If you’re in an accident and you’re unsure of what to do, one thing is for certain: Don’t leave the scene of the accident until you have completed the nine steps listed below. Leaving someone injured at the scene is not only morally wrong, but it is also a criminal offense in most states that can result in a citation, penalty, and points on your license.
For example, a 39-year-old man was sentenced to a decade in prison recently for his role in an accident that killed a 19-year-old. The accident, which occurred nearly three years to the day before the man’s sentencing, happened at a red light. The man struck the teenager’s vehicle from behind with his white pickup truck. Then the man, who was traveling at a high rate of speed and was under the influence of alcohol at the time, fled the scene of the accident. He was apprehended a short time later. The teenager, who was described as “vibrant and altruistic,” suffered serious injuries in the crash. He was transported to the hospital, where he died four days later.
That’s what you should not do. If you or a loved one have suffered an injury due to an accident someone else caused, contact an experienced car accident attorney as soon as possible. It is never safe to assume that you can handle the pursuit of compensation on your own. Read on for more information about what you should do if you are in an accident and someone is hurt.
1. Prepare for an Accident
Perhaps “prepare for an accident” sounds like a silly thing to do. After all, who plans for an accident? But chances are, you’re already planning for such an event through the purchase of auto insurance.
- Keep a folder for important information in your car. This information should include your registration, proof of insurance, and your insurance agent’s name. It is also a good idea to list any allergies to medications that you or your family members have and the phone number for your primary care physician. Keeping a pen and a pad of paper with these documents ensures that you also have a way to record the information for other drivers involved in the accident.
- You should also carry flares, cones, and a first aid kit for use at the scene to alert other drivers of the accident and to treat minor injuries that don’t need treatment by emergency personnel.
- Speaking of insurance, you should periodically check with your insurance agent to understand what policies you have and what coverage is included in those policies.
2. Stay at the Scene
Accident scenes are often terrifying, particularly when they involve serious injuries. It is important to stay as calm as you possibly can to accomplish several things to prevent further injury. First, if you can move your vehicle from the roadway, you should do that. Do not drive it very far from the scene, but simply move it to the shoulder of the road to prevent it from causing a secondary crash with other motorists. Carefully check to see if you or any of your passengers are injured. If your passengers can exit the vehicle, have them stand and wait for you well off the side of the road. Place your flares and cones near the scene to alert other drivers.
3. Render Aid, Call for Help
Once you have tended to your own car and passengers, you should carefully approach the other vehicle. Most states not only have a provision in their traffic laws that require a driver to stay at the scene after being involved in an accident, but also require the driver to render aid to others who were injured in the accident. Contrary to popular belief, “rendering aid” does not mean that you have to perform CPR or any other lifesaving procedures that you are not trained to provide.
It does mean that you should check on the driver(s) and passengers of other vehicles involved, assess their injuries, and call for help. The one exception to this point is if your accident was caused by road rage, such as someone deliberately ramming your vehicle off of the roadway. If that happens to you, use extreme caution. If you do not feel comfortable approaching the vehicle, simply call 911 and let the dispatcher know what happened.
Once you have checked on the other driver(s) and passengers, you should call for help and wait for an ambulance and police to arrive.
4. Exchange Information
While you’re waiting for emergency responders to arrive on the scene, if the other driver is conscious and capable of exchanging information, you should do so.
The information you will need to provide to the other party and obtain from the other driver includes their:
- Contact information;
- Driver’s license number;
- License plate number;
- Vehicle make and model; and
- Insurance carrier and policy number.
Beyond obtaining this information, keep your conversation with others in the accident and witnesses simple. Don’t apologize for the accident, even if you think you were partially—or completely—at fault. There will be time for establishing liability later.
5. Gather Evidence
While at the scene, you should also be sure to collect other information, including:
- The contact information of anyone who witnessed the accident;
- The name and badge number of the police officer who arrived on the scene to make a report;
- The exact location, time, and date of the accident; and
- Using your camera, take photos of the scene, including the damage to any vehicles involved, any visible injuries to you or your passenger, as well as the traffic and weather conditions at the scene.
