What are the first steps I should take after a car crash?
From simple fender benders to head-on collisions, car accidents can leave all parties confused about which steps to take next.
Review our questions and answers below on what to do following the car accident, how to handle medical and personal injury situations, what to do if you've suffered property damage, how to file insurance claims, and when you should hire an attorney.
There are several steps you should take immediately following a car accident:
Call an ambulance if anyone is injured.
If possible (and necessary), move your vehicle away from oncoming traffic to avoid any additional accidents.
Call the police to file an official police report, especially if any of the following are involved:
Significant property damage.
Serious bodily injury.
Obtain information from the other party and any witnesses and collect any evidence (see “What Kind of Evidence Should I Collect at the Accident Scene?" below).
Understand that these steps might vary (and even be postponed) depending on the specific circumstances involving your car accident. For example, if you and/or any other parties are seriously injured and need to visit the hospital immediately, gathering information and evidence will have to wait.
Also note that, unless you're seriously injured and must be transported to a hospital immediately, you must not leave the scene of the accident (often called a “hit-and-run") without handling the necessary steps related to your particular accident. Doing so can result in misdemeanor or felony charges, as well as hefty fines, all depending on your state laws.
What kind of evidence should I collect at the accident scene?
As you're gathering evidence, be sure to:
Exchange information with all other involved parties, including:
Contact information (addresses, telephone numbers, etc.).
License plate numbers.
Each vehicle's make, model, year, and color.
Each vehicle's registration number.
Each driver's license number.
Get statements from any willing witnesses.
It's also a good idea to document their names and contact information, too.
Take photos of:
All vehicle damage.
All physical injuries.
Any evidence that shows road and/or weather conditions.
Be aware that it's crucial to gather this information as quickly as possible. For example, physical wounds begin to heal over time and taking a picture minutes after the accident—as opposed to a week later—will better help show the severity of the injury.
Should I call the police after an accident?
Call the police if there's:
Significant property damage.
Serious bodily injury.
These are the most important scenarios during which you'll need police assistance.
Why is It important to get a copy of the police report?
Simply put, the police report is official documentation of circumstances surrounding the accident.
Aside from the same kinds of evidence you gathered at the accident scene, police reports also generally include
the officer's own narrative of details and causes related to the accident and sometimes even diagrams of the accident scene and impact point.
Suffice it to say, these types of details go a long way when it comes to:
Filing your car insurance claim (particularly, a personal injury or property damage claim).
How the claims adjuster moves forward.
How the insurance companies determine fault.
Should I admit fault for the accident?
No, never admit fault for an auto accident. While you may believe you are at fault for the accident, you may not be aware of all the facts and circumstances that were at play.
Fault will be determined upon further investigation.
Should I always see a doctor after a car accident?
Simply put, for purposes of your health and any insurance claims you file, it's best to always seek medical attention as soon as possible following a car crash.
How do I know if I have a “personal injury” case?
If you have an injury resulting from the car accident, and you feel that you aren't getting fairly compensated, contact your personal injury lawyer. Present your lawyer with your medical records and he or she will advise you from there.
What if my injuries keep me from working?
Generally, car accident attorneys take lost wages into account when filing suits against insurance companies.
Be sure to keep records of specific dates you missed work, the amount of money you lost, and even any money you paid for public transportation to get to work (if your injuries allowed it but your vehicle was too damaged).
What kinds of medical records should I keep?
Make sure you ask for a copy of all medical records from each medical professional you see for injuries related to the car accident.
Should I provide the other driver's insurance company with my medical records?
No. The ONLY people who should have access to your medical records are your doctors and your personal injury attorney.
When it's time to present your medical records to the insurance company as evidence, your personal injury lawyer will do so.
Should I allow my own health insurance to cover my medical bills?
Your personal injury attorney knows how to make sure you (and your health insurance company) receive reimbursement for the medical costs associated with an accident for which you were not at fault.
Should I continue driving my car?
Even if the damages seem minor (for example, you can spot only a few dings and scrapes on the bumper), you should have your vehicle inspected by an auto repair mechanic BEFORE you resume using your car as you normally would.
Note that some insurance companies work exclusively with certain mechanic shops, so call your insurance provider first and ask about which shops you can visit.
How should I have my car inspected and/or appraised?
Generally, an insurance company will send out an inspector to review the vehicle damage and direct you to a mechanic who will appraise the cost of vehicle repairs.
Because every policy differs (including who handles inspections and appraisals), you should contact your car insurance provider.
What if my car is totaled?
Usually, an insurance company will deem a vehicle a total loss (or “totaled”) if the cost to repair the vehicle exceeds a certain percentage of the vehicle's worth.
At this point,
your insurance company should pay you a check based on the market value of your vehicle before the accident.
Once you've received your payment, you can discuss options with your insurance company, a trusted mechanic, or even your state's motor vehicle department on what to do with the physical vehicle.