At the time of an auto accident, you are confused, disoriented and making good decisions may not come to you as quickly as during normal times. But, after an auto accident, in the minutes after an accident, a day or two after, there are steps you must take to ensure your safety, the safety of others, and your financial safety.
Nearly any accident is preventable by someone; but maybe not by you. Certainly, defensive driving; anticipating what other drivers may do at any given time and what your corresponding reaction would be, is important. Defensive driving, by itself, may not be enough to avoid the driver who runs into the back of you or the driver who runs the red light and T-bones you. So, wear your seat belt, and maintain good, comprehensive insurance coverage in order to guard against those times when defensive driving is not enough.
The first step to take after you are involved in an auto accident is to stop. Leaving the scene of an accident is not only illegal, but could also be dangerous. You, your passengers, your car, or others at the scene could be injured or damaged, and leaving could increase these damages; but, more importantly, leaving may place someone’s life in danger. Tell your passengers to stay in the car; check for oncoming traffic to your rear, sides and front; make sure that you, your passengers, and the other party involved in the accident are safe.
If allowing your vehicle to remain where it came to rest is dangerous to other motorists and your vehicle can be safely moved off the roadway, do so in the safest possible way. If your vehicle can not be moved or if moving your vehicle may cause more dangerous problems, leave your vehicle where it is and call the appropriate law enforcement or 911. Without endangering yourself, try to verify the condition of other drivers and their passengers so you can fully inform the law enforcement agency. Never agree to leave the scene of an accident without contacting law enforcement; even if you think the accident was your fault. The problems involved with not having law enforcement evaluation of an accident can be significant.
Exchange information with the other party. The necessary information includes:
- the name of the other driver;
- the address and telephone numbers (including business numbers) of the other driver;
- the name(s), and if possible addresses, of passengers in the other drivers’ cars;
- the name, address, telephone number, and policy number for the insurance company providing coverage to the the other party;
- the date and time of the accident;
Take pictures of your car, the other cars, and the overall roadway. Most cell phones have cameras that will be sufficient for this task. Do not go into the roadway or endanger yourself to obtain pictures.
Do not volunteer any information or opinions concerning fault in the accident. The police will write a full report based on their own visual inspection. Answer the questions of the police officer fully. Ask the police officer for an incident or report number. As soon as possible, call your insurance company and provide them with a complete accounting of the accident. Once you arrive at your ultimate destination or as soon as your injuries permit, call your insurance company in order to open a claim in connection with the accident.
Do not provide statements to insurance companies representing anyone else. If you are contacted by someone claiming to be from your insurance company, obtain their name and telephone number; call them back to verify they are actually from your insurance company. Ask your insurance company for a written copy of any statement you may give to them.
If you are injured in the accident or if you have any questions concerning your rights, contact an attorney skilled in personal injury law to determine your rights and what action, if any, you should take. Under no circumstances can it be recommended you sign any releases or provide recorded statements to the opposing insurance company adjusters without contacting an attorney to learn about your rights.
Remember that limitation periods apply to causes of action arising from auto negligence and failure to make a claim or file a lawsuit within the prescribed time may cause you to lose important legal rights. Contact an attorney you trust to determine what the limitation period may be in your case.