By their very nature, car accidents happen without warning. And whether they’re major or minor, they’re always jarring. The spontaneity is exactly why you need to know what to do if you get into an accident.
Knowing what to do if you find yourself in a fender bender or a wreck impacts what happens next. It could even change the course of your life.
Whether you’re a novice or experienced driver, knowing what to do and who to call in case of an accident is critical. You can use this car accident checklist to make sure you’re prepared for what comes next.
Immediately After an Accident
Not all car accidents are created equal. Some are irritating, and others are life-changing. That’s why it’s so difficult to create a comprehensive accident checklist for the immediate aftermath of the crash.
However, there are some rules that everyone should follow if they’re physically able to.
Stop the Car and Check for Injuries and Damage
The first thing you must do is stop the car and, if possible, pull over somewhere safe. You should then switch the engine off and turn your hazard lights on to let nearby traffic know you’re immobilized. Remember: failing to stop after an accident is a crime.
Once stopped safely, check yourself and your passengers for potential injuries. If someone is hurt, call the ambulance, even if it seems minor at the moment.
If and when you’re able and it is safe, you can then get out of the car and examine your car for damage. If you can find your phone, use it to take pictures of your car and the area where the accident happened.
Exchange Details with the Driver and Talk to Witnesses
You also need to meet with the other driver, if they’re also uninjured. At a minimum, you will exchange details, including insurance information.
If anyone else stopped to help after witnessing the accident, talk to them, too. Get their names and contact details in case you need them later.
When speaking to the other driver, do not apologize or admit fault – even if you believe you caused the accident. Although it may seem like the right thing to do, it can complicate your insurance claim later or even cause legal problems for you.
Call the Police
In the event that the accident is serious, there is an injury, or you have reason to believe the other driver is operating their car illegally (either under the influence or without a license), then you need to call the police.
It’s true that not all accidents require a phone call to 911. Some states have rules stating that only accidents that cause a certain amount of physical damage require police attendance. However, calling the police can be important for any insurance claims you make. Insurance adjusters use police reports to process claims.
Again, do not apologize or admit fault to the police. It will be entered into your case file, and your insurance adjuster could use it as an excuse to deny your claim.
24 Hours After the Accident
Twenty-four hours later, you’ll be away from the scene of the accident and ideally resting comfortably at home.
What do you do now? Here’s what happens next.
See a Doctor (if You Haven’t Already)
If you didn’t see a doctor or chiropractor on the day of the accident, now is the time. The stress and adrenaline of the accident may have hidden any injuries you experienced. If you wake up the next day feeling sore or stiff, go see a doctor or another medical professional.
Waiting more than 48 hours after the accident can suggest that your injuries were the product of another event. It can result in a rejected insurance claim and stamp out any hope of a personal injury settlement.
Most people won’t submit any claims immediately after arriving home. However, you do need to start preparing yourself soon. To do so, you need to gather all the documentation surrounding the accident.
Find the pictures you took on the day of the accident (if available) and request a copy of the accident report from the precinct. You’ll also need the information you got from the other driver and any witnesses.
Call an Attorney (if Injured)
If you’re injured in the accident, you may find it helpful to call a car accident attorney before calling your insurer.
An attorney can guide you towards making the most of your insurance claim and give you advice as you move through the process. Asking for advice early will also help you with a personal injury claim if you need to make one.
Call Your Insurer
Your next step is to call your insurance agent. Don’t call your insurer directly.
Your local agent can walk you through the claims process and tell you what to expect. They’ll let you know what information you’ll need, where to send it, and how quickly things will happen.
Some insurers suggest calling your agent from the scene rather than when you get home. This may be the right option in some circumstances but only do so if it is safe.
One Week After the Accident
Most of the big events related to an accident happen in the first 24 hours, but if you were injured, then you still have work to do.
It’s vital that you attend all follow-up appointments and take any prescribed remedy offered. Don’t skip out on medication or physical therapy exercises. If you do, you could limit your opportunity for a personal injury claim.
Additionally, you may still be working with your insurer and their adjuster at this time. You can help speed up the claim by providing them with the relevant details in a timely manner.
Keep This Car Accident Checklist Handy
Although we all hope it never happens, you never know when you might get into a car accident. But knowing what to do after it happens can save you a lot of headaches in the days and weeks to come.
To save time and prevent missteps, keep this car accident checklist with your insurance documents so that it’s readily available in the event you find yourself colliding with another vehicle.
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