Close to six million car accidents happen each year in the United States. The seriousness of accidents range from those only involving property damage to those involving serious injury and death. You should always take minimum steps if you are involved in any type of accident. The below list is not complete, but at least highlights some of the minimum things to do to best protect your rights.
1. Keep the Scene in Tact. As best you can, make sure the cars stay in the same resting position after the accident. Obviously, if you are in danger of any kind then move out of harms way. Take such protective actions as setting up flares of keeping your flashers on. If possible, stay in that position until the police arrive.
2. Do not leave the scene. No matter what you do, never leave the scene of an accident regardless of how serious. If you do, you are subject to a ticket and serious penalties, including potential loss of license. Critical evidence may also be lost if you leave the scene.
3. Immediately call the police. Call the police as soon as you can even if there are no serious injuries. Most likely, you will need a police report to file a claim with your insurance company. You will want a police report even if it is just to make a claim for damage to your vehicle.
4. Make an Accurate Record. When the police arrive, make sure you tell the police exactly what happened. Now is not the time to be shy. Immediately advocate, without arguing or alienating the investigating officers, for your version of the events. If you are asked if you are hurt and you are not sure, then say that. Do not say no you are not hurt. You should also make sure statements made by other persons involved in the accident are accurate as well and the officers are aware of all witnesses.
5. Take pictures/video. With cell phones and digital cameras today, it is easy to get pictures, maybe even video. Take as many pictures of the scene and all vehicles involved. You want to take pictures of the damage to the vehicles involved as this will better prove your case if you are not at fault. You also may want to take a picture of the roadway for skid marks or other areas at the scene that may show evidence of what happened. Likewise, you should take pictures of yourself or others hurt in the accident if there are visible injuries.
6. Make sure you obtain information of other drivers. If police do not arrive at scene, then obtain the name, address and telephone number of all persons involved in the accident, both drivers and passengers, and any witnesses. Always obtain information about insurance of other drivers. For witnesses, you should get their personal information. If police do arrive, they will usually obtain this information. I have noticed in many cases, however, that police do not take down information on witnesses. Get those witnesses' information if you feel they will help your version of events.
7. Report Accident To Insurance Company. Notify your insurance company immediately after the accident. In New Jersey, most policies have personal injury protection coverage for medical treatment under your own policy so you want that claim set up immediately if you are hurt.
8. Obtain Medical Treatment. If you are hurt at all, seek medical treatment immediately. Many times, injuries caused by motor vehicle accidents do not show up right away. Unless you are positive you are not hurt, you should seek medical attention at your local hospital emergency room. You want to get fully checked out and any injuries fully treated.
9. Organize records. Start a file on all your accident-related documents. This information should include an insurance claim number, the claim's adjuster who is handling the claim, names and phone numbers of all contacts and witnesses, pictures, receipts for any out-of-pocket expenses incurred as a result of the accident.
10. Contact an attorney. You must protect your rights. Be guarded on what you say to insurance companies, even your own. The insurance companies are not your friends. Preferably, see the attorney before you speak to insurance companies. Do not give any written statements without speaking to your attorney. Our office will speak to you free of charge and give you initial advice even if you do not intend on pursuing a claim. This advice initially will save you a lot of time and headaches. Our office works on a contingency fee basis, which means there is no legal fee unless the attorney recovers compensation for your injuries.