A car accident can be unexpected and unnerving. The best advice to get through an accident is to remain calm and keep a steady head on your shoulders. Keep these steps in mind as you process the aftermath of an auto accident:
- Move into a safe area. If possible, move your car away from traffic and into a safe area whether it be onto the shoulder or into a parking lot. If you can’t safely move out of traffic, turn your hazard lights on and set out emergency flares if you have any. Make sure to set the car in brake as well.
- Assess the medical situation. Check to see if anyone in either vehicle is injured, and call 911 immediately if that is the case. Even a minor injury like dizziness can be cause for concern. Injuries aren’t always apparent so if you feel any lingering effects, see a doctor as soon as you can in the days following the accident.
- Contact the police. Even if no one is injured, it’s a good idea to bring in a neutral third party to mediate, talk to witnesses, and help document the accident for you and the insurance companies. A police officer can file an incident report for simple information exchange or create an accident report to help establish legal liabilities. Once they arrive, tell them exactly what happened. Avoid admitting responsibility or placing blame on others and allow the police officer to objectively determine fault. If you are unsure of certain facts, be honest because small inconsistencies can be held against you in an insurance claim.
- Document the scene. Grab your smartphone or camera and take photos and videos of the accident scene. Be thorough in documenting damage to vehicles and any property damage from all angles as it will help your claim process.
- Gather as much information as you can and exchange it with the other parties involved. Track down driver and passenger names, license plate numbers, insurance information, make and model of vehicles involved, witness contact information, weather condition, location, date, and time of the incident, and the name and badge number of responding officers. Being thorough will help the process run more smoothly.
- File an insurance claim. Call your insurance company to file a claim as soon as you can. If you have medical benefits as part of your auto insurance coverage, report injuries to your insurer as well. Your insurance agent will help you get a damage appraisal, inform you if you will have to pay a deductible for repairs, and let you know when you can expect to receive a check to repair your car. Your insurance agent or claims adjuster will also maintain contact with the insurer of the other party involved in the accident.
- Repair your car as soon as possible so that it can function at its full capacity again. Keep a file of all the information you tracked down earlier. Also, keep track of receipts from your car repairs, any receipts for a towing or rental car company, as well as any medical bills for your insurance company.
- Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles; most states require you by law to contact your DMV office and notify them of the accident.
While you can’t always anticipate an accident, you can certainly prepare yourself for one. Know the proper steps to take in the event of an accident, and have the necessary information—your license, two copies of your insurance company contact information, a charged phone—with you when driving. For more information, visit Smith, Paulson, O’Donnell & Erickson.