Getting into a car accident can be scary in more ways than one. The crash might endanger your life or the lives of your loved ones. And once the initial shock wears off, the uncertainty that follows can feel nearly as stressful. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed as you try to heal from your injuries, manage expenses, and get back to your everyday routine.
Knowing what to do after a car accident can go a long way toward reducing anxiety and protecting your rights to compensation. These six steps can help you get started, and if you're in the Chicago area, consider contacting car accident lawyer for additional guidance.
1. Focus on Your Health
In the hectic aftermath of a car accident, it’s all too easy to neglect what matters most: your health. But car accidents are hazardous; common injuries can include neck and back injuries, traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), internal bleeding, and more.
Worse, these injuries don’t always become apparent right after the traffic accident. A concussion, for instance, may only start to display symptoms days after the accident. PTSD can develop weeks later.
That’s why focusing on your health is vital after any car accident. Make doctor’s appointments and follow up with specialists as your doctors recommend. Diligently follow any prescriptions for recovery treatment or medications. Both early on and in the months that follow the crash, your health and well-being will depend on following the medical professionals’ advice.
Taking care of your health can also become crucial in legal proceedings. Don’t give opposing parties an opening by neglecting treatment, which could lead them to suggest that the injuries and health consequences of the wreck are not as serious as they appear.
2. Keep Documentation of the Accident and Expenses
Make sure you hold onto any car accident-related records you receive or create on your own. The details they contain may become important later.
For example, hold on to:
- Records of damage to your car or any other property resulting from the accident, such as repair estimates or towing invoices.
- Records from any medical evaluation (like an ER visit) of your injuries or bills for medical care.
- Receipts from out-of-pocket expenses related to property damage, medical care, or assistive services (like hiring extra childcare help).
- Correspondence from any insurance company
- Any additional information available to you, like the names of other parties and witnesses or any pictures you took at the accident scene.
Gathering this information in one spot can save you many headaches later on. As other parties or insurance companies potentially dispute the events, this documentation can serve as evidence for you and your lawyer.
3. Contact a Car Accident Injury Lawyer
The sooner you connect with an experienced car accident injury lawyer, the better your chances of recovering maximum compensation for your losses. A lawyer can handle every aspect of the process of securing payment for you from at-fault parties and insurance companies even many of the steps below. Just as significant, a lawyer can advise you about how to make important decisions that may affect your rights and protect you from making costly mistakes.
When deciding on a lawyer to hire, focus on three criteria:
- Experience in car accidents and personal injury. Attorneys with extensive experience in cases like yours will know what to do and when to do it throughout the process of seeking money damages on your behalf.
- Experience in the jurisdiction where the accident occurred. Laws and legal precedents vary from state to state, so be sure to hire a lawyer who practices in the area where the accident happened.
- A clear and transparent fee structure that starts with a free, no-obligation consultation and includes representing you on a contingent fee basis, where you only pay if the lawyer wins for you.
In your free consultation, explain your situation and ask about the next steps. The sooner a skilled lawyer can begin handling interactions with other parties on your behalf, the better.
4. File a Car Crash Report as Needed
Every U.S. state requires a DMV or police report after a car accident, but the exact criteria and needs for reporting can change depending on where the accident happened.
For example, some states only require a report if the car accident resulted in a death, injury, or more than a certain dollar amount of property damage. Some require all drivers to file a report, while others require a more central source, like the police officer on site.
In most cases, you’ll need your driver’s license, vehicle registration, proof of insurance, and contact information when filing the report. Filling out any required forms is simple, but you’ll need to be careful with the information you provide. When in doubt, ask your lawyer about the information you should provide to ensure you follow all the appropriate steps to get the compensation you need.
5. Notify Your Car Insurance
Once the authorities have the necessary paperwork in place, it’s time to start thinking through the insurance piece of the process. This can get complicated quickly, especially when multiple insurance companies are involved. An attorney for car accident can handle this process on your behalf.
If your insurance policy is like most, you will need to notify them of the accident immediately. Early in the process, the insurance company will only need basic information, like where the road accident occurred and who was involved.
Notifying your insurance company is the beginning of the claims process. And it can get both complicated and frustrating quickly If you contact your insurer directly, instead of through an attorney, avoid apologizing or admitting fault. Provide the basic information, and refer any requests for more details to your attorney. Stay away from any topic having to do with fault, and don’t say anything your insurance company could construe as an admission of even partial responsibility.
