by Drew Haskins
One of the questions I’m most frequently asked is what people should and should not do immediately after being involved in a motor vehicle accident. Some of the below steps may seem like common sense, while others may surprise you. I’ve compiled the following list, with insight into how each step can affect both you, individually, as well as any potential legal claims you may ultimately decide to bring.
1) Call 911 and Remain at the Scene: Any time you’re involved in a motor vehicle accident, the first thing you should do is call the police. Make sure you, your passengers and those individuals in the other vehicle are okay. If someone is critically injured, let the dispatcher know that immediate medical attention is needed. After you’ve called 911, do not get out of your car until you know you and your passengers are okay. Similarly, you should never leave the scene of an accident until it is appropriate to do so. If you leave an accident scene where someone has been seriously injured or killed, you may face serious criminal penalties.
2) Seek Medical Attention: If you or other passengers are injured, seek immediate medical treatment. A mistake clients often make is avoiding medical treatment in the days or even weeks following a wreck. However, even when the impact of the collision is relatively minor, individuals can sustain serious injuries which may not become apparent for days or even weeks. For example, if you lost consciousness or were dazed following the collision, you may have suffered a concussion or other head injury. If left untreated, these injuries may cause cognitive and behavioral changes. Therefore, if you even suspect that you may have sustained an injury in a motor vehicle accident, it is important that you are evaluated by a medical professional immediately.
3) Fill Out a Police Report: Assuming you’re both physically and mentally capable of doing so, speak to the officer upon his or her arrival at the scene. The officer will fill out an accident report, which will ultimately be a crucial source of information about the wreck, including the location, the name of the defendant driver, the defendant driver’s license and license plate number, whether or not the defendant had insurance, and a narrative from the officer detailing the events of the wreck from both parties.
4) Take Pictures: If you have a camera phone, or happen to have a camera in your vehicle, take photographs at the scene of the wreck, including the location where the collision occurred and the damage to all vehicles before they are moved or towed from the scene. Taking photos can assist both your insurance adjuster and your attorney in determining liability as well as the extent of property damage to your vehicle. Photos of the vehicles and the scene of the collision can also be extremely useful if your case goes to trial, by providing the jury with visual evidence of the extent of damage involved in the collision.
5) Exchange Information: It is important to get the names, numbers, addresses, drivers’ license numbers, license plate numbers, and basic insurance information from all drivers involved in the accident. When speaking to other drivers, however, be caution of Step #6, below.
6) Don’t Apologize: You may be the type of person that is prone to saying, “I’m sorry, are you okay?” even if you were not the driver at fault. Although simple gestures such as this may seem harmless at the time, it is important to note that an apologetic statement will be used in litigation to establish that you were either completely or partially at fault for causing the collision. It’s even more important to note that under Alabama law, if the other driver can prove you were 1% at fault for causing or contributing to cause the wreck, you will not be able to recover anything for your property loss and/or personal injury claims. For this reason, the best thing to do is keep conversation with the driver of the other vehicle at a minimum (other than Step #5, above), while waiting for the officers to arrive at the scene.
7) Call Your Insurance Company: Call your insurance carrier to report the accident so they are promptly put on notice of your claim and can begin their own investigation. Cooperate with your insurance company fully, by telling them the truth about what happened and the extent of the injuries you sustained, if any.
8) Speak to Witnesses: See if any pedestrians, onlookers or other drivers saw the wreck. If someone says they witnessed the wreck, ask that they remain at the scene until the police arrive. If the witness is unable to stick around, ask the witness to describe what they saw and obtain their basic contact information, including their name and number. A witness to the accident could ultimately provide crucial evidence in your case which may help establish the fault of the other driver, or even absolve you of liability.
9) Be Cautious of the Other Driver’s Insurance Company: Oftentimes the insurance company for the other driver will attempt to contact you after a car accident in an effort to settle the case. Remember, the insurance company for the other driver is trying to get out of the case as quickly as they can, while offering you as little money as possible. For this reason, a settlement offer from the other driver’s insurance carrier rarely encompasses the full extent of damages you are entitled to recover. This is especially true in circumstances where you are continuing treatment for physical injuries, many of which may require future treatment or even surgical intervention. Similarly, be aware that any written or oral statement you provide to the other driver’s insurance company may be used against you in litigation to minimize your claims. Therefore, do not give a statement of any kind to the insurance company representing the other driver, and do not sign any release statements, settlements or other documents provided by the insurance company without first consulting with an attorney.
10) Call an Attorney: Don’t wait to seek legal counsel. The evidence is strongest immediately after the wreck. Your memory of the events will lessen with time, and there’s always the possibility that crucial evidence may be lost or even destroyed. Don’t forget – you have two years to bring a claim for a motor vehicle accident under Alabama law.
Hopefully, you and your loved ones won’t ever be in a motor vehicle accident. If you are, however, this list should help you remember the important things that you should and should not do immediately after the collision. If you have any questions about this list, or any questions specific to a motor vehicle accident in which you or your loved ones have been involved, please don’t hesitate to contact our office at (205) 326-3336.
We look forward to serving you.