You have just been in a car accident, what should you do now? First, take a deep breath, you are still alive and you will need a clear head to handle the next few minutes, days, and weeks.
1. Stop and make sure everyone is ok.
2. Call the police, even for what may seem like a minor car accident. Write down the officer’s name, badge number, and precinct information. They may be needed as a witness later. Ask for an accident report. They may not write one in every case, but it won’t hurt to ask anyway.
3. Obtain the names and contact information of all witnesses, especially bystanders. This is one of the most important things you can do. Witnesses who do not have any prior connection with those involved in the accident are often seen as more credible than anyone else, because they have nothing to gain from a settlement or law suit.
4. Document the accident scene. This involves taking pictures and taking notes. Take pictures of the damage to all cars involved, including any damage to the interior of the cars. Take pictures of the accident scene itself, including the location of street lamps, traffic lights, traffic signs, any medians and traffic lines on the street, and any debris from the auto accident and where it ended up. Do not forget to take pictures of your physical injuries as well. Also write down your recollection of the accident as soon as possible, including anything that might be relevant. This allows you to get the facts down on paper and prevents your memory from playing tricks on you later. Be sure to write down anything the other driver or witnesses said following the accident.
5. Seek Medical Treatment! You may think that you are ok at the time, but the seriousness of an accident and the extent of your physical injuries may not appear for hours or days after the accident. Additionally, in terms of any insurance settlement or legal case you may pursue, if you fail to go to a doctor or ER shortly after your accident, the odds of obtaining a favorable settlement will be reduced. When you visit the emergency room, express care center, or your doctor, be very thorough in describing your physical condition. Don’t leave anything out, regardless how minor. Tell them about every bump, bruise, scrape, pain, swelling, etc. If you tell the doctor, they will document it in your medical records. If you leave it out, even if you seek treatment for it at a later date, it will be harder to connect that pain to the accident and not something that happened later.
6. Don’t assume you were to blame. Never admit fault in an accident, even if you think you might have played even a small part in the accident. Don’t make any statements that appear like you are taking blame. This includes saying you are sorry or agreeing to pay for any damages. While saying “I’m Sorry” may seem like an innocent gesture at the time, that one simple statement could be used later as an admission that you were at fault.
7. Report the accident to your insurance company.
8. Be careful when discussing the accident with anyone other than your insurance company, the police, and your attorney. Do not talk with representatives from the other insurance companies, under any circumstances, without first speaking to your attorney and/or insurance company. If you are contacted, politely ask them to contact your attorney or insurance company to schedule any interviews. Then, contact your attorney and/or insurance company and let them know that you were contacted about your accident.
9. Do NOT give a recorded statement to any insurance company without speaking to an attorney first. In states that recognize Contributory Negligence, including Maryland, you may be prevented from recovering ANYTHING if you are found to be even partially at fault in the accident. If you give a recorded statement and you are trapped into saying anything that sounds like an admission of fault, you may get nothing. Speaking with an attorney first can prepare you to speak to the insurance companies and protect your interests.
10. Do not sign anything or accept a final payment check without first consulting an attorney. Insurance companies are for profit businesses, and they often undervalue your repairs or estimate the damage based on the use of refurbished and used auto parts. The signing of a release or waiver, prior to discovering the full extent of your losses and being advised of your legal rights, can result in you receiving substantially less compensation than you are entitled to.
11. Call and speak with an attorney! Insurance companies have experienced teams of attorneys, paralegals, adjusters, and investigators who work to protect their interests, shouldn’t you?