What to Do After an Automobile Accident

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A car accident completely disrupts your life. There are things you need to take care of; it’s hard to focus. You know what to do to help reduce injuries, save lives, and in the end simplify the insurance claims process – but you can’t get started. So what to do after an automobile accident?

CRASH! BOOM!

As soon as the airbag deflates and the noise stops – and before getting out of your vehicle – check out the situation inside. Are all the passengers conscious? Are there any visible injuries? Is the ignition turned off? Is the emergency/parking brake set? If there is another vehicle involved, don’t be rushed to exit your vehicle. Locate your cell phone and have it in your hand as you open the door. Look at your watch and check out the setting; identify spectators. Note the weather and traffic conditions.

What to Do After an Automobile Accident
What to Do After an Automobile Accident

Report the incident by calling 911. Briefly describe not the accident but the scene; “there has been a car crash and both cars are in the middle of the intersection of Highway 9 and Springdale.” Ask if you should move your vehicle. If safe to do so and it will not affect the investigation, relocate your vehicle out of harm’s way to prevent further damage, injuries, or chain-reaction accidents. Take as many pictures with your cell phone as you can before anything is disturbed or re-arranged. If you can record video, do so; walk around the scene getting every possible angle.

If your vehicle can’t be moved, turn on the hazard lights and leave all the doors open. If there are injuries, don’t move anyone until the EMT arrives. Never leave the scene of the accident – it’s a criminal offense that could result in prison time.

Even if there are no injuries, you must call 911 and have police file an accident report. You’ll have to have the report in case the other driver sues for damages or medical injuries. Don’t be influenced by the other driver’s pleas of “Let’s just settle this ourselves.” If they ask for your insurance and registration documents, remind them that’s the job of the responding authorities.

Ask the officer how to obtain a copy of the accident report, if he or she doesn’t give you one at the scene. Get the officer’s name and badge number. Let the officer gather insurance and driver information from both parties. They should collect names, phone numbers, insurance companies and policy numbers, and vehicle license plate numbers.

Keeping The Lid On

REMAIN CALM. Arguing, venting, losing your temper, or trying to determine who was at fault before the investigation will not help.

Be courteous to others at the scene, including those in the other vehicle. You’ll get more goodwill if you treat them with respect. And remember—every person is a likely witness. As you approach them, simply ask “Did you see what happened?” Don’t lead them. Get them to write down their names and phone numbers.

Be consistent in your story. Sometimes it’s tempting to overstate or dramatize the details. Simpler is better. Don’t make assumptions or judgments.

Provide as much detail as you can to the officer. Don’t wait; memories fade quickly and your prompt recall of events is vital in the settlement of your claim.

Do not discuss the particulars of the accident with anyone other than the police and your insurance representative. If the other party “confesses” some information, don’t acknowledge it or refute it. Remain objective. Don’t admit fault or accept blame. Don’t discuss how much auto insurance coverage you have with anyone.

Filing The Insurance Claim

Notify your insurance agent as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the harder it is to remember details. There also may be more damage to your vehicle than you first thought. As soon as you get home, write up a detailed description of the events. Place that write-up in a file you will create and it with notes and copies of any claim forms.

Put in the file the date, time, name, title, and contact information of everyone you speak with during the claims process. Complete any forms you receive immediately and accurately. Make copies of the forms you complete.

If the other driver’s insurance calls you, refer them to your agent. Let the insurance people manage contacts.

Maintaining The Right Insurance Coverage For Your Automobile

You must keep the proper insurance coverage for your vehicle; it is a legal requirement and you can’t expect recover if the coverage isn’t in place. Review your situation annually with your agent. This includes cars you own or lease and who is driving which vehicle.

Purchase more coverage than the state-required limits. The legal minimums may not be enough to fully cover damages and injuries if you are in an accident. If your auto insurance property damage coverage is $15,000 and you cause $25,000 worth of damage, you’ll have to pay the remaining $10,000 out of your own wallet. Look beyond the price of the policy and know what is included in the total package. Decide what’s most important to you, and talk this over with your agent so they can help you select the company tight for you.

Think about adding a personal liability insurance policy, also known as an “umbrella policy.” This extends the liability coverage you have on other personal policies, including automobile and homeowners. An umbrella gives you protection of claims for which you are might be held liable. Increasing your “underlying limits” may be a necessary to purchase an umbrella. The umbrella only take effect after the amount on your underlying policies are exhausted. For example, if your automobile liability limit is $100,000 and you cause an accident with $200,000 in injuries, your automobile policy would pay $100,000 toward the claim and the umbrella policy would pay the remaining $150,000 to settle the claim.

Auto wrecks destroy more than cars. Emotional wear and tear may go on for some time after the dust has settled. Litigation by the insurance companies may take some time. Traffic court hearings don’t always come up the week after the incident. Auto repair might longer than expected Just try to relax, be grateful to God you (and passengers) are still alive, and make the best of things. Be patient, don’t rush into any settlements.

Have you ever been in an automobile wreck? If you were the driver, did you follow all these steps? Were there any problems in getting your claim adjusted? Tell us about your experiences with insurance claims adjusters.

( Photo by stupid.fotos )

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3 Responses to What to Do After an Automobile Accident

  1. I agree with your point about not admitting fault or accepting blame. This reminds me of hearing about what happened after my mother was in an accident a long time ago. She called my father and said, “I just hit a car!” even though the other driver was the one at fault. However, the other driver heard my mom say that and brought that up to the officers. My mom was the one deemed at fault then, even though she actually was not. It’s important to watch what you say at the scene of the accident, and after as well.

  2. I can top that Brian. My 21 year old son got hit by another driver who suddenly switched lanes on a four lane roadway, and turned into him. She admitted guilt and her insurance company paid for nearly $2,000 in repairs to his car, plus a 9 day car rental. About a week after the repairs are completed, he got a call from her insurance company saying – get this – she changed her story! After the dust has settled she’s suddenly decided that she doesn’t think she was at fault after all. So the moral of the story, you aren’t necessarily in the right, even if the other party concedes as much up front.

    We’re still waiting to see how this finally plays out.

  3. Hi, Kevin and Brian,
    Hope things work out, Kevin. Seems these days that unless you have a sworn, notarized, official document, nothing will be considered valid. And even then there can be “revisions!”

    I believe the most important thing you can do, even with all the tips I listed, is to get away from the scene, by yourself, for at least 5 minutes. Calm down, take deep breaths, review what you know, then go back to making the phone calls and working with the authorities. I still don’t think you should communicate directly with the other party, unless the police are suppervising the conversation.

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