Andrew Spainhower, attorney at McMullin Legal Group, offers 5 helpful tips on how to avoid making crucial mistakes at the scene of a car accident.
This article is going to focus on possible mistakes that you could make that can potentially mess up your ability to be compensated after an accident. The purpose of this article is to help you avoid that as well as increasing your knowledge about basic steps to take after an auto accident.
Obviously, the very first things you do after an accident pertain primarily to safety. Check on yourself, check on the other passengers in your vehicle, attend to anyone that needs medical attention, attend to the people in the other vehicle and any injuries they may have suffered, call 911 and get ambulances on the way if needed and get people out of harm’s way and into a safe situation. Remember not to move someone who is unconscious or seems to have head or neck injuries unless there is imminent danger of further hazard to them. They will need to be moved by a health care professional as soon as they arrive at the accident scene. It is wise to leave the autos involved in the accident in the position they came to rest at impact until the police arrive. If the automobiles involved are blocking traffic and are causing serious hazard and you can take pictures before moving them at the scene, you could move the cars to a safer place. However, it is best to leave them as they are if all possible. Also, never leave the scene of an accident until everyone is attended to and information has been exchanged by the driver's involved. Leaving the scene of an accident where someone has been hurt or even worse killed, could result in serious criminal charges.
Those are obviously the emergency response actions that you are going to want to take immediately after an accident and they will take precedence over anything else. Fortunately, in most auto accidents, the injuries are not very serious. People are often involved in car accidents that result in some pain and or injury, and property damage but fortunately, they are not life and death situations. In these cases, after the emergency response actions have taken place, some of these secondary actions can become part of the process of handling the accident. These actions are important because the failure to do them can certainly affect you and the outcome of your personal injury claim.
1. Failing to Call the Police
So once you have verified the safety of the occupants in the vehicles and gotten your vehicles to a safe place if necessary, the first thing you are going to want to do is notify the police. You always want a police report created after a car accident especially where there is significant property damage or any type of physical injury. Ask for a police report to be filled out. An official report tends to lock people in to their story of what happened and people generally tell the truth during those initial statements. It is advantageous for both parties to have a record of the incident. The police report also contains pertinent information that you will need from all involved parties as you deal with the paperwork and claim process from the accident in the future. Other information included in this report will be the responding officer's name and badge number as well as the address of the location of the accident. If an officer is not able to respond at the scene of the crash then make sure that you collect personal information such as names, addresses and phone numbers from all driver's as well as passengers involved. Remember to remain calm and polite when dealing with everyone at the scene for this will be helpful to everyone. As you are exchanging driving and insurance information, be careful not to apologize as this could potentially be construed as admitting legal liability and it may not be clear as to who is at fault immediately after the accident. It would be best to not admit fault unintentionally at this time when emotions are running high. There will be time to tell your full, true account of the accident to your insurance adjuster as well as your attorney.
2. Speaking with the At-fault Insurance Company
If the first phone call that the other person made was to their own carrier and they want to put you on the phone with their insurance immediately, it’s probably not a good idea. They will have two important questions that they will ask you. What happened? And is anyone in your car injured? You need to be wary because you may be in pain, shock or still processing what even happened because it all happened so fast. Also, they will likely mention that your conversation will be recorded. Insurance claims adjusters are trained in ways of advancing the interests of their company and getting you to say something that will help them and may come back to hurt your case later. Their main job is to keep costs down and settle the case quickly. They will be trying to find facts about how the accident occurred, your present injuries, as well as past injuries that can be used to reduce or deny your claim. They will also be considering a percentage of liability. It would be possible for the adjuster to determine that an accident was not 100% their clients responsibility. For example, a 70/30 liability settlement could be offered. This would mean that one party is responsible for 70% of the expenses and the other party for 30%.
You are not required to make a statement to them without either speaking with an attorney or your own insurance company. You can politely state that you will need to speak with your attorney or your own insurance carrier first and then give the other driver your insurance information. Take the time to seek counsel before you make a recorded statement to the at-fault insurance company. Many cases have been lost because of that initial statement recorded at the time of the accident.
