Once you’ve had a car accident, you’ll find yourself vulnerable. You are subject to injury and to blame for the damages to others. Your fault or not, you are open to a stressful experience.
Even fender benders can lead to problems, but more serious accidents create complicated responses, and it can happen to you. In 2015, AJC reported on a study finding “Atlantans are 40 percent more likely to get in an accident than the national average.” That means Atlanta’s traffic fatalities are the second highest in the nation, they pay an average of $321 a year more than the safest city. And, in 2017, the Governor’s Office of Highway reported a slight decrease in fatalities despite an increase in accidents.
No matter how minor or major your vehicle accident, you must take steps to protect yourself and your interests.
Prepare to take 8 vital steps following an accident:
- Get out of the way. You must stop following the accident. If the car is movable, you should pull over to the side out of traffic. Obstructing traffic can create more accidents. If the car won’t move, you should get out of the way. You should see to the passengers in your car and move everyone to the side of the road.
If you and/or your passengers are hurt and unable to move, you should stay in place until help arrives. If you can offer assistance to anyone, you should. In any case, safety is primary, so if you can display warning signals or signs, you should.
- Call the cops. You must call the police especially if the accident is serious. If you cannot, you should ask someone to call while you do what you have to do.
While the police and first responders are on their way, you should offer assistance to others who may be injured. If the injured are in the other vehicle, they still need help. But, you should not attempt medical help if you do not have training.
- Secure the info. You need the names, phone numbers, and insurance information of the other driver, witnesses, and any injured people. If you have a camera on your phone, you can take pictures of the others’ driver license, insurance card, car registration, and other contact information.
You, your insurance company, or personal injury lawyer may want to reach the other people involved. You are advised never to accept an offer for damage expenses at the scene of the accident, and serious accidents can wind up in subrogation after injury accidents. Insurance companies have the right to sue the at-fault driver for recovery of claims paid by your insurance company. So, the contact info is vital to all concerned.
- Get the picture. Once injured parties are cared for, you want to photograph the vehicles involved from every angle. You’ll want photos of the car’s make and model as well as the damages. You might carry a camera in your car or use the camera on your phone.
Even if you can take the pictures, you want some record of the scene. You can draw a simple map showing the direction of the vehicles. You should note the location of stop signs, red lights, speed limit signs, and other relevant issues. For example, a tree may block a stop sign. Without this “big picture,” you may forget or confuse important details later.
- Be patient. You should not accept an offer by the other driver to settle the damages. Drivers will offer to settle claiming reporting the accident to your insurance company will only increase your insurance costs. The offer may be tempting because it appears to end the problem.
However, you’re not in the position to estimate the true cost of damage to the car let along physical injuries to you or your passengers. If you accept their offer of a quick settlement, you are out of luck if damages show up later or personal injuries worsen in time.
- Keep your cool. If you are uninjured, you must keep your head about you. The other party may lose their temper, but you will benefit from staying level-headed. Accidents are stressful, of course, especially when there are injuries. But, anger can only worsen the situation.
It’s among the reasons to call the police as soon as possible. They will deliberately separate the parties involved to (1) get the different versions of the accident, (2) assess the likely scenario, and (3) keep the parties from attacking each other. This is all the more important if you are the at-fault driver.
- Tell a friend. An accident is a time to call your insurance agent as well as your insurance company. A good agent will run some interference for you and help you navigate the claims function at the insurance company.
You want to have a personal injury lawyer on your contact list. You can do a little online research or talk to your family and friends and carry the contact info in your wallet.
- Follow up. You will need estimates from car mechanics and body restoration, but those estimates may take time. Having reported the accident as you should have, you must let the insurance company decide on the validity of the restoration efforts.
Even if you’re not feeling pain at the time of the accident, you may feel it later. Once you do, you must get to the doctor and start the care and therapies required to make you whole. If you lose time at work or incur other expenses, you must keep records and share your problems with your insurance claims people.
There’s no easy response when misfortune strikes
An auto accident is going to complicate your life. It’s one good reason to drive safely. Still, accidents will happen. If you and yours survive with minimum pain, you should be happy. But, if injuries to you and the other parties are serious or if the damage to the vehicles is total, the process will take some time to work itself out.
Navigating this process is not a do-it-yourself project. It takes knowledge, patience, and help in dealing with all the interested parties. Still, this checklist of eight steps can make things easier for you.