What To Do In the Aftermath of A Car Accident
A car accident, even if relatively minor, can be a sudden, jarring, and quite unsettling experience. Many people do not know what to do in the immediate aftermath. Outside of seeking medical attention, there are specific steps that you should take or consider taking if you find yourself in this unfortunate situation. Acting swiftly and assertively post-accident can be critical to receiving the support that you need to address your injuries and any potential related property damage effectively.
The following is an overview of the necessary course of action for which to adhere to following a motor vehicle accident. We will outline these steps in further detail to follow. The best way to protect your rights is to schedule a free consultation with a car accident lawyer. A seasoned attorney can review the facts of your case, answer your questions, and provide sound legal guidance.
- Report the Accident
You almost certainly will need to report the accident to your insurance company no matter who was at fault. Failing to do so may jeopardize your ability to bring forth a claim in the future. You likely also will need to report the accident to law enforcement, especially in instances where injuries or property damage caused as a result. Even if you are not legally bound to report the incident to law enforcement, you might find it helpful to alert the police to the scene. In many cases, their investigation of the crash can produce evidence that may help to bolster your claim in the event you wish to file one.
- Gather Evidence
If you are unharmed and physically able, be sure to take photos and even videos of the accident scene to use as evidence to support your claim. Key visuals to capture can include the position of the vehicles after the crash, any damage incurred to the cars involved, images of your injuries (if any), and the overall scene surrounding the accident. For instance, if there was a stop sign or traffic light in the direct area, you may be smart to take a photo showing the position of the vehicles involved near the sign or light. Additionally, you must obtain the contact information of any witnesses to the crash, such as pedestrians or other non-involved drivers who may have seen what occurred leading up to and on impact. These witnesses, if willing, can potentially corroborate your account of the incident. And, if police are on the scene, they are required to generate an official report. Having a police report may help piece the puzzle together for an insurer, so you will want to request a copy for your records.
- Investigate Fault
After a car accident, you can potentially sue one or many different parties dependent on the situation. You should not merely assume onsite that the fault lies only with one or more of the drivers involved. If by chance, there are multiple responsible parties, by bringing them all into the claim or lawsuit, you increase your chances of securing the maximum amount of compensation that you may be due. For example, depending on who’s at fault outside of the driver or drivers involved, other potential defendants may include the employer of an at-fault driver if they were on the job at the time and even the manufacturer or distributor of a defective vehicle or auto part. Another unique and more complicated situation is that the entity responsible for designing or maintaining the road or its surroundings may very well be liable.
- Consider Hiring a Lawyer
If your accident was relatively minor and involved only property damage, you may not need to go to the trouble and expense of hiring a lawyer. However, if you were seriously injured or if your claim seems likely to be contested for any possible reason, it is highly recommended that you should consider looking into retaining legal representation for your defense. Car accident attorneys typically operate on a contingency fee basis, meaning they only get paid if and when you do. Additionally, you should ensure that you source and select a lawyer who understands your situation and relates well to you personally; ideally, someone who is experienced and proficient in handling cases similar to yours.
- Prepare for a Fight
In many cases of a car accident, the fault may be straightforward, liability promptly acknowledged, and any dispute concerns that may arise are related to the extent of the victim’s damages. Sometimes, however, a defendant or their insurance company will defend a claim vigorously. For example, they may argue that the victim failed to comply with a procedural rule, such as the statute of limitations, or they may raise an argument of comparative or contributory negligence. The legality of these claims varies state-by-state, but the general rule of thumb is that the damages awarded to a victim can be reduced or eliminated in some cases if said defendant can show they were at least partly responsible for the accident. In these instances, you should not provide any damaging information or admission of fault to an insurer but, instead, discuss the circumstances of the issue with an experienced attorney.
Reporting a Car Accident
If you were involved in a minor car accident, such as a parking lot accident, you might wonder if you can move forward without reporting the crash and dealing with the related paperwork. Some accidents may cause vehicle damage but no injuries to anyone involved. Different states have different rules governing the reporting of an accident to law enforcement. However, virtually every insurance policy requires a driver to report any accident—no matter how minor—to the insurance company.
Reporting to Law Enforcement
Whether you need to report an accident to law enforcement often depends on whether it resulted in injuries. If the collision caused only property damage, you might not need to report it at all. In some states, you may need to report an accident that caused only property damage if the damage is worth more than a certain amount. Getting law enforcement involved can be helpful in some instances, even if you did not need to report the accident by law.
It is expected that drivers involved in an accident stop at the scene so that they can exchange contact and insurance information. If a driver that was directly involved in an accident does not do this, or if you suspect that they are uninsured, law enforcement can, in some cases, help you track down the driver or encourage them to cooperate. Additionally, the official police report that law enforcement generates from the accident site may also help provide critical information in determining who was at fault. They can investigate the scene in detail, record physical evidence, and take down observations or statements from any witnesses. While you may think that you will not need to file a claim because there were no injuries, certain types of damages may arise later for which you may want to seek compensation.
It is worth noting that even if you do report the accident to law enforcement, they sometimes will not respond to accidents that do not involve injuries during emergencies caused by weather or other extenuating circumstances out of their control. In this case, you can still complete an accident report form with the other driver and mail it to the appropriate agency. Gas stations and roadside stores may provide these forms.
Reporting to Insurers
Drivers in accidents that do not cause injuries often feel reluctant to contact the insurer about them. They may think that the hassle of filling out the paperwork is unnecessary, and they may be concerned that their premiums will increase. However, failing to fill out a report for your insurance company is a severe mistake.
