Unfortunately, car accidents are an almost inevitable part of life. The insurance industry has determined that on average, Americans are involved in a motor vehicle accident once every eighteen years. This means that if you are fortunate enough to live into your eighties, you will probably be involved in roughly four accidents throughout your lifetime. If you drive more than the average person, travel a lot at night or during rush hour, or live in a large city, your chances of being in a car crash only go up. But despite the prevalence of automobile accidents in our world today, many of us remain clueless regarding what to do if we are involved in an accident. By knowing what to do in advance, you will be better prepared in the unfortunate event you are in an accident.
- Remain Calm and Take Inventory of the Situation
Accidents happen! Even if the accident is your fault, you aren’t the first person to make a mistake while driving. If the accident wasn’t your fault, don’t make the situation worse than it is by overreacting and doing something you may later regret. If you are seriously hurt, do not try to move or leave the vehicle; unless staying in the vehicle would be more dangerous than attempting to leave (for example, if your car is on fire). Remain calm and activate your four-way hazard lights. Move your vehicle out of the way of traffic if it is safe and possible to do so. Most importantly, do not leave the scene of the accident until the police have arrived and concluded their investigation. If the other party attempts to leave the scene of the accident, do not chase them. Try to take a picture of their vehicle and license plate if you can do so safely. But avoid a high-speed pursuit which could likely cause additional accidents.
- Contact the Police
Even if your accident is very minor, call the police. Having an accurate police report makes it easier for the insurance carriers to process your claim. A police report is also an important tool you can use to verify your version of the events. It is not uncommon for people to change their recollection as to how the accident occurred after the scene has been cleared. Having an accurate and complete police report will help add credibility to your version of the events and make it less likely you will be involved in a liability dispute with the other party or their insurance carrier.
- Make Your Record
There are several ways you can preserve the evidence that you may need later. First, be accurate, clear, and thorough when speaking with the police officer who is investigating your accident. Don’t forget to tell the officer if you were hurt and how you were hurt. Second, take pictures! Take pictures of your vehicle, the other party’s vehicle(s), and the scene in general, including any potential roadway hazards. If you are visibly injured, take pictures of yourself where you are injured. Finally, call your insurance company that same day, or as soon as possible. Relay all the details of the accident and your condition to the claims adjuster. Failure to report your accident in a timely manner can result in unnecessary delays in processing your claim; or in some cases, outright denial of your claim.
- Go to the Hospital or Doctor Immediately
If you are injured in the accident, it is imperative that you treat with a healthcare professional as soon as possible. Even if you only have a slight neck pain or a minor backache, your injuries should be documented as soon as possible. It is common for neck and back injuries to not completely manifest in their full severity until many days or weeks after an accident. If you don’t go to the emergency room or doctor’s office right away, you could have a difficult time convincing the insurance company that your injuries occurred as a result of the accident. If an ambulance is offered, go with the ambulance crew to the emergency room. In Pennsylvania, your own automobile insurance carrier provides you with medical expense coverage of at least $5,000 or more. So, if you have valid Pennsylvania auto insurance, the ambulance ride and hospital visit necessitated by the accident should not come out of your pocket. Never decline a much-needed trip to the hospital because you are concerned you will be billed for it. Your health is important. It is much better to be cautious and get checked out than ignore your pain and have more problems later.
- Contact an Attorney Who Handles Personal Injury and Property Damage Claims
If you were injured in an accident or suffered a property loss which insurance won’t adequately cover, you need experienced legal counsel. Fortunately, personal injury attorneys typically handle their cases on a contingency fee basis, meaning the client does not have to pay their attorney out-of-pocket. It is critical to contact an attorney to review your case before speaking with the other party’s insurance company. All too often well-meaning people who feel they have nothing to hide speak to the other party’s insurance adjuster and inadvertently say something that harms their case. Don’t make an unfortunate situation worse by unknowingly compromising your legal rights. Talk to an attorney first.