Every time you get behind the wheel, there’s a small chance you may get in a car accident. Given this small likelihood, you cannot afford to be unaware of what to do should you find yourself in this situation.
When a car accident happens, it’s important for you to stay calm, take steps to protect yourself, and ensure everyone is safe. If anyone is seriously injured, call 911 right away.
Once injuries are taken care of, it is important to decide what to do next. Here is a checklist of things you should keep in mind.
Table of contents
- Stop! Never leave the scene of an accident
- Does anyone need medical help?
- Was the car accident your fault?
- Think before you talk: Limit conversation
- When should you file a police report?
- Don't let anyone talk you into handling the accident privately
- A picture is worth 1,000 words: Document everything
- Safety first: Move your vehicle to another location
- Share contact information with everyone involved
- Ask witnesses what they saw
- Broken down car? Call roadside assistance
- Should you file a claim if you’re hurt?
- Do I need a lawyer for a car accident? Can I sue if I'm not at fault?
Stop! Never leave the scene of an accident
When you're in a car accident, the most important thing to remember is that you should never leave the scene of the accident.
You are required to stay on the scene. If you don't stay, it's considered a "hit and run." The punishment for leaving the scene of an accident can include fines or even jail time. Typically, the charges for a hit and run are misdemeanors when no one is hurt. The charges reach felony level when death or injury results from the accident.
Also, be aware that in most states a hit and run doesn't only apply to accidents that happen on highways or public roads. Hit and runs can refer to accidents in parking lots or driveways too.
It's important that you remain at the scene of an accident, at least long enough to get everyone’s contact information, and help the injured. A court or jury won't be as understanding with you if your actions make it look like you’ve tried to avoid your duties.
With this in mind, remember that helping the injured is your most important duty. If you have to leave the scene, for a few minutes, to get cell phone service, for example, most states will not consider that a hit and run, as long as you return to the scene right away.
You may find yourself asking this question: Do I need a lawyer for this car accident? If the answer is "yes" (which is the case for most car accidents), remember that we can connect you with a personal injury attorney near you. Our network of attorneys can answer all of your legal questions.
Also, remember that there are time limits to filing legal claims, so make sure you contact Accident.com right away.
Does anyone need medical help?
This brings us to an important question that you must answer when you've been in a car accident: Was anyone injured?
Although there are many types of injuries, perhaps the most common injury is whiplash. Whiplash, from a car accident, is the sudden movement of the head and neck causing muscle injuries. However, other possible injuries include:
- Head injuries. Head and brain injuries are, unfortunately, pretty common in car accidents. Head injuries have serious effects on those injured. Long-term problems include reduced brain function, a reduced ability to understand complex ideas and memory problems. Other issues include bad headaches and sleeping problems.
- Broken bones. Sudden trauma to the body often results in broken bones, especially among young and old people. Of course, seatbelts are the most reliable way to reduce the chances of broken bones.
- Herniated disks. Herniated disks may occur when parts of your spine either move out of place or break from a sudden directional shift.
- Scrapes and cuts. Scrapes and cuts are the most common type of injury for car accidents. Although generally not serious, cuts may lead to infection or other issues. This makes cuts potentially as serious as any other type of injury.
- Internal bleeding. What makes internal bleeding so dangerous is that internal bleeding is often hard to see from a quick exam. So, it’s important to get medical help right away for anything more than the smallest scrapes and cuts.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD proves that not all car accident injuries are physical. Mental and emotional injuries are also possible. Our national network of attorneys at Accident.com can help you find the right lawyer to figure out all of your injuries, including non-physical injuries like PTSD.
- Wrongful death. If a loved one has been killed in a car accident, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim.
Remember: If anyone has been badly injured, call 911 right away.
For more information, please read our article on common types of injuries that result from a car accident.
Was the car accident your fault?
Right after an accident, the first thought you probably have is "I was in a car accident." Your next thought may be "Was the accident my fault?"
There are multiple reasons that someone may be at fault in a car accident. The most common reasons are due to breaking driving laws, such as:
- Following a vehicle too closely.
- Running through stop signs.
- Speeding through a yellow light.
A car accident may also happen because of distractions like:
- Texting or talking on the phone.
- Lack of attention.
After the accident, your first thought may be to blame yourself. You might want to say "It's my fault," "I didn't mean to hit you," or even something as simple as "I'm sorry." These responses are natural reactions, mostly when other people are angry.
However, resist the urge to blame yourself. You’ll likely be nervous, confused, and upset, which will affect your thinking, so refrain from admitting fault for a car accident. Whatever you say can be held against you in court. Remember, the law does not require you to admit to anything.
Specifically, remember that:
- You aren’t in a condition to correctly determine fault in a car accident.
- Admitting fault may go against your car insurance policy.
- There may be witnesses who can back up your story.
- If you admit fault, this can be held against you in court.
- Before speaking, you might want some legal help. Accident.com's network of attorneys can help you find a lawyer who can help you handle your legal situation.
For more information, please read our article on how to determine who is at fault in a car accident.
Think before you talk: Limit conversation
After a car accident, you should not talk to others involved, beyond what is necessary. Often, the other driver is angry and may think the accident is your fault, especially in the case of a rear-end collision.
