Car accidents are unfortunately very common: an estimated 5 million happen every year. In 2016 (the last year for which data is available), more than 4.6 million people were injured and more than 37,000 were killed in car accidents.
The odds are high that you will experience a car accident at some point in your life, whether it’s a minor parking lot scrape or a more serious collision. Because of this, it’s a good idea to be prepared and know what to do following an accident.
Let’s take a look at the five most important steps you should take after a car crash.
#1 Determine if there are injuries and call the authorities.
The first and most important step is always to determine if any of the parties involved are injured. If so, you should call 911 to request an ambulance.
Unless you are involved in a very minor accident, it’s often wise to go to the hospital. You may not want or need an ambulance, but you should consider going as soon as possible after the accident. Certain injuries—like whiplash and concussions—are not always immediately apparent.
If you can, move your vehicle to the side of the road. If you can’t move it out of the way of traffic, place traffic cones around the area and watch out for oncoming cars.
Even if there aren’t any injuries, it is a good idea to call the police in almost all circumstances. You should call the non-emergency number for law enforcement in your area if damage has been done to one or more vehicles or if the other party involved in the accident is uncooperative.
Having an official police report will be important if you or the other party need to make an insurance claim later: an insurance company typically uses the police report to help determine fault.
#2 Document the accident and collect evidence.
After an accident, make sure to get the name, insurance information, and vehicle license plate number of any parties involved. If there are any witnesses, take down their information as well. When talking with the other driver, don’t accept complete blame for the accident—even if you think you were at fault. One driver is rarely 100 percent responsible for an accident.
When possible, take pictures of the vehicles in the position that they ended up in immediately after the collision. You should also use your phone to take pictures of any damage to your vehicle, to the other party’s vehicle, and to other property.
Taking pictures gives you valuable evidence that you may need later during an insurance claim. If you are the one making the claim, this evidence will back up your story. If the other driver is the one making the claim, this evidence (in addition to the police report) will prevent him or her from lying to get insurance money. It’s unfortunate, but it does happen: you don’t want to see your insurance rates go up because of someone’s dishonesty.
#3 Decide whether or not to file a claim.
Your decision to make an insurance claim depends on the situation.
If the accident was a very minor fender bender, it might be best to skip it. This would be the case if the repairs cost less than your deductible. Involving your insurance company would be counterproductive, as they would not cover the cost and would raise your rates due to the accident.
However, if the accident involved injuries or damage exceeding your deductible, it’s important to file a claim as soon as possible. To do this, call your insurance company and inform them of the accident. (You need to call your own insurance company regardless of who was at fault.) Your insurance company will ask you to give them details about the accident and the other parties involved.
Once you’ve made a claim, a claims adjuster from your insurance company will contact you to get more information about the accident. If the other driver is found to be at fault, his or her insurance company will step in to handle your claim.
#4 Keep track of damages and medical treatments.
Insurance companies exist to make money, and they do so by paying as little as possible for each claim they receive.
In order to support your case, you need to keep track of the costs associated with the accident. Having evidence on paper of your expenses will make it more likely that your settlement is fair.
If you have been injured, you should keep a record of all medical treatment you seek, medical bills, and wages lost because of missed work. Be prepared to present this information to the insurance company. (The insurance company may ask you to sign releases granting them access to your medical records; while this seems convenient, insurance companies will use those authorizations to obtain medical, employment, and other information to which they would not otherwise be entitled.)
#5 Talk to an attorney.
You may want to talk to an attorney for any number of good reasons: the insurance company may not have assigned fault correctly, they may have undervalued the damages to your car, or they may have offered a very low settlement.
If you are unhappy with the way the insurance company is handling your claim, it’s critical not to sign a release or settlement offer. Instead, talk to an attorney about your options. Most attorneys offer a free consultation, so you lose nothing.
At Casper & Casper, we offer a free consultation with an experienced, knowledgeable attorney. We can help you decide your next steps and work toward the best possible outcome in your case. If you’ve been injured in a car accident, call us today.