Car Accidents: What Happens Next?
Anyone who has ever been in a car accident can tell you that it is very difficult to think straight in the moment. A rush of adrenaline and anxiety can fog your brain and leave you making mistakes that can damage your ability to receive compensation for injuries and damage. Knowing what to do next after a car accident can help save you from making mistakes, and leave you feeling confident that you can handle the situation if and when it happens to you.
- Get somewhere safe.
As soon as you're in an accident, the very first thing you should do is make sure everyone is safe. If the vehicles are still working and operational, it is best to move over to the shoulder or just off the main highway or road. Use any flares, emergency reflective triangles, or other signals that can warn other cars that may not see the accident until they get up close. The last thing anyone wants is to put themselves at risk of further injury or harm. If the vehicles are not operational, however, or the accident was severe (such as a car that has been overturned), leave the vehicles where they are and wait for the police to secure the scene themselves.
- Check for injuries.
If someone is severely injured and needs an ambulance, quickly call 911. If no one seems badly injured in the moment, that doesn't mean there aren't injuries. Most injuries from car accidents can show up later, when pain is more apparent after the adrenaline rush disappears. Never admit that you're not injured in any way, especially to an insurance adjuster. You may have injuries that aren't immediately apparent, and you don't want to risk being unable to receive compensation for them.
- Don't admit fault, even if it was your fault.
Even if you're sure, in the moment, that you caused the accident, do NOT admit fault. Do not apologize, do not use apologetic language. Wait for the insurance companies to determine who is at fault.
- Call the police.
If the damage is enough to consider filing a claim with your insurance company, or with their insurance company, you should consider giving the police a call. With a police officer on the scene, you'll have an official report you can provide to the insurance companies. They can also help interview witnesses to the accident.
- Exchange information.
Talk to the other party and exchange basic information, such as:
● Their name and contact information, such as phone numbers or emails
● Their insurance company name, phone number, and their policy number
● Witness contact information
● Police report number, and the officer's contact information
- Document, Document, Document.
Take as many photographs of the scene as you can. In some cases, depending on your insurance company, you can use your insurance company's smart phone app to go through a list of required documentation and organize it neatly. If you don't have an app, make sure you have a pen and paper handy. Sketch a diagram of the scene and try to take as many notes as you can about what happened. Mark which direction each car was traveling, take notes about the road conditions, write the weather conditions, etc. Stick with facts, and try not to speculate. Make sure you get pictures of any damage up close, and take pictures of any physical injuries if they are visible, such as cuts or scratches.
- Review your insurance coverage.
Have a clear understanding of what your insurance will cover. Get a copy of your policy and review liability coverage for repairs, bodily injury, personal injury protection, and your uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage in case the other party is driving without insurance.
- Call YOUR insurance company.
Call your insurance company first, even if you are not at fault. Notify them as soon as possible, but after you've calmed down. They may have specific instructions on what you should do and what procedures to follow. They will ask you for a brief description of what happened. Supply the facts. They will ask for photos of damage. They will also probably ask for the insurance and contact information of the other party that was involved. Your insurance company may want to speak to the other car insurance company on your behalf, rather than having you contact them. If they instruct you to, contact the other party's insurance company and be prepared with the basic information and facts of the incident.
- Seek medical attention.
It's a good idea to visit a doctor even if you feel fine in the moment. Most injuries from car accidents show up later. Keep any records from the doctor regarding any injuries.
The Claims Process
- Submit your claim quickly.
Don't wait. You should submit your claim as quickly as possible to avoid delays in receiving compensation.
- Work with the claims adjuster.
Be honest and polite with the insurance adjuster. Provide them the information they need in a timely manner to avoid delays.
- Know your deductible and be prepared to pay it.
You should have selected deductibles for certain insurance coverages. Collision and comprehensive coverages, for example, may have deductibles ranging from $500 and up depending on the amount you chose. If you have a deductible of $500 and the damages were $2000, your insurance company will pay $1500.
- Get an estimate from the insurance adjuster.
The insurance adjuster will provide an estimate of the repair cost of the vehicle, or an estimate to cover the value of the vehicle if it was a total loss. In some cases, they may ask you to get an estimate from a repair shop before they will offer a settlement amount.
- Choose a body shop for repairs, or use the settlement money to purchase a new vehicle.
Unless your insurance company requires you to use a specific repair shop, find a body shop that will make repairs to your vehicle. Try to avoid going to shops that repair with after-market parts, instead opting for one that uses original equipment manufacturer, or OEM, parts.