If you eventually find out that your injuries were more severe than you realized, or if the other driver later alleges injuries or significant vehicle damage, you may not be able to get coverage through your insurer. It likely will point out that since you did not report the accident, it is not liable to honor specific provisions of your existing policy. And, if the costs of the accident turn out to be substantial for any number of reasons that might arise, you may end up paying more than you would have through increased premiums.
There are the occasional rare situations in which no dispute could arise out of an accident. For example, you bumped a building on your property or a piece of equipment that you own. If the resulting damage only affects property that you own, and nobody is injured, there is a chance you might not face repercussions for not reporting the accident to your insurer. However, filling out a report is prudent and usually legally required step to take, and highly recommended no matter the circumstance.
Evidence in Car Accident Cases
Even if you believe that your car accident was relatively minor, you should still make sure to do due diligence in collecting as much evidence onsite immediately following the crash. Photographs of the accident scene and any property damage or injuries can help you establish costs later if another driver or an insurer contests your claim. Additionally, any potential witnesses in the area who saw the accident and the events leading up to it can also help corroborate your side of the story. Both physical evidence and memories can fade over time, which makes it essential to act promptly in building your claim.
Video & Photographs
Assuming that injuries do not prevent you from doing so, you should take videos and pictures with your phone from the scene. Be sure to capture footage from various angles and also photograph debris from the collision, skid marks, and other visual evidence of the crash. Another important part of the accident scene is any stop sign, traffic signal, or other traffic control device. Taking a photo or video that includes the device can show who had the right of way and where the accident happened in relation.
Perhaps the other driver has claimed that they could not see your vehicle correctly from the angle at which they approached it. You can take photos from the perspective of the other driver to undermine this argument and show that the visibility was better than they are arguing if it was.
Photos and videos of the vehicles, including close-ups of any damage, can help prove the extent of your losses and illuminate the mechanics of the accident. You should also document any injuries that you may have suffered.
Each driver involved in an accident is legally required to stop at the scene and exchange information with the other drivers. Failing to do this is a hit and run, which is a crime. If a driver does not stop, try to get their license plate number, and notify the police. If they do stop, you should get their identification and contact information, which you can find on their driver’s license, car registration, or insurance card.
Other people who were not involved in the crash, such as pedestrians in the area or drivers of other vehicles, may have seen what happened and may make a statement or help testify on your behalf if needed. Be sure to get their contact information as well. They may be able to confirm your assertion that the other driver was at fault or contradict a potential argument by the other driver that you were at fault.
If you report the accident to law enforcement, you may be able to use the resulting police report as evidence. Even if you do not agree with everything in the file, you should get a copy of this document, which is a public record. The report will contain the officer’s assessment of who was at fault for the accident. While this determination is not conclusive, especially since the officer probably did not witness the crash, it can be very persuasive.
If your state requires drivers to file accident reports with the DMV, the other driver will need to do this. You should get a copy of their report as well. The other driver may have reported something to the DMV that clashes with the story that they gave to the police or the insurers. These conflicts can help you show that the other driver’s version of events should not be credited.
Police Reports in Car Accident Cases
When law enforcement is present at the scene of a car accident, the officer will generate a report on the crash. It will contain important information on the facts of what happened as well as the officer’s impression of who was at fault, among other vital issues. You can get the police report for an accident in which you were involved, usually by requesting a copy from the law enforcement agency to which the officer belongs. The officer probably will give you the identification number of the report at the scene, which you will need to make this request. Otherwise, a claims representative at your insurance company may be able to help you get the report.
Understanding a Police Report
A police officer will usually investigate the scene thoroughly so that they can include many types of information in the report. Some of these pieces of information are facts, while others are merely the opinions of the police officer. Examples of factual pieces of information include the date, time, and place of the crash, the identifying information of drivers and any witnesses, weather and road conditions, and areas of the vehicles that were damaged. The police officer also may create a diagram of the accident scene and collect statements from parties and witnesses.
By contrast, statements about what caused the collision and who was at fault for it are opinions. These are not binding and may not align with the views of insurance companies, which will undertake their investigations.
Using a Police Report
Whether a police report is admissible in court in a car accident case can be a complicated question. The answer may depend on the rules of evidence in your state. A police report may fall within the definition of “hearsay,” which is not admissible. Hearsay generally consists of an out-of-court statement introduced to prove the truth of the account. In some states, however, there is an exception for public or business records when a comment otherwise would be hearsay, which may cover a police report or parts of it.
If your case proceeds in small claims court, you probably will be able to use the police report. Small claims courts apply a much more lenient standard for admissibility of evidence than do regular courts.
Disagreeing with a Police Report
Police officers are human and can make mistakes. If you feel that the police report contains a factual error, you might be able to get the document changed. For example, if the police officer misstates the vehicles that were involved or the intersection where the crash occurred, you can send evidence of the error and the correct information to the law enforcement agency that generated the report. They should change the official file if the evidence is sufficiently clear.
On the other hand, if you disagree with the officer’s legal conclusions or opinions about what caused the accident, you probably cannot get this part of the report changed. You may be able to have your version of the disputed events added, but this is not always possible and depends on the discretion of the law enforcement agency.
Schedule a Free Case Review with a Car Accident Lawyer in West Palm Beach
To discuss your case with a personal injury attorney in West Palm Beach, contact Donaldson & Weston. Our lawyers offer free consultations and accept car accident claims on a contingency fee basis. Call our office at 561-299-3999 or send us a message on our Contact Page to set up a case evaluation.