Injured in a Car Accident? 10 Things You Need to Do Now
There are well over 6 million car accidents in the US each year, and almost 30% of those accidents result in bodily injury to one or more people involved. What should you do if you are involved in an auto accident? Follow these ten steps to protect yourself and preserve any potential personal injury claim:
STEP 1: Stop!
Especially if an accident appears to be minor, drivers often don’t immediately process the situation. If they are in a hurry or on their way to work, there is a tendency to just wave it off and drive away. Resist the urge! Once you drive away, you may realize that your property damage or personal injuries are worse than you realized. To make a proper assessment, pull to the side of the road and stop in a safe place.
STEP 2: Take Precautions
Once you have pulled off the road to a safe stopping place, take all precautions to keep yourself and other drivers safe. If you have flares, set them up behind your car to alert other drivers; otherwise, keep your flashers on. It is recommended to keep a flashlight in your car at all times in case an accident occurs at night.
STEP 3: Call the Police
If someone was seriously injured in the accident, call 911 immediately. However, even if there were no serious injuries, it is still essential that you call the police.
STEP 4: Get the Story Straight
Once the police officer arrives, remember that everything you say and do will become part of the record of what happened. Tell the officer exactly what happened as you remember it, and do not speculate or guess about facts. To help you prepare your statement, take notes on a notepad (Tip: put a notepad and pen in your car, along with the flares and flashlight!) or in your phone describing exactly how you remember the accident occurring. Try to be as detailed as possible about what happened, what damage you see to your vehicle, the other vehicle, and any surrounding property, and any injuries you or your passengers may have suffered.
If the police officer asks if you are injured, answer honestly. If you aren’t sure, say so. Remember that adrenaline often masks pain immediately following a stressful event, so you may not feel pain right away. Keep your notepad with you in the hours after the accident to continue recording how you feel and any injuries that you may notice.
STEP 5: Take Pictures
One of the great things about so many of us walking around with a high-powered technological device in our pockets is that cell phone cameras are now ubiquitous. While you are waiting for the officer to arrive, or as she or he is conducting the investigation, take pictures of the vehicles, the scene, and any visible injuries. Don’t interfere with the police officer’s investigation or put yourself in harm’s way to get the best angle but do try to take photos as soon as possible after the accident occurs.
STEP 6: Exchange Information with the Other Driver and Any Witnesses
Before you leave the scene of the accident, don’t forget to exchange information with the other driver and any witnesses. Often, the officer will do this while filling out the police report, but if you don’t get a copy or if the police aren’t called, it will be your responsibility to gather this essential information:
- Telephone number
for everyone involved in the accident, including witnesses. For any other vehicles involved in the collision, make sure you get the
- Driver’s contact information
- Driver’s insurance information
- Car’s registration information (if the car is owned by someone other than the driver)
- The vehicle’s insurance information (if different than the driver’s)
While you have your phone and your notebook out, take down as much of this contact information as you can and take photos of any insurance cards, licenses, and other identifying information provided to you (snap a shot of the other vehicle’s license plate number, too).
STEP 7: Report the Accident to Your Insurance Company
As soon as possible after the accident, notify your insurance company about the accident. Again, only provide factual information and don’t make assumptions or guesses as you are reporting the information. Many insurance companies require immediate reporting, so don’t wait to alert your insurer. While you are on the phone with your insurance company, make sure you get all information about what they need to complete their claim (police report, photos, etc.) and what benefits are included in your coverage. For example, you will want to find out if medical benefits (MedPay) are included in your insurance policy.
STEP 8: Seek All Necessary Medical Attention as Soon as Possible
This is the most important step because it has long-lasting implications that are more serious than your personal injury claims or compensation for vehicle damages. A collision, even one at low speed or without significant damage to the vehicle, can cause soft tissue injury to your muscles and can put a lot of stress on your joints. One of the most common injuries in a collision is “whiplash,” a soft tissue injury to the neck muscles caused when the head is thrown forward and back. Soft tissue injuries can result in pain, swelling, and stiffness, but these symptoms may not be apparent immediately after an accident.
