What Should You Do After Getting in an Accident?
Before you ever think about calling your car insurance, there are a few things you should do at the scene of the accident.
Stay at the Scene
Getting into an accident is scary enough. Knowing that you caused the accident, or at least contributed to causing it, can be even worse.
In the moment, you might be tempted to leave the scene of the accident. You may think that you can avoid getting in trouble or avoid having to pay for damages. Or you may think that the accident is very minor, and not worth stopping for.
Every year, more than 682,000 hit and run crashes take place across the United States. Many of these accidents are between one vehicle and pedestrians or cyclists. In fact, almost 65 percent of hit-and-run crashes resulting in death are between pedestrians or bicycles and a vehicle.
Regardless of the type of accident, the severity, or the circumstances, never leave the scene of an accident. Doing so can result in severe consequences, regardless of whether the accident causes injuries or not. If the accident did cause injury or death, leaving the scene can result in a felony charge. This carries up to 15 years of prison time and fines of between $5,000 and $20,000. The victim or victims can also sue for additional damages.
Where Should You Stop Your Car?
As soon as you realize that an accident has taken place, slow down and come to a safe stop.
After a bad accident, it may be difficult or even impossible to move your car. If you can see that your vehicle and others involved have sustained major damage, do not try to move your car. Instead, wait for police officers to tell you to try to move. In most cases, you may need to wait for a tow truck in order to do so.
If you cannot move your vehicle, and the crash took place on a busy road or highway, move yourself, your passengers, and anyone else involved in the accident to a safe spot on the side of the road.
Staying near your vehicles can result in additional injuries if other vehicles fail to stop or hit one of your disabled vehicles in the roadway. If anyone has sustained head injuries, back injuries, or other severe injuries, it is safer to not move them. You should only do so in extreme circumstances when staying in the same place would result in even worse injuries or death.
If an accident is minor, such as a fender bender, and occurs in a high traffic area or is blocking a roadway, you should move the involved vehicles to the side of the road to wait for the police.
Call for Help
When someone is hurt in a car accident, getting emergency services on the scene as quickly as possible can make all the difference. As soon as your vehicle has come to a stop and you have moved to a safe place, call 911.
Give the dispatcher as much information as you can about the location of the accident and any injuries. Stay calm and speak clearly. You do not need to talk about who caused the accident at this time.
Check for Injuries
While you or someone else is calling emergency services, check with other drivers and passengers for any injuries. If you are able to, provide immediate first aid, such as stopping blood flow or helping immobilize someone who may have neck injuries or other trauma.
Just because a person’s injuries are not immediately apparent doesn’t mean that they are okay. Shock can sometimes hide minor or even major injuries. Knowing the symptoms of shock can help you identify when someone could be suffering, and allow you to keep them calm and still until paramedics arrive at the scene.
Some signs of shock include:
- Skin that is cold, clammy, and pale
- Fast pulse or rapid breathing
- Nausea or vomiting
- Weakness or sudden fatigue
- Large pupils
- A sudden change in a person’s mental state, including agitation or anxiousness
If you think that a person is suffering from shock, try to keep them from moving around. Ask them to lay down and elevate their legs slightly to keep blood flow to the heart. In cooler temperatures, cover the individual with additional clothing or a blanket to keep them warm. Do not allow the person to eat or drink anything.
Speak with Police
When police do arrive on the scene, give them your personal information. Describe the accident and answer any questions they may have.
However, if you caused the accident, or if it is unclear who caused the accident, avoid admitting any guilt to the police. Any information that you provide will wind up in the police report. This can be used later on to prove fault for an accident, which could leave you responsible for the damages.
Take Photos of the Scene and Gather Evidence
Sometimes accidents are cut and dry, with fault obvious. In these cases, insurance providers may pay out without argument. If you did not suffer severe injuries, you may choose not to hire a car accident lawyer to claim additional damages.
However, if the insurance provider refuses to pay and either your insurance provider or an attorney help you build a case against the responsible driver, you will need some crucial evidence from the day of the crash.
Before the tow trucks arrive, take photos of the scene of the accident and all of the involved vehicles. Get photographs from multiple angles. Include any road signs or landmarks near the accident. If there were any witnesses to the accident, ask for their contact information as well.
When Should You Call Your Insurance After an Accident?
While you are dealing with injuries, getting your vehicle moved or towed to a safe place, and talking with police, you do not need to call your insurance provider. Instead, focus on staying safe and getting treatment for any injuries that you have personally sustained in the immediate aftermath of an accident.
You will not need to contact your insurance provider until you have left the scene of the accident. Or until you are waiting for a tow truck, uninjured, and in a safe place.
Notifying Your Insurance Provider About the Accident
Whether you or someone else caused the accident and no matter who’s insurance provider you think will pay for the damages, you should still contact your own insurance provider. This is true anytime you have been involved in an accident, regardless of the circumstances or severity.
