Although getting in a car crash is not an everyday occurrence, it is far more common than you might think. According to the United States Department of Transportation’s (USDOT’s) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 25% of all drivers will be in some form of a car accident over any given five year period.
If you were in a car accident, you are certainly not alone. You are also not stupid, a bad driver or a horrible human being. The odds simply caught up with you.
But now you need to know what to do.
The problem is, when you look for answers online, almost all of the information you find is from insurance companies. For instance, I Googled “what to do if you are in a car accident?” and State Farm, All State, GEICO and Progressive dominated the search results.
Common sense tells us advice from an insurance company will be designed to protect their financial interests, not yours. Therefore, it’s very easy to find advice telling you to exchange information, call the police, and call your insurance company. However, since you are most likely not reading this from the scene of the crash, you need to know what to do to protect your interests, both in terms of your health and your finances.
Important Steps after a Car Accident
I have been a personal injury attorney for more than twenty years and I have talked with literally thousands of people in the same spot you are likely in right now. The following advice is practical, valuable and proven to be true, just ask anyone who has failed to take it.
1. Have the Proper Mindset.
First, you must accept the real possibility you might be hurt and you may incur financial and physical loss. And, if that’s the case, you have to be prepared to sue the driver of the vehicle that hit you.
Most people do not want to sue someone. However, justifiably suing someone is neither indecent nor improper. That is simply a myth insurance companies have spent billions of dollars creating.
Even though insurance companies encourage people to buy insurance in case they make a mistake, they want you to think you are a bad person if you attempt to cover your losses out of another person’s insurance. The simple fact is that most of the time you are not suing a person; you are suing an insurance company.
2. Don’t speak to anyone from the other side’s insurance company.
Following your accident, you will likely receive a call from a very kind and concerned insurance claims adjuster. The adjuster will advise you that he intends to fully compensate you for all of your loss. He will also ask you to give a recorded statement explaining what happened. Finally, he is likely to offer you a small quick settlement so you don’t need to be inconvenienced with a lawsuit.
This is merely a tested and tried strategy to compromise your claim. If you want to test this statement, tell the claims adjuster you want to speak with an attorney before signing anything and just wait for another side of that pleasant claims adjuster to come out.
3. Document everything.
Something you can do to help your case is to make notes of what happened. Take pictures of your car and the other car involved in the accident, if possible.
It is very disconcerting to get in an accident. It happens instantly and you typically are disoriented. Think about what happened and write it down as soon as you can.
4. Get checked out physically.
After car collisions, many people simply hope that the soreness they are feeling the next day will go away. You are probably used to aches and pains from playing sports or working out so you take some aspirin and tough it out. However, that is perhaps the worst thing you can do after an auto accident.
Perhaps the biggest challenge you will face in a car accident case is proving what injuries are related to the accident. To do this, you need a doctor’s opinion. A doctor is much more likely to relate your complaints to the wreck if there is a close relationship between the time of collision and onset of pain.
There is no benefit to having a “stiff upper lip” in this situation. You need to tell the doctor absolutely everything that is bothering you. If you don’t tell her about a pain for three months because you hope it will go away, it will be too late by then.
5. Contact a skilled personal injury attorney.
Even if you’re not sure if you have a case or even if you want to sue, you should contact a skilled car accident attorney to help you evaluate your options.
Don’t simply rely on a television commercial to do this. Get referrals and check qualifications. Here are some additional tips for choosing the right lawyer.
Be sure to meet with the potential attorney and see if you think he or she will be a good fit. Stay away from attorneys you are not comfortable with, who don’t listen or who don’t return your calls. You are going to spend the next year or so together and you want to make sure it will be a positive experience.
Hopefully, you will never be involved in a car accident. However, if you are reading this post, it is likely that you already have been. At this point, you need good, real-world practical advice on the steps to take to protect you and your family.
In following the few simple steps above, and following them quickly, you are taking control of a difficult and unpleasant situation. The sooner you act on the above, the quicker and better you will be able to put this behind you.
Image credit: Rian Castillo