Immediately after a car accident, you may suffer a rush of adrenaline that leaves your mind scattered, wondering what to do next. As the days and weeks go by and you try to move forward with a car accident claim, you may feel no less frustrated and confused.
What should you do after a car accident? Our auto accident attorneys break down your next steps on the scene and for the weeks following, read on to learn more.
At the Scene of the Accident: Your First Four Steps
You hear the crunch of metal and feel the jolt of an intense collision. You may get jolted around the vehicle or find yourself slammed into your vehicle. You must immediately protect yourself.
1. Call 911.
A call to 911 will allow you to report the accident to the local police, who will arrive quickly at the scene. If anyone at the scene suffered injuries, a call to 911 will also summon an ambulance, which will mean immediate assistance with medical care.
2. Remain at the scene of the accident.
In general, you should always remain at the scene of the accident until the police arrive, unless:
- You need to seek immediate emergency medical care.
- You cannot contact the police from the accident scene (for example, your accident has occurred in an area that does not seem to have cell coverage).
- You find yourself in danger at the scene of the accident, often due to an angry or irrational response from the other driver involved in the accident.
If you must leave the accident scene for any reason, make sure you let first responders know. Call 911 and let dispatch know that you need to leave, where you plan to go, and how the police can reach you if needed. Dispatch can provide you with further instructions, including how to protect yourself if you feel in danger for any reason.
3. Give the police an assessment of what you noticed that led to the accident.
Do not make up facts or try to embellish. Instead, offer an accurate assessment of what you feel led to the accident.
Do not accept liability or partial liability for the accident. Often, people naturally want to brush off the actions of the liable driver, especially one who appears upset about the incident, apologizes profusely, or who otherwise tugs at their emotions.
Keep it honest and professional where possible. If you accept liability for the accident in any way, it could later change your ability to recover compensation through a personal injury claim.
4. Get medical care.
In many cases, you may need to proceed straight from the accident site to a local medical care facility. If you believe that you suffered relatively minor injuries, an urgent care facility might have the capacity to handle those injuries. On the other hand, if you suffered severe injuries in the accident, you may need to go straight to the emergency room.
Four Things You Should Do After the Accident
Once you have handled the immediate challenges that come up at the accident scene, you may need to start dealing with the aftermath, including the other challenges you may face as you try to seek compensation for your injuries.
1.Start a record of all your medical records, bills, and instructions.
If you suffered injuries in your car accident, you may have a long road to recovery and many medical bills to deal with in the meantime. Even minor injuries can mean immense medical bills and a long-term need for medical attention.
Suppose, for example, that you suffer a broken leg in your accident. You need surgery to set the break. In some cases, you might have an overnight—or longer—stay in the hospital. You may have to go through several follow-up visits with your doctor, then see a physical therapist for several weeks after the accident.
Your doctor and your physical therapist may provide you with a clear list of instructions about the steps you need to take to increase your odds of making a full recovery. You may have exercises that you need to perform or activities that you need to avoid during your recovery to maximize your recovery.
All of that information can quickly get confusing.
Furthermore, the cost of your broken leg may add up more than you think.
Keeping a careful record of all of that information:
- Ensures that you can look back on that information when you need it, whether you need to perform specific exercises to help increase your odds of recovery or check on symptoms that could necessitate a return visit to the doctor or the emergency room.
- Provides you with a record of all of your medical expenses. Many accident victims quickly lose track of how much they have paid, especially since they may have more than one bill for the same procedure (for example, you may pay for both the anesthesiologist who cares for you during surgery and the surgeon who performs the procedure).
- Allows you to quickly put your hands on information that the insurance company or your lawyer might need to access.
2. Follow the instructions issued by your medical care team.
Your doctor may have a long list of instructions you need to follow after your car accident. Depending on the extent of your injuries, you may find your activities severely limited while you recover. In addition, your doctor may want you to engage in specific activities, including slowly starting to move your body more often or going to physical therapy.
