What to Do After Car Accident
Actions to Take if You are in a Car Accident
Here are the steps to take immediately after you are involved in a traffic incident, including a “fender bender” or full-on car crash. For more general questions about car accident law, see our Guide to Laws about Car Accidents in the U.S.
Step 1: Health comes first!
First, of course, make sure any emergency medical needs are taken care of! Call 9-1-1 right away if there are any injuries.
Step 2: Be calm and focus on the goal
When interacting with others involved in the crash, stay calm and do not get emotional. Do not allow others to blame you and do not place blame on others. Tell them that you simply want to get all the information to sort it out later.
Step 3: Get it in writing & photos
If the police are able to come to the scene of the accident, calmly explain to the police officers what happened. Be honest and stick to the facts. Do not get emotional, do not start blaming others, and do not assume it was your fault either.
Let the officer(s) gather the information to write a police report, which will be helpful later on. But don’t rely on the officers – you should also write down as much info about the crash as possible.
You should write up your own ‘report’ regardless of whether the police show up or not.
Make sure to get the following info:
(Note: it may be easier to take photos of some of these things rather than write it all down)
- Make/model and license plate numbers of all vehicles involved
- Names & contact info of drivers and all passengers
- Names & contact info of any witnesses
- Insurance info
- Location of the incident
- Police officers’ names and badge #
Step 4: Consider seeking medical attention ASAP (even if you feel OK)
Quite often, due to the shock of the crash, you may not feel any effects until a day or two later. Thus it is a very good idea to get checked out by a health professional the same day or next day to make sure you are OK. The sooner you get a diagnosis, the better for your health, and also the more likely you could recover compensation for your injuries.
Step 5: Notify the DMV
You will need to report the car crash to your state’s DMV. It is best to do this within 48 hours of the situation.
Step 6: Discuss with a personal injury lawyer
A “personal injury” lawyer can help you understand whether you might be able to receive compensation for your injuries and damage to the car or other property. They can advise you of rights you may not know you have. If the lawyer believes you have a good case, you usually will not need to pay any legal fees unless you win your case. This is called working “on contingency,” and generally involves paying the lawyer a percentage (usually around 33%) of the compensation (usually a settlement, but sometimes from a court judgment).
But keep in mind that if you do not have a favorable case, it will be difficult to get a lawyer to work for you unless you pay them hourly or possibly a flat fee.
It’s important to note that your attorney is the only one really working for your best interest (and if they aren’t doing so, find another lawyer). Neither your insurance company or the other drivers’ insurance companies have you as their primary concern, and the police officers or anyone else won’t necessarily have your back either. Your lawyer is your advocate to try to make sure you get what you deserve.
Step 7: File a claim with your car insurance company
After talking to a lawyer (or two), you should then file a claim with your insurance company. Provide all the info and photos you collected from the incident.