6. Follow Your Lawyer’s Guidance
The best part of engaging an experienced lawyer for car accident early is that it pays off throughout the process of dealing with the aftermath of a car accident. Once you have a lawyer in your corner, you no longer have to worry about taking the wrong steps, saying the wrong thing, or neglecting to gather the proper paperwork. Instead, you will have a legal professional handling the entire process of getting you compensation for your losses, so that you can focus your time and energy on healing from your injuries and putting your life back together.
To take full advantage of a lawyer:
- Follow the advice and guidance your lawyer provides.
- Ask the lawyer questions at any point.
- Refer all conversations and questions about the accident from third parties to your lawyer.
Following these tips maximizes your odds of recovering financial compensation for the losses you suffered in a car accident.
Five Things Not to Do After a Car Accident
Just as crucial as knowing what to do is knowing what pitfalls to avoid after a car accident. Avoiding these actions can go a long way toward a successful claim process and favorable financial outcome.
1. Don’t Talk to Other Parties Involved in the Accident
It’s ok to exchange insurance information with other drivers at an accident scene or shortly afterward, but don’t get involved in discussions with other parties about what happened or who’s to blame. Any such conversations can put your legal and financial rights at risk.
Other people contacting you might want to settle matters without involving the authorities, for example. But that’s a bad idea it’s potentially illegal and can cost you valuable rights to compensation. Or, they may try to get you to admit some fault, even inadvertently. Anything you say could end up being used against you as a defense to your claim for damages. In other words, talking to the other parties involved in the accident has limited (if any) upside and a potentially devastating downside.
Instead, let your lawyer handle any interactions with other involved parties on your behalf. Leaving those dealings to your attorney reduces stress and protects you from making inadvertently costly mistakes.
2. Don’t Give a Recorded or Official Statement to Any Insurance Company Without Legal Representation
After you notify your insurance company about the accident, or an at-fault party notifies them, an insurance adjuster might ask you to agree to give a recorded or official statement about what happened and to answer some questions. You might feel tempted to get that over with and answer whatever questions the insurer has, but it’s rarely (if ever) a good idea to agree to it without having your lawyer actively involved.
Remember that insurance companies are for-profit businesses. Their goal is not to be as fair as possible but to avoid paying car accident claims where possible. An adjuster who wants to talk to you has that goal in mind and will use any opening to pressure you to admit fault, so the insurer can avoid paying you compensation.
Instead, defer all chats with the insurance to your lawyer. They’ll know what to say and how to guide the exchanges in a way that’s safe for you legally.
3. Don’t Admit Fault at Any Point in the Process
Generally speaking, it’s never a good idea to admit fault for a car accident. For one thing, even when you feel like you might share some of the blame, you might not be correct.
It’s common for crash victims to blame themselves despite having no control over what happened. Don’t give other parties a powerful tool to use against you by admitting to fault. Instead, let the evidence presented by your lawyer to insurance companies or in court determine who has legal liability for your losses.
That general note of caution applies to indirect statements, as well. For example, an insurance company may misinterpret your apology for the car accident, or a statement like “I should have seen the other car coming”, as an admission of fault.
Protect yourself against that sort of misunderstanding or intentional mischaracterization of your words by keeping limiting what you say about the accident purely to objective facts. And, whenever possible, leave as many conversations about the accident as possible to your lawyer to handle on your behalf.
4. Don’t Neglect Your Health and Recovery Needs
The stress and anxiety of the aftermath of a car accident—and especially worries about finances and dealing with insurance can make it all too easy to neglect your physical and mental health recovery.
Try hard not to let that happen. Prioritize your health and leave the work of dealing with insurance and pursuing compensation for your losses to an experienced lawyer who represents your interests.
5. Do Not Agree to Any Settlement Offer Without Consulting Your Lawyer
Liability insurance companies sometimes offer car accident victims like you quick settlement of their claims. But what seems like a generous and friendly offer is usually anything but. The settlement amount they put on the table typically falls far short of the amount you have the right to claim. And if you accept it, you risk sacrificing your rights to full compensation.
Insurers offer quick settlements because they hope you will agree to them without consulting an attorney. They know you face stress and anxiety after a car accident and want to take advantage of your vulnerability. Don’t fall for their tactics. Instead, leave all settlement negotiations to an experienced lawyer who can protect your rights and put you in the strongest position to receive maximum payment from an insurance company or at-fault party.
Contact the Chicago Car Accident Law Firm of Zayed Law Offices for Help Today
It’s common to feel overwhelmed by stress and uncertainty after you get hurt in a car accident. Hiring an experienced lawyer to handle your claim for compensation gives you the time and space you need to focus on what matters most—your health and well-being, and those of your loved ones.
So don’t wait. If you or someone close to you has suffered losses in a car accident, contact a reliable and experienced personal injury lawyer in Chicago today for a free, no-obligation case consultation.