You're shaken. You're a little dizzy. Your neck and back feel like someone just stabbed them with a knife and you're feeling pain in parts of your body that you didn't even know existed. That brand new car you bought last week is now a crumbled mess and what used to be your windows and bumper are now scattered all over the road. And some guy you've never met is screaming at you. Yup, you've been in a car accident.
But it's okay! Stay calm and have a look at our list of 13 things to do if you've been in a car accident.
1) Stay calm and...pull your car over to an area that is safe and far away from oncoming traffic. If your car is undrivable or you're otherwise unable to operate the vehicle safely, turn your hazard lights on immediately. On second thought, turn your emergency blinkers on every time you've been in an accident.
2) Call 911. Some states actually require you to call the police after an accident if there is a possibility that someone is hurt and/or if the property damage is over a certain threshold. Police officers will arrive to investigate the accident and an ambulance will come if anyone is critically hurt. Last but not least, the police officer will write a police report that will access liability and the amount of property damage. This report will be very useful later on to determine who was at fault and the extent of the property damage and injuries.
3) Exchange information. You absolutely need to write down the following: a) the other driver's license number, b) The other driver's license plate, c) vehicle information d) the other driver's insurance company name and policy number and e) The other driver's address and personal phone number. If possible, take pictures of all license i.d. cards, insurance cards, and license plates.
4) Take pictures of all vehicles involved, from different angles. Snap as many pictures as possible. And only if it is safe to do so, take a picture of the vehicles in their original positions at the time of the accident. Pictures are critical for assessing liability, property damage, and injuries.
5) Obtain a video recording of the other driver admitting fault for the accident. California law states that you are allowed to record audio and video of someone as long as it is in a public setting. For this reason, if possible, you should record the other driver admitting fault for the accident on your smartphone and it would be legal for you to do this if your accident occurred on a public road. When someone causes an accident as a result of their own negligence, one of the initial emotions they will feel is regret; which is why you should take advantage of this and record their admission of guilt on video. This video can later be shown to the insurance companies and the police if the other driver changes their mind and subsequently attempts to blame you for the accident.
6) Keep records of anything and everything that is related to the accident. Your insurance company and/or attorney will lateruse these documents to help you get a favorable settlement.
7) Do not admit anything or talk to the other driver about the accident. Just exchange information. If the other party admits fault, however, DO write that down and DO tell the police about his/her confession. And as stated above, try to record their admission of liability on your phone.
8) Identify witnesses. If you believe the accident is clearly the other driver's fault, don't count on the other driver to fess up or admit fault. In fact, do not be surprised if they try to lay the blame on you. And that is exactly why you should identify any witnesses and encourage the witness(es) to talk to the police (assuming they think the accident is the other driver's fault) and politely ask them for their contact information in case you need to get a statement from them later. Again, don't count on the other driver to do the right thing and admit fault.
9) Seek Medical Care. This should be a no-brainer. Even if you don't feel any obvious pain after the accident, consult with a doctor anyways. Car accident injuries sometimes do not manifest themselves until a few hours or even a few days after the accident.
10) Call Your Car Insurance Company and give them a thorough explanation of the accident.
11) Do NOT sign any documents unless it is for a police officer. Enough said.
12) Do not speak to anyone from the other insurance company until you have hired a competent personal injury attorney to protect your rights..
13) Hire a competent personal injury attorney (see #12). In the very least, the attorney will protect you from being harassed from the other driver's insurance company. Car Insurance companies are not allowed to contact you to discuss an accident if they know you've retained an attorney. And in the best case scenario, a personal injury attorney will ensure that you are compensated for your property damage, your medical bills, and your pain and suffering. And the best part is that most personal injury attorneys will NOT charge you a dime unless they get you a settlement. And if you do get a settlement from the other insurance company or driver, the lawyer will pay themselves from the settlement, ensuring that you do not have to pay a dime out of pocket for their services.
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