Emotions run high during a car accident. Drivers are concerned with whether they are injured, how the other driver fared and how extensive the damage is to their own cars. For minor car accidents where no one has been seriously injured, there area few pointers we can offer about what to do in the moments immediately following the collision. Assuming you and everyone involved in the accident is unscathed, try to keep the following in mind as you proceed after the wreck.
- Try your best to maintain a calm demeanor. Hysteria breeds hysteria. If you are able, exude an attitude of tranquility and concern over others. The very first primary concern must be everyone’s safety. As everyone emerges from the car, take inventory of any serious lacerations or trauma before calling for help. If you act panic-stricken, it will spread like wildfire to everyone else on the scene.
- Alert the police and request EMT services if necessary. Even the smallest fender bender should involve the police. A detailed police report is necessary for insurance claims and any future litigation. Plus, a police officer is well-trained in dealing with high-stress situations and will be able to offer everyone involved the reassurance they need.
- Quietly observe the demeanors of all other involved drivers. Do you sense intoxication or smell illicit drug use? Make a note of it privately and be sure to inform your attorney of your suspicions at the first meeting. Just because the police did not pick up on evidence of DUI doesn’t mean it wasn’t present at the time of the accident. Driving under the influence is negligent in all 50 states so make a note of it if you suspect it.
- Be mindful of what you say and to whom you say it. Never discuss matters of fault or liability on an accident scene. Unfortunately, many people involved in accidents have had open conversations about what happened at the scene with the other driver only to find those statements used against them in a subsequent lawsuit. Your small talk may seem harmless, but it can be used against you later. Even when talking with police, do not be quick to admit guilt upon yourself.
- Retain all contact information for everyone involved. This includes witnesses and even passengers in other cars. You should ask for names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and all insurance information; and be willing to supply the same. Write down everyone’s license plate number and state of origin. Ask for everyone’s vehicle identification number (VIN) if possible as well.
- NEVER offer to assist anyone with medical expenses or settle quickly. Even if you are pretty sure the entire accident was caused by you, offering to pay medical expenses does nothing for you but enhance your likelihood of liability. There will be plenty of time after the accident to sort out all the damages and injuries. Most states do not allow evidence to be admitted that someone offered to pay medical expenses, but some states allow evidence of settlement offers to prove culpability. Don’t put yourself in this situation.
- Take pictures with your cellular phone or camera. The more evidence you can gather right at the scene, the better. Be sure to turn on the time stamp function and include enough background in your pictures to withstand any cross-examinations as to identification. Also make note of weather and road conditions.
- Do not repair your car until the insurance company has investigated the damages. Leave it in its original, post-accident condition.