If you’ve been in an auto accident, you may vividly remember the sinking sensation that comes from realizing a crash is inevitable. And if you haven’t been in an accident, count yourself lucky—the average driver is involved in an accident about once every 17 years, or three to four accidents over the course of a driving lifetime.
Even a minor fender-bender can leave you physically and emotionally rattled, and you may be in a poor position to advocate for your rights. Knowing what to do after a car crash—and, just as importantly, what not to do—can save you quite a bit of grief. There are generally three major things that you can do to protect yourself, that will help to preserve your health, livelihood, and bank account following a car accident.
1) Assess Injuries
Often, especially in serious car crashes, any injuries will be immediately apparent. You, an uninjured passenger, or a passerby should call 911 as soon as possible so that emergency personnel can come to the scene and assess everyone involved in the crash.
But in some cases, motorists can sustain injuries that don’t manifest themselves for quite some time. Car crashes are notorious for their ability to cause soft-tissue injuries, particularly whiplash. And while you may be able to easily stand, walk, and even drive yourself home after an accident, you could find yourself waking up the next day with a neck so stiff you’re unable to move.
Because of this, it’s often a good idea to have yourself checked out at the scene of an accident, even if you feel fine. Emergency medical technicians have plenty of experience in assessing injuries and can transport you to the hospital, provide treatment at the scene, or advise you to follow up with your doctor within the next day or two.
2) Call the Police
Regardless of whether there’s anyone at the scene in need of medical attention, it can be a good idea to contact the police. Having an accident report in hand can help you when you contact an attorney or deal with your insurance company. A responding officer will be able to take statements from all drivers and passengers involved and create a report that sets out what happened.
Depending on the location of your accident, waiting for an officer to arrive could put you in danger of being struck by another vehicle. While it can be important for a responding officer to get the “lay of the land,” it’s much more important to ensure your own safety, so if you need to move your car to a safer location, away from the accident site, don’t hesitate to do so.
3) Call an Attorney
Perhaps the most important step after an accident, short of seeking medical attention, is to contact an attorney. Regardless of whether you were at fault in the accident, the insurance company responsible for paying out on this claim has but one goal: minimize the payout amount by any means possible. This can mean offering you a low-ball amount to replace your vehicle, arguing that any injuries you sustained in the crash were pre-existing and therefore not covered, or requiring you to jump through multiple diagnostic hoops before certain medical treatments are covered.
Having an attorney to advocate for you can ensure you’re properly compensated after the accident. This may involve payment of your medical bills, repair or replacement of your vehicle, or even a lump sum settlement intended to cover any lost wages, car rental expenses, or other accident-related costs.
Never Accept a Settlement from an Insurance Company!
It is important to note that most, if not all insurance companies will do everything in their power to pay out the lowest amount possible. You may be offered what looks like a fair or sizable settlement, but be aware that insurance companies will always low-ball a quick settlement. Having an experienced attorney in your corner that will help you asses what the cost of your accident will be in the long run, and who is willing to battle it out with the insurance company on your behalf, will always work out to your benefit.