Even though you may be in a state of panic, there are important things to do to make sure you are safe, and that your rights are protected.
Do not leave the Scene
Never leave the accident scene until you have been instructed it is ok, especially when there are injuries or someone was killed. For one, there are criminal penalties for being a hit-and-run driver. Also, you yourself may be injured and not realize how bad.
Check the physical health of all people in the accident
Check the people in your car first, and then check the drivers in other vehicles. Get medical attention for anyone who needs it, but if a person is unconscious or has neck or back pain, do not move them – that is the job of medical specialists. The only reason to move them is for safety (gas leak, etc.).
Call the Police/911
Call the police or 911 if there is significant property damage, physical injury, or death. If you are not sure, err on the side of caution and call. Be sure to ask that a police report is filed in situations and obtain the name and badge numbers of the responding officers.
Exchange Information with the other drivers
Get the names, numbers, addresses, drivers' license numbers, license plate numbers, and basic insurance information from all drivers involved. If there are passengers, also obtain their names, numbers, and addresses. In talking to other drivers, there is no reason to be callous or rude – it can only escalate.
IMPORTANT: You should be nice, but you should not apologize for anything at the scene. For example, if you were to say, "I'm so sorry I hit you," it can be used against you later, and may directly affect your ability to recover. Immediately after an accident, it might not be clear who was at fault or more at fault. Moreover, in many states, fault isn't determinative of which insurer will pay for any loss. Therefore, try not to admit guilt unintentionally or unnecessarily.
Talk to Witnesses
Ask every witness what he or she saw. Get their names, numbers, or addresses, if possible. Ask locals if they've ever witnessed other accidents in the same place. Write this info down, or record it on your phone. This is info that will help you later.
Take photographs of any damage to your vehicle as soon as possible after the accident. Photos helps your insurance adjuster determine how much you should be compensated for the damage to your car and can help in court. Pictures of your car before the accident can offer a great "compare and contrast" to show the true extent of the damage sustained in the accident.
Inform Your Insurance Company
Promptly tell your insurance company you've been in an accident. Cooperate with them and tell them the truth about what happened and the extent of your injuries. Explain the facts clearly. If the insurance company finds out that you've lied to them about anything, you can get into serious trouble, including possible denial of coverage for the accident. Obtain and review any police report filed, so you can point out who broke what traffic laws or who was at fault.
Seek Medical Treatment
If you are injured, or may be injured, it is important to seek medical advice as soon as possible. Car accident injuries may not be immediately obvious, and may be far more dangerous than is obvious. For this reason, it is important to seek medical treatment and get a formal diagnosis. Also, it is especially important in Florida, where PIP law requires you to have received medical treatment within 14 days of your car accident in order to be eligible for insurance compensation. Broward Outpatient Medical Center offers a FREE Medical Consultation, so contact us today to get started.
Keep Track of Your Medical Treatment
Note any doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors, or other medical professionals that you receive treatment from, and each medical provider that referred you to other caregivers. Keep a detailed account of the treatments or medications you receive. Also, request copies of all medical reports and bills as these help you prove your medical expenses later. At BOMC, we do this through our Patient Information Request form.
Medical expenses are relatively easy to document, but pain and suffering trickier to prove. Keep a record of how your injuries have impacted your daily life. Include any missed workdays, list any routine activities you can't undertake, and describe how the injuries have affected your family life.
Get a Property Damage Valuation
Obtain your insurance company's damage valuation. If you aren't satisfied with how your insurance company has valued your vehicle, don't give up. Get two independent repair estimates or replacement quotes. Assertively inform the adjuster of your concerns. If you can't agree on your car's value, consider mediation or consult an attorney.
Use Caution in Discussing the Incident
Don't talk to anyone about the accident other than your lawyer, your doctor, your insurance company, and the police. Don't talk to a representative of another insurance company, without the knowledge of your attorney or insurer. If called by the other insurance company, be polite, but ask them to call your attorney or insurer to arrange an interview. Also, tell your lawyer or insurer about the call.
Be Wary of Early Settlement Offers
Be careful if you're offered a settlement from an insurance company. Confirm all your physical injuries have been treated. Some injuries don't show up or reach their greatest level of discomfort until many days, weeks, or months later. Don't settle a claim until you know you'll be compensated for all your injuries, and consult an attorney before signing any settlement documents.
Hire an Attorney
If anyone was injured in the accident, it's best to consult an experienced attorney. An attorney can help you maximize your recovery if you're injured or better defend yourself if you're at fault. Most accident attorneys work on a contingency fee basis. That means that your lawyer only receives a fee if you're awarded damages or receive a settlement. Contact an experienced attorney now for a free claim review.