Ask an Attorney: I've Just Been in a Car Accident. What do I do?

There are approximately 6 million motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. every year.  That’s right, 6 MILLION, which means an accident is happening to someone somewhere approximately every 5 seconds.  It makes sense to have a plan for what you will do in the event of an accident, even before one occurs.  

No matter how serious your car accident or whether you were at fault, you should never leave the scene of the wreck.  You are required to stop, check on the other person involved, exchange insurance information, and notify law enforcement.  Depending on the circumstances, leaving the accident could result in a misdemeanor or even a felony.  

Many people don’t believe it’s necessary to call the authorities if an accident was minor and no one was hurt, but this is a mistake.  You have no idea who the other person involved is, whether their insurance is current (or real), or if they will suddenly develop a serious injury the next day that becomes your responsibility.  As many as one in seven drivers has no insurance and some even carry fake or expired cards to try to skirt the issue. If you have no accident report, it is more difficult to support your side of the story.

If you’re involved in an accident with an uninsured driver—no matter whose fault it is—you will be on the hook for the resulting bills. It’s a good idea to double check your auto insurance policy and make sure you carry adequate coverage for “Uninsured Motorist” and “Underinsured Motorist.”   Uninsured Motorist will provide coverage to you in the event the other party is at fault and their vehicle is not insured.  Underinsured Motorist kicks in if the other driver’s vehicle is insured but their policy is not sufficient to pay for your injuries and damages.

Another mistake that people often make is telling the other driver, observers, or the authorities that the accident was their fault.  Even if this is true, there’s no reason to say it at the time.  The accident report will identify who is at fault and professing your guilt may open you up to a lawsuit or penalties.  Be polite and tell the truth about the details of the accident, but protect yourself by not offering conjecture on who is at fault.

If you’re in the right physical and mental state to do so, make sure you get the other driver’s name, address, insurance company name and policy number, and take note of the other person’s make, model and color of vehicle κατάστημα.  Pay attention to see if the other driver was talking or texting on a cell phone at the time of the accident or if there were any other distractions. If you can, try to determine if the other driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol or was having a medical condition at the time of the accident.  When law enforcement arrives, try to get them to document your observations.  Be sure to take photos of all vehicles involved and any damage. It’s also helpful to photograph the scene of the accident from all angles. You never know what details may become relevant later and a picture is worth a thousand words.

It’s important to seek medical treatment if you were injured or if you start experiencing persistent pain or health problems after an accident. Injuries caused by the sudden, unnatural movements of the body during a crash often include soft tissue injuries to muscles and ligaments, neck and spine injuries, head injuries such as chronic headaches or even brain damage, or impact injuries to the chest, internal organs or extremities. Sometimes mental health issues can develop secondary to physical injuries or as a result of the traumatic experience. It can take anywhere from days to months for symptoms to appear so it’s good to pay attention to any new medical problems that arise following an accident.

If the accident is your fault, your auto insurance carrier can be expected to represent you for damages to the other party up to the limits of your insurance policy. However, there are circumstances where you may need to retain your own, separate legal counsel. If you are facing criminal charges or if someone was injured because of something you did , your first call should be to your attorney.

Contacting an attorney is always a good choice, especially if you’re concerned about being sued or prosecuted, if you believe you have a claim for damages, or if you’ve been offered a settlement but aren’t sure what to do.  The right attorney will listen to your concerns and advise you on how to proceed. Preparing in advance for a car accident is the best way to ensure you make the right decisions when one occurs.  If you have questions regarding a previous accident, feel free to reach out.  

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Tags: accident report, attorney, car accident, uninsured driver, vehicle

Categories: Accident

About the author: Mark Rater

Mark Rater is an attorney at Rater Law Office in Council Bluffs, Iowa. His primary areas of practice are personal injury, accidents, criminal, OWI/DUI and probate. Mark has extensive experience in civil and criminal jury trials and trials to the court. A graduate of Creighton University School of Law, Mark is licensed to practice in both Iowa and Nebraska and has served the residents of Council Bluffs, Omaha and the surrounding communities for over 30 years.