If you are unfortunately involved in an auto accident, there are several things you want to do right away. These will help you prove your case should you need to file a complaint against one of the insurance carriers involved.
Things to Do at the Scene of Your Auto Accident
- Stop the vehicle.
Stop your vehicle and make sure it is neither moving nor running. This will reduce the risk of further damages.
- Check for Injuries
First, make sure everyone in your vehicle is unhurt. Then check on people in any other vehicles. If there are any injuries, you will need to report them when you call for law enforcement.
- Report the Accident to Law Enforcement
Call the police and report the accident. If necessary, request that an officer report to the scene (in most states, this is standard practice). Also report any injuries.
- Perform First Aid
If necessary, perform first aid for any injured people to the best of your ability and training. If someone else there is better trained or better able to perform first aid, provide assistance to them as necessary.
- Exchange Contact Information and Insurance Information with
the Other Party (or Parties)
After the police have been called, and after everyone in need of first aid (if there were any injuries) has been attended to, the drivers of the vehicles should exchange information. At a minimum, this should include the driver's name (first and last), the driver's phone number, insurance carrier (company name), insurance company's phone number, insurance policy number, and the make, model, and year of the vehicle they were driving. You need this information for each vehicle involved. n addition, you need the names and phone numbers of each person in each vehicle, as well as that of any witnesses who saw what happened. This information will be necessary for the insurance companies to get all the information about what actually occurred so they can make an accurate determination of liability.
- Take Photos
If at all possible, take photos of the scene before the vehicles have been moved. This will help to establish the particulars of the collision. The insurance companies may request this information to assist with their investigations, but if you have to report an insurance company to your state in relation to this incident, they may also request photos of the scene. Besides, most people carry a digital camera or a cell phone with a built-in camera anyway, so this should be easy. These don't need to be the greatest photos in the world, they will never need to win an art show, but they can become invaluable to you if you have complaints about the insurance company.
- Unless Required by Law, Do NOT Move the
Leave the vehicles where they are. This will help the law enforcement officer who responds to correctly report on what has happened, ad make sure that his or her paperwork is accurate and complete. This will further assist the insurance company (or, eventually, the insurance commissioner) to accurately investigate your claim.
However, in some locations, or under some circumstance, local laws will require that vehicles be moved to prevent an ongoing public safely risk. In these cases, and only in these cases, the vehicles should be moved to a safe location if possible.
- Insure Everyone's Safety
At all times, keep yourself safe from harm and do what you can to keep other people involved safe from harm. Where there's an auto accident, there is often traffic, and this poses a risk to everyone around. Be sure to stay out of traffic and keep safe.
- Wait for Law Enforcement to Arrive
Wait patiently for help to arrive. The police usually won't take too long to report to the scene of an accident, but it may take a few minutes. Be patient and try to remain calm.
- Assist the Reporting Officer
The officer is there to help you, and at your request. Be polite and courteous. answer their questions about the accident. Ask to review their paperwork (in most cases, they are required to let you see it anyway). Provide full information related to the accident in answer to the officer's questions about the accident. Remain polite and calm. An accurate report from the officer will help the insurance companies to quickly investigate and settle the claim.
- Get Copies of ALL Reports and Paperwork from the Responding
In most cases, the officer will have to provide a copy of their report to each person involved in the accident. However, if they are not, or if they only have a limited number of copies available, ask how you can obtain a copy of their report. These reports are usually available from their office within a couple of days.
- Do NOT Admit Fault
Never admit fault at the scene. Do not admit fault to the other party or parties, do not admit fault to your passengers, do not admit fault to the reporting officer, do not admit fault to any witnesses. Even if you feel you are at fault, do not admit fault. Allow the law enforcement and the insurance companies to conduct a legitimate investigation to determine fault. Once you have admitted fault, all investigators are likely to just go with that admission and agree with it. If one person wants to claim liability for the accident, the insurance companies, at least, are usually happy to oblige. There may be laws or regulations at play such that even if you believed you were at fault, actually show that another individual is at fault.
Remember, at all times to both obey all laws in your area and to maintain the safety of all people involved. The last thing you need at a time like this is to get yourself in further trouble because you failed to comply with some law after the accident occurred. And, of course, once there has already been an accident, you don't need to further complicate it by someone getting run into by freeway traffic or having a car roll into them.
Things to Do After the Accident
This is what you need to do after the accident, but not necessarily at the scene. In fact, you probably need to get all the information collected from the scene and from the responding officer before you can continue with these. However, at least the first two of these should be completed the same day if at all possible. Remember, being prompt may be required by your insurance policy or by your state!
- Contact Your Insurance Company
Contact your insurance company, using the claim reporting phone number you just provided to the other parties. Answer their questions. They're probably going to want to know the names and phone numbers of all involved parties, the insurance carriers for those parties, and the policy numbers, and the names and phone numbers of any witnesses.
- Contact the Other Party's Insurance Company
Contact the other party's insurance company. They're going to want to have the same information that your insurance company wants. Repeat this step for all involved parties.
- Document Everything
Keep a written record of all your letters or phone conversations - even calls where you just left a message, and at least a brief description of the conversation, if not detailed notes. Remember to keep these for both calls you make and calls you recieve.
- Request Everything in Writing
Any time the insurance company wants to discuss settlement options or provide you with any information, request it in writing. Written records will become important if you have to report the insurance company to the state or if you have to take the insurance company or the other party to court.
- Request Transcripts of All Phone Conversations with the
Any phone conversation you have with the insurance companies that goes beyond "We just mailed you this document," should be received in writing. Request a transcript, or request that they just communicate with you in writing.
- Report to Your State Insurance
If the insurance company is not investigating in good faith, or if they are being abusive or non-responsive to you, or if they are altering facts or refusing to consider facts in the investigation, report them to the state.
- Consult Legal Counsel
If the insurance company is refusing to investigate, or is becoming non-responsive to you, or is otherwise operating unfairly, it would probably be a good idea to consult a lawyer about your cliam.
Reporting an accident to your insurance company, and to the other party's insurance company promptly is essential to getting the claim settled. However, if the insurance company treats you unfairly or refuses to investigate, it is imperative that you report them to your state's insurance commissioner, and you may need to consult with an attorney.