At the scene you’re often dazed and confused, so it can be hard to think straight. 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.
CALL—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.
EXCHANGE INFORMATION—always 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 name of the other driver, and if possible, get their full name and date of birth off their driver’s license. You will want to see their insurance card information. You can take a photo of their insurance card to save you time writing. See if you can get a photo of the vehicle registration. 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. So, if the police are not coming to document this information for you, you MUST do it. 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.
PHOTOS— if safe to do so, take pictures of the scene immediately after the crash and prior to vehicles being moved. 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 sustaining further injury by a passing vehicle.
Take photos of your vehicle damage, AND take photos of the other person’s vehicle. Sometimes, the damage to the other car is easier to see than the damage to your vehicle. Often 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 you case. Rather, just take them, take as many as you believe accurately shows the damage.
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 the in roadway, or road conditions you think may be important (snow/rain etc…)? Take photos of any relevant signs or stop lights. While not required, take a photo of the other driver or occupants if they look injured. The general idea here is that you’re documenting everything you can at the time.
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’s very hard to remember exactly what was said months and years later. Sometimes, admissions of liability are made, or “over the top” behavior is exhibited by the other driver, and your lawyer may want to address that 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.
CRASH REPORT OR POLICE REPORT—you may need to complete one yourself. If the police do not come on scene, after receiving emergent medical care, you will want to complete an accident report yourself and file it. Don’t wait too long, but do take care of your immediate medical needs first (File the report w/in 2 days of the crash). 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.
If the Police come on scene be cooperative, and answer the officer’s questions to the best of your ability. Do NOT yell, fit throw or call the police or other driver names. 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.
Do not say “I’m fine…not hurt at all…or I’m okay” when you’re 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. I
f 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.
EMERGENCY ROOM—go to the ER. No one likes to go 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 plaintiff’s 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—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 you post concussive symptoms such as light or sound sensitivity, vomiting, nausea, visual changes, slowed mental process or cause you to get 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 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.
If you monitor your symptoms and the symptoms of anyone in your vehicle, then if you or an occupant start to experience any difficulties, follow up with your doctor right away.
Lastly, it’s recommended that you contact a lawyer if you are having any symptoms. 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.