use flares, reflectors, flashlights or even vehicle lights.
Report the Accident
Tell the responding officer your name and address, and show your driver’s license and insurance card. That is all you must do under the law of most states. Depending upon the situation, you might want to describe the accident and any injuries. Use your best judgement, as cooperation will be well received by the officer who may later be a witness. They can perceive refusal to provide information as an attempt to avoid fault for the accident.
Whatever you do, do not admit any responsibility for the accident to the investigating officer. Even a statement as simple as “I’m sorry” can be interpreted as an admission of fault. There is plenty of time later to sort out the facts and determine the extent of each party’s responsibility. You should not sign any papers at the scene, except an agreement to appear in court if you receive a traffic ticket.
Obtain Accident Information
Use the accompanying Auto Accident Pamphlet to record information necessary to protect your legal rights. In addition to obtaining this basic information, you should also write a detailed description of how the accident occurred. You can rely on this later if you forget any facts. Pay particular attention to what each driver did wrong, as the laws in most states allow you to recover a portion of your damages to the extent someone else was partly to blame for the accident.
Include a map of the accident showing the direction of the vehicle(s) before the accident and the positions at which they ended. Use the camera on your phone to take pictures at the scene, vehicles and people, or ask someone else to do so. If you cannot obtain photographs immediately following the accident, someone should return to the scene as soon as possible to properly record all physical evidence. Some evidence disappears quickly, such as debris or skid marks.
Tow Damaged Vehicles
If your car is not drivable, tow it from the scene. The investigating officer will usually call for a tow truck. However, it is your responsibility to pay for this service. Be sure to ask ask the towing company how much it will cost tow your car.
You will need to tell the tow driver where to take your car. Be sure to get the company’s name, address and telephone number if you do not go with it. Never sell or otherwise dispose of your vehicle if you are considering a claim for personal injury. The nature and extent of the damage will be important in proving your claims. In some instances, loss or destruction of your vehicle will destroy your claim.
Call your Insurance Agent
You should promptly report the car accident to your insurance agent as some companies have time requirements that could affect whether or not you are covered for any claims. If they ask you to give a statement or otherwise describe the accident or your injuries, remember the proverbial saying: “What you say can and will be used against you!” It is a good idea to consult a lawyer before making any kind of comment regarding the accident, particularly if you have a personal injury claim. The other side may later obtain statements given to your own insurance company. Also, these statements can be used to defend a claim for uninsured/underinsured coverage on your own policy.
See a Doctor
It is a very good idea to see a doctor immediately for any injuries. Do not make any general comments at the scene about your physical condition other than to describe your symptoms to medical personnel. If asked, “Are you all right?” simply respond “I do not know, I will have to wait and see.” Some injuries can take days to emerge. Because you may not know the extent of any injuries, it is best to seek a professional. It is preferable to do this at the emergency room, and within a few days of the accident. The more time that passes between the accident and any medical care, the less likely your doctor will attribute your complaints to the accident, a crucial issue.
If your symptoms persist despite receiving medical care, it is also very important that you see the right doctor – a specialist for the type of injury you have. You can ask the emergency room physician, health care provider or your family doctor for a referral. Be sure to tell any doctor you see that you were involved in an automobile accident. Describe as accurately as possible what happened to you physically, and how you have felt since then. However, do not discuss any legal claims you might have with your physician.
File an Accident Report
Many states require that you file a written report with the department responsible for motor vehicles within a certain period after the date of an accident. Ask the investigating officer whether you need to do this, or call the appropriate agency for information and any forms to complete. Again, you should consult a lawyer first since this report will also constitute a record of what happened and may result in admissions that could affect your legal rights.
Do not pay any money unless your lawyer tells you to do so. Any payment can be an admission of fault, and without getting an appropriate release, it will not relieve you of liability. If you have liability coverage your insurance company will step in to defend you and either settle claims or pay any judgment against you to the extent of your coverage.
Call a Lawyer
“Those who do not know their legal rights lose them.” Talk to a lawyer before talking to anyone else about the accident. Many car accident attorneys will provide information and answer questions, including an initial evaluation of your claim, without any cost or obligation to you. Otherwise, important evidence may disappear, unnecessary admissions may be made, or the insurance company may back you into a weak negotiating position.
The purpose of this article is to help you if you find yourself in an automobile accident. However, the information provided is general in nature and will not apply to all situations. Our best advice is to consult an attorney regarding your specific situation.
Should You Hire a Lawyer?
The more serious your injuries, or the more complicated your claims, the more you will need the assistance of an attorney to explain your rights, represent your interests and obtain fair compensation. Most people are unaware of all the rights they have as a result of being injured in a car accident, beyond the obvious claim against the responsible driver. For instance, people often overlook uninsured and under-insured motorist claims against your own insurance company. Other claims may exist in many accidents, such as those against the vehicle owner, the driver’s employer, and the manufacturers of defective vehicles.
Finally, remember that for all claims there are Statues of Limitations which destroy your legal rights if they are not pursued within a specific time period—no exceptions. So, contact a lawyer not only to understand your legal rights, but also to find out how long you have to pursue your claim before you lose it!
If you are involved in an accident, it is important that you obtain as much information as possible. Regardless of who was at fault. Fill out the Auto Accident Pamphlet at the scene of the accident or as soon afterwards as possible.
If you or a family member were recently injured in a car accident, contact the Kansas City auto accident injury lawyers of Monsees & Mayer P.C. today.