More than three-quarters of adult drivers have been in at least one accident. In fact, the average individual will be in one accident every 18 years. This means most of us will be in multiple accidents in our lifetimes.
From minor fender benders to major, multi-car collisions, accidents fall into one of three categories; those caused by another driver, those in which more than one driver is at fault, and those that you cause yourself.
When someone else hits your car or causes a crash, much of what happens is out of your control. At the scene, you’ll get treatment for your injuries. Then you’ll tell the police what happened. Afterward, you can give the insurance company of the person responsible for the accident a call to make sure that he or she has filed the necessary claims.
In a no-fault state, you will file your claims with your own insurance provider instead.
But what happens when you are the one responsible for the accident? Keep reading to find out what you should do after causing a collision.
At the Scene: What Should You Do Immediately After Causing a Car Accident?
Knowing that you caused a car accident can be scary. Whether it’s a small accident or a major wreck, your heart may begin to race and your head will pound. Your mind might start running through what is going to happen to you. Will you get in trouble with the police? Get a ticket or be arrested? What if someone in the vehicle that you hit is hurt, or worse? Will you be held responsible, financially, and otherwise?
Staying calm and level-headed can go a long way towards allowing you to do what you need to after an accident. From helping any victims to getting treatment for your own injuries, this is what you should do at the scene of the accident.
Stay Where You Are
Perhaps the most important thing to remember after causing an accident is to never to leave the scene. When you see the damage that you have caused, you might be tempted to keep driving. Besides being morally wrong, this action can cause some severe consequences.
Leaving the scene of an accident that you have caused makes it a hit and run. A hit and run can be between two or more vehicles, or between a vehicle and a pedestrian, building, bike, or another object. In some states, a hit and run can also be between a vehicle and an animal, either domestic or wild.
Causing a hit and run can have serious criminal penalties when you are caught. Depending on the state where your accident takes place and the extent of the damage and injuries the accident caused, you could be charged with a felony or a misdemeanor.
In most states, if the accident caused an injury, the charge will be a felony. This could carry a punishment of fines between $5,000 and $20,000 and up to 15 years in prison. The victim or victims of the accident that you caused can also file a civil suit against you. This may mean many thousands of dollars in additional fines that you will have to pay.
While the penalties are less severe for doing so, leaving the scene of an accident that you did not cause is also illegal.
If you caused an accident, take a deep breath and come to a safe stop, if you haven’t already. Never, ever leave the scene of the accident for any reason.
Assess Your Injuries
When your car has come to a stop, pause to assess your own injuries. If you have obvious, severe injuries like bleeding or a head injury, or you think that you may have broken a leg, stay in your vehicle.
It’s important to understand that shock and adrenaline can hide your injuries immediately after an accident. You may feel completely fine, yet be suffering from internal bleeding, a concussion, or even broken bones without realizing it.
Some signs of shock include:
- Skin that is cold and clammy to the touch
- Blue or gray tint to the lips or fingernails
- Rapid pulse and breathing
- Vomiting or nausea
- Mental confusion, anxiety, or agitation
- Skin that is pale or ashen
It can be tough to spot the signs of shock in yourself. However, if you notice any of the above signs, you might be suffering from shock. If your injuries are not severe and you aren’t showing signs of shock, exit your vehicle. Only do so if you can safely exit your vehicle.
Call for Help
As soon as you can safely do so, call emergency services for help. Give your location to the best of your ability. Stay calm, and speak as clearly as possible. The more information you can give the dispatcher, and the faster you do so, the faster they can send help your way.
This is not the time to be admitting guilt. Instead, stick to the details of your location and any injuries that have occurred.
Check for Other Injuries
Once you are out of your vehicle and have called for help, check for other injuries. If there are injuries, administer first aid to the best of your ability. You can use clothing to slow bleeding and perform CPR if necessary and if you are able to.
One of the most important things to remember is to stay calm. Regardless of whether there are injuries or not, stay calm and focused. Do not get into arguments with other drivers. If they try to start an argument with you, back away and make it clear that you do not want to get involved. Getting into a fight or even a verbal argument will only make your situation worse.
Speak with Police
When police and emergency services arrive at the scene of the accident, they are going to have a lot of questions. If you were not injured or do not need to go to the hospital, speak with the police. However, be very careful about what you say.
Provide your personal information, and answer questions about where you were coming from and where you were going. But stop short of admitting guilt or admitting to anything that could make you appear guilty. If you have been drinking or using drugs, avoid admitting to either at the scene. Anything that you say to the police can wind up in the accident report and can be used later on to prove your guilt.
