You’ve been injured in a car accident. What should you do next? If you’ve found yourself in this situation, the following are some tips on what to do and what not to do.
Try to Remain Calm
The first and most important thing to do is to try and remain calm at the scene of the accident. Almost any car accident is a traumatic event. From catastrophic collisions to fender-benders, a lot of force is involved. Your body will generate adrenaline and endorphins, meaning you may feel increased energy and a lack of immediate pain. It is often difficult to determine the extent of your injuries, as some injuries and their symptoms may not be apparent until hours or even days later. Remain calm and wait for emergency responders to arrive.
Contact Law Enforcement
If you’re able to remain on scene after any medical emergencies have been attended to, the next thing to do is to contact law enforcement. However, if you are transported to the hospital, your next steps should focus on your recovery and medical needs (see What Comes Next?, below). In Maine, a driver that has been involved in an accident has a legal obligation to immediately notify law enforcement if:
The accident resulted in death or bodily injury to any person, or
The accident resulted in apparent damage of $1,000 or more.
Assuming you have been injured in the accident, you will need to notify law enforcement immediately.
Exchange Insurance Information
While on scene, be sure to exchange information with the other driver. The more information you can get about the other driver the better, but at a minimum, you should make sure to obtain the following:
Their full name
Contact information (phone number and address)
Name of their car insurance carrier and policy number
Make and model of their car, and
License plate number and state
If your phone has a camera, ask if you can take a photo of their driver’s license, proof of insurance, and their license plate. Take pictures of your injuries, no matter how small. You will need as much evidence as possible if you end up in a lawsuit, so take as many pertinent photos as possible. Take photos of the damage to all motor vehicles involved, the overall scene of the accident, and any other objects you come across. The events of what happened may come into dispute later on, so you will want to have some proof for your side of the story.
In all likelihood, you and the other driver may be the only witnesses to the accident. However, if there are any other individuals who witnessed it, be sure to gather their information, including full name, telephone number, and address. You may be a passenger in the vehicle that was driven by someone else. Make sure to get the information of all drivers involved, and the names and contact information for any additional passengers as well.
Take notes on everything. Assuming law enforcement has arrived on scene, they will question you, the other driver, any additional passengers, and any witnesses who may be present. Do not trust that their report will capture the accident as you remember it. Write down all names, contact information, and details of conversations with everyone you speak with at the scene. Your attorney is not there with you, so you must gather as much evidence as possible in the event your case proceeds to suit.
Never Admit Fault
One very important note about conversing with the other driver(s) involved in the accident or any witness(es) – you should never admit fault, even if you feel responsible for the accident. “Fault” is a legal conclusion which you are most likely not qualified to make. More importantly, you may not be aware of all of the facts at this point in time. There could be a number of facts that bear on who caused the accident which you are unaware of in the moment. While the focus of this article assumes that you are not at fault for the accident, you need to be careful what you say. This can be an extremely confusing moment in your life. Just as you are taking notes, so might the other driver(s). Be cautious of who you talk to and the amount of information given. Stick to the basics as identified above (name, address, insurance information). The more statements you make, the greater the likelihood you’ll end up saying something that could hurt your case.
Contact Your Insurance Company
Hopefully, you’ve been paying for insurance coverage, so use it. Your insurance company will need to know that your car was damaged in the accident so that they can process the repair claim. This also puts your insurance company on notice of the accident in case the other driver decides to sue you, so do not delay in reporting the accident to your insurance carrier. These conversations are virtually always recorded, so again, do not admit fault.
What Comes Next
Following your accident, it is important to monitor your injuries, both for your physical well-being and to protect your legal rights.
If you were transported to a medical facility from the scene of the accident, your medical treatment is already underway. If not, contact your primary care physician or other health professionals right away.
As discussed above, some injuries may not be readily apparent. Some injuries may be considered “soft tissue injury.” Soft tissue injury refers to damage done to parts of the body other than bones. These include muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Even at low speeds, car accidents generate a lot of force. Drivers and passengers often come to a sudden stop within the vehicle in a car accident. They may also get thrown around the passenger area. This sudden movement places significant stress on joints and other vulnerable areas of the body. The most recognized type of soft tissue injury is what is commonly referred to as “whiplash.” Whiplash is an injury to the neck muscles when the head is suddenly and forcefully thrown forward and back.
Soft tissue injuries generally result in pain, swelling, and reduced mobility. Again, these symptoms may not show up immediately. They can take hours, days, or even weeks to manifest. It is paramount that you seek proper medical treatment at the first sign of pain or discomfort. It is usually a good idea to get checked out even if you feel fine. Your doctor will be in the best position to determine whether you sustained any serious injuries and can give you advice on monitoring symptoms of potential injuries.
Following the accident, the other driver’s insurance company may contact you for a statement or try to get you to sign a release of any claims. Do not make any statements or sign any releases without consulting with an attorney. Insurance companies work quickly to get to you before you’ve consulted with legal counsel. They may even offer you a sum of money in an effort to entice you to sign a release. For more information regarding finding the right counsel, see our blog on what to ask a personal injury attorney. Once you consult with counsel, they can advise you of your rights and begin to guide you through the legal process.
Hopefully, you will never need any of the foregoing information. If you are ever in an accident, keep these general steps in mind. When in doubt, consult with an experienced personal injury attorney early in the process to make sure that you and your rights are protected. If you’d like to set up an appointment, contact Rudman Winchell.
Michael Hockenbury, Esq