10 Tips for After a Car Accident

What should you do after a car accident? These practical tips will help you with the steps immediately after the accident, to the completion of your insurance claim.

1. Safety first. Make sure no one is injured. Call 911 to report any injuries. If it is a minor accident with no injuries, move the vehicles to the side of the road. With serious injuries or major damage, do not move the vehicles, even if you can, until the police arrive. If there is a question of liability (who caused the accident), leave the vehicles in place to help the police determine what happened. Only get out of the vehicles if you can stay clear of all traffic or are not injured. Otherwise, stay in your vehicle with your seatbelt. Put on your hazards, turn off your engines, and place flares.

2. Call the police. Don’t ever allow anyone at the scene to convince you otherwise. Get the police report number and name of the reporting officer. In some locations, the police may not respond unless it is a serious accident with injuries or severe property damage. If they do not respond, file an accident report at the local police station as soon as possible.

3. Exchange information. Get each driver’s name, phone number, address, insurance company, policy number, driver’s license number and license plate number. Write down the description of the vehicle, including the year, make, model, color and visible damage. 

4. Locate witnesses. Get the name and contact information (telephone number and address) of anyone who saw the accident. Do this as quickly as possible, while people are stopped to see what happened. Ask them to stay to give a statement to the police officer. If they are in a rush, make sure to get their contact information.

5. Take photographs. Take photographs of the damage to each vehicle. Try to include each vehicle’s license plate number in the photos. If possible, try to get photographs of the other drivers. It may also be helpful to your insurance company, attorneys, and others if you take pictures of the surrounding area, such as the streets and their layouts.

6. Don’t discuss fault. Do not ever admit fault, to any driver or the police. Explain what happened to the officer. Let the officer, insurance companies, and attorneys determine who caused the accident.

7. Make a personal record. As soon as possible, put all the information you received at the scene of the accident into a comprehensive, written record. Write down everything you remember, from the weather, road conditions, how the accident happened, and a diagram. This will help you file a claim with your insurance company. It will also be helpful to an attorney, if you choose to hire one.

8. File a claim. Call your insurance company as soon as possible and open a new claim. Know what your insurance policy covers ahead of time. This prevents worrying about things such as towing at the scene of the accident.

9. Contact the DMV. The California Department of Motor Vehicles requires you to report all accidents if: (a) there is more than $750 in property damage; (b) anyone was injured, no matter how minor; or (c) anyone was killed. This is known as the “Traffic Accident Report SR 1”. Each driver must file this report, regardless of whether or not you caused the accident. It must be filed even if the accident occurred on private property. For more information visit the DMV website.

10. Protect your legal rights. Contact an attorney immediately, especially with accidents involving injuries. The insurance companies will be determining liability, so they will be contacting you for recorded statements, your authorization to receive medical information from your doctors, and so on. You may also be concerned with how you are going to pay for medical treatment, and what to do with your damaged vehicle and work you have missed. An experienced attorney can help you with this process while protecting your rights. Always remember that all insurance companies have their own attorneys, looking out for their interests. It’s important that you have an advocate on your side.

Last revised 3.20.11