Common accident symptoms that can surface up to a few days after an accident:
Left untreated, injuries can get worse, more severe, and can lead to other complications. That’s the primary reason why it is essential to seek medical treatment unless you are absolutely sure that you have not been injured in a car accident. As a secondary matter, seeking needed medical treatment significantly increases the strength of your personal injury claim. The longer you wait to seek medical treatment, the more difficult it can be to prove that the injuries were a direct result of the accident. Without the link between the accident and your injuries, you may end up paying out of pocket for your medical treatment, even years down the road. By seeking treatment immediately, you can prevent further pain and suffering and preserve your claim for compensation.
STEP 9: Keep Detailed Records
Before you can bring a compensation claim for injuries suffered in an accident, you will need to be able to establish
a. That you were injured
b. That your injuries were caused by the accident
c. That the accident was 100% the fault of the negligent party (check out our blog post explaining the elements of a personal injury claim in more depth)
To be able to establish each of these elements, you will need to provide records and documentation demonstrating each of these points. Keeping detailed records is the best way to build a strong case for compensation. Following the accident, create a file where you can keep all accident-related documents. These may include
- Your notes from the scene
- Contact and insurance information given to you by law enforcement personnel and gathered from the other driver and any witnesses at the scene
- Claim number and contact information of claims adjuster at your insurance company
- Any contact information or communications from the other driver’s insurance company
- Receipts for rental cars and auto repair
- Medical records, doctors’ contact information, and your medical insurance information
- Receipts for any medications prescribed or assistive devices required (for example, crutches or a sling)
- A diary of injuries and treatment
- Include entries from the days following the accident, including degree of pain and symptoms each day
- Provide a timeline of all doctor’s visits, including dates and times of appointments, follow-ups, and any copays or amounts spent during those visits
- Record days out of work or time missed from work for doctor’s appointments or recovery
- ALL written communications related to the accident, including emails and text messages
- Communications with your employer about missed work
- Communications with insurance companies (both yours and the other driver’s)
- Records, bills, and notes from medical visits
- Any interactions with the other driver
- And any other relevant written communications
Establishing a complete record will not only help keep you organized, but it will also make it much easier to involve a professional to help you with your personal injury claim.
STEP 10: Get an Experienced Professional on Your Team
The time following a car accident, especially one that caused you personal injury, can be stressful and emotionally, physically, and financially draining. As you recuperate from your injuries, the last thing you likely want is to wait on hold trying to gather medical records or negotiate with insurance companies. That’s where hiring an experienced personal injury attorney can be a life-saver. When you meet with an attorney, you can provide a copy of your well-organized file (or, your big stack of notes and receipts, if you have had a hard time keeping things organized!), tell your story, and let the attorney take it from there.
Most personal injury attorneys work on a contingency basis, which means that you don’t need to pay them up front for their legal services. Instead, they are paid a portion of the settlement amount. At Wakefield Law, we use our 30 years of experience negotiating personal injury claims to make sure our clients get the best offer as quickly as possible.
If you are injured in an accident, don’t forget about these bonus tips:
DO NOT admit fault! It can feel natural to apologize but resist the urge to admit fault at the scene or to your insurance agent.
DO NOT sign any release/medical information forms until speaking with your attorney.
DO NOT settle your claim until you have completed your course of medical treatment. There is no way to tell how much your medical bills will be until you have completed treatment.
DO NOT try to settle the matter at the scene of the accident. Always call the police so that a proper report can be made, and you can take time to assess your damages and injuries.
Want to Learn More?
At Wakefield Law, we are always open to questions and to discuss any individual’s particular situation. Feel free to reach out to us at (703) 771-9740 to learn more about our personal injury practice and your options.