Anyone who has ever experienced a car accident, even if it was only a fender bender, knows that it can cause tremendous stress and anxiety. We often find ourselves disoriented and confused in the aftermath, wondering if anyone is hurt and what the extent of the damage might be. How much will this hike up your insurance? Should you call the police?
Below are a few helpful tips for making sure that you protect your interests after an accident, and that you do not make the situation worse for you and the others involved in the incident.
1. Check for injuries More important than anything else is ensuring that no one is hurt. If people involved in the accident appear to be injured, or if you cannot be sure, make sure that they remain still. Do not move anyone, unless it is necessary due to an ongoing emergency. If you are injured, try not to move, but make sure someone knows of your condition.
2. Do not admit liability It is the most natural thing in the world to express some type of sentiment like, “I’m so sorry. It was all my fault,” especially if it seems clear that you were to blame, at least to some degree. However, the scene of the accident is not the place to admit wrongdoing. Many insurance policies are written so that coverage can be denied of the insured fails to protect the interests of the insurance company. Admitting fault could end up costing you coverage. Also, it is not necessarily clear who really caused the accident, or if it could have been a result of errors on both sides. It is fine to ask others if they are okay, but leave the faultfinding to the police and investigators.
3. Stay put and call the police You might be tempted to just exchange information with the other driver and go on your way, especially if the damage seems minor. It is wise, though, to call the police and make a report. This is absolutely required if someone is hurt or there appears to be significant damage. Without a police report, you will have nothing but your word if someone from the accident decides in the future that they were hurt or their car was damaged more than you remember. Also, your insurance carrier will want an official report.
4. Take Pictures Many of us have cameras readily available in our phones now, so use it at the scene. The police may not take photos, and you may need to show the specific damage done to the cars, the surroundings, skid marks or other features that could of use in determining liability. Take pictures of any obvious injuries too.
5. Contact your insurance agent As soon as reasonably possible, call your insurance agent. Have all relevant information ready, such as the time of the accident, the police department that responded, the facts as you remember them, and all contact information. If you got names and phone numbers of witnesses, share those with your agent. Most insurance companies will move quickly to gather necessary information and begin processing our claim. If you do not call the agent, you might void any coverage due you if the matter surfaces later.
6. Talk to a lawyer Obviously, this last step might not be necessary if the accident was truly minor. Still, getting some guidance cannot hurt, and is vital if there were injuries or major damage. A lawyer can help you work with your insurance company and can handle settlement negotiations much better than you can. Most insurance policies provide for payment of legal counsel if the accident was not your fault, so take advantage of this benefit.
Photo courtesy of Dr. Keats