What Should You Do After a Car Accident?

Here Are Several Steps for You to Take

Each year, millions of people across the United States suffer injuries in serious auto accidents, including truck accidents, pedestrian accidents, and motorcycle accidents. Following a car accident, injured individuals often don’t know what steps to take, either in the immediate aftermath of the accident or in the days or weeks that follow. Do you have grounds for a personal injury claim? Should you contact an attorney? Understanding what to do after a car accident can help keep you calmer as well as protect your finances in the aftermath of the accident.

At the Scene of the Accident

Immediately after a crash, seeking medical care should be your first priority. Even if you think you emerged from the accident essentially unscathed (no obvious broken bones or bleeding, you should visit a medical care provider—either urgent care or the emergency room—for an evaluation. In some cases, injuries, including spinal cord injuries, may not present symptoms immediately after the accident. Failing to seek medical care could worsen your injuries or even prevent you from recovering compensation for your injuries following your accident. Once you have begun the medical treatment process, you can move on to other concerns.

Step One: Call for Assistance

When you call 911, you will summon both police and an ambulance to the scene of the accident. The police officer at the scene of the accident will collect witness names, possibly some witness statements, evaluate the scene of the accident, and talk to all drivers involved in the crash—at least those who aren’t suffering from severe injuries. The officer will then create a report about the accident. The accident report often helps establish fault in the accident. As you speak with the police officer, remember the following:

  • Do not incriminate yourself in the accident, if possible. You should not make any statement that seems to suggest fault.
  • Provide the officer with as much honest information as possible. Share any details you noticed about the scene of the accident or the other driver’s behavior, and answer all questions openly and honestly, but without suggesting fault.
  • Just the fact, just the facts. The officer does not need opinions about what you “thought” the other driver was doing, just what you actually saw. State just the facts.
  • Try to avoid making any statements about your injuries until a medical professional has evaluated you. If you are feeling hurt, say so, so that the officers can send you via ambulance if needed.

When the ambulance arrives, you will have access to medical care. In most cases, the paramedics will perform any immediate medical assistance necessary, then recommend transport to the nearest hospital. You can request a hospital that fits your needs within the immediate geographic area, but additional fees may apply. Follow any recommendations the paramedics make as fully as possible. They have your medical best interests in mind and work to preserve your overall quality of health.

When talking with victims of car crashes, most victims indicate that they regret the decision to decline the ambulance. When you feel injured, take the ambulance.

Step Two: Collect Evidence

The police officer at the scene of the accident will collect a great deal of evidence from the accident scene, including witness statements. In some cases, however, you should collect some evidence on your own. Make sure you:

Exchange contact information with the other driver, if you can both medically do so. Take a photo of the other driver’s license and insurance card with your phone, if possible, to keep that information close at hand.

Take pictures of the accident scene. Carefully consider your personal safety and the extent of your injuries before moving around the accident scene. If you can, collect photos, including:

  • Photos of damage to your vehicle
  • Photos of damage to the other driver’s vehicle
  • Photos of your injuries
  • Photos of any features of the area that could have contributed to the accident, such as shrubs obscuring the road
  • Photos of any identifying information on the other driver’s vehicle, such as the license plate number or any company advertisements

Ask for contact information from any witnesses of the accident. In many cases, you may not need to contact these witnesses for any future information. Sometimes, however, they may provide vital testimony that can help establish fault in the accident.

Actions to Avoid at the Accident Scene

While you should take care at the accident scene to ensure that you get the information and assistance you need, you should also avoid these actions at the scene of the accident.

Do Not Leave the Scene of the Accident

If you leave the scene of the accident, even if you did not cause the accident, you become guilty of a hit and run. After a traffic accident, you must always stay at the scene, exchange contact information and insurance information with the other driver, and wait for police officers to arrive, assuming you or the other driver summoned them to the scene. You should be sure that police officers are called.

You may only leave the scene of the accident if:

  • You need to seek immediate medical attention and feel you can get to medical care faster by driving yourself.
  • You fear for your personal safety at the scene of the accident. Examples may include when the other driver engages in road rage or a weather emergency makes taking shelter critical. Again, you should call the authorities immediately and advise them of this situation and ask for their instructions and comply. Leaving the scene of a crash can be a felony.
  • You need to leave the scene of the accident to summon the police. Generally, you will only need to leave the scene of the accident to summon police in an area with a very poor cell signal.

Do Not Admit Fault

Many drivers, in an attempt to remain polite, will brush off fault at the accident scene or accept fault for the accident even when they believe they did nothing to contribute to the accident. Watch your words carefully! Avoid taking on any responsibility for the accident to avoid jeopardizing your chances of recovering compensation later.

Do Not Turn Down Medical Care

You feel fine while you walk around the scene of the accident, so why should you go to the hospital? Perhaps you worry about an expensive ambulance bill or feel that you can wait to seek medical care. Conditions like traumatic brain injury and spinal cord damage may not show immediate symptoms. When you wait to seek medical care, your condition may worsen or you may cause further complications. Ignoring the recommendations of paramedics or police officers at the scene of the accident can lead to increased medical problems as well as potentially prevent you from collecting the funds you deserve for your injuries.

