Getting in a car crash is a terrifying experience — for anyone. After the initial shock, though, it's important that you protect yourself from any legal repercussions that could affect your insurance, your health and your finances.
Determine whether you or your passengers are injured
Your safety and that of your passengers comes first. Take a deep breath, try to regain focus and pay attention to any pain. Then look to your passengers. If any of you are injured, call 911 or ask a bystander to do it immediately. If you're not seriously injured, there are a few steps you need to take to ensure you're not taken advantage of.
Call the police
Once you've gathered yourself, call the police. Ask for their names, badge numbers and for a copy of their official report for your own records. No matter how serious the accident is, a police report will help law enforcement, insurance agencies and lawyers determine what happened and who is liable. If the other party insists you don't need the police and that you can handle it among yourselves, ignore them.
Do not admit fault in any way, shape or form.
Gather all the crucial details
While you wait for police to arrive, begin documenting everything you can. Write down the other parties' license plates; take photographs of the vehicles and the scene of the accident; make physical notes of how and when everything occurred. You should also take photos of yourself and any injuries sustained. A dash cam or wireless backup camera can come in handy during situations like this, as it provides visible proof of what did — or didn't — happen. Whether its photos or videos, make sure you can easily tell the time and date it was taken.
If there were any witnesses, ask them to share any information, details or photos they might have.
Finally, exchange insurance information with any other parties involved — but don't sign anything.
Call a doctor
You should call a doctor after an accident regardless of how serious it was. You can't always see or feel an injury in the immediate moments following an accident. Medical professionals can determine if any internal damage was done and possibly how it happened. A medical exam can also be useful if a legal case is pursued.
If the doctor makes any recommendations about physical therapy, rest or medications, listen to it. Going against a doctor's wish could make you look bad in legal terms.
Call the professionals
After you've relocated to a safe place, contact your insurance agency. Waiting to report the accident could reflect poorly on you in the eyes of the company. Tell your agent exactly what happened and share any relevant documentation. A good agent will tell you what other information they need and what you can expect from them in the coming days and weeks.
If the accident caused damage to you or your car, seeking a lawyer could help you get the money you deserve or prevent you from paying more than you owe. Sometimes, even the threat of legal action could help you get what's fair in a settlement.