Aside from securing appropriate medical care for you and anyone else who might be hurt, job number one for anyone involved in a motor vehicle accident is to collect and document facts. Everything else is subordinate to this cardinal rule. When in doubt, make a note, take a photo, or save a file.
With that in mind, we’ll set out the important steps you should take if you’re involved in a vehicle accident. Continue reading below to find out what to do, how to do it, and what not to do.
A Quick Note About Minor Accidents
Many people will be in extremely minor accidents that don’t appear, at first glance, to warrant special attention. You would be doing yourself a disservice, however, if you discount an accident as minor and fail to treat it with the care that every accident deserves.
You should follow these steps even when:
- No one’s been obviously injured, and
- There’s no obvious damage to any vehicle.
Not only are many categories of injury not immediately apparent, but regardless of whether you are injured, it is best to have a clear record of exactly what did and did not happen to protect yourself.
Call the Appropriate Authorities
Immediately after an accident, you should ensure that neither you nor anyone else involved needs medical attention. If someone does need help, call for an ambulance without delay.
You should also strongly consider calling the police. In fact, you are legally required to do so in certain cases (pursuant to Title 75, Section 3746 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes). Regardless, you’ll be well-served by the existence of a police accident report in the future.
Document, Document, Document.
Once you’ve confirmed that you don’t need immediate medical attention and the police are on their way, it’s time to document everything you can about the scene of the accident.
Note that the following is only a partial list. For an excellent guide to all of the information you should collect following an accident, you may wish to have a look at Pennsylvania’s Driver’s Accident Report. This report, which must be filled out for any accident that wasn’t investigated by the police and resulted in death, injury, or significant damage, will help you turn your mind to the information that might be relevant in future litigation.
- Take photographs. Take pictures of your car, the other car, and the surrounding environment. Your photos should be detailed enough to show the damage caused by the accident clearly and also show the state of the road, the lighting, and traffic conditions. Photographs of physical evidence such as skid marks, debris fields, and signs may also be extremely helpful.
- Get information about all involved parties, including witnesses. You should get the name, driver’s license number, and address of the other drivers. You should get the contact information, birth date, and name of any potential witnesses to the accident.
- Get insurance information. From their proof of insurance card, you should get the name of their insurance company and their insurance policy number.
Things to Avoid
You should avoid any discussion of who was to blame for the accident or what its cause was. Not only should you obviously not outright admit that the accident was your fault (even if you think it might have been), you shouldn’t blame the other party for causing the accident.
Yes, emotions might be running high at this point, but there’s no sense in getting into a shouting match about who was to blame when you should be documenting evidence about the accident and the scene. That evidence will speak for itself when the time comes.
You need to be careful about apologizing for the accident as well. Apologies can, depending on the circumstances, sound much like admissions of guilt. After all, if you didn’t cause the accident, what are you sorry for?
On the same note, if the other party makes any admissions of fault, apologizes, or ascribes the cause of the accident to any one thing (the sun, cell phone use, fatigue, etc.), be sure to make note of their comments word-for-word.
We’ve barely scratched the surface of what you should do following an accident. Hopefully, however, we’ve helped to inform and remind you of the things you need to do immediately after one occurs.
These are stressful events, but as long as you remember that the name of the game is evidence preservation and documentation you should be fine. Make sure everyone’s okay, call the authorities, take pictures, make notes, and refrain from admitting fault, and you should be fine.