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.
Who is responsible for car repair costs?
Generally, the insurance company of the party at fault is responsible for paying car repair costs; however, some factors could muddy those waters.
For example, if fault isn't yet determined, you might file a claim with your own insurance company and, after determining the other party was at fault, your insurance company might file for reimbursement.
Can I get a rental car?
Some insurance policies automatically include coverage for rental car costs; others require extra rental reimbursement coverage tacked onto the policy.
Call your car insurance provider to find out; if it won't cover rental car costs, talk with your car accident attorney about any reimbursements you'll receive as part of your settlement (as long as you weren't the at-fault party).
What if my car damages keep me from work?
As mentioned above (see “What If My Injuries Keep Me From Working?”) auto accident attorneys pay attention to lost wages when filing a suit against insurance companies.
Thus, be sure to speak with your attorney about all the documentation you'll need to prove your lost wages.
How do I file a car insurance claim?
How you file a car insurance claim depends on various factors, especially on the nature of the claim (i.e. personal injury claim, property damage claim, etc.).
Some cases might seem simple enough to file a claim on your own behalf (and, some actually are that simple—with a little research and direction from your insurance provider on policy details); other cases are complicated and benefit greatly from a car accident attorney who can file on your behalf.
You can find more information by reading through our Car Insurance Claims FAQs.
When should I hire a lawyer?
While you should consider hiring an accident attorney if there's severe property damage and you don't feel the insurance company is fairly compensating you, you should always hire a personal injury attorney if you've been injured in an accident.
Car accidents—especially those involving bodily injury—can bring about stressful times. Add to that multiple insurance companies with teams of skilled lawyers, and you could find yourself in completely uncharted territory.
Many (though not all) skilled accident attorneys don't require payment unless you receive compensation, and their assistance helps you:
Handle legal procedures and terms, process paperwork, and make sure you meet any statute of limitations deadline your state might have in place.
Work with a team of investigators who can handle all technical aspects of your case.
See things more objectively.
Car accidents bring a range of emotions—mostly unpleasant—and a lawyer can help you think more clearly.
Find courtroom alternatives, such as mediation and arbitration (see “What Do Mediation and Arbitration Mean?” below).
Communicate with the insurance company's attorneys.
Experienced car accident attorneys understand these procedures and are better able to communicate with one another. Plus, the insurance company's attorney is much less likely to take advantage of someone with legal experience.
Receive the best possible settlement.
As mentioned above, attorneys see things more objectively; so, instead of letting emotions get in the way and cause you to accept a meager settlement, your attorney can help you hold out for the highest possible payout.
Prepare for court.
Your attorney will represent you using a legal strategy best suited to your situation—as well as get you the highest settlement possible.
How should I choose a car accident attorney?
When searching for a car accident attorney, look for one who:
Focuses on personal injury or property damage, depending on your situation.
Has experience with your specific circumstances.
Has a good reputation among both other clients and other attorneys.
Shows dedication to your case (i.e. keeps you regularly updated).
Makes you feel comfortable.
What do “mediation” and “arbitration” mean?
Mediation is a fairly informal meeting between the two parties to try to find an agreeable resolution with the help of a mediator.
Arbitration can be a bit more formal meeting, depending on the situation, but during arbitration, both parties can present arguments and evidence to an arbitrator, who then legally decides the outcome.
Generally, attorneys try to take the mediation or arbitration route (or both) before heading to court.
How long do I have to initiate a lawsuit?
Each state has its own “statute of limitations” (a law that determines the timeframe during which you can take legal action), and hiring an accident attorney can help you navigate that timeframe.
How long will the legal process take?
Just as many other aspects of car accident cases, this varies, too; however, the more evidence you have, the faster your attorney can work.