One of every three auto accidents in the U.S. each year involves personal injuries, and one in five accidents causes fatal injuries. Injuries are sometimes severe, and emotions can become escalated. However, it is important to take specific actions at the time of the accident, and as soon as possible afterward. Here is a list of actions to take after a car accident, if possible. Print and keep this accident checklist in your vehicle(s).
1. Stay at the scene of the accident.
- Never leave an accident scene, until the appropriate time to do so. Leaving the scene of an accident, especially where someone has been injured or killed is a serious crime that can lead to severe penalties. Take actions, as necessary, to prevent additional accidents by placing flares to alert oncoming traffic. Or, turn on emergency flashers, or use a flashlight to help redirect traffic.
2. Check the condition of all drivers and passengers in all vehicles involved.
- Your first action should be to check the physical condition of everyone involved in the accident. Call for medical attention for anyone who is injured. Unless a hazard requires moving a person who is unconscious, or who is experiencing back or neck pain, wait for qualified medical professionals to arrive.
- Leave vehicles involved in the accident where they are, unless they’re impeding traffic, and only if they can be safely moved out of the driving lanes.
3. Call the police.
- If significant property damage or physical injury has occurred, you must call the police. Obtain names and badge numbers of all officers at the accident scene. Even if no serious injuries have occurred, it is advisable to call the police. Your insurance company may require a police report for you to file a claim, even if it is for vehicle damage only.
4. Exchange information with other drivers.
- Write down names, phone numbers, addresses, driver license and license plate numbers, and insurance information of all involved drivers. Also write down names, phone numbers, and addresses of all passengers. The police officer investigating the accident at the scene normally documents this information, and you can obtain a copy of the police report.
- Be polite and cooperative when talking to other drivers and passengers, but do not apologize or admit fault for anything at the time of the accident. It can be unclear who is actually primarily at fault immediately after an accident.
5. Make an accurate and detailed record.
- Tell the investigating officer(s) exactly what occurred in your perception of the events. If you are unsure of some facts, simply tell the officer you are not sure. Do not guess or speculate about what may have happened. Also, when asked if you are injured, do not say that you are not injured unless you are absolutely sure. Injuries and pain after vehicle accidents often do not become apparent until hours afterward.
- Take pictures of the visible damage to vehicles involved, if possible, to help your insurance adjuster make an assessment, and to help clarify information in court, if necessary. Add your insurance claim number, claim adjuster’s name and contact information, and all receipts for expenses incurred due to the accident to your documentation.
6. Talk to Witnesses.
- Approach each witness, and ask where they were located at the time of the crash and what they saw. Write down names, phone numbers, and addresses of all witnesses, if possible. Further, ask local residents or frequent visitors of a commercial area if they’ve witnessed any other accidents at the same location in the past. Add information from witnesses to your documentation, so that you or your attorney can contact them in the future.
7. Contact your insurance company.
- Report the accident to your insurance company as soon as possible. Cooperate with your insurer, and be completely truthful and clear in explaining the facts of what happened and in describing your injuries.
- Many insurance policies require immediate reporting. If you have “medpay” coverage, you must submit medical bills resulting from the accident to your insurance company. Your private health insurance becomes your primary insurer after medpay benefits are exhausted.
8. Get medical attention, if needed.
- Often, injuries caused by motor vehicle accidents are not immediately apparent. Many people involved in car crashes report experiencing more pain a day or two after a car accident. Even a minor impact can cause permanent serious injury to the spinal cord or serious head injury. Unless you are entirely sure that you are not injured, you should either have a medical examination at an emergency room, or by your family physician.
9. Keep Records of Your Medical Treatment.
- Keep contact information for all doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists, and other medical professionals from whom you receive treatment or referrals to other doctors. Keep detailed records of treatments and your medications you’ve received due to the accident. Request copies of each of your medical reports and bills.
- Also make a record of ways your injuries are impacting your daily life, including missing work days and inability to participate in routine activities, and describe ways that your injuries are affecting your family’s life.
10. Obtain an Estimate of Property Damage Repairs.
- If you are dissatisfied with your insurance company’s valuation of your damages, obtain two additional repair estimates from independent repair shops, or quotes for replacement from auto dealers.
- Present these additional valuations to the claims adjuster, and firmly assert your concerns. If you cannot reach an agreement on the amount you should receive, consider taking your case to mediation, or consult with an attorney.
11. Protect your legal rights.
- Be very cautious about prematurely accepting settlement offers from an insurance company. If you were injured in the accident, you should consult a qualified personal injury attorney. Your attorney can protect your rights in the California civil court system and help ensure that you receive all compensation legally allowed for your property damage, medical expenses and pain and suffering.
- Even if you do not have insurance, an auto accident attorney will make sure you receive the best available medical treatment. An experienced personal injury lawyer will also make sure that important evidence is not destroyed.
Insurance companies often attempt to take statements immediately following an auto accident. It is important to obtain legal advice from a car accident attorney in Los Angeles who has a strong track record in California auto accident cases before you provide a statement.
Do not speak to a representative from other parties’ insurance companies, unless advised by your attorney or insurer that it is acceptable to do so. Your attorney can make sure that you will be compensated for all of your injuries before you sign any documents to settle your claim.
Oaktree Law, Cerritos CA
We are A+ rated Orange County and Los Angeles County personal injury attorneys. We help people who have been injured in California auto accidents. We will fight to ensure that you are fully compensated for all medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and pain and suffering resulting from your accident. We do not receive a legal fee until we settle your case or win a judgement on your behalf in court.
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If you or a loved one has been injured in a California car crash, contact Oaktree Law at (562) 219-2979, to discuss your situation with an experienced Los Angeles and Orange Count personal injury lawyer. We can make sure that your rights are fully protected and help ensure that you receive every dollar of compensation that the law allows in your case.