Do you know what to do after a car accident? Traffic accidents happen every day and thousands of people are injured as a result. Annual costs from medical bills, property damage, and lost wages amounted to more than $63 billion in 2015. And more than 2.5 million auto collision victims were treated in emergency rooms in the same year.
It’s important to know what to do in the even that you are involved in a car accident. These 10 facts are the most important for getting through the whole process.
1. Assess the situation and stay safe.
The scene of an accident can be dangerous. Keep an eye out for anything that may alert you to injuries. This can include smoke coming from any of the damaged vehicles. Jagged edges from metal or fiberglass car parts that could cut someone from may be present.
Some accidents result in a car fire. Get as far away from the fire as possible if this happens. Overheated car tires are subject to explosion.
Accidents that happen in high speed traffic areas are especially dangerous. A broken down car sitting in the middle of the freeway is at risk of crashes involving speeding vehicles. This could lead to a minor accident turning into a fatal, multi-car pile up.
Turn on your hazard lights and put out road flares, if you have any available. The more visible you are, the less likely that other drivers will hit you or your car.
2. Move to a safe location
Everyone involved in a car accident is a bit shocked and disoriented for the first few seconds. It’s important that you respond quickly to any potential threats and get to a safe location. You never want to be the casualty of an avoidable accident.
It’s dangerous to stay in a crashed vehicle in busy traffic. Move your vehicle off of the road, if possible. Get yourself out of harm’s way, even if your car is broken down.
Stay alert and watch for oncoming vehicles if you get stuck by the center divider of a freeway. It’s better to get to the other side of the concrete divider than get hit by a speeding car.
Drive to a nearby parking lot or into a nearby parking lane, if either are available. Make sure that the street is clear, if you can.
Walk to the nearest sidewalk or pedestrian area, if you can’t get your car moved. Never leave the scene of an accident, but don’t put yourself in danger.
3. Determine if there are any injuries
Injuries happen many different ways in car accidents. Any part of your body can be hit, crushed, or jarred in the impact of moving vehicles.
Make sure that you check yourself and your own passengers, first. Ask everyone if they are okay. Look them over from where you are to make sure that you know they haven’t been seriously injured.
Never move injured passengers as long as they are safe where they are. Move anyone that’s in danger of further injury, if leaving them in place is dangerous. Be careful and try to limit the movement of the head, neck, and back while transporting anyone.
Check the passengers in your vehicle first. Then, check the passengers of other vehicles involved in the accident. Get everyone that you can to safety as quickly as possible. This isn’t always possible, but do everything that you can, when you can.
Make injured people as comfortable as possible while you wait for the authorities. Rest their heads on something soft and keep their head as immobilized as you can. Prop their heads up on a coat, shirt, or blanket and keep an eye on them until someone else can help.
Never put your own life at risk. Move to a safe place and try to rest if you’re injured. Avoid anything that will worsen your injuries.
4. Call 911 immediately
Always call emergency services immediately, no matter how minor an accident may be. Police and emergency medical care can make sure that everyone involved is safe. The first few moments after an accident are the most critical for health and safety.
Ask someone else to call 911, or ask to borrow their phone, if you don’t have a mobile phone on you. It’s critical that you get police to take any witness testimonies and file a detailed police report. This provides an official record of the incident.
5. Follow any police or emergency medical services directions
Follow any instruction given by police or other emergency services workers. They have experience dealing with the chaos of a traffic accident.
Emergency medical services personnel may give instructions about assisting with loved ones. They may give directions about your own health and safety.
Always follow directions given by EMTs on the scene. Your health is their number one concern.
6. Exchange Insurance information with other drivers
Don’t leave the scene of a car accident without the insurance information of other driver(s). They may want to leave without giving it to you to avoid notifying their insurance. This can delay the claims process and the time it takes to get financial compensation.
You should get the insurance carrier’s name, phone number, and policy number. Also get the pertinent details of their vehicle. This means the license plate number, make, and model of the vehicle, and year it was manufactured. Note any conditions of their vehicle that are out of the ordinary.
Most people have smartphones, these days. You should be able to get their insurance information with a few taps of the screen.
The police also need your insurance information. This is for proof of insurance and legal information.
7. Gather information about the accident and document the scene
There’s no going back to the scene of an accident after you leave. It’s important to gather as much information as possible about the scene. This includes:
- The location, time, and date of the accident
- License plate numbers of all the vehicles involved
- The makes and models of all the vehicles involved
- Names of the drivers, passengers, and witnesses
- Names, contact information, and statements of witnesses , if possible
- Information about any police officers on the scene, including their name and badge ID
- The circumstances leading to the collision
- Pictures of the accident scene
Take as many pictures of the scene of the accident as you can. Take pictures of all sides of your car, and those of any others involved. Get close ups of the damaged areas of your vehicle, as well.
