Being involved in a motor vehicle crash can be a traumatic experience filled with the difficulties of knowing how to care for the health of yourself and your loved ones, along with the many legal questions that become essential in protecting your financial future.
This page addresses two critical areas:
- The immediate next steps after a car accident
- The ongoing legal steps to get the justice and financial compensation you are owed
What Happens After a Car Accident? Immediate Steps
This is a question we all prefer to answer away from the scene of a crash. Emotions run high in these moments, and because a collision with injuries requires a focus on safety and survival, it’s critical to have tools available to take you through the steps you need to cover for your own protection.
Stay at the Scene of the Accident
Leaving can constitute a hit-and-run, which can have serious consequences, particularly when injuries are involved. Whether the accident was your fault or the fault of another driver, stay put until police tell you it’s okay to leave.
Call Emergency Services and Get Help at the Scene
Check for those in your vehicle who are injured, then check those in the other vehicle/vehicles if you can. If injuries have occurred, summon medical assistance. If a vehicle is in imminent danger of being struck by oncoming traffic or fire, remove the person from that vehicle to a safer location if possible without putting the injured person or yourself at greater risk. Tell 911 the details of the dangerous situation.
Reporting Your Accident to the Police
Accidents that result in injuries, deaths or serious damage to vehicles require that you call the police to assist. If traveling on the highway or outside a city, call the California Highway Patrol. When police arrive, request the names and badge numbers of investigating officers and write them down.
Get Medical Care and Follow Doctor Advice
Even if your injury does not seem serious at first, symptoms can show up hours or days later. It is important to keep track of your medical treatments, including emergency room visits, prescriptions, X-rays and rehabilitation therapy visits. In addition, keep all your medical appointments. By not doing so, it might appear that you were not really hurt.
The goal is not only for physical recovery, but to document that you are taking the steps outlined by a professional. This helps to establish and demonstrate your injury claim and why you might be owed additional compensation for lost wages and other damages.
Take Photos of the Accident Scene
As soon as you are able, take photos of vehicular damage and the position of all the vehicles in the crash. It’s also a good idea to take photos of any debris on the roadway and skid marks, scuff marks, yaw marks or other imprints left behind, on the roadway or shoulder of the road. Such marks help indicate the path other vehicles took. For instance, skid marks can indicate that tires were not revolving at the time the marks were made, and this can be caused by a driver applying the brakes too hard.
An attorney can use expert opinion to determine the speed of the vehicle by the length of the skid marks left behind, and show that a vehicle was traveling at an excessive speed when the accident occurred. Because skid marks are an important part of an accident investigation, they should be photographed as soon as feasible. In addition, the lack of skid marks can show that driver did not brake at all.
Exchange Information With Other Drivers
Obtain license plate numbers from the other vehicles and get the names, addresses, phone numbers and insurance information from any drivers involved in the accident. Get names, addresses and phone numbers from passengers in the vehicles also. Don’t say anything such as “I’m so sorry this happened” because it could be misconstrued as an admission of guilt that the accident was your fault.
Just as with the drivers and passengers in the other vehicles involved in the accident, ask witnesses for the same information. In addition, ask them what they saw when the crash occurred, and jot down notes on their response, or use a cell phone to record what they say. This task will often be done by police officers at the scene, and can also be completed by a car accident law firm.
Phone Your Insurance Company
Call your insurance company as soon as it is practicable. Just give them the basic details of the accident. Do not fabricate anything since lying can result in non-coverage for the accident. If the insurer starts to ask questions that you do not feel comfortable answering or questions that imply fault on your part, let them know an attorney will be calling.
Prepare For the Unexpected With The Car Accident Checklist
Download, print and put this car accident checklist in your vehicle’s glove compartment to remove the guesswork after of a collision:
Be Ready In Any Vehicle With The Car Crash Phone App
The phone app can be downloaded for all smartphones and help you:
- Collect evidence
- Gather info from other drivers and people at the accident scene
- Document traffic and weather conditions when the accident happened
- Call emergency services
Do I Need a Lawyer After a Car Accident?
Car accident cases involve some very detailed work including crash investigation, communication and negotiation of financial settlements with insurance companies, gathering, preserving and presenting admissible evidence to a judge and jury, and experience to know what amount of money will most likely be awarded based on previous cases of a similar nature.
You could go it alone, but this might be compared to performing your own surgery. It’s extremely risky and best to take a look at how those results actually play out — usually not very good.