According to the NHTSA there are around 6 million traffic accidents in the US. While most accidents are unavoidable, the angst, confusion, and frustration involved in dealing with the process is largely avoidable. While accidents happen unexpectedly, it does not mean that we cannot be prepared for them. This blog post will address what to do if you are involved in an accident, both at the scene of the accident and afterwards. It is the first in a series of articles addressing how to handle different loss situations, whether you are the responsible party or not.
1. Verbally make sure that everyone in the vehicle is responsive, and seems OK. Do not immediately unbuckle, as secondary collisions often occur as a result of the first accident. Check to make sure the coast is clear before unbuckling or getting out of the car
2. Look in the mirror-literally. Individuals are often injured in accidents, but due to the shock and trauma of the situation, do not realize the extent of their injuries immediately. Once you've assessed yourself, make sure to check on children, then any other passengers in the car. If they seem injured, call 911 immediately. Property can be replaced-that's why we have insurance. People, on the other hand, cannot (this is where I am tempted to talk about the necessity for life, health, and disability insurance, but I will save that for another day).
3. Move out of traffic (if possible). Don't make a bad situation worse. If the vehicles are mobile, move them off to the side of the road or to a nearby parking lot. It is illegal to leave mobile vehicles in a roadway, and it is far more dangerous. Regardless of what a personal injury attorney may imply, police can reconstruct the scene and help determine fault even if the vehicles are moved from the original spot of the accident.
4. Use an abundance of caution if someone may be hurt. Consider calling an ambulance and the police even if everyone seems ok, the damage is minor, and the other party seems cooperative. As stated above, a seemingly minor injury could be worse than it appears. An EMT is the expert, not you or the other insured. Whether you are at fault or not, you would feel horrible if someone suffered greater trauma after the accident that was wholly avoidable.
5. Call the police so can assess what happened, document the incident, and keep everyone involved in the accident safe by blocking lanes, setting up caution cones, etc...if the vehicles are immobile. Furthermore, not everyone is on their best behavior after a traffic accident. Police presence at the scene can prevent a bad situation (or attitude) from becoming worse. Explain to the officer your side of the story, and document by taking pictures of the scene and drawing a diagram of the accident scene and what happened, if possible
6. Exchange information, even their seems to be no damage and everyone is OK. Don't try to assign or take blame at the scene of the accident. You are required to give the other party your name and insurance information, not your life story. Try to get the other driver's information as well. Make sure to not only find out who their carrier is, but how to get in touch with them as well. It doesn't hurt write down their plate numbers either. It's happened many, many times that individuals have provided insurance info on a policy that is expired, and left the scene of an accident without giving the aggrieved party any way to follow up with them. Don't let this happen to you.
7. Alert your insurance company. Even if you don't formally file a claim, let them know that something occurred. If you are not at fault, an insurance company cannot raise your rates arbitrarily. If you find out later that you are injured, or that there is damage to your vehicle that you did not initially notice, the company has record. the National Association of Insurance Commissioners even has an app called WreckCheck. Here is the description directly from the Google Play Store: The WRECKCHECK auto accident checklist and mobile app from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (http://www.naic.org) guides you through the steps to take following an accident. WRECKCHECK helps you determine what information to share, with whom, and what details are important when filing an insurance claim.
8. Follow up: with your insurance, with the other party's insurance, and if necessary, with the other party themselves. This will make sure that the process is handled correctly, and that your side of the story is continually documented. Even if you choose not to make a claim, follow up with the other party or their insurance if possible. If nothing else, people tend to be less likely to file a frivolous lawsuit against someone who genuinely cares about them and their well-being.
If you have questions about scenarios that may happen in the event of a wreck, ask your agent to go into more detail. We all know the old saying, "Stuff Happens". However, and ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.