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I Just Got In An Accident, What Do I Do?

Whether it's a fender-bender or a much more severe crash, car accidents can send you on an emotional rollercoaster. You need to stay focused and calm. You can get through this. Maximizing your efforts now will minimize stress later. Here are a few advisable things to do after an accident, if you're not totally out of it. If you wake up in the hospital, you will still need to do some damage control.

Don't leave the scene
Don't abandon the scene of an accident! Never leave unless it's okay to do so! If you leave the scene before the police arrive you may face serious criminal penalties, especially if somebody was killed or injured. Don't like the idea of getting slammed with a charge of being a hit-and-run driver? Stay there.

If it's just a fender-bender, you may be able to move the vehicles to the side of the road safely. If your car is totaled, that'll be a job for roadside assistance. If the traffic permits, set up flares near the wrecked vehicles to protect other motorists.

Under no circumstances do anything that isn't safe. You want to make things better, not worse.

Check on everyone Involved
You must check everybody involved for possible injury: all drivers, all passengers. Somebody may be in need of medical assistance, including you! Don't mindlessly stumble about assessing vehicle damage. First, see if everyone involved is okay. Get immediate care for the people in need of it. Remember, don't move people with back pain, neck pain, or anyone who's unconscious. Unless people are in grave danger, such as fire, calls for relocating them, wait until professional medical help arrives.

Contact the police
If the property damage is significant, and especially if the accident has resulted in somebody being killed or sustaining physical injuries, call the cops. Ask any responding officers for their names and badge numbers. Record those on paper or your phone, and request a police report.

Important tips:

If you are in any doubt, call the police.
Watch what you say. Don't say anything that sounds like you're admitting guilt.

Exchange info
Get names, driver's license info, license plate numbers, phone numbers, addresses of all drivers involved, along with their insurance information. Obtain the names and phone numbers of passengers, as well. Try your best to be cordial and cooperative with other drivers. They're likely to be just as bummed as you are.

Again, if anybody becomes hostile, or if you are in any doubt about your ability to handle the situation, call the police.

Now, about watching what you say. It's best not to apologize for anything. You might feel the automatic urge to do so, but remember, doing this at the scene may be an admission of legal liability. After an accident, your emotions might be out of control and judgment could be off. It's not always initially obvious who's at fault or what's to blame. Let the police sort that out.

Photographs help your insurance adjuster determine how much compensation you should receive for the damage to your car. They can also be useful in court. Take pictures of any damage to your vehicle as soon as possible after the accident. These can be compared to pictures of your car before the crash, showing the actual extent of the damage sustained.

Are there any witnesses?
If there are any witnesses, ask what they saw. Get their names and contact information, if possible. It's not a bad idea to ask locals if they've ever seen similar accidents in the same place. Perhaps it's an accident black-spot.

I'll refer to the above tip yet again: be careful what you say. Don't try to be a nice guy and admit guilt.

Inform your insurance company
This call might seem intimidating, but it's best to let your insurance company know you've been in an accident at your earliest convenience. Calling them from the scene can also be helpful as they will offer advice and try to assist you. Be cooperative with them and stay in good communication throughout the whole process. Tell them the truth about what happened and describe the extent of your injuries, if known. Ask medical professionals on the scene to explain what they have observed. If they won't, be sure to get this information at the hospital.

Be honest and explain the facts. You can get in an awful lot of trouble if these folks find out that you've lied. They may deny coverage for the accident. Make sure you get a copy of the police report!

Property damage
You should be able to get your insurance company's valuation of the damage to your vehicle. Remember, what they say isn't the end of the discussion. If you're not satisfied with your insurance company's evaluation of your vehicle, assertively inform the adjuster of your concerns, and get two separate repair estimates or replacement quotes. It's best to take your car to a professional dealership with mechanics trained and qualified to evaluate and repair your auto with certified parts. For example, if you drive an Audi, take it to an Audi dealership. Don't let insurers convince you to take it to a less expensive mechanic who truly doesn't know what's under the hood.

If the other driver is at fault, they are required to cover the costs of your auto repairs. They may try to do that on the cheap, so ensure that they get the repairs done professionally. Cutting corners here may cost you in the future with domino-effect problems popping up over time.

If you and the adjuster can't reach an agreement on your car's value, mediation or consulting an attorney is a good idea.

Track medical treatment
Document every appointment you have with any medical professionals, plus the results of check-ups and treatments of medications given. Getting a copy of medical reports will help you prove your expenses.

Don't shoot your mouth off
We'll say it again. Watch what you say! The only people you should be talking to about the accident are the police, your insurance company, and your attorney! If it's a representative of a different insurance company, ask them to call your attorney and/or insurer. Tell your lawyer or insurer about this.

Early settlement offers
Be wary of these! If you're offered an early settlement offer from an insurance company, be sure to confirm that your vehicle will be professionally repaired. Make sure any injuries have also been treated as it can take weeks or months for the full extent of these problems to surface.

Don't settle a claim until you are completely sure the insurance company will compensate you appropriately. Consult an attorney before you sign any settlement documents.

Hire an attorney
If you're trying to decide whether or not you need a lawyer, remember the best advice is always professional, experienced legal advice. It is always a good idea to consult an attorney, especially if anyone was injured in the accident. Whether you're maximizing your recovery or you're at fault and need defense, a lawyer can help.

Lawyers can be expensive, but many accident attorneys work on a contingency fee basis. Your lawyer only receives a payment if you receive a settlement or award.

Final word
An experience like this may have made you realize that some form of medical training could mean the difference between life and death. The American Red Cross runs some fantastic courses for training in First Aid, CPR and AED. If you've taken such a course, you might be able to save a life at an accident scene, maybe even your own. Check out their Course Finder to find a class in your area.