Car accidents are harrowing experiences that often leave you rattled. Even minor fender benders can cause significant distress, especially those involving property damage or an injury.
The trauma is especially acute in the moments right after the incident. Ironically, these are precisely the times you need clarity to make good decisions that help your case or settlement. Consider nine factors to keep in mind for what to do immediately after a car accident.
1. Take a Moment To Calm Down
Making the right decisions requires a clear head. Doing that is easier said than done after a crash. You can take some practical steps to calm yourself and regain composure.
- Take deep breaths. Focus on your breathing and count to 10 to reduce any anxiety or fear from the incident. Breathing exercises can induce calm and a sense of control.
- Talk to someone. Briefly speaking with a friend or family member can help you process your emotions and come to terms with what happened. Remember to call someone who can calm you, not excite or agitate your feelings.
- Make a quick journal. A few quick notes about your thoughts and feelings can be a great release and clarify things. You will have to collect notes and evidence from others after the event anyway. There is nothing wrong with jotting or recording a few notes to yourself to recenter.
A few moments to recalibrate after an accident can put you in the right direction.
2. Check for Injuries
Before calling the authorities, take a moment to assess the condition of those in the area. Start with yourself and determine if it is safe for you to move. Look for signs of physical pain and pay attention to sensations in your body. The rush of adrenaline may mask feelings of discomfort.
If you are experiencing pain, stiffness or swelling, seek medical assistance immediately. From there, check if any passengers in your vehicle show signs of distress, such as complaining of a headache, neck pain, backaches or difficulty breathing. If you notice any of these signs, have the individuals examined by medical personnel.
Moving a person with severe spine or head injuries is dangerous. Before transferring an injured person, try to verify the extent of the wounds. Knowing the scope of the situation can help you provide better information and receive the right direction when you call for medical help.
3. Move to a Safer Location if Possible
New York law requires parties to stay at the scene of a serious accident until law enforcement clears them to leave. You do not want to travel too far from the crash site, but you should try to be in a location where you pose no danger to yourself or other travelers.
If your vehicle is on the road or dangerously close to pathways, do what you can to get on a shoulder or a nearby spot where you will not present a risk. Hazard lights, road flares or other reflective pieces can warn other drivers and alert them to move cautiously through the area.
If a fire starts or you sense any danger of a possible explosion, get a safe distance away from the vehicle. Help others to do so as well. Such a danger is one instance where it might be appropriate to transfer a person who is unconscious or suffering from another head, neck or back injury.
4. Call 911 if the Accident Is Serious
New York only requires those in an accident to call the authorities if a driver damaged the property of an unknown owner or if there is injury or death of a person or domestic animal. If all drivers can exchange necessary details and only property damage occurs, the parties do not have to call the police.
If the collision caused over $1,000 in damages, the Department of Motor Vehicles must receive a Report of Motor Vehicle Accident within 10 days from all involved drivers. Failure to do so can result in a suspended driver’s license.
However, those who experience an accident should not quickly assume there is no injury. Unless a person is sure that the incident was of low impact and no damage occurred, motorists may do well to err on the side of caution.
5. Exchange Contact Details With the Other Parties
New York City requires drivers to exchange the following information after a collision:
- Driver’s license information
- Insurance details
- Vehicle registration
Try to ascertain other helpful facts. A phone number, email address and even social media handles will help you contact the person again later.
Check for any inconsistencies or oddities. For example, if the insurance information does not match the car’s driver, see if you can determine the relationship between the driver and the owner. If the policy appears to be out of date, make a note of that but do not become confrontational with the other driver. Avoid conversation with a person who becomes belligerent.
Remain calm and agreeable. You will likely get more cooperation. Do not make any statements about fault or negligence. Such expressions could haunt you during a settlement negotiation or trial.
Also, try to get information from witnesses who saw the crash. Audio or video record their version of events. Get their names and a number or email address so you can contact them later.
6. Document the Scene
You can support any potential claims or liability regarding the incident with good information. Take photos of the scene from all angles. Get close-up images of any damages that occurred on your vehicle and the other one, if possible. Skid marks, debris and traffic signs, like stop signs or posted speed limits, can be helpful.
If you have a dashboard cam, remember to keep it activated for capturing footage. Ensure you have enough data on the memory card for the event.
Some insurance companies have apps that help you capture notes, images and videos after an accident. Carefully decide if you want to use such software. The companies likely have access to whatever you save and can use the information as evidence against you. By saving data to your own cloud or device, you can maintain control of your narrative.
7. Speak to an Attorney
Alert a competent car accident attorney about your situation. Lawyers, like the team at Cellino Law, may be able to remind you of evidence you need to collect or what to avoid saying to law enforcement or the insurance company. The firm will do a complimentary case review as soon as possible.
8. Contact the Insurance Company
Honesty with your insurance provider is vital, but you do not need to provide any more information than necessary. Carefully weighing your words can be a protection. Even something as simple as an apology can imply fault and complicate your case.
Avoid making assumptions about how you could have prevented the accident. Such statements could give your insurer grounds for denying coverage. As long as all communication with your insurer is factual and accurate, it can process your claim fairly.
9. Determine a Reliable Law Firm Before an Accident
Numerous law firms claim to be able to help accident victims. Still, few have the level of talent and experience as Cellino Law. The team at the firm represents over 60 years of practice and has won over $2 billion for clients. If you have a car accident case to settle, reach out to the team at Cellino Law for a free case evaluation.