Pictures can be critical to supporting your accident claims. You will want as much detail as possible to recall the scene later.
Insurance companies often offer smartphones apps for documenting the scene. Be careful to keep any information that you gather to yourself. Anything released to your insurance company can be detrimental to recovery. It’s always better to have a qualified attorney review the accident first. This will help your claim and improve the odds of financial recovery.
Write down as much information as you can remember about the accident. What was happening at the time? Was there anything important going on that led to the crash? Were traffic lights or signs not clearly posted, or malfunctioning?
Also do an assessment of your injuries and the injuries of any passengers. You will want to keep a diary of how any injuries progress, or symptoms that appear in the future. It can take months or years for the damages of a sudden collision to manifest. Document everything that you think of so that you can claim any future costs.
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) provides a smartphone application called WreckCheck. The app provides a similar checklist of what steps to take after an accident. It includes help with creating an accident report.
You can find out more about the WreckCheck app here.
8. Use your roadside assistance to have your vehicle towed, if necessary
Most insurance carriers offer roadside assistance as part of their plans. Call on this service and have a two truck pick up your vehicle and tow it for you. Get the name of the driver, the tow company, and your car’s drop off location.
Roadside services also offer tire changes, gas delivery, and emergency travel help. Most plans offer temporary car rentals while your vehicle is in the shop. This is especially helpful after a car accident.
An insurance company may call on car accident reconstruction services. Investigators inspect the wrecked cars as part of this process.. They will need to know where your car is being stored.
Take any important items from your car before it’s towed away. Make a list of any belongings left afterwards. When you pick up your car, make sure to verify that everything was left in place. If you see something missing, don’t accept the car. You may need to file a claim against the towing company or car storage yard. If you accept the vehicle, you take responsible for the items left in it.
9. Contact a car accident injury attorney
Insurance companies are not out to help you. Their job is to collect premiums and supply evidence that you’re insured. They want to give out as little claim settlement funds as possible.
What this means for their customers is getting less money to cover expenses than is fair. Insurance companies make low-ball offers of compensation to their customers to save money.
The cost of damages and injuries after a car accident can be astronomical. A short list of the most common expenses includes:
- Vehicle repair or replacement
- Emergency medical costs
- Long-term medical costs
- Physical rehabilitation
- Lost wages due to medical leave from work
- Property damage to vehicles and surrounding areas
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported the following in 2015:
- The average cost of Police-Reported Car Accidents was between $6,000 and $1 million per person
- Unreported crashes estimated costs between $1,900 and $1 million dollars
- Most non-fatal car accidents happen between 4:00 and 5:00 PM
- Most fatal car accidents happen at 2:00 AM on weekends and between 4:00 and 6:00 PM on weekdays
The cost of an accident can be financial. It can also be physical and emotional. Anyone injured because of the negligence of another deserves fair compensation. Your insurance company isn’t going to give that to you.
Injured victims of vehicle accidents should hire an auto collision attorney immediately. Your lawyer can handle the fight for an injury settlement while you recover. Don’t try to fight the battle alone.
Legal professionals who handle injury claims are paid on a contingency basis. This means that they only get paid when they win a settlement for their client. You don’t have to pay attorney fees up front. Rather, your lawyer collects his fees from your compensation.
10. Don’t accept any settlement offers made by insurance companies
This may be the last of ten important things to know. It is also one of the most important to about car accidents.
Auto insurance companies make their money from collecting premiums. When they pay out a settlement claim, they lose that money. Because of that, they want to pay as little as possible.
Insurance adjusters who call after an accident are on their employer’s side. They will use any information that you give them for your claim. That includes using it to reduce any paid coverage towards your accident.
Only tell an adjuster the important points of an accident. This includes:
- Your name, address, and phone number
- Your employers contact information
- The time and date of the accident
- The makes, models, and license plates of other vehicles involved
- The names of other insured drivers and their insurance information
Don’t tell an adjuster any additional information, such as:
- Private information, like your income, medical history, etc.
- Details of your injuries
- Details of the accident, or a formal statement
- Anything not listed in the first list above
Make sure to maintain your composure during a call with an insurance company. Don’t lose your temper and don’t say anything offensive. Remain cordial and polite, even when you decline to give them more information. And, refuse any request to record your phone call.
Insurance companies are notorious for making low-ball settlement offers early in the claim. They will make the offer to you, rather than an attorney. Their hope is that you will accept the low offer and save them time and money.
Always refuse an up-front offer from your or another driver’s insurance company. Make it clear that you won’t accept any offers until you have presented them to your lawyer.
Want to Learn More About Car Accidents in South Carolina?
Every choice counts after you are involved in a vehicle-related accident. You need to know what to do and protect yourself. There are numerous pitfalls that can quickly drain your energy, and your finances.