Being involved in an auto accident is an often scary and stressful situation. Far too few people understand how the process of determining fault works and most wind up making mistakes that can ultimately cost them in a settlement or judgment.
Whether you believe the accident was your fault or not, there are ways to either sway the scales of justice in your favor or minimize the damage to your insurance, driving record, and – in extreme cases – your own personal financial well-being. Here are some things experienced personal injury lawyers recommend you to keep in mind at the time of the accident as well as the days following, whether you were injured or not.
At The Scene
There are several things you should and should not do immediately following an accident. The most common question in the, “What happens now?” category is whether to move the cars or leave them as they were when the accident occurred. The answer to that question is a resounding, “It depends.”
According to Progressive Insurance, if the accident is minor and there are no perceived injuries, it is recommended that photos be taken of the scene from every possible angle first. Once there is an accurate record of how things looked at the time of the crash, it is typically fine to move the cars. If police show up before you have the chance to move the cars, consult with the responding officer on how to proceed.
If, however, there is significant damage to vehicles or property, or if personal injury has resulted from the crash, it is best to leave the scene intact until the police or qualified legal counsel say it is safe to alter it.
What you say at the scene is of equal importance. There are almost always differences of opinion as to who was at fault. Whether or not you believe you played a hand in the accident happening, it is important not to make statements that confirm your responsibility.
Do not apologize to the other driver and do not admit fault. Keep your statements neutral. Avoid phrases like, “I’m so sorry.” Replace them with, “Wow, this really is a mess!” or something similar. Acknowledge the situation, not your role in it. An aggressive person can (and often will) try to elicit an admission from you. Keep your head and keep your comments neutral.
Also, do not give detailed statements to police. If asked directly what happened, speak in the most general terms. Never say, “I hit the car.” Instead, say, “The cars collided.” Always speak from the perspective of an outside observer and never directly answer any question that forces you to admit fault. Inform the officer that you will give your own perspective on the accident to your insurer and do not get pressured into answering any question that relates to you directly.
Gather Appropriate Information
While at the scene, there are several bits of information you should obtain before leaving. The most important ones are:
The name and address of the other driver (take a picture of his/her license if allowed)
The name of the other driver’s insurer and their policy number
Witness statements and contact information for all witnesses
The aforementioned photos of the scene from multiple angles and distances
After the Accident
It is important that the accident be reported to your insurance company as quickly as possible. It is generally safe to answer questions during this particular conversation since your insurer is dedicated to acting upon your best interest. Even in this instance, though, it is in your best interest to keep your comments neutral and not answer any question that causes you to admit fault.
Do not, however, make any statement to the opposing insurer. Refer them to your carrier and let them know that you already made an official statement. This holds true whether you think you are at fault or not.
If The Accident Resulted in Injury
If you were injured in the accident, it is important that you consult with a qualified personal injury attorney right away. Make the call even if you think you might have been at fault. The law limits the amount of time you have to take action, so don’t wait.