Crash! Bang! Crunch!
Ouch! That’s going to leave a mark. What you just experienced was an auto collision. Or was it just a fender bender? At the moment of impact, it might be difficult to tell. Your heart rate is through the roof. The adrenaline factory has been kicked into overdrive. And you are not thinking very clearly in that moment.
That said, knowing what just happened is less important than knowing what should happen next. Whether this is a run of the mill accident or a horrible disaster depends largely on what you do next.
The Internet is full of helpful, and not so helpful advice about the steps one should take immediately following an accident.
Before offering my list of five, I need to give you a short list of things you most certainly should not do:
1. Never talk to the other party’s attorney or insurance representative. Their only goal is to minimize their liability. Nothing they say to you, or offer to do for you is for your good. Nothing you say to them will work out in your favor. And for Pete’s sake, don’t sign anything. Don’t even accept the paper work.
All communications should be handled by your attorney. If you do not have an accident attorney, you will want to get one in short order. It may not be one of the first five things you do. But it should be high on the priority list. Once you are in a place where you can do a bit of research, check out sites that offer user reviews of accident attorneys to help narrow your options. For example, if you are searching in the San Diego area, the Law Offices of Michael Pines, APC score a 5 out of 5 stars on Yelp at the time of this writing. Knowing how others viewed their experience with a particular firm provides a good indication of how your experience might go. Just make sure you do not communicate with the other side.
2. Never apologize to the other driver. Even if you think you were at fault, you have no idea what really happened. If you clearly saw everything in time to process it, you wouldn’t have gotten in the accident in the first place. You would have been able to avoid it. An apology will be later interpreted as an admission of guilt. Don’t do it! Even if you had a moment of inattention, the other driver may have been drinking. Keep emotion out of your communications with the other driver.
1 Assess the damage to yourself and others. Can you feel your legs? Good. Your arms? Good. Try moving. Good. Now, check on the other passengers and make sure everyone is okay. Do the same for the passengers in the other car.
2 Get all ambulatory passengers out of the vehicle. You never know when the vehicle will become a liability. Cars do not tend to explode. But they can catch fire and put off noxious fumes.
3 Call 911. Even if no one is injured, everyone needs to stick around for the police to take over the scene and get statements from everyone concerned.
4 Take lots of pictures. Let’s face it. You may not be dealing with the most reasonable person at that particular moment, especially if it is clear that he is the one at fault. What you need is evidence. Make sure your first picture is of the license plate. That should take care of identity in a pinch. Then, with smartphone camera in hand, start walking around the vehicles taking pictures of everything related to the collision.
5 Exchange contact information. This is required by law. If the other driver does not wish to cooperate, at least you have a picture of the license number. I would also sneak a picture of his face. He may not want to pose for it.
There is time for phone calls after the police interview. Your insurance company should be first. Even if you feel fine, you might be advised to get checked out at the nearest ER. Once there is confirmation of an injury, call a personal injury attorney.
Finally, you should always keep an ICE list in print on your persons at all times. If you are among the injured, emergency crews will know whom to call.