What To Do If You Are in a Car Accident

Almost all of us will be involved in a car accident sometime in our lives.  Following are tips for what to do if this happens to you:

Get Help

If anyone is injured in the accident, make sure the police and emergency medical services have been called.  Immediate medical care after an injury is critical.  If there is a fire tell the police.

Do not move an injured person unless they are in a burning vehicle or they are in danger of being hit by traffic.  Moving an injured person can make their injuries worse.

Apply pressure directly to wounds to stop or slow bleeding.  Cover an injured person with a blanket or coat to keep them warm.

Exchange Information

In any accident, even if you think there is no damage or injury, get the names and addresses of all other people involved in the collision, as well as any witnesses.

In addition to the names and addresses, get the driver license number, vehicle information including license plate, make, model and year of the vehicle, and insurance company name and policy number from all other drivers involved in the accident.

Record or take photographs of any damage to the vehicles involved in the collision.

Do Not Discuss Fault

To avoid any arguments or confrontations at the scene, do not blame the other driver even if they were clearly at fault.  But if the other driver admits the collision was their fault, make a mental note and then as soon as you can after you leave the scene write down as precisely as you can what you remember them saying.

Do not admit fault yourself even if you feel you may have been partially at fault for the accident.  There may be factors about which you don’t know that played a role in the collision.  Deciding fault can sometimes be complex depending on the facts and the laws that apply to the facts.

File An Accident Report Or Make An Accident Note

In Washington, if a collision results in an injury, death, or property damage of $700 or more to any one person’s property and a report is not made by the police, you must report it to the Washington Department of Transportation on their form within four days.  You can get the form at:

http://www.wsp.wa.gov/publications/forms/345161_Civilian_Motor_Vehicle_Collision_Report_empowered.pdf

You should also either keep a copy of the accident report you file or write a note to yourself after the accident that includes all the information you gathered and can remember while it is still fresh in your mind.  In your note, explain how the accident happened as best as you can.  You might also want to draw a sketch or diagram of the collision.  Sometimes it can take months or years for insurance companies to fully resolve all claims from a collision.

Call Your Insurance Agent

All insurance policies require you to promptly notify your insurance company if you have been in a collision.  Failing to do so can result in them denying your claim.

Ask your insurance agent about the benefits available to you under your own policy.  You may have coverage for the cost to repair your car, the cost of a rental car, and your wage loss and medical bills.

The insurance company for the driver responsible for your injuries is not under any legal obligation to pay your bills as they are incurred.  They will only pay your bills and other expenses when your case is settled.  You may have Personal Injury Protection (PIP) or medical payments benefits available to you that can be used while you wait to settle your claim with the other driver.

Get Medical Care And Follow Your Doctor’s Advice

If you think you may have been injured in an automobile accident, you should get medical care as soon as possible.  A failure to seek medical care and follow your doctor’s advice can hurt your claim.

If you have PIP or medical payments coverage under an automobile policy, the insurance company may use any delay by you in seeking medical care to argue that your injuries arose from something that happened after the accident.  If you end up suing the other driver, they may make the same argument.

If you do not have PIP or med pay coverage to pay your medical bills, or if you do but use up all the benefits available, most health insurance carriers will pay your accident-related treatment subject to the conditions of your health insurance policy.

Even if you do not have any insurance available to pay your bills, some health care providers may agree to treat you and then wait until your case settles to be paid.  They will usually file a “lien” against your settlement to ensure they will be paid out of the settlement proceeds at the end of your case.

Cooperate With Your Own Insurance Company

Refusing to cooperate with your own insurance company can cause you to lose benefits.  They may want to record your report of how the accident occurred.  They may also want to inspect your car and speak with your health care providers.

But do not sign documents or give recorded or written statements to the other driver or their insurance company without first seeking legal advice.  Doing so could cause you to lose valuable rights or benefits.

Consider Hiring An Attorney

If you have been injured or if you become involved in a dispute with the insurance company a lawyer can help.  Injury and insurance law is complex.  Insurance companies are experienced in dealing with these issues, but you probably are not.

The initial consultation should be free.  You can use this meeting to learn your rights, have the process explained, and then make your own decision as to whether you need an attorney.  If you do decide to retain an attorney, most personal injury attorneys will handle your case on a contingency fee basis.  This means that you do not have to pay the attorney anything up front, they will take their fee only if they are successful in obtaining a recovery for you from the other driver, the “contingency” part of the fee.  The standard contingency fee is one-third of the total amount the attorney obtains for you.