Steps to Take After a Car Accident
Accidents can be overwhelming and life-altering, especially when you’ve been injured. Often when you’ve just been in an accident, you’re experiencing shock and probably feeling overwhelmed. You may not know what to do. As attorneys who have handled countless personal injury claims, we’d like to offer this guide for important steps to take after you’ve been in an auto accident.
Get Treatment For Injuries
Your physical wellbeing and that of anyone else involved in the crash should be your primary concern. That includes any passengers in your car, other drivers, or bystanders who might have been injured. If anyone might be hurt, call 911 immediately. It’s better to have paramedics examine you at the scene and take you to the emergency room if necessary than to refuse treatment and discover later that you’re hurt. Sometimes injuries such as whiplash don’t hurt right away, but later on you might find yourself in significant pain, and if you refused treatment at the scene that may give an insurance company a reason to deny your claim.
If you don’t believe you need medical attention at the time of the accident, but start to experience symptoms hours or days later, seek medical attention as soon as you can. It’s very much possible that injuries that going untreated will get worse rather than better. Some may heal in their own time, but a back or neck injury that goes untreated may cause you a lot of pain down the road. It also may be harder to make a claim for compensation of your medical bills if you delayed getting treatment.
Get Out of the Way of Traffic
It’s not uncommon for people who have been in an accident or experienced an emergency — especially in bad weather — to get hit by other cars while stopped on the road. Someone who initially wasn’t hurt might become injured, or get re-injured, by being in the path of oncoming cars. It’s always a good idea when you’ve had a collision to move to someplace safe and out of the way of traffic to deal with parts of the post-accident process such as exchanging information with the other driver and talking to police.
Exchange Contact Information
Immediately following an accident, it may not be clear what happened or who might be at fault. That’s why it’s important to get contact information from everyone involved or who might be a witness. As the crash is investigated, conflicting stories may emerge and it will be important that you keep track both of witnesses who might support your claim, or those whose version of events might counter your story.
Here’s the information you should get from other drivers:
- Telephone number
- Email address
- Driver’s license number
- License plate number
- Insurance company name, telephone number, and policy number
If you can, get the VIN number for other vehicles involved in the crash. That will help if there’s a dispute over a property damage claim. With a VIN number, you can look the car up on Carfax® or a similar service to make sure the damage claimed wasn’t pre-existing.
From passengers or witnesses, you’ll want:
- Telephone number
- Email address
Report the Accident
Most often, when you call 911 to report injuries police also will be sent to the crash scene and you’ll make a report on the spot. However, police may not always respond if they’re tied up elsewhere — if there’s a big winter storm and more accidents than officers, for example. When police don’t come to the accident scene, you can still make a report after the fact. Illinois actually requires you to do that within 10 days.
In addition to reporting the accident to police, you also need to report it to your insurance company. Some people may be reluctant to do that because they’re worried about their premiums going up, but reporting to your insurance company as soon as is possible helps preserve your ability to make claims for injuries or property damage if that becomes necessary. Injuries or damage to your car aren’t always immediately visible, and you’ll want that ability to make a claim if it later turns out that you were hurt or your car was damaged in some way that wasn’t obvious at the time of the crash.
Stick to the Facts
Accidents happen fast — so fast that the series of events that led to the accident isn’t always clear. Often, it will take an investigation or accident reconstruction to figure out what really happened. However, people involved in accidents think that they did something that caused the crash and tell the police or other driver that it was their fault because they’re just trying to be honest.
Honesty is a commendable trait, but even though you may have done something that contributed to the accident doesn’t mean it was 100 percent your fault. It might be revealed later that the other driver did something that contributed more fault than you looking away from the road for a second to change the radio station. Maybe while you were looking away from the road, the other person ran a stop sign and you just didn’t see that.
The point is that fault often isn’t obvious, and so when you’re talking to the other driver or the police stay calm and tell them the facts, but don’t tell them that the accident was your fault. It may turn out that it actually wasn’t.
Take Pictures and Gather Documents
Getting compensation for your injuries or property damage resulting from an accident rarely is as simple as calling an insurance company, saying you were hurt, and getting a check in the mail. You’re likely going to have to prove that you were hurt and/or that your property was damaged, and that your injuries or damage were caused by the accident. That means you need to document everything.
- Take pictures: Most people nowadays have a cell phone with a camera. Start taking pictures as soon as you’re able. Take pictures of the accident scene and any conditions that might have contributed to the accident. Take pictures of the damage to your car or other property. Take pictures of your injuries. Take pictures that show how your injuries affect your life.
- Keep copies of bills and repair estimates: Start a file where you can collect medical bills, auto repair bills, payment receipts, rental car receipts, insurance policies, letters from insurance companies, or any other document that shows what happened to you.
- Get your accident report: You should be able to obtain a copy of your accident report from the law enforcement agency that took the report. That may be the Illinois State Police, Chicago Police Department, Cook County Sheriff’s Department, or another city or county law enforcement agency. The report should include the police officer’s narrative about what happened, and may include drawings, photos, or witness interviews that will be helpful to your claim.
Talk to a Lawyer
When you’ve been injured in an accident, talking to an experienced personal injury lawyer early on is the best way to preserve your rights and possible claims. A lawyer can explain the nuances of personal injury law and the possible outcomes given the facts of your case so that you can make informed decisions to help you and your family. A personal injury attorney can help with every step of the process: investigating the accident, documenting your claim, negotiating with insurance companies, appealing rejected claims, filing a lawsuit, and trying your case. There’s no need to go it alone. Feel free to call us today for a free, confidential legal consultation at (312) 236-2900.