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You’ve Had a Car Accident: Now What Do You Do?


n the seconds that your car is swerving out of control, it seems as if time is suspended. There may not be a single thought in your mind, only sounds and sensations — and perhaps the idea that you may die. Then, suddenly, your car has finally come to a stop. You take a few seconds to make sure you are still in one piece, and then get out of the car. Depending on the severity of the accident, you may even have to crawl out of your car. You are standing in the road, your mind spinning with shock. Now what do you do?

First, check for injuries. Your life and health are more important than your vehicle. If your car is in the middle of the road, see if you can move it out of the way to prevent further accidents from happening. If your car cannot be driven, turn on your four-way flashers. If you happen to have station cones or other traffic devices, position them to warn approaching vehicles. At night, use flares or a flashlight.

As soon as possible, ask someone to call the police. If there are injuries, also request an ambulance. Often, cars passing will pull over to see if they can help. Find out if onlookers have any medical or emergency training. If there is an injured person, they may be going into shock. Wrap them in a blanket or coat. Do not try to move them — you may only aggravate their injuries. A person who has internal injuries or who is in the early stages of shock may be much more injured than they appear to be. Never assume that if you cannot see an injury it does not exist.

Even if you are not physically hurt, shock and excitement will make it hard to think clearly. When the police arrive, let them take charge. They are equipped to handle the emergency and investigate the accident. Their report may help you if you are later sued or need to sue someone else.

Note the specific damages to the vehicles involved. Then write down the names, addresses, and license numbers of all persons involved in the accident. Also, write down the names and addresses of any witnesses. They may be able to prevent disagreements concerning how the accident actually happened. Next, write down whatever details you can see and remember about the accident, including the location, weather conditions and visibility, the position of the vehicles before and after the accident, skid marks, and debris on the road that may have contributed to the accident.

Make sure a vehicle accident report has been filed. The police usually take care of this, but in the event that they decide not to do so, these forms are available at police stations and on the Motor Vehicles website.

If you have any doubt about your own condition, SEE A DOCTOR. As I said, not all injuries are immediately apparent. Tell your doctor in as much detail as you can how the accident happened and any pain or problems you are experiencing as a result. This is also an important step to take for your insurance records.

Consider consulting a lawyer who can advise you and help protect your rights. You lawyer will be able to contact any witnesses and take their statements while their recall is still fresh. Get the lawyer’s advice before making any statements to investigators or insurance adjusters and before signing any medical releases. DO NOT LET A REPRESENTATIVE FROM THE OTHER PARTY INFLUENCE YOU. Follow the advice of your OWN attorney before filing a claim or admitting any fault.

The receipt of a traffic ticket or citation does not automatically mean legal liability or fault for the accident. However, if you admit guilt and sign that ticket, it may be used against you in an insurance claim. In that case, you must get legal advice before you decide how to plea regarding that ticket.

You must inform your insurance company as soon as you are able. Failure to do so could have serious repercussions: the insurance company may not cover you. So contact an agent or adjuster, and provide them with any information they request.

If your car has been damaged, if you lose work, have physical injuries or any other form of loss, you may be able to recover damages under your insurance policy if certain conditions have been met. You may also be able to recover money from the other party in the accident. These are the conditions that are required for monetary compensation: the extent and duration of your injuries; pain and suffering resulting from injuries; disability, both temporary and permanent; medical expenses resulting from the accident including ambulance, doctor bills, hospital bills, physical therapy, and prescriptions; and finally, the value of the damage to your car and other personal property.

Hopefully, you will never experience a car accident — it is certainly an experience that you will never forget. But if you do have an accident, knowing your legal rights and what to do at the scene will be of great help to you.


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