What to Do After a Car Accident: A Checklist
Anyone can get into a car accident, and yet few people have given much thought to what they would do if they were injured in one. This checklist offers some suggestions for navigating life after a crash, to help you avoid life-complications that can arise when important issues and tasks slip through the cracks.
1. Take care of your medical needs.
Protecting your own health and wellbeing takes top priority after a car accident. It starts at the scene of the accident and continues for months afterward. Follow these tips to protect your health and legal rights.
- Accept emergency care, if a first responder says you need it. Go directly from the scene of the accident to an emergency room, in an ambulance, if an EMT says you should. Do not trust yourself to diagnose your health condition in the immediate aftermath of an accident. Adrenaline running high can mask pain, and even a minor fender bender can cause potentially life-threatening injuries. Trust a first responder to look you over, and if signs point to a need for emergency care, then get it.
- Visit a doctor, no matter what. Even if an EMT says you can do without emergency medical treatment, always schedule an appointment with a physician within 24 hours of an accident. Crashes can cause severe, life-threatening health complications that do not necessarily show symptoms immediately. A doctor can spot these conditions, however. In addition to protecting your health and wellbeing, visiting a doctor as soon as possible after a car accident ensures that medical records reflect any connection between the crash and an injury, which can prove crucial in any later legal action.
- Keep medical appointments. Depending upon your types of injuries, you may have numerous medical appointments to keep after an auto accident. Attend all of them, and follow the doctor’s recommendations. Some accident victims try to take on too much, too soon, or ignore recommendations for physical therapy or for taking medication. Not only does this protect your health, but it also ensures that you can show that you have taken every step necessary to recover from your injuries.
- Keep records of your injuries. Take photos of any visible injuries immediately after the accident. Continue to document your injuries as you move through the stages of recovery. Deep bruises may not show up immediately after the accident and may, in fact, take several days to become fully visible. Also, keep any records you receive from your doctor or insurance providers.
- Keep track of all medical expenses. From the moment you visit the emergency room or urgent care center after a car accident, you will start accumulating medical bills. Your personal injury protection (PIP) insurance coverage and/or your health insurance coverage (assuming you have such coverage) should cover some of the cost, but likely not all; deductibles, co-pays, and non-covered expenses can still pile up. Be sure to keep track of all of these expenses, no matter how small. You may have the right to recover all of them in a legal action.
2. Preserve evidence about the accident.
Your memory of the accident itself and the events surrounding it may fade quickly. Road crews will also arrive soon after the accident to clean up the scene. You have a limited window of time to try to preserve evidence that may prove crucial to recovering compensation for your injuries.
If possible (but only if safe to do so):
Take photos of the accident scene before tow trucks and clean-up crews arrive. Use your cell phone to take photos of the accident scene from every angle and perspective possible. There is no such thing as too many accident scene photos. Capture images of the following:
- The vehicles, including clear photos of any damage, both up close and from a wide-angle
- Any debris or evidence of the accident at the scene, such as glass and metal on the road, skid marks, paint marks on guardrails, etc.
- The surroundings, such as road signs, nearby buildings, and other features of the accident scene that help to give an overall picture of the setting
Obtain contact information for everyone. Try your best to obtain names and contact information for anyone involved in the accident who saw it happen. Not just the other driver, but passengers in other vehicles and bystanders, too. All of these people may possess information that helps to explain how the accident occurred and who owes you legal liability for your injuries.
Again, however, only attempt to gather information at the accident scene if you can do so without putting yourself or others in physical danger. If first responders tell you to seek medical care, then make that your priority. Also, do not get in the way of first responders. If you cannot gather evidence at the accident scene, it is not the end of the world. Take care of yourself first. If you can take photos and collect contact information, then consider that a bonus.
3. Contact your auto insurance company.
Even if you did not cause the accident, contact your auto insurance company as soon as possible after the accident. Your auto insurance company can help start the ball rolling on your accident claim, especially getting compensation for your vehicle. You may also need to:
Notify your insurance company that you have used (or intend to use) your personal injury protection insurance. In Florida, drivers must carry personal injury protection insurance to provide the initial coverage for medical bills and lost time at work following an auto accident. Notifying the insurance company that you have used this insurance at the hospital or an urgent care facility can help streamline your claim and reduce the odds of claim rejection.
Cancel your auto insurance policy, in the event of a totaled vehicle. Many auto accidents, especially those that cause serious injuries, also cause substantial damage to the vehicles involved in those accidents. You may need to cancel the existing insurance policy that covers your totaled car.