You will have to speak with the police officer. Be honest about what happened and ask when and where you can obtain a copy of the report.
6. Seek Medical Attention for Yourself
You should either accept medical treatment at the scene or pay a visit to your primary care physician as soon as possible after the accident, even if you don’t “feel hurt.” The rush of adrenaline after an accident may prevent you from feeling the pain of your injuries. Additionally, some serious injuries—including traumatic brain injuries or internal organ damage—can present with delayed symptoms. The only way to know for sure that you have not been injured is to be examined by a doctor.
7. File Reports
The police generally make an accident report when there is vehicle damage and/or an injury involved. You will want a copy of that report and will want to check it carefully to ensure that there are no factual errors.
You will also want to file a report with your insurance company, even if you don’t file a claim against your policy. Most insurance companies require that you report any accidents to them. This is part of the contract that you signed when you obtained your coverage. Failing to report an accident to your insurance company could result in the company refusing to provide coverage for damages related to this accident, or may even cause them to drop your policy altogether.
Your car accident lawyer can help you with filing these reports while protecting your legal rights.
8. Be Careful Who You Discuss the Accident With
Just as you must exercise care when discussing the accident with the other driver or witnesses at the scene, you must take equal care after the accident. If a representative from the other driver’s insurance company contacts you, avoid making any sort of official statement without first talking to an accident attorney. Additionally, use extreme caution if the other driver’s insurance company offers you a quick, low settlement for injuries that you or your passengers suffered in the accident. Insurance companies often offer quick settlements when their insured causes an accident that results in injury to avoid paying a larger settlement or award later.
The problem is that these quick settlements almost always fail to consider the full picture of your injury, which may include future medical expenses, necessary modifications to your home to accommodate your injury or disability, and a range of impacts including pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment of life. In short: your case is probably worth a lot more than what they are offering, and if you accept their offer you cannot go back and ask for more if you discover that it wasn’t enough to cover your damages.
Caution is also necessary when discussing your accident on social media. Even with privacy settings, there are ways for the other party and/or their insurance representative or attorney to see what you post. If you are claiming that your injuries have had a severe impact on your life and then posting pictures of the camping trip you went on a week after the accident occurred, it’s safe to assume that this information can be discovered and used against you. A better idea is to avoid posting about your accident on social media entirely.
- A candid discussion about the legal options that are available to you, based on the facts of your case.
- A determination of all liable parties in your case, and the insurance resources that these parties have that may be used to compensate you.
- A determination of the value of your case, based on the expenses you have incurred, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and car repair or replacement, as well as the impact your injuries have had on your life.
- Carefully investigating the details of your case and gathering evidence that will help prove liability and the damages you are requesting. This may include collecting medical documentation, deposing witnesses, and working with medical professionals and accident reconstruction specialists.
- Writing a demand letter to the insurance company of the at-fault party, asking for the full value of your damages.
- Negotiating with the insurance company in an attempt to obtain a fair settlement on your behalf.
- Filing a personal injury lawsuit in the proper jurisdiction within the statute of limitations.
- Attendance at all pre-trial conferences and hearings.
- Representation at trial, including presenting opening and closing statements and the facts of your case for a judge or jury. It should be noted that the vast majority of personal injury cases are settled before they ever go to trial. However, litigation is always a possibility in a personal injury case and your attorney should be comfortable and confident about presenting your case in court.
- Presenting any and all settlement offers that have been made in your case, and providing guidance and information that will help inform your decision as to whether to accept the settlement or decline. Settlement offers can be made at any time in a case up until the judge or jury has rendered a verdict. Often, these offers will be much lower than the amount you have requested until the at-fault party’s insurance company or attorney realizes that the case is headed to court, which will be expensive and may result in a large payout ordered by a judge or jury.
- Collection of your settlement and award. Collection from an insurance company generally takes a couple of weeks, as there are documents to be signed. Your attorney will deduct the fees for their services from this amount and will provide you an accounting of exactly what those services were and how they were billed.
- Continued representation if the defendant in your case chooses to appeal the verdict.
If a car accident caused you or a loved one to suffer injuries, contact an experienced car accident attorney and to talk about your case and answer your questions.