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An accident can be stressful, but knowing what to do next can make things easier. These six simple tips are the same recommendations the award-winning attorneys at Console and Associates P.C. give our own family and friends after a car accident. Following these steps can help you start getting your life back on track sooner.
1. Keep calm.
Even a minor accident can send you into shock and get your adrenaline pumping. No matter how serious the injury is, try not to panic.
Take a deep breath. Assess the situation. Are you hurt? Is someone else?
Now it’s time to take the first step…
2. Call 911.
Whenever an accident happens, you should always call 911.
I know that many car accident victims are tempted not to call the police. When the property damage seems minimal and no one is so badly hurt that they need to rush to the emergency room, you might think that calling 911 is making the crash a bigger deal than it really needs to be. But that’s not true.
Just because the extent of the damage isn’t obvious right now doesn’t mean that there was no damage. In my two decades of handling accident cases, I’ve talked to countless victims who regret not calling the police.
Sometimes they are able to fix their mistake by reporting the accident after the fact. Other times, though, they also failed to gather important information from the person who caused the injury.
Without knowing the true identity of the driver, his or her contact information, or his or her insurance information, an accident victim might not have enough facts to file a police report. There’s no proof that the other driver caused the collision – or that another driver was even involved. If it turns out that the victim had suffered injuries more severe than few aches and pains, or that the damage under the hood or bumper was more serious than it appeared, the victim is out of luck.
So whatever you do, don’t let the other driver stop you from contacting the authorities. Calling 911 isn’t about getting the other driver in trouble, and it’s not a waste of time. It serves a number of purposes that could be important later, if it turns out that you need to make a claim. These include:
3. Gather Information.
While you’re waiting for the police to arrive, gather the information you will need as you deal with this accident.
Start with the other driver. You will need their name, address, vehicle, and insurance information. You can get these facts from an auto insurance card and a driver’s license. Note down the details on a piece of paper, or take a photo with your phone. You need to make sure you have information like the driver’s insurance company and policy number.
If there were any witnesses, collect their information, too. You want to get not only names and contact information, but their accounts of what they witnessed. After all, the collision doesn’t affect them personally. Their memories of what happened could fade long before you’re done dealing with the consequences of the crash.
If you have a smartphone or access to a camera, take some photos of the accident scene, the positions of the vehicles, and the damage they sustained.
4. Get medical care.
If your injuries are serious enough to require immediate attention, don’t be afraid to go to the emergency room. You’re not being neurotic or overanxious by doing so. You were involved in the kind of accident that can cause real and severe injuries. Getting checked out right away isn’t overcautious – it’s smart.
If it turns out you’re not badly hurt, you have peace of mind. And if your injuries are serious, just think how much worse they might become if you had waited days before you finally sought help.
Even if you don’t need emergency care, you should still get checked out. Call your primary physician for an appointment, but don’t be surprised if he or she won’t treat you. Many family doctors’ offices don’t have the necessary staff or procedures in place to handle the complexities of billing auto insurance companies.
If your doctor can’t help you, ask if he or she can refer you to a physician who does see accident victims – preferably one who accepts any health insurance policy you may have as well as billing auto insurers.
5. Notify your insurance company.
An insurance company isn’t on your side. It’s never a good idea to give any insurer, even your own, more information about the crash than necessary. But you do have to report the collision to your own auto insurance company to set up your medical claim.
Because New Jersey and Pennsylvania are no-fault states, your own auto insurance company will be the one paying your medical bills – with your help, of course. So you need to let your insurer know that the accident happened and that you intend to seek medical treatment. This way, the insurer can open a claim for you and provide you with a claim number to give to your doctors.
Don’t go into too much detail about the crash at this time. For that matter, you don’t even have to say where you are injured, and you certainly shouldn’t try to guess what is wrong. Leave the medical diagnosis to your doctors, and focus on just getting a medical claim opened. There will be plenty of time later for your attorney – not you personally – to discuss the details of the accident with your insurance company.
6. Call an accident lawyer.
Think you don’t need a lawyer? So did many of the thousands of clients my firm has helped – at first, anyway.
Soon enough, they realized that they were really hurt, or that the medical bills they had to pay were really cutting into their families’ finances. For some, missing work and losing income was a wake up call, while others got tired of the frustrating process of dealing with insurers and filling out endless piles of paperwork.
Ultimately, if your injuries were serious enough to affect your life, it’s worth making a call to an accident lawyer. It will never cost you anything to learn what rights you have, get your questions answered, and find out all of the ways an attorney can help you.
For more help, check out our do’s and don’ts after a car accident.