Winter must be the auto insurance industry’s least favorite time of year. Slippery streets, black ice, white-outs – under these conditions a momentary loss of control can turn into a major pile-up.
If you find yourself in one of these unfortunate predicaments, follow these steps to ensure that you have your bases covered with your insurance company, your health, and the other driver.
1. Print out the handy guide below to keep in your glove box, along with a pen or pencil, in the event of an accident. You may not be in the best frame of mind after a car wreck, and this guide will ensure you get the information you need and not forget anything.
2. If you don’t have a camera on your cell phone, get a cheap disposable camera and put it in your glovebox.
3. Program your city’s non-emergency police number into your cell. You’ll want to call 911 if there are any injuries, if your car is in a dangerous situation, or you are blocking a major traffic route, but it’s always helpful to have the non-emergency number available if you are in a minor accident or have a question.
After the Accident
1. Check to see if you and all your passengers are okay, and then see if the other driver is okay. If anyone is unconscious, do not attempt to move them, since you won’t know if you are making any injuries worse. If you have to move anyone, make sure to keep their head and neck supported as injuries to the neck area aren’t always immediately noticeable.
2.Get out of traffic and make your car visible. If you have flares or other aids, now is the time to use them. Put on your flashers and put your hood up if necessary. You don’t want to get in a second accident because someone couldn’t see you.
3. Call the police, either 911 for a serious accident where injuries may be involved, or the non-emergency police line for minor fender-benders. Even if it seems like a minor accident, the police serve as a neutral party, and having a police report can be incredibly helpful if you need to go to court (for instance, if the other person reported no injuries to the police officer, but suddenly “developed” some a few days later).
4. Do not admit fault. While for many of us it’s in our nature to apologize, don’t. This may end up being a serious impediment in deciding who’s at fault even if it’s obvious that it was entirely the other driver’s doing. You can ask if they are okay or if they need help, but don’t apologize. Also, don’t make any jokes – I once told an adjuster that I’d broken a thumbnail in my accident (which was true) and he earnestly inquired if I’d seen a doctor, and was very solicitous of my thumbnail’s health.
5. Once everyone is checked and the police are on their way, you can exchange information. If you fear for your safety in any way (if the other person is angry and threatening, for example) stay in your car with the doors locked. The police officer will help you exchange information once they get there.
6. Take pictures of your car and the accident area. Make sure to note if there are any stop signs, speed limit signs, stoplights, or other traffic guides in the area. Take plenty of pictures of your car, and theirs too! If applicable, take pictures of any skid marks, dented guide rails, paint scrapes on barriers, etc.
7. When you get home, or if the police are going to take a while to come, call your car insurance company. They will want to hear from you as soon as possible, especially if you end up filing a car accident claim.
The Next Day
1. You may feel a little sore the day after, just from the shock of being hit. But if you are any more than a little sore, make an appointment with your doctor. They will assess for any injuries that you may not be able to pinpoint on your own, such as muscle strain or tendon injuries.
2. Be prepared for an onslaught of phone calls, junk mail, and other solicitations from auto body companies and personal injury lawyers. In many states, accident and police reports will be published with the name, address, and sometimes the phone number of involved persons. They are trying to get your business, whether it’s your car or your injuries they are interested in. You might want to put your phone on vibrate the next day, just in case.
3. If you do end up being injured, and have decided to sue the other party, don’t make a decision on your legal help right away. Filing the lawsuit a few days sooner won’t have any effect. Take your time and get some recommendations, either from friends, colleagues, or the American Bar Association – and don’t pick one based on how convincing they were on the phone or how much money they promised you could get. Many personal injury lawyers are interested only in cases that can either be settled quickly, or will involve very large settlements, and you don’t want to end up an in-between case.
4. If your car requires repair, know that you are not required to get the repairs done at the insurance company’s shop. You will need to take it in so that they can assess how much they think the repairs will cost, but you can then take it to another place of your choosing. The insurance company will pay the other repair shop on your behalf, minus your deductible. Generally they will pay the repair shop the amount that they determined it would cost to fix – but if your chosen repair shop costs more, and has experience in these situations, they may be able to work something out with the insurance company. For more tips, learn how to save money after a car accident.
We hope you won’t end up needing this advice, but it’s better to be safe than sorry! Do you have any other tips for handling a car accident?
(photo credit: Shutterstock)