Someone close to me was involved in a minor car crash this week. Dealing with the aftermath -- including the insurance companies -- from a personal, not professional, perspective inspired this reminder of what to do immediately and at the scene of a car crash.
Being in a collision is stressful and shocking. The first thing to do is take a deep breath and stay calm. After that...
- Stop. Never drive away from the scene of an accident, even a minor one.
- Be Safe and Protect the Scene. You can prevent further accidents by setting up flares, or keeping your flashers on. If it is dark and your lights don't work, you should have a flashlight to keep you safe while you wait in your disabled car or by the side of the road.
- Call the police. Even if there are no serious injuries, it is a good idea to call the police. You may need a police report to file a claim with your insurance company, even if it is just to make a claim for damage to your vehicle. The vehicles involved in the accident should remain where they are, unless they interfere with traffic.
- Just the facts, mam. When the police arrive, make sure you tell the investigating officer(s) exactly what happened, to the best of your ability. If you do not know certain facts, tell that to the officer. Do not speculate, guess or misstate any of the facts. If you are asked if you are injured and you are not sure, say you are not sure, rather than no. Often, the pain and injuries from motor vehicle accidents become apparent hours after the actual collision.
- Take pictures. Use your cell phone camera to document the scene. Take pictures of the vehicles involved, especially any damage and the license plates. Take pictures of the intersection, and even (if you have the capability) take a video. If you cannot take pictures at the scene of the accident, take them as soon as possible afterwards -- or send someone to do it for you.
- Exchange information. Typically, the investigating police officer obtains this information.Even if they do, you should obtain the name, address and telephone number of all persons involved in the accident, drivers and passengers alike. You should also obtain information about insurance by asking to see the insurance card for all vehicles involved in the accident. If there are witnesses, you should get information from them as well so that you or your attorney can contact them in the future. I suggest you take pictures of everything. If police respond to the accident, the investigating officer usually will provide all drivers with a police report number. You can use that number later to obtain the police report.
- Report the collision. Notify your insurance company as soon as possible. Many policies require immediate reporting and full cooperation. Report the crash, and open a file, with the insurance company of the person who hit you, also.
- Go to the doctor. Often, injuries caused by motor vehicle accidents are not immediately apparent. Many people involved in collisions report feeling the most pain a day or two following an automobile accident. Unless you are absolutely certain you were not injured, you should seek medical attention at your local emergency room or by seeing your family physician.
- Keep a file. Keep all your accident-related documents and information together. This information should include a claim number, the claim's adjuster who is handling the claim, names and phone numbers of all contacts, receipts for a rental car and other expenses incurred as a result of the accident.
- Be wary. The insurance company is not your friend. And despite their show of empathy, they are in the business of protecting their interests at all costs. Do not agree to give a recorded statement. Instead, agree to talk about the accident but not have it recorded. Do not sign anything without asking your advocate first. If you are in a wreck, even a minor one, and have questions...give me call. You might not need a lawyer, but I can help you navigate the process.