What to Do if You’re Involved in a Car Accident

Statistically, you are likely to be involved in about 3 to 4 car accidents during your lifetime. That’s not a very encouraging statistic. Most of you reading this have probably already been in an accident, likely several accidents. If you haven’t been in an accident yet, it’s just a matter of time. Since you can safely assume that you’re going to be involved in an accident in the future, it makes sense to know what to do when the inevitable happens. The following are some recommendations for what to do in the aftermath of a car accident.

  • Take the appropriate safety precautions. When the accident happens, take a moment to try to breathe, regain your composure, and figure out what just happened. The initial shock can be overwhelming. Check on yourself and any passengers for injuries. You can either leave your vehicle where it is or move it to a safe location, depending on the severity of the accident. Next, check on the safety of anyone else involved in the accident, including other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. Don’t move someone who is seriously injured unless there’s an imminent hazard that requires you to move them. Do what you can to help anyone who’s been injured, including keeping them safe and rendering any basic medical care if you are able to do so.
  • Call 911. Make the call to 911 yourself or direct someone else to make the call. You want to have the appropriate professional help on its way as soon as possible. Police, fire, and ambulance may be required. The 911 operator will be able to figure out what kind of help is needed. Hopefully there will be others in the area who witnessed the accident and will be calling 911, too. Depending on the police department’s policies, they may not come out to the scene if the accident only involves property damage. If you have any sense that the accident may have caused an injury to you or someone else, tell the police that, so they will come out to the scene and prepare a report.
  • Don’t flee the scene! I really shouldn’t have to bring this up, but you’d be surprised how many people flee the scene of an accident. The California Vehicle Code requires drivers to stop and exchange information if they are involved in an accident.  If you fail to stop at an accident that only involves property damage, you can be charged with a misdemeanor under Vehicle Code § 20002. If the accident involves injury to another person, you can either be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony under Vehicle Code § 20001, depending on whether the accident results in death or serious injury. So, you always need to pull over immediately. There is likely to be witnesses, video surveillance, cell phone cameras, and other means to catch the identify of a fleeing driver. I heard of one instance where the fleeing driver’s bumper fell off in the accident, then they fled the scene.  Unbeknownst to the fleeing driver, his license plate also fell off with the bumper! His attempted escape didn’t work out very well for him.
  • Exchange information. In addition to stopping if you’re involved in an accident, you also need to exchange information with the other parties. Provide your name, address, phone number, driver license number, insurance company, and insurance policy number. Make sure to obtain all the information you can from the other parties involved, including their contact and insurance information. That includes the other drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and witnesses. If you hit a parked car without any occupants, you are required to either locate the owner and provide your information or leave a note on the vehicle with your information pursuant to Vehicle Code § 20002. If you go with the second option of leaving a note, you must also notify the police department of the collision. Many people think that just leaving a note is sufficient, but it’s not. You can be prosecuted for misdemeanor hit and run if you fail to provide proper notification after hitting a parked car.
  • Don’t make any harmful admissions. Don’t say, “I’m sorry,” “I apologize,” “It was my fault,” or anything along those lines. I’m all about taking responsibility for your actions, but the accident scene is not the time and place to do it. What you say can and will be used against you. Don’t say anything about how the collision occurred to any of the other involved parties. If you want to let the other drivers make some dumb admissions go ahead and let them. If they admit fault, that’s great. You may want to jot down any exact quotes of what the other driver said, then tell your lawyer about it later.
  • Tell the police what happened. Although I don’t want you gabbing with the other drivers about what happened, go ahead and tell the police your story of what happened. Be honest with the police about what happened. You can also tell the police about any damaging statements that the other driver made so they can be included in their report.
  • Take photos. Let’s start documenting that personal injury case you may need to pursue. It’s great when my clients bring photos of their injuries, the damage to their vehicle and the other vehicles, and the overall scene of the accident. These photos will be very important in proving your case. You can take photos on your smartphone and then email them to your lawyer later.
  • Seek immediate medical care. The type and extent of your injuries will dictate what kind of medical care you should seek. Some accidents result in injuries that are serious enough to require you to be transported by ambulance to an emergency room or trauma center. Other times you can drive yourself to an emergency room or have a family member or friend drive you there. If your injuries are less serious, you can go see your primary care physician as soon as you can get an appointment. The main point is to seek an evaluation by a medical doctor as soon as possible after the accident. If there is a large gap between the accident and your first visit to a doctor, the defense will argue that your injuries are not that significant.
  • Contact  your insurance company. At some point fairly soon after the accident, you will need to contact your insurance company to notify them of the accident.  The only exception is where you retain an attorney very quickly and let the attorney contact the insurance company. If that’s not possible, call your insurance company and provide basic details about the accident, such as who was involved, where it happened, and whether you were injured. Don’t provide any recorded statements, however. Contacting your insurance company applies to your insurance company only – not the insurance company of the other driver involved. The only time you may need to deal directly with the other driver’s insurance company is if you were not injured and you’re only pursuing a property damage claim. If you were injured, let an attorney deal with the other driver’s insurance company.
  • Call a personal injury attorney! Find some excellent personal injury attorneys in your area and call them to discuss your personal injury case. If you’ve been injured in the accident, you really need to consult with an attorney. If your accident only involved property damage and no injuries, then you will most likely be able to handle your own property damage claim directly with either your insurance or the other driver’s insurance. To find an attorney, you can ask family and friends for a referral. You can also search on Google for “personal injury attorney” or something along those lines, followed by the city where you’re looking for an attorney. There are also a number of very useful websites that list personal injury attorneys in your area, such as Avvo, Findlaw, Super Lawyers, and Yelp. Call around and set up a few free consultations with some attorneys. Meet with them and pick a great attorney that you like and trust. Once you’ve signed up with an attorney, you can let him or her instruct you on what needs to be done next to successfully pursue your personal injury case.