A car accident can be one of the most stressful and confusing events a person can face. Not only are there many detailed problems to solve in the aftermath of a collision, but as any experienced law enforcement officer, attorney or even driver will tell you, there is a clock ticking as well.
The best courses of action following an accident can be divided into two broad categories: What must be done and what should be done. The former really leaves you with no choice. The latter, on the other hand, can be the difference between a potential legal and financial disaster and a relatively pleasant outcome, all things considered.
If there are injuries, however mild, the first priority is to contact emergency services and the police. There are dozens, if not hundreds of reasons an injury at an accident scene can be dangerous, and no involved driver can be expected to medically evaluate the situation competently.
The involved vehicles themselves should be inspected as rapidly as possible to make certain there are no fuel leaks, exposed electrical systems or structural instability. If the accident occurred near a hazard like a river, steep grade, cliff, etc. steps should be taken to avoid vehicles close to danger.
Once everyone’s safety has been accounted for, the next step is to interview any witnesses to the accident including drivers, passengers, bystanders and emergency personnel.
Speaking to paramedics and law enforcement officers is of paramount importance for a number of reasons. First, they are generally superior witnesses and will be able to give detailed accounts of what they saw. Second, emergency personnel are ostensibly neutral and legally required to give an accurate account of the scene.
You will want to gather names and identifications of everyone you possibly can. It may not seem important at the side of the road, but it will become crucial four months later when there are six different stories about what happened.
Answer No Questions
When you speak with your attorney, they will be grateful you followed the advice to answer no questions. Leaving aside the financial pitfalls of extemporaneous conversation at an accident scene, there may be criminal considerations if the police are involved.
Make things easy for yourself and keep your mouth shut. While you’re at it, consent to no searches of your person or property. If the police insist, invoke your right to consult an attorney first.
The greatest thing that has ever happened for victims of car accidents is the invention of the mobile phone camera. Nearly everyone is walking around with a high-resolution digital photography studio equipped with virtually limitless film. There is no better place to make use of this miracle than at an accident scene.
Take pictures of everyone’s driver’s license and insurance paperwork. Take pictures of all the license plates at the scene, including the emergency vehicles. Photograph the damage from as many angles as is practical, and take special care to get shots of every vehicle’s interior if you can. If possible, take pictures of any injuries at the scene.
Once you’ve documented the principal events, get pictures of the road, any skid marks, nearby obstacles, road signs, lights, cross streets, intersections and hazards like potholes, cracks, construction or barriers. Make sure to document any unusual conditions like dampness, ice, spills, paint on the road, etc.
If there are any nearby structures likely to have surveillance cameras, take pictures of their addresses and any visible cameras you can find. Pay special attention to bus stops, convenience stores, banks and construction sites. Record the GPS coordinates of the location if you can.
Then make sure you document the weather and visibility conditions at the time. The more pictures you take, the easier it will be to paint a picture of the accident scene for a judge, jury or insurance adjuster weeks or months later. The rule is: Anything visible at the scene should be photographed unless there is a compelling reason otherwise.
Unless your accident was minor, it is a good idea to at least consult a qualified attorney as soon as possible, even before you speak with your insurance company. There are many profound financial and legal reasons advice from a competent attorney should be sought out after a car accident. Your priority, without putting too fine a point on it, is to protect yourself first.