Being in a car accident can be overwhelming. Each year, there are more than 200,000 motor vehicle-related accidents in North Carolina alone. It is fortunate that a significant number of these motor vehicle-related accidents involve property damage to vehicles and other personal property only. However, one in three motor vehicle-related accidents results in personal injury to the drivers or passengers involved.
If you have been involved in a car accident, it is important that you take certain steps to protect yourself and your legal interests. The following is an exhaustive list of actions you should take if you are ever involved in a car accident:
If you have been involved in a car accident, it is always a good idea to stop and call the police for assistance. Regardless of how much damage has been done or how minor the injuries may appear, it is important to never leave the scene of an accident. North Carolina General Statue § 20-166 criminalizes any driver’s failure to stop at the scene of a crash in which the vehicle he or she is driving is involved, a driver’s failure to remain at the scene of such a crash, and a driver’s facilitating of the premature removal of his or her vehicle from the scene. This law may apply regardless of whether you caused the accident or not.
It is important to ensure your safety and the safety of your passengers by notifying other drivers that there has been an accident. You can prevent other car accidents by turning on your emergency hazard lights or pulling your vehicle off to the side of the road if your vehicle is operational. If your vehicle is disabled, it is recommended that you turn on your emergency hazard lights, exit the vehicle and maintain a safe distance from the roadway to avoid additional injuries.
If you have been involved in an accident, it is important to call the proper authorities to respond to the accident. Under North Carolina law, if your accident occurred within a municipality, you must notify the police department in accordance with N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-166.1(a). However, if the accident did not happen in a municipality, then you should notify the appropriate state highway patrol, the local sheriff or county police. In North Carolina, law enforcement typically creates two very important documents at the scene of the accident. The first is the driver exchange of information, providing all parties with some important preliminary information. The second document is a DMV-349 accident report. The accident report contains detailed descriptions by the responding officer to the facts, mechanics and circumstances surrounding the accident. The accident report can often takes several weeks to be finalized by the responding office. It is commonplace for the insurance company to request that you provide a copy of the police report when you file your insurance claim, even if that claim is just property damage. It is important to remember that when you are involved in an accident you should remain stationary in order to preserve the scene unless doing so would place you or other drivers in additional danger or interfere with traffic flow.
When the law enforcement officer arrives on the scene, please be sure to follow their instructions as specifically and in as timely a manner as you can. If you feel that you cannot safely comply with the lawful instructions of the officers, it is important that you express your concerns as professionally and politely as possible. When the law enforcement officer arrives on scene, make sure to clearly, accurately and simply describe the events to the best of your ability. It is important to refrain from guessing, speculating or accusing the other driver of anything. State the facts as accurately and simply as possible. If the officer asks if you are injured and you are uncertain whether or not you are injured, simply state that you are uncertain rather than replying that you are not. It is all too common that pain and injuries from car accidents present hours after the actual accident. It is highly recommended that you make sure that the statements made by the other drivers and passengers are accurate as well, if you can.
As most individuals carry some form of smartphone that is equipped with a camera or video recorder, it is strongly encouraged that you document the scene by taking pictures of the vehicles and general area of the accident from a variety of angles. If you do not have a camera or smartphone, ask a witness to document the scene with their camera or phone and ensure that the images are sent to you. If you are injured, it is important that you document your injuries as best as you are able, when it is appropriate to do so. If you cannot document your own injuries, request that a friend or passenger do so for you. Additionally, if you cannot take pictures at the scene of the car accident, take them as soon after the accident as possible.
It is recommended that you do the follow activities in the safest possible manner:
Locating reliable and competent witnesses could mean the difference between receiving compensation and not. Once an accident has occurred, it is essential to ask each and every witness what he or she saw. If the witness is unable or unwilling to remain at the scene, respectfully request their full name, telephone number and address, if possible. If you are able to gather witness information that the responding officer does not have, provide the information to the officer for inclusion in the police report.
After an accident has occurred, notify your insurance company as soon as possible. Insurance policies and companies often require immediate or timely reporting and full cooperation from their insured. When you report your claim, it is helpful to understand what your policy covers and whether it includes medical payments coverage, comprehensive, liability, underinsured motorists coverage or uninsured motorists coverage, and to determine what your applicable limits are. It may be easier to simply ask your insurance company to send you a copy of your policy and include a “declarations page.”
It is fairly common that physical injuries as a result of a car accident do not become apparent or present until several hours after the accident. Most individuals injured in car accidents report pain and discomfort within hours after the accident. However, it is not uncommon for pain and injuries to present themselves or to become apparent a day or two following the accident. It is considered best practice to seek medical treatment unless you are certain that you do not need medical treatment. Seeking medical treatment can be as simple as going to the emergency room, seeing your family physician or visiting an urgent care. It is important to remember that even seemingly minor collisions or impacts can cause serious and permanent injuries to your body. Failing to seek medical attention can be extremely harmful to your health and your legal case.
If you are severely injured in your accident and unable to perform these duties, you should consider enlisting help from nearby family members, friends, witnesses or even the responding police officers, if they are willing.