American drivers experience about 6 million car accidents every year. About 3 million of these accidents result in an injury serious enough to see a doctor. Moreover, the average property damage claim for each of these car accidents is about $3,000. This means that property damage alone accounts for over $18 billion in losses every year.
However, most drivers do not know what to do after an accident. Drivers education courses, insurance companies, and law enforcement try to provide guidance to drivers for after accidents. But shock and inexperience sometimes cause drivers to freeze up or skip steps that they later regret missing. Moreover, common injuries after car accidents can cause accident victims to correctly focus on their health and not on documenting the accident.
Auto accidents unleash medical, legal, and financial issues that must be addressed. Here are 10 steps to take after an auto accident so that you can put yourself into the best position to deal with these problems:
Make Sure Everyone is Safe
Even though you could disturb the accident scene, it is imperative that the cars involved in the accident be cleared from an active roadway if possible. Leaving the cars in the roadway while you take the other recommended post-accident steps can cause additional accidents that can endanger other drivers. Moreover, as you, the police, and the tow truck driver process the accident scene, you could risk injuries from other cars if the damaged cars remain in the roadway.
Remaining in the roadway is especially dangerous after trucking accidents. Trucks are heavy and can transport dangerous materials. If a car collides with a damaged truck, the car can be severely damaged, the occupants can be seriously injured, and the truck’s contents can be spilled. Moving the truck, if possible, can minimize the risk of subsequent accidents.
Provide First Aid
Once the roadway is clear and you can safely exit your vehicle, check on each person involved in the accident to determine if first aid is needed. Common injuries after car accidents include bumps, bruises, and cuts. However, first aid may be needed when a person has suffered serious injuries that must be treated immediately and cannot wait for assistance. Some tips for accident scenes include:
- Call for paramedics or an ambulance if anyone has suffered a serious injury. That way, they can travel to you while you provide any necessary first aid.
- Follow the dispatcher’s instructions. The dispatcher can guide you through any first aid. This guarantees that you do not make a bad situation worse by endangering the victim’s health. For example, when someone has suffered a neck or back injury, it is better to leave the person undisturbed. Moving someone with a broken neck or broken back risks paralysis.
- Keep a first aid kit in your vehicle. If someone does require first aid, it is helpful to have bandages and a first aid book so you can provide treatment until the paramedics arrive.
- If you do not have a first aid kit and the dispatcher instructs you to provide first aid, improvise by using whatever you have to help the victim. For example, strips of clothing, blankets, or towels can be used for bandages.
Call the Police
Some cities and states are too overwhelmed with traffic accidents to dispatch the police to car wrecks without injuries. However, for those cities and states that will respond to auto accidents, it is a good idea to call the police for a few reasons:
- A police officer can identify whether anyone needs medical assistance and call for help.
- The police can document the accident scene with an accident report.
- The accident report can allocate fault by identifying which driver caused the accident. An accident report can be critical for an auto accident attorney if you need to file a lawsuit over the accident.
- The police can take down names and contact information for witnesses to the accident.
- Police officers can issue citations, which can help to assess liability for the accident.
- An officer can facilitate the exchange of insurance information and defuse any disputes among the drivers.
Document the Accident Scene
If your injuries are not life-threatening, it may be worthwhile to document the accident scene by taking some photos. Most drivers have a cell phone camera that they carry with them at all times. Taking a few photos or even a video can help to collect valuable information for a personal injury lawyer if you need compensation for car repairs and personal injuries.
Some of the images that might be helpful later on include:
- The location of the accident, including a photo showing where the collision occurred and where the cars ended up. This information can be used by an accident reconstruction expert to estimate each driver’s speed and direction.
- A photo of any skid marks. Skid marks can show which driver hit the brakes.
- The damage caused to each car. This will not only document the extent of the damage for insurance and repair purposes, but can also show how you were injured. For example, common injuries after car accidents where the car is hit from the side include knee injuries and shoulder injuries from striking the car door. Likewise, common injuries after car accidents where the car is hit from the front or back include chest bruising, head injuries, and neck injuries when your body strikes the seat belt or steering wheel.
- A photo of your injuries, such as bruises, cuts, scrapes, and bumps. This will begin the documentation of your possible claim for personal injury.
Seek Medical Attention for Injuries
Even if you do not need an ambulance or paramedics, you should seek medical attention for any pain or discomfort that you feel as a result of the accident. For non-life threatening injuries, you can probably seek medical care at an urgent care center rather than an emergency room.
The reasons you might choose urgent care facilities over emergency rooms include:
- Urgent care is for minor injuries rather than major or life-threatening injuries.
- Urgent care is usually faster. The average wait for urgent care is less than 15 minutes in many cities.
- Urgent care is less expensive when it is run by your healthcare provider.
- Urgent care is less likely to expose you to COVID-19 (coronavirus).
Typically, the common injuries after car accidents fall within the types of injuries that can be treated at an urgent care center. Some common injuries after car accidents include:
- Cuts and bruises: As you and your belongings bounce around inside the car during the collision, you can suffer lacerations and contusions.