Especially if the other car is new, expensive or has some type of special value, like a sports car, be prepared to deal with an angry driver.
Tips for dealing with an angry driver:
- Stay calm: Even if you’re upset, yelling will only make things worse.
- Stick to the facts: As listed above, don’t talk about who is at fault.
- Stay safe: If the other driver seems dangerous, stay inside your car and call the police.
However, don’t be scared. The fact is car accidents happen, no matter how carefully you drive.
Again, after a car accident, be sure to contact a lawyer to protect your rights, reduce your legal exposure and get a better settlement. We can help you find the lawyer for your specific situation.
For more information, please read our article on why you should limit your conversation with others after an accident.
When should you file a police report?
Sometimes, the people in a car accident are reluctant to call the police. One or both of the parties involved may be hesitant for several reasons — maybe from lack of insurance, invalid licenses, or even a general fear of the police.
However, don't let anyone else make the decision of calling the police for you. Unless the damage is minimal, like a little dent in the bumper, you should call the police.
Police officers know what to do after car accidents. The police can be really helpful if the other people in the accident are threatening you or if there are injuries.
The police will often give a citation to the person who caused the accident. If you think that the police have wrongly assigned fault to you, you can argue your case in court.
If there are injuries, it's critical that you call a lawyer to help protect your rights. The team at Accident.com can help you find a lawyer who will take your side.
Also, remember that after a car accident, you'll need a police report to file your car claim. Basically, a police report is a summary of the accident, including the facts and opinions of everyone involved.
You can ask for a copy of your police report from the police in person, by email, or through the police department’s website. Usually, the police officer at the scene of the accident will give you a receipt with the identification number to help you get your report. It will be helpful for you to have this report ready for your free consultation with your lawyer.
Don't let anyone talk you into handling the accident privately
Beyond injuries, people in a car accident are mostly concerned with how much money the accident will cost. If the other person in the accident is at fault, that person will often ask that you handle the matter without the police and the insurance companies. This way, the at-fault person can avoid an increase in their insurance rates.
Refuse the request to handle the accident privately even in situations where the damage seems to be small. After all, there might be damage inside your car that you can't see or injuries that you do not feel immediately.
Most of us naturally want to be the "nice person" or the "good guy." However, it's important to remember that any financial leeway you give to the other person may become a disadvantage for you. Handling car accident damage privately is too common, but also requires more trust than what you should give a stranger.
Say you agree to handle your car accident matter privately. You leave the scene of the accident where all of the evidence is. Now you lose your chance to get a police report, and you place your insurance company at a disadvantage. Then you find out that the person responsible for the accident doesn’t plan on paying you for the accident. As a result, you've lost most of your options and may find yourself at the mercy of a stranger.
If you find yourself in this bad situation, call a lawyer. An Accident.com lawyer can help you figure out what to do in this type of car accident.
For more information, please read our article on who you should speak to after an accident.
A picture is worth 1,000 words: Document everything
One of the most important things you can do to protect your rights at the scene of a car accident is to take pictures and videos. These days, almost everyone has a camera built into their cell phone.
While it may be easier to take one long video of the accident, a bunch of pictures will capture more details. Your pictures should include all damage to all cars involved. Try to take pictures from different angles too.
You should also take pictures of the license plates, driver's licenses and insurance cards for everyone involved in the accident. In fact, you should also record any conversations you have with other people if your state allows recording conversations. (Although, as mentioned above, any conversation should be minimal.) However, if you can record another person admitting fault, it will be good for your case.
Finally, be sure to record or write down everything about the environment of the accident, including:
- Exactly how the accident happened.
- Where the accident happened.
- Who was in the accident.
- The type, color and model of each car.
- A detailed description of the vehicle damages.
Also, notes taken right after an accident are more trustworthy than information written down at a later time from memory.
If you feel that you need to sue for the car accident, you can find a lawyer for your needs at Accident.com.
Safety first: Move your vehicle to another location
After you've taken pictures of the accident, you'll want to move your car to a safer place. This stops anyone from being exposed to dangerous passing traffic. The last thing anyone needs is to be hurt in a car accident while standing near the scene of the original accident.
Also, moving your car allows traffic to move more easily through the scene of the accident. If the accident is slowing down the flow of traffic, the police will require that the cars involved be moved to a safer place anyways.
However, if one of the cars is too badly broken, you should at least try to push the car to the side of the road. If you have to move a car, be sure to pick up any debris from the road. Scraps like glass pieces or pointy objects can damage other vehicles that are trying to drive by, so try to ensure safety by getting rid of any dangerous items.
Again, if moving the car is necessary, be sure to limit your conversation with everyone. There's no need for small talk.
Share contact information with everyone involved
If you don't have your phone or a camera on you, it's still important to get all relevant information from everyone that was in the car accident, including:
- Contact information, including names and phone numbers. Double check the information by comparing it to the driver’s license. An address would be helpful to write down too.
- License plate number. Even if another party is not cooperating, you can still write down the license plate number. The license plate number is the information that you absolutely have to take note of.
