At the scene of a car crash you’re often dazed and confused, and it can be hard to think straight. Mounting a successful legal claim in the future is probably the last thing on your mind.
The most important thing to remember is to “document” everything you can. What I mean by documenting everything is to make sure you collect as much information as you can at the scene.
Here are 7 steps our team at the Gilbert Law Firm recommends that you take that will help you make sure you get all the assistance that you need, and that you’re documenting important information at the scene.
1. CALL FOR ASSISTANCE
If you’re able, call for emergency assistance. The police and emergency medical personnel may assess whether they need to come to the scene, and it does take them a few minutes to arrive, so contacting the police should be one of the first things you do.
After you call the police, you may want to call a loved one, so they can come and assist you, if needed.
2. EXCHANGE INFORMATION
Always communicate with the other driver or drivers involved in the accident to get their name and insurance information. Sometimes the police do not come to the scene of a crash, because they are busy on other calls.
If the police are unable to come to the scene, YOU will need to get all the basic information.
You will want the following information:
- The name of the other driver (if possible, get their full name and date of birth off their driver’s license)
- Their insurance card information (you can take a photo of their insurance card to save you time writing)
- Their vehicle registration (again, you can take a photo, although sometimes the owner of the vehicle on the registration is not the same person that was driving)
Getting this basic information about the other driver and the vehicle can be very important for your attorney later, to get you full compensation.
As lawyers, we rely on your ability to get relevant information at the scene. We don’t have a magic database or crystal ball to tell us the identity of the person that hit you, or who owned the vehicle.
So if the police are not coming to document this information, it’s your responsibility.
3. TAKE PHOTOS
If safe to do so, take pictures of the scene immediately after the crash and before the vehicles are moved.
Here are some of the most important things to take pictures of:
- Vehicles: Getting photos of the vehicles at the location where they came to rest can be helpful if an accident reconstruction is needed later. However, if safety is a concern, it’s okay to move your vehicle to a safe place before taking photos. We certainly don’t want you to be injured further by a passing vehicle
- Damage: If possible, take photos of your vehicle’s damage as well as the other person’s vehicle. Sometimes, the damage to the other car is easier to see than the damage to your vehicle. This can be because many vehicles are now manufactured in a way that the “damage” is not always readily apparent without taking fenders or bumpers off, so don’t worry about whether the photos look “bad” or “good” for your case. Just focus on taking as many as you believe accurately shows the damage
- The environment: Take photos of the crash scene. What type of intersection was it? Was there any obstruction in the roadway? Was it difficult to see traffic because of bushes or road design? Are there skid marks, debris from the vehicles still in the roadway, or road conditions you think may be important like snow or rain? Take photos of any relevant signs or stop lights.
- Injuries: Finally, take pictures of any injuries you or anyone else in your vehicle received. Although this isn’t required, you can also take a photo of the other driver or occupants if they look injured, with their consent. The general idea here is that you’re documenting everything you can at the time.
4. WRITE DOWN STATEMENTS
If the other driver or occupants of the other vehicle make any comments to you at the scene, write them down while they are still fresh. It can be very hard to remember exactly what was said months or years later.
Sometimes, admissions of liability are made, or “over the top” behavior is exhibited by the other driver. Your lawyer may want to address these statements later with the adjuster or defense attorney.
Likewise, jurors want to know what it was like for you to go through the event, so if the other driver is a jerk, the jury will consider that when deciding your case value.
5. FILE A CRASH REPORT OR POLICE REPORT
If the police do not come on scene, after receiving emergency medical care, you may need to complete an accident report yourself and file it.
While it’s important to take care of your immediate medical needs first, you’ll want to make sure to file the report within two days of the accident.
Dealing with the police can be stressful sometimes, so here are a few tips on filing a police report from our team at Gilbert Law Firm:
- Share your notes: If you are completing the report, all the information you took down at the scene will be extremely helpful. To the best of your ability, go ahead and fill in the facts of the crash. Identify where you were, where the other car was prior to impact, and how the crash happened.
- Be cooperative: If the police do come to the scene, be cooperative and answer the officer’s questions to the best of your ability. It’s not a good idea to yell, throw a fit, or call the police or other driver names.
- Don’t say “I’m okay” if you’re really not. When you’ve had a traumatic experience, it can be hard to fully relay exactly how you’re doing. If you aren’t sure how you’re doing, or feel some confusion, it’s okay to say you don’t know how you are. Don’t say “I’m fine,” “I’m not hurt at all,” or “I’m okay,” when you’re really not. As humans we want everything to be okay, so it’s almost instinctive when talking to a police officer right after the crash, to say you’re doing okay and you’re not hurt. If you do say something like that, and then start to feel pain, muscle tightening or headache setting in, let the officer know. If you start to feel bad, tell the officer that you’re going to have someone take you to the ER.
6. IF NECESSARY, GET MEDICAL CARE
If you’ve been injured, or worried you might have been injured, go to the Emergency Room. No one likes going to the ER, but you’ve just been in a traumatic event, so it’s important to get checked out.
If you think you’re really fine, you should at least follow up with your primary care doctor the following day. It’s important to get your medical condition documented as soon as you can after a crash. Insurers love it when plaintiffs wait several days before going to the doctor, as it gives them an opportunity to argue your symptoms couldn’t have been that bad, or that there was some other intervening event that “caused” your injury.
Head trauma is common in car accidents, so you may have sustained a concussion. Because of the violent whipping of your head back and forth in a crash, your brain is thrown forward and back against the inside of your skull. This can actually cause post-concussive symptoms such as light or sound sensitivity, vomiting, nausea, visual changes, slowed mental processes, or the tendency to be easily angered. You do not have to have sustained a direct blow to your head, and you do not have to lose consciousness for your brain to be injured.
While this blog post is not directly focused on head injuries, I mention the above because it is important that you monitor your mental function and note anything odd or unusual after a crash.
Monitor your symptoms and the symptoms of anyone in your vehicle. If you or an occupant start to experience any difficulties, follow up with your doctor right away.
7. HIRE A WASHINGTON CAR ACCIDENT LAWYER
Lastly, it’s important that you contact a lawyer if you are experiencing any symptoms.
Luckily, Gilbert Law Firm is here to help. Whether you bring a claim or not for an injury, you can at least obtain general information regarding the claims process, and have a meaningful discussion on whether hiring an attorney may be needed in your case. Contact us to schedule a free consultation today.