Car accidents happen all the time. In fact, according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are roughly 6 million car accidents every year in the United States alone. With so many accidents happening, it’s very possible you’ll be involved in one at some point.
When a car accident happens, it can be a very stressful and confusing time. You may be worried about injuries, dealing with insurance companies, figuring out what to do with your vehicle, and more. The moments and days after an accident can be overwhelming for anyone.
The goal of this article is to help you avoid some common mistakes people make after a car accident. By being aware of these errors and following the right steps, you can protect yourself, get fair compensation if it’s deserved, and try to recover from the accident as smoothly as possible.
Mistake #1: Leaving the Scene of the Accident
One big mistake many drivers make is leaving the scene of the car accident, even when the accident seems very minor with no injuries. Fleeing the scene of an accident is illegal in most cases and can get you into serious trouble.
There are limited exceptions when it may be appropriate to leave the scene, such as moving out of dangerous traffic or searching for emergency help nearby. But in general, you should always remain at the accident scene.
Here are some key reasons why leaving is a bad idea:
- Police need to make an official report for insurance claims and investigation. Without one, you may have no evidence or recourse later.
- You must exchange insurance and contact information with other drivers involved. This documentation will be critical later if questions arise.
- Remaining at the scene allows you to take photos and document damage, injuries, road conditions, position of vehicles, street signs and signals, and more. This could help prove your case if needed.
- Getting witness statements is key while everyone is still on site. Witnesses may leave or be hard to track down later, so get their contact info immediately. Their accounts could be very helpful if you need to dispute a claim.
Simply put, fleeing the scene causes far more headaches than it solves. Staying demonstrates you want to cooperate, follow the law, and document the incident fully. Don’t panic and drive off without thinking it through.
Mistake #2: Failing to Document the Accident Properly
Similar to leaving the scene prematurely, failing to document the accident can badly hurt you as you try to deal with insurance companies and recoup any losses. That’s why thorough documentation at the scene itself is so important. Don’t ever assume the police report will include all the details.
Here are some tips on documenting an accident properly:
- As mentioned before, take lots of photos showing all damage to vehicles, any injuries or bleeding, road debris, hazards or obstacles in the area, and even surrounding buildings, signs, signals, and weather conditions. The more photos the better in most cases.
- Get the make, model, year, license plate, and insurance information for every vehicle involved. You’ll need to pass this info to insurance providers. Missing details can cause delays in getting your claim processed.
- Make sure to get the names and phone numbers of any witnesses, especially if they seemed to have important information about how the accident occurred. Police may not be able to interview every witness on the spot before they leave.
- Jot down basic notes about what happened while it’s fresh in your mind. Include the time of day, location, vehicles involved, direction each was traveling, estimated speeds, any swerving, braking, lane changes, signals used, headlight status, and more.
- Document the extent of any injuries at the scene, even minor ones. Go to the ER and get checked out after any accident as a precaution. The medical paperwork can provide critical evidence later if needed.
Thorough documentation requires some work upfront but avoids major hassles and confusion down the road. Relying solely on police reports or insurance adjuster inspections may not be enough. Play it safe and take photos, statements, notes, videos, audio recordings, or whatever evidence you can at the scene.
Mistake #3: Admitting Fault or Downplaying Injuries
What you say and do in the immediate aftermath of an accident can significantly impact your ability to recover damages or compensation down the road. Two common mistakes involve admitting fault and downplaying injuries.
Even if you believe you caused the accident, never actually admit fault or apologize to anyone at the scene. I know this can go against instincts, but any admission can be used against you later by insurance companies disputing a claim. Simply exchange information and stick to the facts.
Likewise, avoid downplaying any soreness, cuts, or other injuries after the crash. The adrenaline rush of the collision often masks pain that does not show up until hours or days later. Get prompt medical attention even for minor aches just to fully document the injuries while they are fresh. You can always downgrade a claim later if the injury improves quickly. But underplaying the damage makes it harder to claim compensation if the injury worsens over time.
Let police, insurance agents, and any legal or medical experts determine fault and assess injuries using the evidence. Don’t make assumptions or take blame prematurely when in the heat of the moment. Your words could limit your options when cooler heads can prevail.
Mistake #4: Failing to Report the Accident to Insurance Companies
One procedural mistake many drivers make is failing to properly notify their insurance company about the accident right away. Every auto insurance policy has specific reporting requirements and deadlines for submitting a claim. Failing to call your provider promptly can jeopardize your claim.
Here are some reporting tips:
- Review your policy and know the accident notification timeline. Many require reporting within 1-2 days, but deadlines vary.
- Call your agent or insurance company’s claims hotline as soon as feasible. Provide your statement of what happened for the record.
- If injuries or vehicle damage seem minor at first, still call in a report just in case. Better to document it immediately while fresh.
- Set calendar reminders for any short or long-term deadlines your adjustor gives you to submit documentation.
- Keep copies of any paperwork and confirmation numbers when reporting. Follow up if you hear nothing after a few days.
- Let your insurance company handle communications with other parties’ insurers. That’s what you pay them for. Don’t independently accept any settlement offer from another driver’s insurance company before reviewing it with your provider and a legal representative if necessary.
Prompt reporting won’t guarantee a smooth claims process, but it gets everything moving in the right direction. Let your insurance adjuster fight for your interests. Stay involved in the process, but let the professionals handle the direct negotiations.
Mistake #5: Not Hiring an Attorney for Serious Accidents
For minor fender benders with no injuries, hiring an attorney is usually unnecessary and not worth the cost. However, for any serious accident with major vehicle damage, long-term injuries, or large insurance claims, consulting an attorney experienced in car accident law can be a wise move.
Though every case differs, an attorney can help in multiple ways:
- They understand auto accident laws, insurance company tactics, and previous court verdicts. This expertise can produce larger claim settlements compared to negotiating alone.
- Attorneys act as your representative in all legal processes, insurance negotiations, and interactions with any defense counsel. They speak for you.
- Documentation and evidence can be gathered and presented effectively to insurers by lawyers to justify damages.
- If a satisfactory out-of-court settlement can’t be reached, attorneys can file suits, represent you in court, and advocate for fair compensation through legal means.
- Lawyers work on a contingency fee basis for auto accident cases, meaning no upfront costs to you. They only get paid if they win compensation for you.
Just be sure to vet attorneys thoroughly and pick someone experienced specifically in vehicle accident law, not other legal fields. Don’t choose blindly or hire the first lawyer you talk to. Interview several to find the best fit.
Being in a car accident can throw life into chaos short-term. While the moments right after an accident are stressful, taking the proper steps and avoiding common mistakes can help you protect your rights and facilitate a full recovery of losses.
To recap, steer clear of these key errors: fleeing the accident scene prematurely, failing to document details, admitting fault unnecessarily, downplaying any injuries, neglecting to contact insurance in time, and declining legal help for serious wrecks.
Staying calm yet proactive after an collision, cooperating fully with authorities, following insurance protocols, documenting evidence extensively, and consulting legal experts can all help safeguard you when dealing with accident aftermath. No one expects to get in a wreck, but arming yourself with knowledge beforehand makes navigating the process much smoother.