Here are 13 helpful tips from FindLaw.com, a leading online source of legal information, for what you should do immediately following an automobile accident:
1. Stay at the scene.
The cardinal rule for all car accidents is that you should never leave the scene until it is appropriate to do so. If you leave the scene of an accident, particularly if someone has been hurt or killed, you could face serious criminal penalties as a "hit-and-run" driver. However, if you are hit by another car in a deserted area, use caution in stopping and getting out of your vehicle. Some well-meaning motorists have been robbed or killed when they got out of their car after being bumped by another car in a deserted or unsafe area.
2. Check on all drivers and passengers.
Before assessing property damage, check to make sure that everyone else involved in the accident is OK. Get medical attention for anyone who needs it. If a person is unconscious or complains of neck or back pain, it is best not to move him or her until qualified medical personnel arrive.
3. Get back in your car.
If the accident occurred on a busy highway or freeway, be very cautious about standing or waiting outside your vehicle. If your vehicle is safe to re-enter, it may be best to wait there for further help. Standing or waiting outside your vehicle, especially at night or in poor weather conditions (icy or wet roads), could put you or your passengers at risk of further harm from passing vehicles.
4. Call the police.
Contact police, especially if the accident involves significant property damage, physical injury or death. Ask that a police report be filed in situations where law enforcement officers do arrive at the scene, and obtain the names and badge numbers of any responding officers.
5. Exchange information.
Talk to the drivers of any other vehicles involved in the accident. Get their names, phone numbers, addresses, drivers' license numbers, license plate numbers and basic insurance information. If there are passengers in any of the vehicles, obtain their names, telephone numbers and addresses as well. If a police report is filed, all this information should be available on the police report.
6. Don't apologize.
Do not apologize for anything at the scene and do not sign anything saying you are responsible for damages involved with the accident. If you jump out of your car and blurt out, "I'm so sorry I ran that red light! Is everyone OK?" you may back yourself into a corner in terms of legal liability for what happened. Immediately after an accident, the scene is chaotic and it might not be evident who was at fault, or who was more at fault, in causing the accident. Moreover, in many states, fault does not determine which insurer will pay for any loss. So try to keep your conscience in check, at least until things get sorted out, so that you don't admit guilt unintentionally or unnecessarily.
7. If you've been drinking .
If you've been drinking and you're involved in an accident, cooperate with police and be truthful about how many drinks you've actually had. Think twice about refusing to take a test to determine your blood alcohol content (BAC) at the time of the accident. You may refuse to take a chemical test (blood, breath, urine), but almost every state has a so-called "implied consent" law, and under such laws, a refusal can result in suspension of your driver's license from three months to a year. This is true even if you're eventually found not guilty of the current drunk driving charge.
8. Talk to witnesses.
Ask every witness what he or she saw and write it down. Get their names, telephone numbers or addresses, if possible. Whether the witnesses are residents of the area, businesspeople who work nearby, or passersby who were in the vicinity, try to talk to as many people as you can.
9. Inform your insurance company.
As soon as possible, tell your insurance company that you have been involved in an accident. Cooperate with your insurance company and tell them the truth about what happened and the extent of your injuries. If the insurance company finds out that you have lied to them about anything, you can get into serious trouble, not the least of which may be the denial of any coverage for the accident. Build support for your case when discussing the matter with your insurance company. Be able to explain to them the facts of the case in a clear manner.
10. 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. Having a written diary of this information will help you itemize your medical expenses and treatment for your insurer, your attorney and the court.
11. Take pictures.
Take photographs of any damage to your vehicle as soon as possible after the accident. Having photographic proof will help your insurance adjuster determine how much you should be compensated for the damages to your car, and may also assist your case in court, if needed. If you have pictures of your car from before the accident, these pictures will offer a great "compare and contrast" to show the true extent of the damage sustained in the accident.
12. Get a property damage valuation.
Obtain a valuation for damages to your car from your insurance company. If you are not satisfied with the manner in which your insurance company has valued your vehicle, do not give up. Get two estimates for the repair of your car on your own, or have two dealers provide a quote for the cost of replacing your vehicle if there was a total loss.
13. Use caution in discussing the incident.
Do not talk to anyone about the accident other than your attorney, your insurance company and the police. Do not talk to a representative of another insurance company under any circumstances, without the knowledge of your attorney or your insurance company. If representatives from other insurance companies should call you, be polite, but ask them to call your attorney or insurance company to arrange for an interview. Also, get the representative's name and number, and tell your insurance company or attorney that someone seeking information about your accident contacted you. For more information about what to do in the event of a motor vehicle accident, visit FindLaw.com.