Auto accidents, even the minor ones, can be scary, stressful experiences. What is important in all accidents is to check for injuries, call for police and ambulance services, and remain calm. Following these six steps will give you something to concentrate on and help protect your interests down the line.
Gather the Required Car Paperwork
Though the Department of Motor Vehicles operates slightly differently in each state, the type of vehicle documentation needed is pretty standard. Though you carry your driver's license with you, a current vehicle registration certificate and proof of insurance must be carried in the car. Pull out these documents if you can, and have them ready. You'll also need them if the accident is a minor "fender bender" with no injuries. Even if you and the other party just opt to exchange information, following the remaining five steps is wise. .
Do Not Apologize
You may feel that an apology is appropriate, and it may go against your nature not to offer one. In this case, don't do it. An apology may be considered an admission of guilt. Be polite to the other driver, but avoid discussing who is to blame for the accident. Your best bet is to call the police and make a formal statement. In most cases, you'll need the police report to file a claim with your insurance company. That report also helps if you decide to consult an attorney. Most police agencies will give you an accident report number so it's easier to get a copy of the report if needed.
Take Lots of Notes
Use your cell phone or any other electronic recording devise to take notes, or even better to record the conversation between you and the other driver. Pen and paper does work for simple note taking, in a pinch. Keep in mind that the other driver may also be taking notes, which is why the "do not apologize" step is so important. Try and get the driver's name, license number, insurance information, and contact number. If the other party is hesitant, or has no insurance, call and wait for the police.
Take Your Own Photos
Taking your own photos of the damage and position of both vehicles is wise, even if the police are making their own report. It's especially important if you and the driver are just exchanging information. This helps avoid an exaggeration of the actual damage and the subsequent higher-than-warranted repair bills. Cell phone photos and videos are even better. You can record road, traffic, and weather conditions at the time of the accident. Be sure and note the location and condition of traffic signs, lights, and crosswalks. For example, if a stop sign is partially or fully hidden behind a tree, it could have contributed to the accident. Check the roadway itself and take photos of potholes or unreadable traffic markings.
Seek Medical Attention
That adrenaline that kept you extra alert right after the accident may also mask injuries. If an ambulance is on site, let them check you out and then follow their advice. Some injuries, like whiplash, sometimes don't show up until the next day. It's one of the major reasons that paramedics typically put cervical collars on accident victims. If you forego the paramedics and then later discover an accident-related injury, you may find the other driver's attorney downplaying that injury and offering a smaller settlement.
Consult a Car Accident Lawyer
You may not think you need a lawyer, especially if you and the other driver have exchanged information and agreed to work things out between you. But, what if that driver changes their mind? Or, if your insurance claims adjuster offers a clearly unfair settlement amount? It is the adjuster's job to pay out as little money as possible. Consulting a car accident lawyer, even after a seemingly minor accident, simply insures that you will be treated fairly.