It is normal to wonder what to do after a car accident that is not your fault. A car accident comes out of nowhere; many people have not thought about what to do until the moment they are in the middle of one.
But knowing what to do—and what not to do—is extremely important. It not only protects your health and safety but will also help with filing a compensation claim.
Actions you take at the scene could also jeopardize your ability to recover the compensation you deserve. Keep in mind the following if you are in a car accident that was not your fault.
Causes of Car Accidents
A car wreck can happen for many reasons, but they most often result from someone’s negligence.
Some of the reasons for a wreck might include:
- Driving under the influence of drugs, alcohol, prescription drugs (legal), and illicit substances
- Distracted driving
- A manufacturer defect with the vehicle or with replacement parts
- The auto technician installed replacement parts incorrectly
- A fatigued driver
- Inclement weather
- Sunlight impairing a driver’s vision
- Speeding and excessive speeding
- Aggressive driving
- Reckless driving
- Poorly maintained roads
- Commercial drivers violating hours-of-service regulations, especially due to pressure from dispatchers or companies they work for
- Large loads that are not balanced or otherwise loaded properly, leading to vehicle instability
- Medical emergencies
- A third party causes someone to crash into you
- Poor vehicle maintenance, including faulty brakes and suspension components
Immediately After a Car Wreck
Immediately after a car wreck, take note of how you feel. Move your fingers and toes, then your arms and legs. If you feel any significant pain while moving, especially in your back or neck, you should avoid moving unless necessary to prevent further potential harm. If you smell gas or your vehicle is on fire, and you can move, get away from the vehicle as quickly as possible without causing additional injury.
If you cannot move and you smell gas, or the vehicle is on fire, but you can reach your phone, call first responders and let them know that you cannot move and smell gas or that your vehicle is on fire.
When you get out of the vehicle, watch for distracted drivers. People often look at the accident and forget to watch what they are doing. They could hit the vehicles involved in the accident or anyone that is standing near the accident.
Do not speak with the other drivers involved about the wreck other than to find out if they are okay and get their identification and insurance information.
If Your Injuries Allow You to Move
If you feel that you can move without causing additional injuries, call first responders and check on others involved in the wreck. If others are injured and cannot move, let the dispatcher know that some of those involved could have serious injuries.
Take pictures of the accident. Be sure to get shots from all angles and include any damage done to the road, including skid marks. You should also take photos of the damage to other vehicles involved, fences, utility poles, trees, mailboxes, yards, and anything else you or others involved in the wreck might have damaged.
The pictures will help your case should the at-fault driver or their insurance company try to place the blame for the wreck on you. Even if your vehicle caused damage to another person’s property, the at-fault driver is most likely responsible for the damage.
Additionally, obtain contact information, insurance information, and registration information from all other drivers involved in the wreck. If you see any witnesses, ask for their contact information. You can also ask witnesses what they saw; write it down so you remember who said what.
If Your Injuries Are Severe or Catastrophic
If you are in too much pain to move, do not force it. You could cause additional damage to yourself, even paralysis, if you force yourself to move when you are in severe pain. If possible, call out to first responders when they arrive. The paramedics will know how to move you and will do all they can to prevent you from sustaining additional damage.
When First Responders Arrive
Always allow emergency medical technicians to check you over. Some injuries do not manifest for hours or even days later. If you have any pains, let the paramedics know so they can assess the afflicted areas for injury. Keep in mind that the paramedics have minimal diagnostic abilities since they are not in the hospital. Most have basic emergency care and diagnostic skills—they do not have the same abilities, nor do they have the equipment to make a full and proper diagnosis.
However, allowing the emergency medical technicians to check you out is the first step to getting the medical attention that you need to recover the compensation you deserve. Not allowing a medical technician to check you over could give the at-fault driver a basis to argue that you are not hurt or that your injuries are minor.
Once the paramedics check you over, you can give a statement to the police. Give the police the facts as you remember them. Under no condition should you ever admit to being at fault or even partially at fault for the accident.
If you admit fault, the officer will have to put it in his report—the very same report you need to prove the other driver was at fault. If the report even hints that you are fully or partially at fault and you are not, the insurance companies will pull at that thread in an attempt to deny your claim.
After First Responders Release You from the Scene of the Accident
The first thing you should do after first responders release you from the scene is go to the hospital. You will also need to call your vehicle accident attorney and notify the insurance company that you were in a wreck as soon as possible.
Getting Medical Care at the Hospital
When you sign into the emergency room, notify the nurses that you were in a vehicle accident and what injuries you sustained. Ask the medical professionals to scan you for additional injuries that might not be as apparent. For example, if another driver hits you from behind, you could have whiplash and not know it; let the professionals know that you were hit from behind and you need your neck and shoulders checked.
If you hit your head on the steering wheel or a window, let the doctors know so they can check you for concussions and other brain injuries.
