The first few minutes after being involved in a car accident can feel like some of the most frightening and stressful moments in your life. You’ll likely have a billion thoughts cascading through your mind, but as with most of life’s emergencies, keeping a level head and sticking to a basic plan of action can turn an immensely stressful situation into one that’s manageable. Remember the basics. Prioritize the health and safety of your loved ones as well as your own.
Moving one step beyond that, here’s a suggested crisis plan—listed in order of priority—of what you should do immediately following an automobile accident:
- Get to a Safe Area
The first thing you should think about during a crisis is your safety as well as the safety of any loved ones and/or passengers. If you’re able to drive the vehicle still and are currently blocking traffic, pull over to the side of the road and make sure the engine is turned off. If the accident is more severe and you cannot move the car, simply turn off the engine and turn on your hazard lights. Flares can also be placed around the vehicle if visibility is compromised.
Never, ever, drive away from the scene of an accident right after it occurs—even if the inflicted damages are minor.
- Assess Injuries and Get Help
Are you or anyone else in the vehicle injured in any way? If so, call 911. If you’re unsure how serious the injuries are or if the accident was fairly major, you will want to call 911 regardless. It’s better to let the police determine whether a police report needs to be filed or not. If anyone is severely injured, do not attempt to move them.
If it’s safe to do so, you may want to reach out to the other driver and passengers that were involved in the accident at this time. Assess any additional injuries, call 911 if you haven’t already done so, and let everyone involved know that help is on the way.
- Obtain Contact Information
When it’s safe to do so, you’ll also want to reach out to the other involved party and obtain the driver’s contact and insurance info. The police may take care of this as part of their investigation. Do not—under any conditions—speak to the other party regarding who’s at fault for the accident. It’s best to leave the matter of fault up to the police reports and insurance claims. If you say anything on the scene then later change your statement, this could impact your insurance claim as well as your chances of succeeding in trial.
- Take Photographs
If you’re able to do so before you leave the scene, it’s a good idea to take pictures of your damaged vehicle as well as of the location. Snap a few photos, but don’t interfere with any ongoing police investigations. Take pictures of the damage from multiple angles as well as pictures of the street, any visible debris that may have contributed to the accident, and any skid marks on the road. Photographs of the other vehicle’s license plate can also be helpful.
It may also be a good idea to take pictures of the area surrounding the accident as well as any identifying landmarks. This can help you remember exactly where the accident occurred and how it happened. Finally, if you end up with severe injuries or have to stay in the hospital for an extended amount of time, it can be a good idea to take photographs of the injuries themselves. The healing process can take time. Having evidence of the severity of your injuries can be useful in court.
- Consider Getting Witness Contacts
Are there any witnesses who may be willing to speak to you before you leave the scene of the accident? Whether or not you end up needing a witness, it’s a good idea to have one to fall back on if one is ever requested. Ask any witnesses if they’re comfortable giving you their contact information. If there’s time, you may even ask them to quickly write down an account of what they saw happen.
- Make the Necessary Phone Calls
You’ll want to contact your insurance provider as soon as possible immediately following the accident and find out if there’s anything you need to do in order to secure payment for any medical bills. If you were injured and feel you weren’t at fault for the accident, this is also when you’ll want to consider contacting a personal injury lawyer.
A compassionate and knowledgeable attorney like Tad Thomas of Thomas Law Offices will be able to set up a free case consultation and tell you if you’re eligible to file a case. Filing a case will enable you to have an easier time paying your medical bills and recovering from the emotional and physical trauma of the accident. Hiring an attorney also protects your rights and any evidence should the other involved party decide to file a lawsuit.
- Keep Proper Documentation
Throughout the entire recuperation process and time spent waiting to find out about insurance claims and/or case filings, you’ll want to keep records of any and all documentation regarding the accident. Request a copy of the accident report if one was filed with the police. Document how much time you took off work as well as any travel expenses you incurred by having to travel to and from doctor’s appointments. Keep copies of all medical documents, prescriptions, doctor’s notes, and insurance information. This information may all be requested at a later date or as evidence.
It can also be a good idea to keep detailed notes throughout the entire process. Detailed medical notes, especially, can be extremely useful. Make note of how your injuries impacted your ability to perform normal day-to-day duties such as work tasks, home chores, recreational activities, driving, and walking. This is often referred to as “duties under duress”. Also keep track of how your injuries healed over time and what levels of pain you experienced during the healing process.
The more details you have, the greater your chances of success are should a legal case be opened. Well-documented accident details are also useful if they are ever requested by your insurance provider. When it comes to car accidents—as with most of life’s scariest moments—being extra prepared can only lead to a positive outcome.