What do I do if I’m in a car accident?
Getting in an accident is never easy, and the stress doesn’t necessarily come from just the wreck. Often those involved discover the aftermath is at least as difficult to cope with as the initial shock of a collision. Failing to properly address any of a number of critical issues following an accident can have catastrophic long term financial and legal consequences which are sometimes far worse than the damage or injuries. Here are some things to remember if you are in a car accident.
The top priority is your personal safety. For any accident causing more damage than a minimal dent, obtain medical attention at once, even if you think you aren’t injured. Many kinds of trauma can be exacerbated without immediate treatment and some may cause no pain or symptoms for a time.
Second, if at all possible, get yourself and your vehicle out of traffic. Serious injuries can result if the accident scene is blocking the road and those involved are wandering in and out of moving traffic. Any moving vehicle is a potential hazard.
Once you have addressed your personal safety and the safety of others at the scene, start gathering information about who was present when the accident occurred. Obviously the priority is any involved driver or passenger, but also be sure to get the names and contact information of potential witnesses, including any responding emergency personnel. What may seem like an insignificant detail minutes after an accident can be the difference between a conclusive defense or claim and an expensive prolonged dispute six months later.
Once you have names and numbers of everyone involved and anyone who may have seen the accident, the moment comes when you will want to make use of an accident victim’s best friend: Your mobile phone. Take pictures of everyone’s driver’s license, license plate, insurance information and vehicle. Take pictures of all the damage from as many angles as is practical. If at all possible, take pictures of the interior of all the vehicles involved.
If there are any obvious injuries like bruises, cuts, contusions and so forth, take pictures of those too. While you may not be medically qualified to address those injuries, a forensic physician or other medical professional may be able to use your pictures to testify about the injuries later.
Months later, if you are called to account for the events leading up to, during and immediately after the accident, you will have a detailed photographic body of evidence that can be used to either pursue a claim against the other driver or drivers and their insurance companies, or to defend yourself against claims by other parties.
For someone involved in an accident, the greatest thing that ever happened was the invention of a device with practically unlimited photographic capacity. Once you have secured photographs of all the immediate evidence at the scene, you can go to work taking pictures of the surrounding area. Get photos of any nearby buildings, paying special attention to addresses. If there are any permanently mounted cameras visible in the area, get pictures of those too. If any vehicle in or near the accident has a dashcam, take a picture of it and the vehicle’s license number. Photograph any bus stops, ATMs, banks or camera-equipped intersections nearby. If you can, also make a note of the accident location’s GPS coordinates. Your camera may do this for you automatically.
Get pictures of street signs and any traffic signals, speed limit signs or traffic direction in the area. Take pictures of the road and sky to establish what weather conditions existed at the time. If your pictures are not time-stamped, get a picture of something that shows date and time of day, like a bank clock or your phone in a mirror.
As soon as it is practical, back this information up in at least two locations.
Your purpose here is not to simply fill your phone with data, but to build a body of conclusive evidence so the facts can be later established. The police report may dispute your version of events. Witnesses or other drivers may also. If you can walk into court and wave a sheaf of photographs in the air, it becomes far more difficult for another party to sustain factually dubious testimony, regardless of their motive.
Remember, your purpose is to protect yourself. Just because you are factually innocent does not mean your insurance company won’t raise your rates unfairly, and it certainly doesn’t mean you will win a potential legal dispute. Photographic evidence is very powerful in court. Make sure you use it to preserve your rights and establish the facts.
It is often difficult to remember all these things moments after an accident, but the faster you move to defend yourself the more likely it is you will emerge unharmed. As always, it is best to seek competent legal counsel as quickly as possible.