Your immediate actions following a car or any other type of accident can save lives, reduce the risk of serious injury, and affect your ability to receive compensation for your economic and non-economic losses. Know what your first steps should be following an accident.
1. Don’t Panic
The immediate aftermath of an accident can be traumatic and overwhelming. However, it’s essential to keep a cool head. Calmly assess the situation and examine everyone involved for evidence of injuries. Call emergency medical services as necessary.
While you’re at it, assess the situation to assure your safety, as well as for those around. If you’re in a car accident and either vehicle has a broken fuel line or leaking fluids, move everyone away from the area immediately. Get a safe distance from the wreckage, if applicable, and wait for the police to arrive if you don’t need medical attention yourself.
2. Gather Information at the Scene, If Possible
While waiting for the police to arrive, take some time to gather information from the other driver and eyewitnesses.
Follow some basic best practices:
- Be polite to the other driver, but never admit fault for the accident, even if you think it you were responsible
- Ask for insurance information and contact information of the other driver involved in the accident
- Get the names and contact information of any eyewitnesses to the accident
- Give your insurance information to the other driver and responding police officer
If it’s safe to do so, take pictures of the accident scene, including the damage to the vehicles, any skid marks present on the pavement, and damage to any landmarks. Remember, keep a safe distance if your vehicles present a fire hazard or other danger.
3. Take Steps to Protect Your Personal Information
The other driver may ask for your contact information, as well. Giving away certain types of information, such as your name, VIN number, and insurance information is fine. However, avoid disclosing the following types of sensitive contact information:
- Home address
- Social security number
- Photographs of your driver’s license or registration – however, give this information to the responding police officer if he or she asks for it.
4. Report the Accident
When the police officer arrives at the scene, he or she will create an accident report that contains relevant details about the accident. He may ask you to recount what happened and talk to eyewitnesses regarding the crash. When talking to a police officer, be as thorough as possible. It’s advisable to relate any relevant details – such as if you noticed the other driver texting – but don’t editorialize. Stick to the facts and don’t become angry at the other driver when recounting the story to the officer.
Next, report the accident to your insurance company. Call your agent and tell them what happened, using the same tips as outlined above. Follow all their directions and submit the necessary documentation to receive timely reimbursement from your or an at-fault driver’s insurance company.
5. Contact an Attorney
Lastly, contact a personal injury attorney to discuss your legal options following an accident. Though you will primarily be working with insurance companies, a personal injury attorney can protect your right to compensation under California law and expedite the process of settling a claim. Sometimes, the act of getting a personal injury attorney involved in the insurance claims process will motivate an insurer to take your claim more seriously.
Your first actions following an accident can affect the safety of others and the health of your claim. Make sure everyone is safe, gather evidence, and protect your personal information. Provide details about the accident to your insurance company and the responding officer, then contact an attorney to discuss further legal options.