If an accident is very minor and no injuries occurred, it could take police some time to arrive. In some cases, such as if the accident occurred on private property, the police may not come to the scene of the crash at all. Instead, they will advise you to exchange information with the other driver. Even if the accident is your fault, you should get the information of the other driver involved, including their name, contact information, and insurance information.
Avoiding the Wrong Discussions at the Scene
If you caused an accident, there are a few things you should avoid talking about at the scene. This includes talking to emergency services and police officers, as well as with anyone else involved in the accident or witnesses at the scene.
Things you should never discuss at the scene or with anyone other than a personal injury lawyer include:
- Information about how the accident happened.
- Details about what you were doing when the accident occurred, like texting, drinking or talking to passengers.
- Any mention of who is at fault, or who is not at fault.
- Speaking to the other driver about what he or she thinks happened. This includes fishing to see whether they could be thinking that they are at fault for the accident.
- Apologies to anyone involved.
Take care when speaking to passengers of your own vehicle as well while you are still at the scene. Remind them to follow the same guidelines when speaking about the crash. Your friends or family could incriminate you without realizing that they are doing so.
You should never lie to the police about what happened. However, you are well within your rights to not place blame on yourself. In the moments after an accident, you may be confused, scared, or anxious. Allowing yourself to say too much could lead you to admit to things that did not happen.
Collect as Much Evidence as You Can
Before you leave the scene of the accident or a tow truck arrives to clear the scene, you should gather as much evidence as you can.
Start by taking photos of all involved vehicles. You should also take photos of the scene of the accident. Include as much of the surrounding area as possible. These photos can be vital to allowing your attorney to build your defense. They may notice details about the scene that you missed that could help clear you of some guilt. Examples include stop signs that are concealed by overgrown foliage or road signs that are unclear.
If there were any witnesses at the scene of the accident, ask for their personal information. Try to get their name and phone number or email address. Your attorney could use this information to contact witnesses independently of the police report.
After You Have Left the Scene: Getting a Car Accident Lawyer to Defend You
After you have left the scene of the accident, had your vehicle towed, and received treatment for any injuries, it’s time to start dealing with the aftermath.
If the accident caused injuries, the first thing you should do after leaving the scene is to contact a car accident lawyer. Whether the case goes to court or your insurance provider pays out for the damages, speaking with an attorney right away can help you learn your rights and figure out your next steps.
A personal injury lawyer will be able to advise you about whether you should fight to prove that you were not solely at fault for the accident. If you were at fault and injuries occurred, he or she can help you navigate the legal process and any charges that you might be facing.
Contacting Your Insurance Provider
After finding and speaking with a car accident lawyer about your case, the next thing that you should do is contact your insurance provider. Whether you think that you are at fault and your insurance provider should pay for the damages, you should still contact them.
If you do not plan to submit claims, you can still contact your provider to let them know what is going on. If the driver of the other vehicle contacts your insurance provider in an attempt to submit a claim, making sure that your provider knows the circumstances will help mitigate any potential problems.
What to do if You Cause an Accident in a No-Fault State
In most states, when an accident occurs, the insurance provider of the person responsible for the accident pays for all damages. This includes damages to their own vehicle, as well as damages to other vehicles or any injuries caused by the accident.
However, in a state with no-fault laws, this is not the case.
There are 12 states in the U.S. that have no-fault insurance laws. These states are:
- North Dakota
- New Jersey
- New York
In no-fault states, drivers are required to have insurance coverage that will pay for damages and injuries of their own vehicle, regardless of fault.
If you cause an accident in a state with no-fault laws, the driver of the vehicle you hit will file their claims with their own insurance provider. There is no need to prove fault in this case. Insurance providers pay because that is their client. You will submit your claims for any damages to your own insurance provider as well.
When you cause an accident in a no-fault state, the victims can still sue you for damages. Most states do place limits on the amount that victims can sue for. Though if the injuries were severe, these limits may not apply.
For those reasons, if you cause an accident in a no-fault state, you should still contact a car accident lawyer. In the case that the victim or victims sue, he or she will be able to help you navigate that process and hopefully lower or eliminate the settlement that you owe.
Dealing with an Accident That You Have Caused
Accidents happen. Unfortunately, dealing with a car accident that you have caused is rarely easy. Besides the guilt, you will be left dealing with potentially lofty legal consequences. Even in a no-fault state, the victims could take you to court for additional damages and pain and suffering as well.
From building your case to navigating the legal system and your rights, a car accident lawyer can help you deal with the fall-out of causing a car accident.