Even if it is relatively minor, a car accident can be a sudden, jarring, and unsettling experience. You may not know what to do in the immediate aftermath. In addition to seeking medical attention, there are certain steps that you should take or consider taking after a car accident. Acting promptly and decisively can be critical in receiving the assistance that you need to address your injuries and property damage. This is a basic overview of some major issues to bear in mind, but we suggest reading about each topic in more detail as well.
Report the Accident
No matter who was at fault, you almost certainly will need to report the accident to your insurer. Failing to report the accident will jeopardize your ability to later bring a claim. You also may need to report the accident to law enforcement, depending on whether it caused injuries or a certain amount of property damage. Even if you do not need to report the accident to law enforcement, you may find it helpful to call the police to the scene. Their investigation can produce evidence that may bolster your claim.
If you are physically able, you should take photos and possibly videos of the accident scene to use as evidence in your claim. You can capture the position of the vehicles after the crash, any damage to the vehicles, any debris in the road, your injuries, and the scene surrounding the accident. For example, if there was a traffic light or stop sign, you may want to take a photo that shows the position of the vehicles relative to the light or sign. You also should get the contact information of any witnesses to the accident, such as pedestrians or people in other cars. These people can corroborate your account of the events leading up to the accident. If the police come to the scene, they will generate a report. You should get a copy of a police report because this can be an important piece of the puzzle for an insurer.
You can potentially sue many different parties after a car accident, and you should not just assume that the fault lies only with one or more drivers. By bringing all of the responsible parties into the claim or lawsuit, you increase your chances of securing all of the compensation that you are due. In addition to drivers, defendants may include the employer of an at-fault driver if they were on the job at the time, as well as a manufacturer or distributor of a vehicle or auto part that was defective. In some complex situations, the entity responsible for designing or maintaining the road or its surroundings may be liable as well.
Consider Hiring a Lawyer
If your accident was relatively minor and involved only property damage, you may not need to go to the trouble and expense of hiring a lawyer. If you were seriously injured, on the other hand, or if your claim seems likely to be contested for any reason, you probably should get a lawyer on your side. Car accident lawyers usually work on a contingency fee basis, which means that they get paid only when and if you get paid. You should make sure to choose an attorney who relates well to you personally, as well as someone who is experienced and proficient in handling cases similar to yours.
Prepare for a Fight
In some cases, fault is straightforward, liability is promptly conceded, and any dispute concerns the extent of the victim’s damages. Often, however, a defendant or their insurer will defend a claim vigorously. They may argue that the victim failed to comply with a procedural rule, such as the statute of limitations, or they may raise an argument of comparative or contributory negligence. These rules vary depending on the state, but the general concept is that a victim’s damages award can be reduced (or eliminated entirely in some cases) if the defendant can show that they were at least partly responsible for the accident. You should not make any admission of fault to an insurer but instead should discuss this issue with an attorney.