Your doctor may also issue recommendations about the treatments you need to make a full recovery. Sometimes, those procedures may seem invasive or time-consuming. However, in general, your doctor will have your best interest at heart.
Follow the instructions issued by your medical care team. Work with your doctor to create a care plan that works for you, based on your specific needs and injuries. Do not ignore your doctor’s plan for your recovery, even when it feels inconvenient. If you inadvertently worsen your injuries, whether you fail to participate in physical therapy and end up slowing your recovery or you engage in activities your doctor recommended against and end up injuring yourself worse, you may end up with more serious injuries and a longer road to recovery.
If you inadvertently worsen your injuries, not only can it mean a longer road to recovery or more serious limitations, it may mean that you bear liability for any increased medical expenses related to your decisions. In many cases, the insurance company may argue that you contributed to those limitations and that you do not deserve compensation.
3. Notify your employer about the accident, and start a record of the time you have to miss at work for treatment.
Dealing with the aftermath of an injury can mean considerable time missed at work. Take the broken leg example above, for example. If you work on your feet most of your shift, you may need several days or even weeks before you can return to work. If you work in a factory or warehouse, in construction, or a physically-demanding position, your employer might not want you to return to work until you have made a full recovery and can once more perform your full work responsibilities.
That lost time at work can add up to a considerable loss of income during a time that may already prove financially difficult for you and your family.
As part of a personal injury claim after your car accident, you may have the right to include compensation for the wages you may lose due to your injuries. However, you may need to keep a careful record of just how much time you have missed at work because of your accident.
For example, you might miss several days at work immediately after the accident, due to hospitalization or the need to recover from the immediate aftermath of the accident, then miss time for follow-up surgery. Finally, you may miss further time at work as you go to physical therapy or follow-up appointments that will help you gauge your recovery.
Work out a plan with your employer so that you know what to expect, including what type of financial hit you may take due to your accident. Keep a record, ideally in an easily accessible location, so that you can more easily produce that information later.
4. Talk to a lawyer before you deal with the insurance company.
It does not matter how severe your injuries, speaking to a lawyer after an accident is in your best interest. If you suffer any type of injury in the accident, working with a lawyer can offer the best chance of securing the compensation you need and deserve.
In general, you likely need a lawyer if:
- You suffered injuries in your car accident.
- You do not have a clear, definitive answer on who caused the accident, including cases in which the insurance company disputes liability.
- The insurance company provides you with a very low settlement offer that you feel does not fit your needs.
- You have a complicated accident case, including a truck accident, an accident in which you know mechanical failure likely caused the accident, or a case involving an employee on the clock at the time of the accident.
You should also call a lawyer if you have questions about your car accident claim. Most lawyers will start with a free consultation, which can provide you with a better idea of your next steps, the compensation you might deserve for your injuries, or how to handle your car accident claim.
Ideally, you should call a lawyer before you contact the insurance company. You may want to allow the lawyer to deal with the insurance company on your behalf. Insurance companies may use several tactics to reduce the compensation they have to pay out after a car accident, which may leave you scrambling to pay your medical bills or cope with the lost income you have faced as a direct result of the accident.
Working with a lawyer can help you collect much-needed evidence regarding your car accident.
After a car accident, you need to know who caused your accident, including any factors that may have contributed to the accident and, therefore, might leave another party sharing liability for the accident and your injuries.
A lawyer can give you a better idea of the compensation you deserve.
The insurance company may not automatically offer you the full compensation you deserve after a car accident. A lawyer, on the other hand, can help break down the compensation you should expect, empowering you to make more effective decisions about your claim.
A lawyer can make sure that no minor errors decrease the compensation you can recover.
Often, car accident victims make simple errors in dealing with the insurance company that can completely change their claims and make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to get the full compensation they deserve.
An attorney can help prevent you from making those errors.
Often, attorneys can take over dealing with the insurance company on your behalf, which can make it easier for you to navigate challenges from low settlement offers to an insurance adjuster that attempts to use your activities against you when determining the settlement amount you deserve.