Most of us drive our cars daily. We drive to work, go to school, and take our kids to practice. Some of us are cautious when we drive; others seem to be less attentive of the rode. The fact that we drive daily means we place some kind of trust in the circumstances around us—the stoplights, medians, and most importantly the other drivers. But there are far too many accidents to know that a car accident cannot happen to us. We have heard horror stories from friends, family, and those that we love and care about.
When we exchange stories about auto accidents, we often find ourselves asking what we could have done different, whether it be before or after the accident. We first ask ourselves “how did this accident happen?” The answer to this question is almost always because another driver was driving negligently or recklessly. There had to be a mistake on someone’s part in order for you to be involved in an accident. You want to be able to make sure you discovery who was at fault, why they were at fault, and, if you are injured, how you can become physically and emotionally better and who is going to pay for it.
The following is a list of things to do after you have been in a car accident. Remember this list in order for you to prove who was at fault, describe what the scene of the accident looked like, and to determine who is going to compensate you for your injuries.
1. First, make sure everyone is safe and/or secure!
Depending on the severity of your injuries, make sure the people in your vehicle are safe—including you! The last thing you want to do is create more havoc. Try and get everyone off of the road. But be cautious! If you believe someone involved in the car wreck is severely injured, don’t move them. You will want to secure the area around them so they will not be struck again. An emergency medical expert will know how to handle the situation once they arrive.
2. Call for emergency help immediately.
Stay at the scene. Do not leave without calling for emergency help! Other than avoiding criminal charges for a hit-and-run, you still have further steps to take. Call 911 immediately. Make sure you can identify where you are by street descriptions or by landmarks. Stay calm when you are talking to the 911 operator. They need to clearly understand the problem, how they can help, and where they need to dispatch personnel. If you file a personal injury claim later, you will also want to document that the emergency personnel were on the scene and conducted an investigation. Far too many insurance companies will complain if the police or EMTs were not involved from the start.
3. Get names, phone numbers, and addresses of all witnesses.
You may also want to get driver’s license numbers, too. If you are severely injured, this step may need to be performed by another individual. Although the emergency personnel will gather some of this information, you do not want to be without it when you are making a personal injury claim. Your car accident attorney will want to know everyone’s name who may have information about the auto accident. Find a piece of paper and a pen or use your phone. Whatever you use make sure you write down each person’s full name and the correct spelling, their phone number or multiple numbers, and their address. This information will be tremendously helpful when making you case.
4. Get insurance information from everyone involved in the accident.
Aside from names, phone numbers, and addresses, get all of the parties’ insurance information. This includes the insurance company, policy numbers, and who the insured (person) is. Do not only get the driver’s information either—get the insurance information from passengers too! Your injuries may be covered by a passenger’s insurance depending on whether or not they owned the vehicle that struck yours.
5. Do not speak about the wreck with anyone except the police.
The only people who should be taking your statement should be the proper authorities. Do not talk to the other drivers about what happened. Don’t say sorry. Don’t apologize. Don’t talk about how the auto collision could have been avoided. You do not want these statement used against you later! It might not be clear who is at fault, so you do not want to admit legal liability.
6. Take pictures of the scene of the accident.
We know the saying: a picture is worth a thousand words. Well here, a picture can be worth thousands of dollars. You want to be able to show a potential jury or insurance adjuster the scene of the accident, not just describe it to them. Take pictures of the damage to the vehicles, the road, emergency personnel performing their work, and of all the conditions surrounding the accident. There is no such thing as too many pictures of the scene of a car accident. Pictures can go a long way in determining how much your potential personal injury claim is worth. Make sure they are clear and detailed. They will shed light on how the accident occurred at the time it happened. You can also compare damage to the vehicles.
7. Take pictures of your injuries.
If you are hurt, take pictures of your injuries at the hospital, or have someone take them for you. If someone is available, have he or she take pictures of the injuries at the scene of the accident. Continue to take pictures daily, weekly, and even monthly if you are badly injured. The pictures of your injuries will greatly assist your potential personal injury claim against an insurance company.
8. Tell your insurance company about the accident…but don’t tell them too much right away.
You will want to notify your insurance carrier that you have been in an accident. In the beginning, just tell them you were in an accident, the time of the accident, and what your injuries were. If you are in stress, you may mistake what happened and your insurance company might perceive it to be your fault. Give yourself time to cool down and get help.
9. DO NOT make a statement to someone else’s insurance company.
Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. If they come calling, don’t answer any of their questions. Take down their information and give it to your attorney. If someone else’s insurance company is calling you they will likely want to pin the fault on you. Don’t let them! They want to use your words against you. Tell them thanks for their concern, but you will not be speaking with them. They may try and offer you money to settle your claim. If they are making an early settlement offer they are low-balling you. Before you enter any settlement, you want to make sure all your injuries are treated in order to be fully compensated. Some injuries will not even show up until weeks, months or even years after your auto accident.
10. Keep track of all of your medical care.
Write down all of the medical providers you saw, including medical doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists, psychologists, pain management specialists, etc. Make a list of all of the medical facilities you went to for treatment. Try and keep some form of medical bills and medical records. Keep track of how many days you had to take off work and document the dates. Create a record of how you are feeling emotionally and physically after the accident, and how the injuries have affected your life. All of these things will go a long way in proving your case.
11. Finally, contact a personal injury attorney after the accident.
An attorney who specializes in personal injury will guide you through your personal injury claim. You want an attorney who will maximize your recovery/compensation. You also want an attorney who will care for you as a client and person—someone who understands what you are going through. You want an attorney who will protect your rights. Your attorney will also deal with the insurance company, which allows you to focus on treating your injuries and getting back to your daily life activities.
Adam Krause is a personal injury, mass tort, business litigation, and employment discrimination attorney who practices in Kansas City, Missouri. He graduated from the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Law and has been practicing law for several years now. Adam Krause has made a career of taking complicated litigation and presenting it in the most elementary terms for a jury of your peers to understand. Learn more about his experience here.