Contacting the Insurance Company
You have two options for contacting the insurance company. If you do not feel comfortable doing so yourself, you can ask your attorney to notify the insurance company that you were in a wreck. You can also make the initial contact yourself. The only information you should give any insurance company is your name, policy number, the other driver’s contact and insurance information, the date and location of the wreck, and your attorney’s contact information.
The insurance company is in business to make money. That means they will do anything they can to deny your claim or reduce the amount they pay. One of the most common ways insurance companies can do so is to get you to talk about the wreck and then use your words against you. The insurance representative will often press you to discuss the wreck. You should not feel pressured to tell them anything—simply refer them to your attorney.
Locating a Vehicle Accident Lawyer
When looking for a vehicle accident attorney, choose someone who has experience in the type of accident you were in. Different types of accidents require different types of knowledge and experience. For example, truck accident attorneys are more likely to have expertise in locating more than one commercial defendant, negotiating with several insurance companies, and experience in recovering compensation for severe and catastrophic injuries.
Before retaining a car accident lawyer, you should ask some initial questions, including:
- How many cases like mine have you settled? How many have you litigated?
- What are your fees? Most accident attorneys work on a contingency basis, which means that you do not pay attorney’s fees unless you win your case. But the percentage taken in legal fees from your settlement or court award varies from attorney to attorney.
- What are some of the costs I might incur, and when do I have to pay those costs? If your case settles, you generally have few costs. However, if you have to litigate, you could have court filing fees, investigation fees, deposition fees, and other costs for your case.
- Do you have any references you can give me to call?
If you find the answers to your questions are satisfactory, you should meet with the attorney for a case evaluation. You should only retain the attorney if you feel comfortable with them and their staff. If you do not, it could affect your case.
Contacting a Vehicle Accident Lawyer
You should contact a vehicle accident lawyer as soon as possible after a wreck. The closer you are to the accident, the more likely you are to remember what happened—even the small stuff. You need to tell your lawyer everything you remember. Forgotten information could make or break your case.
Even if you are in the hospital or are homebound, an attorney can come to you or set up a video or audio case evaluation. Typically, you have a two year statute of limitation from the date of a motor vehicle accident to file a lawsuit in civil court. While that may seem to be a long time, it passes quickly. Most people prefer to attempt to settle first, without having to file a lawsuit; that, too, takes some time. Both sides will still want to investigate the accident. You may need to wait for your medical status to develop to determine the full extent of your injuries. For example, your doctor might not know if your injuries will be long-term or permanent until months after an accident.
Getting started as soon as possible allows your car accident lawyer to prepare for settlement negotiations and/or litigation in the way that best presents your case.
Recovering Damages After a Car Accident
The compensation you recover in a car accident case is referred to as “damages.” You can recover compensatory damages after an accident. In rare cases, you might also recover punitive damages. A court only orders punitive damages in certain circumstances if the defendant’s conduct was intentional or grossly negligent. In car accident cases, this often involves particularly reckless driving behaviors, such as drunk driving.
On the other hand, the court orders compensatory damages in an attempt to make you whole again. While the money does not erase your injuries and losses nor bring a deceased loved one back, it can relieve the financial stress that comes with these accidents. Damages you could recover include:
Economic damages, also referred to as special damages, have a set monetary value and include:
- Medical expenses. You can recover both past and future medical expenses related to your injury. Past expenses are those you incur because of the accident before a settlement or trial award, while future expenses are those you are likely to incur after a settlement or trial award. Medical expenses include surgeries, appointments with medical professionals, prescriptions, ambulatory aids, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and cognitive and other psychological therapies.
- Replacement or repair of destroyed or damaged personal property, including your vehicle and anything else destroyed or damaged in the accident, such as a cell phone, computer, or even clothing you had in the vehicle.
- Lost wages and lost earning capacity. You can recover compensation for hours of work you missed while you could not work from the time of the accident until the time of a settlement or trial award. You can also recover lost future earning capacity if you are not able to work after a settlement or a trial award, or can only work in a position making less money. Even if you can work part-time or only work at a job that pays less than you are accustomed to, you could recover partial loss of earning capacity.
- Funeral, burial, and/or cremation expenses, if you lost a loved one in a wreck.
Non-economic damages, also called general damages, include pain and suffering, loss of quality of life, loss of companionship or consortium, loss of use of body parts and functions, and inconvenience. You might also recover additional compensation for excessive scarring, amputations, and/or disfigurement.
You Will Need a Lawyer
To identify the damages you deserve after an accident—and to calculate how much the liable party truly owes you—don’t rely on the at-fault party’s insurance company. You will need a car accident lawyer to run the numbers for you and enforce your right to get the money you deserve. If you reach out to a car accident lawyer near you today, you can get a free case evaluation and learn more about your rights.