- Driver's license number. Don't take anybody's word for their driver's license number. Be sure to write down the number from the license itself. If the other person doesn’t let you see their driver’s license, this is a bad sign. That uncooperative person is most likely driving without a license or on a suspended license. A party's unwillingness to provide their driver's license is your sign to call the police right away if you haven't already done so.
- Insurance information. Insurance information includes the insurance company name and policy number. Again, if one of the drivers in the accident doesn’t give you their insurance information, it’s a bad sign. The uncooperative driver is likely driving illegally without insurance - another sign to call the police right away.
Ask witnesses what they saw
If you were in a car accident that you know wasn’t your fault, it's important that you get statements from anyone who saw what happened. Naturally, getting statements is less important if you feel the accident was your fault.
If you're lucky, a witness or two will stop to offer their help. You can ask the witnesses for a statement at that time. If no one offers to stop and help, you may be able to approach a car in the area, particularly if the accident has stopped traffic, and ask someone in traffic for a statement.
Just remember: Safety first! You should never expose yourself to moving traffic. Don't add to an already bad situation with any more pain from another car accident.
Also, be sure to record any witness statements. If you don't have a recording device handy, take detailed notes. In either event, ask the witnesses to provide their contact information and their statement of what they saw.
It's important that you only ask witnesses exactly what they saw. Don't try to influence the witnesses to take your side. Any type of influence over witnesses' statements can be seen as manipulating the situation and can hurt your credibility in court.
If you’ve gotten your witness statements, you'll probably want to find a lawyer who knows what to do with the witnesses' information. You can find a lawyer for your unique situation at Accident.com.
Broken down car? Call roadside assistance
If you can’t drive your car away after the accident because it's broken down, you'll need to figure out how to get your car to a repair shop and get yourself home. Roadside assistance is available from many places, such as AAA or your insurance company. You may also need to make towing plans.
As mentioned above, after a car accident, you may experience a lot of feelings, such as anger, fear or anxiety. Car accidents are traumatizing, so you might be in a state of shock. These feelings can stop you from thinking clearly, so you may not be in the best state of mind to provide the right information for an insurance claim.
Wait to file a claim until the immediate trauma and shock from the accident have gone away. However, don't wait too long to file your claim or else your insurance company may not accept the claim.
Should you file a claim if you’re hurt?
When deciding whether to file an insurance claim for damages to your car, first think about who is at fault. The police officer on the scene will usually assign fault to one or more people.
If you're at fault, think about how much damage the accident caused. If there isn’t much damage, you may want to pay for the damage out of pocket to prevent an increase in your insurance rates.
If you aren't at fault, you should file an insurance claim. First, just call your insurance agent. Follow their instructions and gather all of the paperwork needed. Also, keep copies of all your papers just in case something gets lost.
Be sure to ask your agent about any time limits for filing your claims or turning in bills too. Finally, ask whether you need estimates for the damages, what repair shops your insurance company approves of and whether your policy includes a rental car.
If you’re injured, it’s even more important to file a claim. A lawyer will help you navigate the legal system and get what you need to recover from your injuries.
When deciding whether to file a legal claim, you should talk to a lawyer. A lawyer can help you decide whether you could get substantial car injury compensation. You can find the right lawyer at Accident.com.
For additional information, please read this article on how to decide if you should file a claim after you've been in an accident.
Do I need a lawyer for a car accident? Can I sue if I'm not at fault?
If you're wondering whether you need to pursue legal action after a car accident, the answer is probably "yes," especially if you received an injury in the car accident.
It's important to remember that your insurance company wants to settle claims as cheaply as possible. Because you'll probably not be thinking clearly after an accident, your insurance company has a better chance of providing a settlement that is below what you actually deserve. A lawyer can help you get the compensation you deserve.
Additionally, you’re allowed to sue other people from the car accident if you aren't at fault. However, watch out for certain limitations. Nearly all states stop you from suing the insurance company, so you must sue the driver.
Also, if the other person doesn't have insurance, you may not end up receiving enough compensation from the lawsuit to adequately cover the accident's expenses. A lawyer can help you find the route that will lead to the biggest payout.
Ultimately, the team at Accident.com can find you the right lawyer to help you with all aspects of your unique situation. There is absolutely no risk for you - your case evaluation is free, with no obligation.
For additional information, please read this article on how to determine if you need a lawyer for your accident.
The bottom line
It's the unfortunate truth: All of us are likely to be involved in a car accident at some point in our lives. Car accidents are life-changing events that can cause serious injuries, a lot of financial damage, mental problems and even death.
Although car accidents are traumatic, this is the time to take a deep breath and remember these simple thirteen steps. These steps can guide you in helping the injured, protecting your rights and making sure you get the right compensation for the accident. After a car accident, even though you'll have a lot of feelings, these steps can help you think clearly and act logically.
However, you don't have to only rely on these thirteen steps. You don't have to go through a car accident alone. You can always find someone to help at Accident.com. During your free consultation, your lawyer will judge your situation, recommend the best plan of action and file any claim you may need to protect your rights. Don't wait - there are time limits for filing any legal claim.
When you get into a car accident, contact Accident.com right away.