After a Car Accident: First Steps

Something hitting your car is a shock physically, emotionally, and mentally. This sudden trauma may keep you in a daze or prompt you to panic. Take a deep breath and compose yourself. What you do immediately after impact can affect your physical, mental, and financial health for many years. So follow these steps to improve your outcome.

Check on everyone

Check for yourself and everyone in the car to ensure that nobody is hurt. If no injuries are apparent, have everyone step outside and gently move every part of their bodies. Even a slight pain may indicate a more serious problem later on. Then check on anyone else involved in the accident from other vehicles. If anyone is hurt, have them stay still until emergency help arrives. Even the slightest movement could cause serious injury.

Gather information

You and your passengers should write down the details of the incident while it is still fresh in memory. Note how the accident happened, time of day, the environment, weather conditions, any people at the scene, and condition of the vehicle. Exchange information with the other people involved including names, phone numbers, addresses, driver’s license numbers, license plate numbers, and insurance info. Talk to any witnesses to get their version of events. If anyone lives or works in the accident area, ask them about any similar incidents that have happened in the past. Get contact information for any witnesses.

Avoid talking

Beyond determining if the other parties are injured and getting their information, avoid talking with anyone about the accident. Otherwise, your words can be used against you. Do not apologize or admit fault, or you may be admitting that you were liable for the incident. If anyone presses you for additional discussion, refer them to your insurance company or attorney.

Take photos.

Use your smartphone camera to document the scene because this helps your insurance adjuster assess the damage and determine compensation. This visual record is also useful in court. Take pictures of the vehicles, people, traffic signals and signs, property, road conditions, and the environment. If you have photos of your vehicle before the accident, they offer a useful contrast of the damage your car sustained.

Inform your insurance company

Contact your insurance company as soon as possible after the accident to give them your account of what happened. Be accurate and truthful and offer any documentation that you’ve already gathered. Your insurer will use what you submit to determine who was at fault and how much to compensate you. Be truthful. Any misinformation may be cause for denying you coverage.

Evaluate the damage

Your insurance company should give you a damage valuation, which details the damage they think you sustained and how much they are compensating you for it. If you don’t like the details in the report, get repair estimates from at least two other service shops, and discuss your concerns with your adjuster. If you and your insurance company can’t come to an agreement, you may need to consult an attorney.

Don’t sign anything

Beware of any early settlements from your insurance companies or from anyone representing other people involved. You may not be aware of the true extent of your injuries until many days or months later. You want to be sure that you receive compensation for all the problems caused by your accident. You may need to consult a legal professional to determine if any offers you receive are fair or if you should wait.

Get a lawyer

If any serious property damage or injuries occurred, consider hiring an attorney. You may need one to protect you against any accusations or lawsuits or to help you obtain compensation if you’re hurt. Look for one that works on a contingency fee, which means that the attorney gets paid only when you receive a settlement.