The First Steps to Take After a Car Accident
What to Do and Why After a Car Accident
The stressful nature of collisions makes it difficult for many people to think clearly about the next steps to take after a car accident. However, the unfortunate reality of these situations is that everything you do can complicate your car accident claim later. Here’s what to do in the first moments, hours, and days after a car accident.
Call the Police Immediately
North Carolina law states that you must notify the police of car accidents that:
- cause injury
- cause more than $1,000 in property damage
- involve an impaired driver
- involve someone driving without a license or with a revoked license, or
- involve an uninsured driver
If any one of these circumstances describes your accident, you must report it to the police. This is one of the most crucial steps to take after a car accident.
The other reason to report an accident to the police is that you don’t know what kind of claim you’ll need to file against the at-fault driver’s insurance. No matter what your reason was for not calling the police – whether you had an important appointment or you were just trying to be nice – the insurance company won’t care. They’ll probably deny your claim if there is no accident report.
For this reason, calling the police is one of the first steps to take after a car accident. An outright denial of a car accident claim can have lasting effects on car accident victims. Sometimes it takes a few days for injured people to realize that their minor neck pain might be more serious than they thought. They go to the doctor and find out that they have a herniated cervical disc and that they’ll need therapy or surgery. If you can’t file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance, you’ll be stuck paying for the medical bills resulting from your accident.
Take Pictures of the Accident Scene
This is a key part of investigating your car accident. If you are able to take pictures, start doing so right away. Some things to photograph are:
- the damage to your car
- the damage to the other driver’s car
- any injuries you or your passengers suffered
- where the accident took place – for instance, the curve where they crossed the center line and hit you or the intersection where they ran a stop light
These photos will form an immediate visual record of the scene of the accident and the effects it had on all the people and vehicles involved. In addition, take pictures of your injuries after you’ve received treatment for them to show stitches, casts, or other devices you needed so your injuries would heal. By doing so, you will demonstrate that you had injuries that were serious enough to warrant treatment and that you received the treatment you claimed.
Talk to Witnesses Who Saw Your Accident
If there are witnesses at the scene of the accident, don’t assume they’ll stick around until the police arrive to talk to them. Many witnesses leave as soon as they know the police are on the way and that no one has serious injuries.
Speak to witnesses immediately about what they saw. Ask them for their names. Take down their contact information if they’re willing to give it to you. This way, you can get in touch or track them down later to take a full statement of what they saw or get them to testify for you in a deposition or at trial. This is one of the most important steps to take after a car accident. When questions of fault arise, it’s often witnesses who can provide key evidence in an injured victim’s favor.
Get Medical Treatment Even If You Feel Fine
Again, it’s not always easy to tell whether your seemingly minor accident injuries really are minor. Whiplash and concussions are very common car accident injuries, and accident victims don’t always know they’ve experienced them. These two types of injuries can have long-lasting or even permanent effects on your health.
Allowing EMS to evaluate you is one of the important steps to take after a car accident. If you don’t let them evaluate you but your pain or other symptoms hang around in the days after the accident, get to a doctor, urgent care, or emergency room.
Whether you’re talking to the EMS at the scene or to your primary care doctor a few days after the accident, describe your symptoms completely. Be as thorough as you can, even if you don’t think a particular symptom is a big deal. In all follow-up appointments, don’t assume your doctor knows anything. If you’re still in pain, say so. If you’re still getting headaches, say so.
Getting evaluated as soon as possible and describing your symptoms completely and consistently gets your condition on the record and shows that your injuries are persistent and have a long-term effect on your health.
Keep All Hospital Paperwork
The documents the hospital gives you when they release you lay the foundation for your claim. Discharge papers usually contain:
- a description of your injuries
- aftercare instructions
- medications you’ve been prescribed and their side effects
- your doctor’s orders to stay out of work and the note to give your employer
- orders to follow up with your primary care physician
- referrals to physical therapy or other specialists
You’ll probably receive a billing statement within a month. Keep this with your discharge papers, along with any documents you receive from other providers. This forms an accurate record and timeline of all the treatment you receive.
Do Not Talk to the Insurance Company
The at-fault driver’s insurance company will call you soon after your accident. This conversation is riddled with pitfalls that could jeopardize your claim. Innocent comments can shut the door on your case.
For this reason, it’s best not to talk to the at-fault driver’s insurance company until you’ve spoken to a lawyer. Most personal injury attorneys charge no fee for your first visit or phone call. At this appointment, a lawyer can advise you on how to speak to an insurance adjuster and tell you what to say and what not to say. Many attorneys will offer guidance even if you decide to handle your small claims auto accident case yourself.
Call a Lawyer for Information About the Next Steps to Take After a Car Accident
Prepare to spend a lot of time on the phone in the first few days after an accident. You’ll have to make doctor’s appointments, talk to your health and auto insurance providers, call police departments for your accident report … The list goes on.
It’s easy to lose track of what you need to do after a car accident. Getting your medical records alone can seem like a search for the Holy Grail. An attorney can take over many of these tasks for you, like talking to insurance companies and getting documentation from your doctors, so that you can focus on healing from your injuries.
If your case is complex, involving high damages or permanent injuries, it may be too big for you to handle on your own. Settling a case with an insurance company is a task that benefits from the kind of experience that lawyers have. An Asheville personal injury lawyer can speak directly to all of the providers and insurance companies involved in your case so that you don’t have to. Contact our Asheville attorneys today or call our personal injury firm to schedule a free consultation.
Related Posts From Our Personal Injury Blog:
- Small Claims Auto Accident 101: First Steps
- Small Claims Auto Accident 101: Writing a Demand Letter
- Why Do Car Accident Insurance Claims Fail to Settle?
- Can I Settle a Car Accident Without a Lawyer?
- 6 Ways You Can Use Your Smartphone to Collect Car Accident Evidence (INFOGRAPHIC)
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