What to Do First After an Auto Accident?

Car accident

The moments after an auto accident can feel frantic and confusing. It can be hard to know what to do first. Follow this checklist to protect yourself, and your rights, and get the information you will need later if you end up filing a personal injury lawsuit to collect compensation for your injuries.

Step 1: Get to Safety

Pennsylvania law requires drivers involved in car crashes to stop immediately at the scene, or as close as safely possible. That means first thing after the crash, your top priority should be your own safety and the safety of passengers and the other drivers. You may need to pull off to the shoulder of the road. If your car cannot be moved safely, and you are worried about follow-on accidents (like when roads are icy), get out and move to shelter nearby to wait for emergency responders.

The state also requires drivers to reasonably assist anyone injured in an auto accident. That could include helping them away from their car, calling them an ambulance, or even driving them to the emergency room yourself (but make sure you talk to the police first and tell them where you are going and why).

Step 2: Call 911 and Wait for the Police

As soon as you are safe (or if you are unable to safely get out of your vehicle), your next step should be to call 911. Tell the dispatcher where you are as exactly as possible. Use intersections, mile markers, or landmarks to help emergency responders find you. If the accident is blocking traffic, involves injuries, or is creating a danger, let the dispatcher know that so they can call an ambulance or fire department as well as the police.

Anytime someone is injured, asking for help, or trapped in their vehicle, the dispatcher will send a police officer to the scene. The officers on the scene will investigate the accident. They will likely ask you what happened and try to determine who is at fault for the crash. You do not have to admit fault. However, you should cooperate with the officer, including providing your license, registration, and proof of insurance.

If no officer is sent, you are still required to report the accident to the police if it involved death or injury or if a vehicle was damaged to the point it could not be driven. However, you can wait to do that until after you leave the scene.

Step 3: Exchange Information with Others on the Scene

You and the other driver (or drivers) should exchange all relevant information. If there are police officers on the scene, they may facilitate the exchange of insurance information, but you don’t have to wait for them to get started. Ask everyone involved in the accident:

  • Their full names
  • Who owned the car they were in
  • Where they were sitting in the car (i.e. driver, front-seat passenger, rear passenger, pedestrian)
  • Their addresses, dates of birth, and driver’s license numbers
  • Their car license plate number and registration information
  • The VIN of the car (you can find this on the dashboard or inside the driver’s side door)

You should also quickly speak to anyone who witnessed the accident, including other drivers who stopped or pedestrians walking nearby. This is a great time to pull out your cell phone and take a quick video. Ask them:

  • Their names and contact information
  • What they saw
  • Details including the color of traffic lights and who hit whom

Witnesses’ memories of these accidents can change over time through no fault of their own. Your auto accident attorney can use that on-the-scene interviews to remind them what they saw and make them stronger witnesses for your case.

Step 4: Document Everything On the Scene

Before you leave the scene, use your cell phone to take pictures and videos of everything:

  • Injuries like cuts, bruises, and broken bones
  • Damage to vehicles, road barriers, landscaping, or other property
  • Weather conditions
  • Skid marks, tire tracks, or other proof of what happened

If it is safe to do so, try to take a picture of your own position at the time of the crash. As soon as you can after the crash, draw a diagram of the accident scene. Label streets and cars, and mark which way each vehicle was headed. This can help prove sight lines and help your lawyer understand what happened in the seconds before the crash.

Step 5: Seek Medical Assistance

Whether or not you need an ambulance, you should be seen by a medical professional after an auto accident. Be sure to report every bump and bruise after a crash. Shock and adrenaline can often mask serious injuries, including traumatic brain injury. Other injuries, like whiplash and back injuries, may not be apparent immediately after the crash. If you didn’t disclose the headache or dizziness felt at the scene, your insurance company may claim that your later serious injuries weren’t caused by the crash.

Step 6: Notify Your Insurance Company

Your car insurance policy probably contains a “cooperation clause” which requires you to disclose every accident, regardless of who is at fault. This doesn’t have to happen at the scene, or even at the hospital afterwards, but it should be done as soon as you reasonably can.

Your insurance company may ask you to write a statement about what happened or to describe your injuries. For many car crashes, this is when it is wise to get an auto accident attorney involved. If you complete this statement improperly or forget to include certain details, it could cause the insurance company to argue your injuries shouldn’t be covered and deny your claims.

Before you sign anything, sit down with an auto accident attorney to review you case, and your claim. At Berman & Associates, our experienced personal injury attorneys can help you from immediately after the auto accident, through the claim process, and in any lawsuit you have to file to collect personal injury damages. We will help gather the proof and file your claim, so you can get the compensation you need after a car crash. We welcome you to contact us to speak with us about how we can help with your auto accident case.

Categories: Personal Injury