Every year hundreds of thousands of people are involved in auto accidents. Even with a relatively minor accident, the experience can leave you in shock and disoriented -- and often angry. The aftermath of a collision requires clear thinking under difficult circumstances.
I have prepared this article for you to print out and keep in your glove compartment. I am offering you this checklist with the hope that that it may help prevent additional injuries, and equally importantly help you recover medical expenses and other costs in the event you need to pursue a personal injury lawsuit.
1. First of all, do your best to remain calm. Do not make any accusations against the other driver or passengers. The experience of being in an auto accident can easily result in an escalation of anger which can make the situation worse. And above all do not take blame for the accident even if you feel it was clearly your fault. I cannot emphasize this enough.
2. Keep an inexpensive emergency first aid kit in your glove compartment, with an assortment of bandages, ointments, and other medical supplies in case of injuries. Also include a notepad and pen, and an inexpensive camera. Included in your glove compartment should be addresses and phone numbers of your insurance company, your doctor, as well as any of your medical conditions that may be helpful to ambulance and other first responders.
3. As soon as possible, attempt to move the vehicles to the side of the road or highway, so that there will be no additional accidents. If your accident occurred in the middle of a highway and the traffic permits, move your vehicles off the road. However if it is too dangerous to move the vehicles, then you and your passengers should stay inside your cars, with seatbelts buckled until emergency crews arrive. Turn on your hazard lights. If you have warning cones and flares put them out, especially at night. I recently purchased some fluorescent cones very inexpensively at an auto supply store. I keep them in my trunk in case of such an emergency.
4. Immediately after the accident contact law enforcement and firmly request that they come out so you can file a police report. This is essential not only for your insurance company, but a police report, prepared shortly after the accident, will also help considerably in the event of a lawsuit.
Just the other day I received a call in my office from a woman whose car was damaged in a hit and run accident. Fortunately she was not seriously injured. However she waited until the next day to attempt to file police an accident report - but by then it was too late. She returned to the scene of the accident hoping to find evidence of the crash. But it had rained all night and nothing remained. I had to tell her that she was in a difficult position because she did not request the police to show up right after the accident. In fact, her insurance company might even decline her claim because she could not easily disprove that she caused the accident herself, by running into a tree, for example. A police accident report is one of the most important documents to obtain.
I suggest as soon as the officers arrive you take out your notepad and request their names, and make a note of their badge numbers. This will show the officers that you are serious and will motivate them to be even more thorough with their report.
5. By law and the requirements of your insurance policy you need to exchange information with the other driver. Both drivers need to provide names, address, phone number, insurance company (including policy number), drivers' license and the license plate numbers. Write down additional information regarding the accident as well as the make, year, color and model of each car. Also be sure to write down the address of the accident, the intersection as well as the date and time of the accident. Note other conditions. For example was it cloudy, was there heavy traffic, etc.
Importantly to the best of your ability write down how the accident happened. Do this as soon as possible, in your own handwriting, and include the date and time of your report. This will help considerably in the event of a lawsuit.
6. Use your camera to photograph the damage not only to your vehicle, but to the other vehicles. And take pictures of the overall location. These pictures will be helpful in case we need to take your case to trial.
7. Get names and addresses of any witnesses. This is important to support your version of what caused the accident. Look for people not only in the immediate area but even those lurking on the sidewalk, etc. The more witnesses you have on your behalf the better it will be for future litigation. This may require some diplomacy because sometimes witnesses are reluctant to become involved in a personal injury auto accident. So bolster up your friendliest face and all of your charms to get the names, addresses and phone numbers of people who witnessed the incident.
8. File an accident report with the DMV. Even if the police respond, by law you need to file an accident report. Do this within 24 hours, if not sooner. You can obtain an accident report online from the California Department of Motor vehicles. An accident report will help speed up the legal process and can help you recover larger damages.
9. Review your insurance policy. And don't wait until after an accident. Check your policy today to see, for example, if it covers a rental car or towing. It usually only costs a small amount extra for rental car reimbursement.
Finally, I cannot emphasis enough the importance of contacting a qualified personal injury attorney as soon as possible after an auto accident. You don't want to deal with the insurance company yourself. Insurance company representatives may appear to be friendly and helpful, but their job is to convince you to settle for as little money as possible. However, when the insurance company is informed that you have retained an experienced and respected personal injury attorney they will start preparing for a much larger settlement. You must not represent yourself with the insurance company. There is no charge for you to contact my office for a complete evaluation of your case. If you can't come to our office we will visit you.
Being involved in an auto accident affects everyone involved both emotionally and financially. It seems like sooner or later everyone gets in an auto accident, either as a driver, a passenger, or even as a pedestrian. The important thing is, as I have said, is to remain calm and follow my checklist.
In the meantime drive safely and defensively. And buckle up!