Register a new vehicle, if necessary. Some accident victims purchase new vehicles soon after an accident. You will need to register that vehicle with your insurance company immediately, of course.
Discuss any future changes to your insurance policies. Some accident victims find that an accident shows them the weaknesses in their current insurance policies. Many victims choose to update those policies to increase their coverage. You may find that you want to increase:
- Your personal injury protection coverage, to provide you or other drivers in your household with more financial protection against future injuries
- Your uninsured motorist coverage, especially if you faced an accident with a driver without insurance. With more than 26 percent of Florida drivers estimated to drive without insurance, this protection can provide vital coverage following an accident.
- Your underinsured motorist coverage, particularly if you drive an expensive vehicle or replace your former vehicle with a more expensive model
4. Contact your health insurance company.
Many people assume that if they suffer injuries in an auto accident, the other party has to pay their medical bills. This may have some truth in the long run, but for now, your medical bills are your financial responsibility. Certainly, your PIP coverage and your health insurance (subject to deductibles and co-pays) may help you pay those expenses. However, as a legal matter, your insurance pays bills on your behalf, but you remain the person with the financial obligation.
For that reason, it makes good sense to contact your health insurance company right away to give them a heads-up about your accident injuries, and to confirm the scope and limits of your coverage. When an unexpected injury interrupts your life, information gives you power. Do not leave yourself exposed to getting blindsided by a lack of coverage at a critical moment.
5. Obtain a copy of the police report.
The police report from your accident will contain vital information: not only the date, time, and location of your accident, but also the parties involved and any evidence that shows who caused the accident. Once you have a copy of the police report, check it for inaccuracies. Make sure all of the information contained on the police report is accurate to the best of your knowledge: not only your name, address, and information about your vehicle, but also any descriptions of the accident and what led to it. Inaccurate information on the police report could make it more difficult to file a personal injury claim after the accident.
Keep in mind, however, that a police report, although it is an official document, represents just one police officer’s perspective on the causes of and fault for a car accident. It is not a definitive determination of who has (or does not have) legal liability to you for damages. Thus, while you need the police report from your accident, do not get discouraged if it does not appear to contain all of the information that you think is relevant to your claim.
6. Contact an attorney.
You do not have to worry about calling an attorney from the scene of the accident, of course, but you should contact one as soon as possible to make sure your legal rights stay protected. An experienced personal injury attorney who has assisted with auto accident claims in your area in the past will know how to protect your legal interests and to give you the best possible chance of recovering compensation for the full cost of your injuries.
Among the many ways an attorney can serve your interests after a car accident:
- Gather and analyze evidence. Whether or not you collected evidence at the accident scene, an attorney has the know-how to track down information to help piece together what happened and who has legal liability for your injuries. Skilled car accident injury attorneys understand the importance of identifying every potentially-liable party, to give you the best chance of recovering maximum compensation.
- Consult experts. Sometimes, an expert witness can help piece together the likely causes of an accident, as well as the extent and potential future costs associated with a car accident injury. For example, forensic accident reconstruction experts can model the crash, identifying its root causes. Medical experts can evaluate your condition and make predictions about the pace and course of your recovery.
- Explain your rights. Accident victims typically have lots of questions in the wake of getting hurt in a crash. One of the most important roles an attorney serves is to be available to answer those questions as thoroughly and clearly as possible. Not every question has a cut-and-dried answer, but lawyers have extensive training in dealing with, and explaining, uncertainty, to help their clients navigate through difficult times.
- Negotiate in your interest. If an attorney concludes that someone has a legal liability to you for the injuries you suffered in an accident, then the attorney can engage in negotiations with that person’s insurance company or representatives to obtain compensation on your behalf. Do not make the mistake of thinking you can “cut a deal” with insurance companies or defense lawyers on your own. Leave the deal-making to a legal professional who spends every day facing-off against insurance adjusters and aggressive defense lawyers.
- Represent you in court, if necessary. Going to trial is the quintessential lawyer job. Believe it or not, however, most car accident cases do not end up in a courtroom in front of a judge or jury. Regardless, experienced car accident injury lawyers understand that the best way to drive the best settlement possible for a client is to prepare every case as if it will go to trial. That way, if a trial becomes necessary, the lawyer can say “I’ll see you in court” and really mean it.
To learn more about your rights after getting injured in a car accident, contact an experienced car accident injury attorney today to determine your eligibility to file a personal injury claim.