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January 19, 2015

Checklist for after a Car Accident

Car Accident Checklist

A car accident can be a harrowing experience. Following a collision, it is only natural that those involved may be shaken up, disoriented, or confused about what to do. However, though you may not realize it, there are certain actions that accident victims may take in order to preserve their legal right to recover for their losses at a later date. On the other hand, there are some actions that you always want to avoid, as they may hinder your chances of compensation.

Though no one expects to be involved in a car accident, you should always be aware of the following checklist of things that you should and should not do following an accident. 

If you or anyone else is injured, call 911 or otherwise seek medical attention.

Following a car crash, your health should be your primary concern. If you believe you require emergency medical attention, call 911 (or have someone else do it) and follow the instructions of the emergency personnel. Even if you do not need immediate medical attention, it is still entirely possible that you have suffered injuries and require treatment. You should always seek a medical evaluation as soon as possible following an accident. A medical professional can identify and document any injuries—even minor ones—that you sustained and can prescribe the proper treatment. These medical records may be used as evidence[1] of your accident-related injuries at a later date.

Collect information regarding the other parties involved.

Many car accidents involve more than two vehicles and, even if a particular vehicle does not seem damaged, you should always collect information regarding any car that was involved in the collision. Make sure you write down license plate numbers, identification numbers on commercial trucks,[2] and any other pertinent information. Obtain the driver’s license numbers, names, contact information, and insurance information from any drivers that were involved.

Collect information from any individuals who witnessed the accident.

In many cases, individuals who witness the accident may stop to provide help even if they were not involved in the actual wreck. You should always talk to these witnesses and obtain their names and contact information. You should also get an idea of what they saw occur, as well as inquire as to whether they would be willing to make a statement regarding their version of events. The more people you have to corroborate your story, the better.

File a police report.

Car Crash Police Statement

Unless you need emergency medical attention, you should always call the police and stay at the scene of the accident until the police have arrived and you have spoken to them. In most situations, police should file a report, and you want to make sure your version of events is properly represented in that police report. A police report[3] can serve as documentation of the way the aftermath of the accident appeared and may include information that may be used as evidence of fault on the part of another party. On many occasions, a driver who knows he caused the accident will attempt to avoid getting the police involved. You should not be persuaded and should always speak to the police if you were the victim of a car accident.

Take photos and notes, if possible.

If you can, use your smart phone to take as many photographs of the accident scene as possible. Make sure that you photograph the damage to all vehicles involved, any tire marks on the road, the location of the accident, any potential road hazards that may have contributed to the accident, and more. In addition to photographs, you may want to take notes regarding your version of how the accident occurred, the weather or other relevant conditions, and anything else that may seem important. After an accident, it is all too easy to forget or misremember certain details of what occurred. Photos and notes can help to accurately refresh your memory[4] of the incident at later times.

DO NOT admit responsibility or fault for the accident to anyone.

Following an accident, many stressed victims may blurt out to other parties or police that they “were not paying attention” or that they “did not see the other car.” Though they may simply be expressing remorse, it is always a mistake to admit even the slightest fault immediately following a car accident. Insurance adjusters for the other party will almost certainly use any admission of possible wrongdoing to try to limit the amount of your settlement from their company as much as possible. In some cases, such an admission may even prevent a car accident from recovering at all.  Even if you were partially at fault, you may still be able to recover partially for your losses[5] from other responsible parties, and you do not want to compromise any potential future legal claims.

DO NOT give an insurance adjuster a recorded statement.

Car Accident and InsuranceYou will almost certainly receive a call from an insurance adjuster soon after the accident. Though you should always be polite and cooperative by providing basic information—such as your name and contact information—you should not give them details of your version of events or permit them to record such a statement. Though an insurance adjuster may act like they are simply trying to help, know that they may use anything you say against you to limit the settlement you receive.  Insurance company adjusters have their employer’s interests in mind, not yours. It is important to keep this in mind when discussing an auto accident with any insurance company agent that contacts you.

DO NOT accept an agreement or payment from an insurance company on your own.

Just like any other type of business, an insurance company’s primary focus is generally on its bottom line. For this reason, the settlement agreement they offer will often be much less than you deserve for your accident-related losses. Accepting an insurance settlement offer will prevent you from bringing a lawsuit to recover the full amount of your losses at a later date. As a result, you should never accept payment as a settlement[6] from another party’s insurance company without first exploring all of your options.

[1]http://www.americanbar.org/newsletter/publications/gp_solo_magazine_home/gp_solo_magazine_index/medicalevidence.html

[2]http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations/title49/section/390.21

[3]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Police_Report

[4]http://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/fre/rule_612

[5]http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/LI/consCheck.cfm?txtType=HTM&ttl=42&div=0&chpt=71&sctn=2&subsctn=0

[6]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Settlement_%28litigation%29

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