A legal Action Guide for After a Car Accident
When you suddenly become the victim of a car accident, it isn’t easy to know what to do next. You or someone you love may have suffered injuries in the crash, your car may have been damaged, and you’re certainly an emotional wreck. All of that makes it very difficult to know what steps you need to take after an accident to ensure your rights are protected, and you don’t lose the compensation to which you may be entitled. Here are some tips on what you should do after an accident.
Don’t Leave the Scene
Never leave the scene of an accident, no matter how trivial. This is always a bad idea. In many states, it may even be a felony. You can move your vehicle, but don’t leave the scene.
Make Sure You’re Safe
If you and your vehicle are capable of moving, you should work to get your car out of the way of any oncoming traffic. You don’t want to suffer additional damage, and you don’t want to be the cause of someone else getting involved in the accident. Note this means getting out of the way, not leaving the scene. Either way, be sure to put your hazard lights on to warn any other drivers passing by. Consider setting up flares if you have any or even using a flashlight. You just want to make sure that you are out of the way and that you can be seen by other vehicles. Remember to be careful during this process. You’ve just been through a traumatic situation and probably aren’t thinking as well as you usually do.
Is Everyone Okay?
Next, try to figure out if anyone is injured. You’re not a doctor (and probably don’t play one on TV), but if someone is bleeding or in great pain, you should be able to understand that they suffered a severe injury.
It’s easy to assume that someone has called the police already, but you’re better off making that call yourself. You have all the information that the 911 operator will need. Moreover, in most parts of the United States, the 911 operator can find you based on your cell phone. They can ping the tower your call is coming from or contact the cell company for GPS coordinates. In either case, that is the best information as to precisely where the accident is for law enforcement and emergency medical personnel.
You should make sure that law enforcement is aware of your accident. You may well need a police report to make a claim with your insurance company, even if it’s just for damage to your car. Again, in many states, accidents with a certain amount of damage, injuries, or death must be reported to the police and often to some state agency. A car accident attorney can ensure you meet these requirements adequately and on time.
Further, once law enforcement has information about your accident, they can deal with diverting or directing traffic around the accident site if that’s necessary. They can also get a tow truck and other emergency vehicles to the scene and arrange for clean-up of the accident debris to begin.
If law enforcement personnel come to the scene (some states no longer go to minor accidents), ensure to get the investigating officers’ names, badge numbers, and contact information. This will make it much easier to contact them should you need to do so in the future.
Get Medical Attention
You may feel like any injuries you have aren’t very serious or that you aren’t hurt. However, you should always seek medical attention after an accident. Some injuries can be slow to appear or have slowly developing consequences. A ‘mild’ conclusion may not be so mild in its effects, and you should see a doctor if you’ve hit your head or been unconscious for any length of time. Other potentially serious injuries may not show up immediately or be made worse if you move around without getting treatment. You need to get help, follow any treatment plan, and take care of yourself. Long-term consequences of even seemingly minor injuries can be devastating.
You will probably experience pain and other symptoms, many of which won’t show for a few days. Injuries like whiplash, spinal damage, and concussions, and their side effects, may not appear for hours or days after the accident. Right after an accident, you’re under the influence of adrenaline, one of the side effects of which is masking pain. Don’t let your adrenaline high influence your decision to seek medical attention. /p>
You simply may not be physically capable of doing what this material suggests you should. If so, don’t panic. One of the things that car accident lawyers are really good at is getting the necessary information relating to any case they take. If you can’t get the information, your personal injury lawyer can get it when you retain one. That being said, if you can, you should do the following.
Get the contact information for any other drivers involved in the accident. You will want to obtain the following.
- Driver and passengers names and contact information
- License plate numbers of all involved vehicles
- Insurance information for all drivers
If there are potential witnesses at the scene, you should also try to get their names and contact information. Again, much of this information will be in the police report or available to your lawyers later, but getting it now when it’s all fresh is great if you can.
Not only can your lawyer get this information if you can’t, but it will all likely be in the police report as well. Still, you may have seen someone the officers didn’t, or you may have someone who isn’t as comfortable talking to the police. If you can get the information independently, it is a good idea.
Don’t share your Social Security number, the coverage limits on your insurance policies, and any other unnecessary personal information. Just give people your name, contact information, and proof of insurance.