3. Failing to Take Photos
Fortunately, with the cell phones that we have today, it is very easy to effectively document a car accident. A photograph can provide crucial evidence for your personal injury case. If you can safely take photos of the cars in their resting positions after the crash before anything has even moved, that would be ideal. This will be helpful as far as proving exactly how the accident occurred and the contributing conditions and circumstances surrounding it. These pictures will be your proof as to who the at-fault driver was. As you take them, consider what images will be necessary to provide a visual of what took place. What will the adjusters need to see in order to determine which driver was at-fault? Remember, you cannot take too many photos.
Besides taking pictures of the accident scene, you can use your camera or phone to take photographs of the insurance card of the other driver, as well as his license plate and his driver’s license. You should definitely take pictures of damage to all cars or property involved in the crash as well as any injuries that are visible on you and the passengers involved in the auto accident. Remember to take pictures of anything that might help to document the details of your accident such as skid marks, debris, weather conditions, traffic signs, etc. It may even be a possible to record a video of you speaking with the other driver at the scene of the accident. This would be extremely valuable, especially If they are admitting that they were at fault for the accident or they are acting incoherent or irrational by saying things that don’t make sense. It would also be really helpful to record the testimony of any eye witnesses to your accident as well.
It should prove very helpful for your case to have those recordings later should you need them to prove your case. If it becomes necessary to move your cars before you can take pictures of the impact, it is still important to take pictures of all the factors that you can. These pictures may still be helpful for the adjusters to determine fault and help your attorney proceed on your case.
4. Failing to Get Contact Information for Witnesses
With or without a police report, eye witness testimony is what matters most as far as the finder of fact eventually deciding what happened in your accident and who was at fault. Even if the police decide to site you, if both of the eye-witnesses say something contrary and that the other driver was at fault, you are still likely to win the case. The police are secondary opinions because they don’t actually watch the accident occur. They draw some reasonable description based on events that were described to them by eye-witnesses that were there including yourself and the other driver. However, the testimony of yourself and the other driver is often called bias because both of you are describing the events and circumstances of the accident in a way that sounds good and helps yourself. So a testimony from an eye witness, someone who is neutral and doesn’t know either one of you is the most powerful piece of evidence that you can have in an auto accident case. So you want to reach out to people before they leave the scene even if they can’t wait to talk to the police. Get their name and phone number so that you can contact them later and get them to just write down a short description of what occurred. It may also be helpful to ask locals such as residents or store owners if they have witnessed other accidents in the same place.
5. Failing to Call a Lawyer for Some Free Advice
It’s shocking how many people will get into a car accident and even suffer injuries and then attempt to deal with their insurance problems themselves, only to get fleeced again and again. If you are in an auto accident, you can seek legal advice about your case from a professional that will help you understand how to move forward in handling your claim in a proactive manner free of charge in most cases. At our office, we will answer your call and put you on the phone with a licensed attorney in Utah that knows the answers to your questions and has worked on hundreds of auto accident cases and will talk to you for free. Even if you are unable to come in and sit down in the office and you just need short, quick answers right away, we are willing to do that.
Minor auto accidents with relatively little property damage and no serious injuries can often be handled by the individuals involved and their adjusters in a fair manner. However, There are several specific instances where hiring legal advice would be highly recommended. One of those instances would be if you or a passenger in your vehicle was seriously injured. You want to be sure that the insurance companies give you adequate compensation for your injuries, rehabilitation, missed work and emotional distress. Another instance would be if there is more that one auto involved in the accident. Also, in multiple car collisions, it can sometimes be difficult to establish liability and an attorney can help you with this. Speaking with a personal injury attorney would also be recommended is the at-fault insurance company has offered you a settlement amount that is not adequate or they have denied your claim.
The purpose of this article was to help you avoid five common mistakes that are made with auto accident claims. Keeping these important steps in mind should help you manage your claim process with the best outcome possible.
McMullin Legal Group is in Southern Utah and we are here to help. Give us a call at 435-673-9990. Our primary focus is helping car accident victims in St. George and Cedar City, Utah.
This article and others on this site do not constitute a legal opinion or advice. Interactions on this website do not create an attorney-client relationship and do not serve as a replacement for consulting with an attorney. McMullin Legal Group expressly disclaims all liability relating to actions taken based on contents of this site. This article is for general education purposes, if you are seeking legal advice, contact an attorney.