At the Hospital

When you arrive at the hospital following a car accident, you will likely undergo scans and tests to determine whether you’ve suffered any critical injuries and broken bones. You may receive x-rays, evaluations for brain injury, or other scans and tests, depending on your current symptoms or the extent of your injuries. Doctors will provide treatment as needed for any injuries that they discover. At the hospital, you should:

Keep Track of Medical Records

Your hospital records may represent the first physical documentation of your accident injuries. Keep track of those records. You may want to start a file about the accident that will make it easy for you to lay hands on any information concerning your expenses, injuries, or the accident itself. Keep copies of x-rays and scans, test results, and medical bills from the accident in the file.

Photograph Your Injuries

Photo evidence of your injuries can help establish their extent and make it easier for you to seek compensation later. At the hospital, you may find it easier to photograph specific injuries, especially cuts and lacerations, once the nurses have cleaned you up.

Provide Copies of Your Health Insurance Information

If you have health insurance, provide that information to the medical provider. Even if the other driver caused your accident, you should put your health insurance information on record with the hospital. Often, the insurance company will pay out for your medical expenses, then seek compensation from the responsible driver’s insurance company. Ultimately, you bear financial responsibility for the treatment of your injuries, so you should use your insurance to cover as much of those costs as possible. Do not get into worrying over what auto insurance carrier will cover while you are in the emergency room. Use your health insurance and focus on addressing your health concern.

Listen Carefully to the Doctor’s Recommendations

Your doctor may recommend care or impose limitations following a serious car accident. You may, for example, need to stay home from work for a period of time to recover from your injuries, or you might need to limit your current job responsibilities. If you have broken limbs, you may will have to avoid using them for a period of time during recovery. Listen carefully to the doctor’s recommendations about your injuries and follow the steps the doctor recommends. These steps will aid in your recovery. Ignoring your doctor’s recommendations can also reduce the compensation you ultimately receive from the accident.

After the Accident

Once the initial excitement has died down, you may find yourself wondering what next steps you should take. Consider the following tips of what you should do after a car accident.

Let Your Auto Insurance Company Know About the Accident

Even if you did not cause or contribute to the accident, you still need to let your insurance company know about the accident. Again, just give them the facts. Most of the time, your rates will not go up for an accident that you did not cause. However, none of us can predict if an insurance company increases anyone’s rates and for what reason. Just report the crash, consult an attorney and get guidance on how to proceed. Depending on the scenario, your auto insurance carrier may need to cover the cost of your vehicle so that you are not without a vehicle for an extended period of time.

DO NOT discuss your injuries with ANY auto insurance company. You don’t know the extent of your injuries after a crash, so do not speculate to the adjuster. Tell them you are hurt, but you are not obligated to discuss the details and really should not.

Contact an Attorney

Ideally, you want to contact an attorney as soon as possible after your auto accident. Early after an accident, witnesses’ memories remain fresher, making them more likely to give an accurate account of exactly what occurred during the accident. An attorney can also help collect other vital evidence from the accident, including recordings from traffic cameras and security cameras. When you suffer serious injuries in an accident, having an attorney on your side offers these advantages:

  • Negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf. Often, simply bringing an attorney into the negotiations will immediately increase the compensation the insurance company offers you. Not only that, the attorney can help alleviate stress by taking over those communications for you, preventing you from potentially limiting the compensation you receive.
  • Help you understand the compensation you deserve. After a serious car accident, you usually have no idea what your injuries will cost you. Often, insurance adjusters capitalize on that by offering low settlements. When you work with an attorney, on the other hand, he can help you better understand the compensation you really deserve for your injuries.
  • Help prove who caused the accident. Sometimes, the police report may inaccurately describe the cause of the accident, or you might not have a clear picture of what led to the accident. Lawyers often bring in expert witnesses to help reconstruct the accident based on the damage to the vehicles and evidence from the scene of the accident.

Follow All Medical Recommendations

During your recovery, you may be tempted to violate your doctor’s medical instructions as those instructions are not always easy to follow. You may not want to go to physical therapy, or you may want to sneak in activities that your doctor has recommended against. During your recovery, however, you must follow your doctor’s recommendations for two key reasons. First and foremost, you do not want to set your recovery back. Ignoring your doctor’s recommendations could cause further injury or prevent you from making a full recovery.

Second, failing to follow your doctor’s recommendations could result in a decrease in the total compensation you receive for your accident. The insurance company could argue that you caused your own limitations by ignoring the doctor’s recommendations or by going ahead with injuries you knew could cause further injury, alleviating the responsibility of the person who caused the accident.

If you suffered serious injuries in a car accident, following this guide will help you better understand what steps to take next. Contacting an attorney will often help you more effectively navigate the claims process, from collecting the evidence you need to prove fault in the accident to establishing how much compensation to seek for your injuries.

Contact Us Today

The Cagle Law Firm serves accident and injury clients throughout St. Louis and the greater St. Louis metropolitan area, including the eastern Missouri and southern Illinois communities. If you or a loved one needs legal assistance with your personal injury case, call The Cagle Law Firm at (314) 276-1681 or use our online contact form to schedule a free consultation.

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