- Head trauma: When you are not expecting a collision, you may be unable to brace yourself against bumping your head on the steering wheel or side window.
- Neck and back injuries: The collision can cause stress on your body in directions it is not accustomed to. Twisting, turning, and sudden stops can herniate discs, fractured vertebrae, and strain muscles in the spine.
- Muscle injuries: A collision can stress your body, resulting in strained or torn muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
- Broken bones: Colliding with the seat belts, airbags, dashboard, and steering wheel can cause common injures after car accidents such as broken ribs, broken collar bones, broken arms or legs, and knee fractures.
- Internal bleeding: While not common, broken bones and the intense stresses in a high speed collision can cause internal bleeding.
Call Your Insurance Company
As soon as it is safe to do so, you should call your insurance company to report the accident even if you were not at fault. If you fail to report the accident, your insurance company can decline coverage for your accident.
For example, if you have towing coverage, your insurance company may refuse to reimburse you for towing if you do not report the accident. Similarly, if you have collision coverage, the insurance company may decline to repair or replace your vehicle if you fail to file a report.
Most importantly, if your insurance company does not receive a report from you, it may refuse to defend you in any lawsuit that disputes liability for the accident. This could leave you on the hook for both attorney’s fees in defending yourself and any damages if you lose the lawsuit.
Your insurance company will understand if you are unable to do a full interview with a claims adjuster immediate after an accident. In many cases, you will be able to make a quick phone call to report the accident and ask that the full interview take place after you have had a chance to seek medical attention for any injuries. This will not only allow you to give a statement after you can recover physically and mentally but also give you a chance to speak to a lawyer.
Call a Lawyer
Once any medical problems are addressed and your insurance company has been notified, you may want to meet with a lawyer. As mentioned above, you may even want to meet with a lawyer after you notify your insurance company of the accident but before you give a statement.
Anything you say in your statement to the insurance company could be used to pin blame for the accident on you. However, giving a false statement to the insurance company could expose you to liability for defrauding the insurance company. Discussing your statement with your lawyer can help you to thread the needle and ensure that you are not creating new problems for yourself.
A lawyer can also provide you with a road map for the insurance claims and personal injury lawsuit process. Most people are inexperienced with making a claim for medical costs and property damage. When their orthopedic surgeon needs to be paid to address some of the common injuries after car accidents, these victims need to ensure the claim is filed and paid correctly.
Assessing liability for a car accident often requires an understanding of what happened. This is one reason you should document the accident scene with photos and, if possible, a police report. Common reasons for assigning a driver liability for property damage and common injuries after car accidents include:
- Driver error and speeding: The first speeding tickets were issued in 1902 when cars could barely reach a speed of 45 mph.
- Distracted driving: Driving while texting or using a cell phone is one of the most common causes of accidents among teens.
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol: Millions of drivers drive drunk or high every year.
Watch for Additional Injuries
Not all injuries manifest themselves immediately after an accident. Some common injuries after car accidents only become apparent after a period of time has elapsed.
For example, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might surface days or weeks after the accident. PTSD is an emotional state that is brought on by trauma and causes sleeplessness, anxiety attacks, difficulty concentrating, and other physical and mental problems.
Similarly, some physical problems may lurk in the background, only to be discovered later on. For example, common injuries after car accidents include facial trauma. However, a bumped tooth that dies off might only be detected when the tooth discolors and a dentist must be consulted about a root canal.
These injuries can fall under a personal injury claim or personal injury lawsuit if they were caused by the car accident. Often, a medical provider will need to provide expert testimony to link the injury to the car accident for the insurance company to be held liable for the costs of treatment.
Get Medical Treatment
Once you have been diagnosed with one of the common injuries after car accidents, you need to pursue treatment to make sure your medical claim is covered by the insurance company or lawsuit. If you do not receive treatment for your aching knee or low back pain, an insurance company, judge, or jury could infer that your injury is not serious enough for compensation or that you have failed to mitigate your injury to inflate your claims.
Moreover, medical treatment is a way to document the existence and extent of your injuries. Common injuries after car accidents that worsen over time or require more extensive treatment than originally believed can be documented through medical records created for your treatment. These records may be critically important when filing an insurance claim or pursuing a personal injury lawsuit.
Repair Your Vehicle
Like medical expenses, property damage claims are usually documented with repair bills or repair estimates. When filing a claim for property damage caused by the car accident, you will need to include expenses for towing, automotive parts, and labor.
These expenses should be fair and accurate. Moreover, you do not need to rely on the insurance claim adjuster to make an estimate of your repair costs. Rather, many auto repair shops will provide free estimates that you can use to dispute or guide your insurance claim adjuster. Moreover, you can obtain estimates from several shops to provide a range of repair costs. This will help you show that your estimate has not been inflated.
Automobile accidents can be stressful and traumatic. However, if you take care of immediate needs like clearing the roadway and providing first aid, document the accident scene, seek medical care, and follow through with your insurance company, a lawyer, and your doctor, you should be able to weather the difficulties and put yourself in a good position to overcome your losses.