By Kelly Cook and Paul Kouri
1. Safety First
Before you do anything else check for injuries and call for an ambulance if needed. Put out reflective triangles or flares if appropriate. Once you and your passengers are safe, look around for any indicators that can help you picture exactly where the vehicles stopped. Then, if you are in the road and your car is drivable, move to the shoulder. Vehicles stopped in traffic can cause further accidents and risk being hit a second time by a distracted driver. If your vehicle stops in such a way it is not in traffic, however, do not move your vehicle. This may make recreating the accident easier for the police.
2. Call the Police
If the accident is minor and nobody is hurt the police may not come out to investigate, but call anyway to let them decide. Plus, if the other driver turns out to be aggressive or threatening, it may be helpful to have the police on the line to cool tempers or intervene. When the police arrive be cooperative and honest, but volunteer nothing more than what the police ask of you. The police may record any of your statements in their report, and if an insurance company can find any way to misconstrue your words, they will.
3. Document Everything
Take plenty of pictures: damage to the vehicles, larger shots of the vehicles from all angles, license plates, Vehicle Identification Numbers, any company or government related vehicle ID numbers or logos, the scene of the accident, any skid marks, road and weather conditions, and any immediately apparent injuries. Insist on taking your own photos, and get enough of the background to provide context, when needed. Insist on trading insurance and contact information as well: names, addresses, phone numbers, insurance ID numbers, and insurance providers for all drivers involved. If the driver is not named on the insurance card, determine their relationship to the policy holder. Similarly, if the vehicle is not listed on their insurance card, find out who owns the car. Record the names and contact information for all passengers in the other car(s), and try to determine their relationship with the driver. Ask for basic contact information from any witnesses, and ask if they would write down what they saw before they leave. If you’re unable to get contact information from a witness, try to write down their license plate number. Continue to document statements made by other drivers, witnesses, insurance agents, repair specialists, doctors, and lawyers throughout the process.
4. Stay Quiet
Be polite and concerned but don’t apologize or talk about blame or fault. Not only can any admission be used against you later, but it may add fuel to an already stressful situation. If the driver of another vehicle apologizes or admits fault, make a mental note and write down exactly what they said as soon as possible. If asked to sign anything apart from a traffic ticket or police report, politely decline until you speak to a lawyer. Don’t speak in detail with anyone until you’ve found a lawyer to help you avoid inadvertently admitting more than you should. If an attorney or insurance agent asks to record a conversation with you, politely decline until you’ve spoken with your own lawyer. This includes posting about the incident on social media.
5. Call Your Insurance Company
If you can’t call your insurance company from the scene, do so before the end of the day. You have a duty to notify your insurance company. If you don’t, it may be able to deny coverage. Give your insurance agent the time and location of the wreck, information on the other drivers and vehicles, and road and weather conditions. Insurance agents frequently ask questions about injuries and damage designed to encourage answers that can limit their responsibilities later. Don’t minimize or limit any description of your injuries until you’ve consulted a doctor and lawyer. If another driver’s insurance agent calls you, politely decline to make any statements until you’ve been advised by a lawyer.
6. Gather Information
Gather your own insurance policy, including the policy “Declarations” pages. If you later hire an attorney, he or she will need to verify what coverage you have available. If you can, get a copy of the police report. Make a list of all medical providers you have seen as a result of the wreck and gather all bills and medical records in your possession. Put all of this in a notebook or folder. Make notes of all contact with any insurance company, or any other person regarding the wreck.
7. Talk to a Lawyer
An attorney can help you avoid making common mistakes that limit your recovery or accidentally cast blame on yourself. An attorney can also help you identify sources of recovery that you may never otherwise consider. Your lawyer should ensure that you are receiving the full benefit of any insurance policy you have purchased, as well as any other policy that might pay damages owed by other involved parties. The more experience your lawyer has in navigating and overcoming these minefields, the more likely you are to receive the money you are owed. Your attorney will help you evaluate any settlement offers so that you receive fair compensation, and he or she will help keep your claim moving. Like most personal injury lawyers, we will talk to you for free to help you evaluate whether you really need a lawyer.