There’s no doubt that being involved in a car accident is a frightening experience. It’s natural to feel panicked and confused, or even angry at first. However, if you should find yourself in this situation, there are nine essential steps that you should complete in order to handle it correctly. Jot them down on a piece of paper that you keep in the glove box of your car. It’ll be a helpful “cheat sheet” to guide you through this stressful situation.
Step 1: Stay calm and get safe.
If your car is drivable, carefully maneuver it to the side of the road so you can get out of the way of oncoming traffic. If your car cannot be driven, and you are not seriously injured, exit the vehicle and move to a safe spot away from oncoming traffic. This is of particular importance if the accident occurs on a busy highway. If the accident occurs at night, set out road flares to alert oncoming drivers.
Step 2: Don’t apologize.
Whether it’s your fault or not, don’t apologize. This implies guilt, and it can be used against you in a court case. There may be other factors that contributed to the accident that you’re not aware of, so resist the urge to say, “I’m sorry.”
Step 3: Contact the authorities.
Call 9-1-1. The police will write up a report and help maneuver traffic safely around the accident. Be sure to get a copy of the report or the report number to give to your insurance agent and/or attorney.
Step 4: Get witnesses.
Look around. Were there people walking nearby who saw the accident? Did any good Samaritans pull over to see if you needed help? Be sure to point these individuals out to the police so their statements can be taken. If the case goes to court, their statements can help support your claim.
Step 5: Provide contact information.
The police and the other driver(s) involved in the accident will need your name and insurance information. You should always keep an insurance card in your wallet and in your glove box. Jot down your name, insurance company, and policy number on a piece of paper. You do not need to provide your home address or phone number since it should be your insurance company, not you, who handles settling the claim from here on out. Make sure you get the other drivers’ name and insurance information, too. The police can facilitate the transfer of information if necessary.
Step 6: Record the facts.
Jot down everything you can remember about the incident. Write down the date, time, weather conditions, location, and how the accident occurred. It’s best to do this as soon as possible while the details are still fresh in your mind.
Step 7: Go to the hospital – even if you feel “okay.”
Injuries often present themselves several hours after the accident has occurred. By then your body has relaxed and the adrenaline has gone, allowing you to feel the full extent of your injuries. It is important to be evaluated by a doctor so you can receive the medical treatment you need, and also to ensure that there is a record of your injuries.
Step 8: Contact your insurance company
The number for your insurance company will be printed on your insurance card. Once you have a police report and have been evaluated by a doctor, contact your insurance company to report the incident. Your agent will request the police report number and the other driver(s) insurance information. Your agent will also help you make arrangements to have your car photographed, so the damage can be recorded. In addition, your agent will give you the name of your insurance company’s preferred mechanic or body shop to take your car for repairs.
Step 9: Contact your attorney.
In most cases, you attorney won’t need to get involved. If, however, the case needs to go to court, your attorney will help plead the case on your behalf and ensure that you receive adequate compensation for the damage. He or she will also help make sure that you have all the information and documented evidence needed.