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Two vehicles in an accident

What You Should Do if You Have an Automobile Accident

Dennis C. Hogan
April 13, 2022

No one plans to have an automobile accident. But you can be prepared for what to do if you have an accident.

Obviously, the first thing to do is check on the driver’s and passenger’s of all the cars to see if anyone is injured and needs first aid. If there is anything you can help with, do it while you or someone else calls 911 to get Emergency Medical Technicians and their ambulance to the scene.

The location of the vehicles ataxy point from before the accident through to after the accident is important in order to reconstruct what happened. Ideally, you would have video of the event and leave cars where they rested so that the police can document the facts. However, whether to leave them in place for the police is a judgment call. In a minor rear ender accident, it is not important enough to stop traffic on a busy street. On the other extreme, for a deathly car crash, the need for an investigation is more important than clearing the street because there is always a detour that will get people where they want to go. Due to the wide use of smartphones, an obvious compromise is probably available at every accident- take a photo of the scene and then move the cars so traffic can resume.

You may wonder if you should call the police after finding that no one is hurt. For any accident that involves more than the front bumper of one car and the back bumper of another you should call the police. In other words, call the police unless one party has “rear ended” the other and agrees that those are the facts. When on the telephone, If they ask whether the damage seems to be over a certain amount, tell them “yes.” A cracked bumper is going to cost more than whatever dollar amount most departments will ask. Damage anywhere other than the bumper will be expensive. More important you want an independent third person -the officer- to document the facts as they can be observed at the scene. The officer can document the names and take a brief statement from any live witnesses to the accident.

While waiting for the police, start exchanging contact and insurance information between yourself and the other drivers and passengers. If there is a witness to the accident, collect their contact information so you can pass it along to your insurance company and your attorney. Your smartphone can help by taking photographs of driver’s licenses and insurance cards.

Another good use of your smartphone is to photograph each car showing the damage and those parts of the car that are undamaged. There are some insurance companies to which a claim can be sent via your phone before you leave the scene. That is not necessary but it illustrates the direction technology is taking us.

When collecting the information from the other parties get a good telephone number and the information that is on a driver’s license: Name, address, date of birth. Then ask for the other parties insurance information. Many states require their drivers to have insurance so they also required them to carry an insurance card in the car. The law in all those states has made it common practice for cars in every state to carry insurance cards. The information on the insurance card is something you want as well. While you have your smartphone handy take a photograph of the insurance card while photographing the driver’s license.

Now that you have the information collected make sure to tell the police officer your version of events. Avoid phrases which make it sound like you were unaware of what was going on. You might have experienced a car appearing quickly into your line of sight because it had previously been on the other side of a visual obstruct like a bush or truck. Avoid describing that car as “coming out of nowhere.” Since there is no such place as “nowhere” the phrase negatively frames it like you were not watching where you were going.

When telling your side of events, don’t bother trying to put fault on the other driver due to that driver’s character flaws. Before I went to law school, I worked as an insurance adjuster in a claims office and I heard a lot of irrelevant attacks on the other driver. One woman insisted the other party was at fault because he did not belong on the road as it was a county road with few houses, one of which was hers. I heard many negative rumors about the other drivers as an attempt to explain why our insured was not at fault.

The attempts at shifting fault for an accident with a character assassination illustrates that people confuse being morally good with being innocent of liability. They are not the same. You can be a good person and still make a mistake that causes an accident. To illustrate this point while I was an insurance adjuster I often told people, “If Mother Teresa rear ends Charlie Manson, I am paying Charlie Manson.” My fellow adjusters laughed to hear the concept put so colorfully

When you are done at the scene of the accident take care of yourself by going to the appropriate medical care. That may be the emergency room, urgent care facility or your primary care physician. Which you choose depends on the seriousness of your injury. Tell the medical personal everything you can think of regarding where you feel pain and how much. Often people only talk about their worst pain and the medical staff only notes that part of the body. The months later what seemed a minor ache is the part of your body with fails to heal but the initial medical reports also failed to note anything about that injury. So speak about all your injuries major and minor.

Listen to the medical staff's instructions regarding what to do and when to return. Return if you still feel discomfort. Never assume they can’t do anything for you just because you did not get relief from the last visit. As an outsider, it appears to me that medical staff tell many people the same thing because it helps most of them but you have to return for them to know you are not among that majority and you need further treatment. Returning to the medical facility and having a new suggestion should continue until you are no longer hurt which in the rarest cases requires surgery. In the rare case that you never recover the doctor can state that you have a permanent injury. Then your attorney can use that statement to argue that you should also be paid for pain that your doctor expects you to experience in the future.

You should retain an attorney as soon as possible after the accident. An experienced attorney will help you best document your injury so that you can demand a fair settlement from the insurance company or in the Courts if necessary.