Car crash checklist: 7 things to do after an accident

Traffic law, Crime

You’re involved in a car accident—do you know what to do? It may be difficult to remain calm, but you must do your best. One way to help improve your chances is getting the priorities straight in your head now, so you’ll have that knowledge to fall back on while you’re dealing with the inevitable shock and adrenaline.

Prior to becoming an attorney, Tyler Mann of Tyler Mann Injury Law, LLC in Huntsville, Alabama, worked as an automobile insurance adjuster. Today, 90 percent of his legal case load involves automobile accidents.

“One of the most common questions I get as a lawyer when talking with someone about what I do is, ‘What do I do in the event I have an accident?’” says Mann. He says that “Although certain situations and facts might dictate a change to this protocol,” he generally provides the following guidance:

Call the police and, if necessary, an ambulance

Law enforcement will document the scene of the crash, record information about the involved parties, and assure the safety of those involved in the crash as well as passing motorists. The priority is safety, but the fact of the matter is information collected during this process can be vital to future litigation.

Be careful what you say at the accident scene

Even if you believe that the crash was your fault, do not admit fault or blame at the scene. The phrase What you say can and will be used against you in a court of law typically refers to criminal cases as part of the Miranda Rights, but it also applies in civil cases, such as those that arise from injuries in a car accident.

Keep communications with the other party civil and short. Keep your cool, and refrain from “finger pointing” at the scene. Allow the officers at the scene to conduct their investigation, and wait patiently for them to speak with you. When you are interviewed by a police officer about the facts, keep it simple, and refrain from guessing at things like speed and distance. Just stick to what you know. If you aren’t sure how to answer a question, say simply, “I don’t know.”

Take photographs

These days, almost everyone has a cell phone with a camera in it. If it is safe for you to do so, take some shots of the vehicles’ positions, the damage, the location where the accident occurred, and any other photos you believe would be helpful in proving what happened in the crash.

“If you are unable to take photographs, then take notes,” advises car travel expert Grainne Kelly, founder of BubbleBum car travel innovations. “Draw diagrams of the scene—it will help when you’re discussing details with the police and your insurance company.”

Seek medical attention

“It’s important to get checked out at the ER,” says Kelly. “Shock from the accident can numb the pain of injury for a while. Medical professionals may be able to spot the telltale signs of injuries not apparent to the naked eye.”

Contact your insurance company

As soon as possible after the accident, call your insurance company. Insurance companies have reporting guidelines in order to extend coverage to their policyholders, and failure to report an accident in a timely manner can lead to the insurance company denying your claim at a later date.

Timeliness is especially important if you believe you are at fault for the accident. If you are sued, your insurance carrier, in most scenarios, will provide you with a defense, as long as you have met the obligations outlined in your insurance policy.

Address the damage to your vehicle

Regarding the property damage on your vehicle—and subject to any advice given to you by a lawyer—talk with your insurance carrier about the damage to your vehicle. If the other party is at fault for the accident, the damages should be handled through the other party’s liability insurance. If you are at fault, your damage will be handled through your own policy’s collision coverage, subject to your deductible. Most insurance carriers will guide you through the process of having your vehicle repaired, and some even recommend repair facilities that cover repairs under a short warranty.

Consult with an attorney

If someone else caused the accident, reach out to an attorney for advice on how to proceed. If you are seriously injured, consider hiring an attorney that handles personal injury cases to protect your rights regarding medical bills, lost wages, and other damages. Most injury attorneys accept cases on contingency fees, which means you do not have to pay attorney fees unless the case is decided in your favor.

Automobile accidents are frightening and upsetting. Knowing what to do will save you from medical, legal, and financial problems down the road.