Document the Accident
When law enforcement does arrive, tell the investigating officer, as best you can, exactly what happened and how. Don’t speculate about what might have happened; just give the officer the facts as you understand and recall them. If the officer asks if you’re hurt, be truthful there too. If you aren’t sure, say so. Frequently, the pain from motor vehicle injuries doesn’t show up right away, so you should seek medical attention immediately to be sure of your condition. Further, if you don’t seek prompt medical attention, an insurance company may try to use that as evidence that you weren’t really very seriously hurt.
Make sure that any other persons in your vehicle are also accurate and, to the extent you can, the statement of anyone else involved.
Again, if you can, try to document everything at the scene. Use your cell phone to take photos of the involved vehicles, any injuries you or your passengers have suffered, and the scene in general. Make sure to take enough photos of the scene to show the circumstances that might have caused the accident and the resulting damage. Also, if you have a dash cam, make sure to retain any recordings it made. Whether these are admitted as evidence or not, they can assist you in recalling what happened or preparing to speak to insurance adjusters.
As you gather information and document the accident, make sure to keep all your records in one place. First, doing that will make things much easier when you get a lawyer. You’ll have everything in one place to refresh your memory and to help the lawyer understand your case. In addition, having things all together makes it easier for you or your attorney to spot gaps in what you have. The sooner you know you’re missing something, the easier it is to get it.
Find Out Your Damages
After you’ve had a day or so to get over the immediate stress of the accident, you can try to discover how badly your vehicle was damaged. Of course, if it was totaled, you’ll know that already. If not, you’ll want to visit a collision shop, possibly one required by your insurance company, a brake repair shop, or another auto body shop to find out what damage was to your car and get estimates for repairs. You’ll no doubt be shocked by how much even a minor accident can cost, but better to know as you go into settlement negotiations so you start at more informed numbers.
Retain a Car Accident Lawyer
Most lawyers who handle car accidents are personal injury attorneys. This means that they concentrate their practice on cases involving personal injuries, and they may, in fact, only handle car accidents. You want to look for an attorney with extensive experience in the kind of case you have, a car accident similar to the one you experienced. The closer the attorney’s experience to your accident, the more skilled they will be in handling your case.
A car accident attorney will be familiar with the kinds of compensation available in a case like yours and probably works with a law firm that handles significant numbers of personal injury cases. If you weren’t at fault, or in many states, if you weren’t entirely at fault, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries, expenses, and emotional distress. The defense lawyers on the other side and their insurance companies would be perfectly happy to take advantage of your inexperience and lack of knowledge to settle your case as quickly and inexpensively as possible. Your car wreck lawyer will ensure that doesn’t happen.
Further, if no settlement can be negotiated, having an attorney who has been involved from very early on in the process makes it more credible that you are willing to go to court to get the compensation you deserve. Insurance companies tend to take represented claimants more seriously than those working on their own.
If there’s a chance of criminal liability in the case, either your or other involved parties may have a defense lawyer. If there’s a possibility that you may be charged, you will need both a criminal defense lawyer and a car accident lawyer. Both will work to protect your rights and will possibly consult with one another.
Can I Afford a Lawyer?
Attorney’s fees in car accident cases are handled differently than in many typical legal arrangements. You don’t get billed hourly by your attorneys for their services. Instead, you enter into what is called a contingency fee agreement. Under this agreement, the ‘contingency’ is that your lawyers only get paid if you win. A win is defined as either a victory in court in which you receive an award or a settlement of the case in your favor. If the lawyers do not achieve one of those goals, you do not pay any legal fees – though you probably will have to pay some expenses for the case. If they achieve a favorable settlement or award, the lawyers will receive a percentage of your award as compensation.
The American Bar Association requires that a contingency fee agreement be in writing and spell out precisely what percentage you have to pay and under what circumstances. Sometimes, for example, the percentage is lower at earlier stages of the case since the lawyer will have put in less time. The fee must be reasonable – it’s usually around a third – and you must sign the agreement.
When you win, the insurance company will make any necessary payments like doctors’ bills, deduct the share from your attorney, and send the balance to you.
Now that you know these tips, you are more equipped for a car accident. It’s important to stay calm and follow the guide so that you do everything that you need to.