What should I do if I am in a wreck?
The following are some basic rules for protecting your rights if you are involved in an accident.
- Stop. Never drive away without, even from a minor “bump,” without making certain whether there are injuries or damages. Do not move your vehicle, even if the other driver moves their car, until the police arrive. The only exception is if your car creates a traffic hazard likely to cause another accident. Take any safety precautions available, including flares at night, to warn approaching cars to slow down.
- If anyone is seriously injured, try to get a doctor or an ambulance, whichever is quicker. Meanwhile, make the injured person as comfortable as you can without moving him/her in a way that could add to the injury.
- Get necessary information, including the other driver’s name, address, car license, driver’s license, name of insurance company and policy number. Be prepared to give the same information to the other driver. Most states have laws requiring drivers to share this type of information, as well as provide it to the police.
- Get the names and addresses of all witnesses. This includes all persons involved in the accident, as well as other drivers or bystanders who may have observed the occurrence. Ask witnesses exactly what they saw if you are able. In any event be sure to get their name, address, telephone number and place of employment.
- Make written notes. If you can make notes at the scene, then do so. Otherwise, as soon as you are able, make notes of exactly what happened. Be as precise as possible, e.g., it is better to note your exact speed than make a simple statement, “I was driving the speed limit.”
- Report the accident immediately to the police and your own insurance company. Every state requires drivers to notify the police if there is personal injury, death or property damage over a specified amount (most often $500).
- Obtain the name or badge number of the investigating officer. The police officer in charge will usually give you a business card with this information on it.
- Do not make impulsive comments. Anything you say at the scene could be brought up later by the other driver or the investigating officer. Choose your words wisely. Never tell anyone you are not injured. You may feel okay, but wake up the next day unable to go to work. It is better to say you are not currently experiencing any symptoms (if indeed you are not), but that you concerned whether you may have injuries given the nature of the collision or the force of impact between the cars involved.
- Seek medical attention immediately upon feeling any pain, tightness, numbness or other symptoms. The time lapse between the collision and your seeing a doctor or health professional can be very important.
- After the accident. Many states have so-called “no fault” laws. Generally, this means your own automobile insurance company will be responsible for paying your initial medical expenses regardless of whether you were at fault. Check your policy or ask your agent about your coverage for “PIP” (personal injury protection) benefits or “med-pay” (medical expenses). Consult an attorney as soon as reasonably possible. The sooner you have professional advice working for you, the earlier you rights will be protected. Early legal advice can have a substantial effect on any settlement or recovery to which you may be entitled. As a general rule, give statements only to the police, your own attorney and your own insurance representative. Again, it is better to have the advice of counsel before even making statements to your own insurance company. Your company may be the same one insuring the other driver. Remember, consultations are provided at no charge.