On the Scene of Your Car Accident
What to do after your car accident
Should I move my vehicle?
Following a car accident, if you are able, you should move your car out of the roadway to avoid other cars becoming involved in the accident. Do not leave the scene of the accident in your car–simply move your vehicle out of the path of traffic. If you leave the scene of the accident, law enforcement will still come looking for you even if you were not the cause of the accident. If you cannot move your vehicle, stay on the side of the road and call law enforcement for assistance.
Should I call the police?
Yes, always call the police after an accident to ensure the safety of everyone involved as well as all other persons traveling on the roadway after the accident. The police will also fill out an Accident Report or DMV-349, which will be useful if you choose to pursue a Property Damage or Bodily Injury claim with the at-fault insurance company. By law, you must report immediately if an accident occurs in which someone is killed or injured or if property damage exceeds $1,000. If the property damage falls below this threshold and no one is injured, it is up to the people involved in the accident to decide whether or not to call the police. If someone appears to be injured, call 9-1-1 immediately to be sure they receive the medical care they need as soon as possible.
Should I speak to the other driver?
After an accident, once you have assessed any injuries you may have sustained as a result of the collision, you should check to see if the other driver is injured and if he or she requires medical assistance. Do not attempt to move the other driver or any passengers if they are injured, but do call 9-1-1. Immediately after an accident, you may be upset, in pain, in shock, or angry, but do not speak to the other driver or any witnesses about your perception of the mechanics of the accident. Do not admit any fault or say anything that could be perceived by others as admitting fault (even if you believe the accident was your fault) as this could hurt future personal injury or property damage claims you may choose to pursue. In the aftermath of an accident, it is most important to assess everyone’s well-being and to call law enforcement if necessary. You should also exchange contact information as well as insurance information with all drivers involved for the purpose of making a report to your insurance company or opening a claim with the another driver’s insurance company if you choose to do so. However, if the police are called to the scene, they will likely write an Accident Report and provide each driver involved with a copy of the Driver Exchange Form that will provide that contact and insurance information for each vehicle involved.
What if several vehicles are involved?
If the property damage for each vehicle falls under $1000 and no one is injured in the accident, those involved in the collision may choose not to call law enforcement to the scene. If that is the case, it is important to obtain the contact and insurance information for all vehicles involved in the accident for the purpose of reporting the accident to insurance or in case you choose to file a claim at a later date. Though no one may seem to be injured at the scene, sometimes injuries sustained from a car accident are not immediately apparent and a person may have pain a few days after the accident. It may be useful to have the police come to the scene of an accident in which several cars are involved, especially if it is not clear which driver caused the accident. If the police are called to the scene, the investigating officer should fill out a Driver’s Exchange Form with each driver’s contact and insurance information. The investigating officer will also complete an Accident Report or DMV-349 and will indicate on this form which driver was at-fault for the accident, which drivers or passengers were injured, and what may have contributed to the collision. This report will represent vital evidence if you do choose to open a personal injury or property damage claim with the at-fault insurance company.
Should I take pictures?
Preserving evidence after an accident is paramount to the success of any personal injury claim. Conducting a complete and thorough investigation of the accident scene and memorializing as much evidence as possible through pictures or video can produce volumes of beneficial information. The accident scene should be treated as critical physical evidence for your case. A lack of accident scene evidence should be considered problematic for any personal injury claim considering how much the insurance adjusters rely on this evidence.
When examining or desiring to examine the scene of your accident, an accident reconstructionist may be able to assist you in ensuring that all parties have a proper understanding of how the accident occurred. Hiring an accident reconstructionist can often be a worthwhile investment in your case. However, accident reconstructionists typically charge between $150 – $500 per hour, with a minimum number of hours and expenses, depending on their number of years of experience and qualifications.
During any investigation of the accident scene, best practice is to gather similar evidence to that of the responding police officer with a few added exceptions. It is important to remember that simply taking a few pictures is never enough to capture the entirety of the scene’s evidence. It is recommended that you do the follow activities in the safest possible manner:
- Document the entire scene from a slight distance and from numerous angles.
- Document the entire scene from the perspective of each of the drivers or parties involved.
- Identify and document the direction of travel for each vehicle or person involved.
- Identify and document the final resting place of each vehicle in a clear manner.
- Identify and document all points of collision with each and every object, including other vehicles, persons, or property.
- Photograph all debris and all debris patterns.
- Photograph all vehicle damage from numerous angles and distances.
- Photograph from numerous angles and distances all skid marks or damage to roadway.
- Identify and document the type of material used in constructing the roadway.
- Document any damage to all property such as fences, mailboxes, power lines, etc.
- Photograph all traffic lights or street signs from numerous angles.
It is essential to the success of any claim that these items are documented as close to the time of the accident as possible. The more time that elapses between the accident and the gathering of this evidence, the more difficult it will be to document and show the nature of the accident. In any event, if you are unable to photograph the scene, you may wish to contact the investigating officer to inquire as to whether or not any photographs were taken by the officer at the time of the accident.
Should I speak to witnesses?
Witnesses may represent important sources of evidence to your car accident claim. A witness may be the police officer who comes to the scene of the accident, a pedestrian walking on the sidewalk who sees the accident, another driver who is not involved, or even a construction worker building a house down the street who witnessed some part of the accident. It may be advisable to obtain contact information for any potential witnesses to your car accident so that you or your lawyer may call them at a later date to provide a statement if you do choose to pursue a claim or a lawsuit against the at-fault insurance company. Read more on locating and interviewing witnesses here.
Should I go to the Emergency Room?
If you feel like you have suffered any injuries as a result of your car accident, it is imperative that you seek immediate medical attention, whether you feel you were at-fault for the accident or not. It is important to treat injuries as soon as they become apparent without worrying about whether or not the cost of treatment will be covered by insurance. Your physical health and well-being is worth the cost of any medical treatment. If your car cannot be driven or you feel physically unable to transport yourself to seek medical care, call 9-1-1 and request an ambulance to the scene of the accident. If you are able to drive, you may want to drive yourself to the emergency room or to an urgent care facility. However, you should not leave the scene of the accident before exchanging insurance information with the other drivers involved or before speaking with the police if they are called to the scene. Regardless, it is essential that you seek medical care if you need it following your accident.