Call your insurance provider as soon as possible after the accident. In most cases, you should try to contact them within 24 hours of being in an accident. However, if you were injured and require a hospital stay, this may need to be delayed. If that is the case, contact your insurance provider as soon as you are able to. Or, ask your spouse or another close family member to do so on your behalf.
Letting your insurance provider know that you have been in an accident serves a number of purposes. Your provider may begin their own investigation immediately following the accident. If someone else caused the accident, this lets your insurance provider know what is going on. This ensures they are prepared in case they are contacted by others involved in the accident.
If you struggle to get payment from the responsible driver’s insurance provider, you may need to later submit claims to your own insurance. If you have already let them know about the accident, this will make this step much easier.
Setting the Story Straight
Another reason why it is so important to let your insurance provider know about an accident is that damage and injuries may not always be apparent right away.
For instance, say that you were hit by another vehicle in a minor fender bender. You check your vehicle at the scene and see only a few small dents. You do not notice any injuries and feel fine after the crash. The other driver and yourself exchange information.
The next day, you wake up with pain in your back and neck, caused by whiplash. The adrenaline of the accident had hidden these injuries during the previous day. When you take your car to the repair shop, what you thought was minor damage turns out to be a major repair to your bumper.
Suddenly, what you and the other driver thought would be a $500 or less claim to their insurance provider turns into several thousand dollars. You did not call the police because the accident was on private property. It’s now your word versus the other driver’s. When you contact the insurance provider, you find out that the driver is claiming the accident never took place.
If you have contacted your own insurance provider about the accident, you will have more proof to back up your claim.
What Information Does Your Insurance Provider Need?
When you contact your insurance provider, there is some specific information you need to be able to provide. This includes:
- The names and contact information of any drivers or passengers involved in the accident
- Insurance information for other drivers involved in the accident
- The names and contact information of any witnesses to the accident
- License plate numbers of any vehicles involved in the accident
- The time of day that the accident occurred
- Road conditions at the time of the accident
- Specific information about the location of the accident
- Information about the involved vehicles, including their year, make, and model
- A detailed description of what happened during the accident
You should also submit any photos that you took of the accident and the location. Some insurance providers have mobile apps that make reporting an accident a breeze. Otherwise, contact your insurance provider directly.
Whose Insurance Provider Pays for the Damage?
The circumstances of the accident and where it took place will determine who’s insurance provider will pay for the damage.
If someone else caused your car accident and the wreck did not take place in a state with no-fault laws in place, the driver who caused the accident is responsible for the damages. This means that you will submit your claim for damages to your vehicle or medical bills to the other driver’s insurance provider.
Once you have submitted your claim, the insurance provider will likely launch their own investigation into the crash. This can take some time. In the meantime, you will need to wait to get your vehicle repaired. Otherwise, you may wind up responsible for the bill all on your own.
If the insurance provider accepts your claim in full, you will then be able to get your vehicle repaired and your medical bills paid.
If the insurance provider is slow to pay or refuses your claim, you can then submit a claim to your own insurance provider under your collision coverage. You may pay a deductible, then your insurance provider will pay for the damages. They will then seek repayment from the insurance provider of the driver responsible for the accident.
You may also choose to submit the claim to your own insurance provider from the start under your collision coverage. This allows you to get your vehicle repaired and your bills paid faster. Some insurance providers will also waive your deductible after an accident that was not your fault. Depending on the other driver’s policy limits, you may need to submit a claim to your insurance after their insurance provider has paid out in order to make up the difference.
Who Pays for an Accident That Occurs in a No-Fault State?
In the U.S., there are 12 states that have no-fault laws on the books. A no-fault law means that it no longer matters who is at fault for an accident. Instead, all involved drivers are responsible for paying for their own damages and medical bills.
States that have no-fault laws in place include:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
Puerto Rico also has a no-fault law in place.
If you are in a car accident in a no-fault state, regardless of whether you caused the accident or not, you will submit a claim to your own insurance provider. You can then choose to sue the responsible driver for pain and suffering or other expenses. You will need a car accident lawyer’s help to do so. And most states place a limit on the total cost of damages you are able to collect for when you do sue.
When Should You Call a Car Accident Lawyer?
The simple answer to the questions about when you should call your car insurance after an accident is as soon as possible. Whether you were at fault or not, this will ensure your provider knows what is going on. They can also let you know what needs to be done to file claims or keep them up-to-date on the other provider paying for your damages.
After you have contacted your insurance provider to let them know that you have been in an accident, you might choose to contact a car accident lawyer next.
When an accident is severe, causes serious injuries, or when there is a chance that you could be at fault, an attorney can be a huge asset to your case. An experienced car accident lawyer can help you navigate the legal process and better understand your rights. When needed, they will help you fight for compensation from insurance providers or sue for additional damages.