Car accidents are a huge safety hazard for most Americans. In 2018, over 35,000 people died on our roads, and many, many more were injured. While we can drive carefully and defensively to keep ourselves safe, sometimes other drivers make mistakes or ignore rules that result in collisions. Here’s what you should do if you find yourself in that situation.
First: Make an Immediate Record at the Scene
After a car accident, you may feel panicked, especially if you’ve never been involved in one before. If you or another party is seriously injured, getting help should be your number one priority. In circumstances where no emergency care is needed, here are the steps you should take in the immediate aftermath.
- Stop Safely: Leaving the scene of an accident is a crime in every state. If you are able to move your car to the side of the road or to another safe place nearby, you should do so. If you are still in or near traffic, turn on your hazards, set up flares, and/or use your phone flashlight to warn oncoming traffic.
- Call 911: If anyone is injured, even if it’s not life-threatening, they should receive emergency care.
- Call the Police: Especially in smaller accidents, some parties don’t want to get the police involved—perhaps because they don’t have a proper license/registration, don’t want points on their license, or don’t have insurance. While it may seem tempting to agree, especially if you don’t think the damage is that bad, failing to involve the police and your insurer can leave you facing unexpected medical or repair costs alone. Plus, failing to report to the police in cases of injury or property damage of more than $1,500 is against Illinois law.
- Don’t Admit Fault: It’s common to want to apologize when you see someone else hurt, even if you didn’t cause it. However, doing so after a car accident might be taken as an admission of guilt and could be used against in you an insurance claim or lawsuit.
- Exchange Information: You and the other driver(s) involved should exchange names, phone numbers, and insurance information. Other than that, you shouldn’t speak to them much in case they later try to use your words against you.
- Speak to Witnesses: If anyone else saw the accident and stopped, speak to them and take notes on what they observed. If they identify factors that prove your innocence, make sure you have their name and contact information in case you need their testimony.
- Make Your Own Documentation: Though the police will put together a report of what they found on the scene, you should take pictures of damage and any injuries that occurred. You may also want to take pictures of road conditions if, for instance, an icy skid led to a collision. Make note of everything you recall about the accident and be sure to include data such as the makes and models of the vehicles involved and the responding officers’ names and badge numbers.
Second: Assess Full Damages for Your Claim
After you leave the scene, you’ll need to start thinking about dealing with the aftermath of an accident—medical treatment, car repairs, and more. The sooner you get started on gathering the information you’ll need for an insurance claim or lawsuit, the less likely you are to miss any vital elements.
- Obtain a Copy of the Police Report: If no one was injured and no serious damage resulted from a car accident, the police may ask you to file the accident report rather than sending officers to the scene. Otherwise, the responding officers will do so. Contact your local police (or other investigative agency, if identified in the upper left of your motorist report) to get a copy.
- Get a Medical Checkup: Even if you don’t think you were injured, your body may just be in shock or have a delayed pain response. Visit an emergency room, urgent care center, or your doctor and tell them you were in a car accident and need an examination.
- Keep Track of All Costs: An insurance claim after a car accident should cover your medical and car repair costs but may also cover expenses like missed work or rental car/taxi fees due to direct damages. Keep all bills and receipts that include related costs to justify your expense requests.
Third: Get the Help You Need for the Claims Process
Insurance companies lose money each time they pay out after an accident, so they do everything they can to reduce their expenses. Their first settlement offer may seem like a joke because of this. You shouldn’t accept it right away. Instead, hire a qualified car accident attorney to negotiate with insurers for you. A lawyer can also help you avoid common mistakes that could hurt you in the long-term. Don’t give the other party any reason to question your claims and deny you the compensation you deserve.If you’ve been in a car accident, let us help you deal with the insurance agents. Reach out online or call us at (217) 394-5885 for a free consultation.