WHAT TO DO AFTER A CAR ACCIDENT: Tips to Protect Yourself and Your Legal Interests

Unfortunately, statistics reflect that every driver can be expected to be involved in a motor vehicle accident in his or her lifetime.  Accidents may range from the simple and mundane “fender bender” to much more catastrophic collisions.  If you have suffered an injury, you should be aware that there are some very brief deadlines to report your injuries, and that your failure to promptly report these injuries could result in a denial of no-fault coverage.  Whether your accident involves property damage or personal injuries, and regardless of whether you or another driver are at fault, some simple measures should be taken immediately to protect your interests.

At the scene of the accident:

  • First and foremost, determine whether you or your passengers are injured.  Your well being and that of your passengers should be your first priority.
  • You should not move the vehicles until police arrive.  The position of vehicles can help the police determine fault.  Never leave the scene of an accident until police authorize you to do so.  Under some circumstances, leaving the scene of an accident could have criminal implications.
  • Exchange insurance information with other drivers involved in the collision.  Be sure to obtain the other driver’s name, address, phone number, and license plate number. Record names and contact information for other drivers, passengers and witnesses.
  • Never reach an agreement with the other driver to simply resolve the matter “out of pocket” without reporting the claim to your insurance companies.  Often, physical injuries or mechanical damages are not readily apparent and may not manifest until long after the accident.
  • If possible, before vehicles are moved, take photos of the position and condition of the vehicles and any pertinent weather conditions.  Photos are often the most compelling piece of evidence and can be used to refute claims or to help experts determine the cause of the accident and force of impact.
  • Never concede fault or make any incriminating statements to other drivers.  When reporting the accident to the police, do not admit fault, but merely report the facts, without reporting any opinions.

Following the accident:

  • Immediately contact your insurance agent.  Most policies require that an accident must be promptly reported.  The failure to promptly report an accident could provide your carrier with grounds to disclaim coverage and expose you to personal liability.  Be aware that additional coverage may also be available under your homeowner’s policy, excess policies, or even polices on other cars in your home.  You should promptly advise those carriers of the accident as well.
  • If you believe you have any injuries or require any medical treatment, it is critical that you immediately contact your insurance agent, request an application for no-fault benefits, and promptly complete that paperwork.  Be aware that there are very short deadlines for reporting injuries.  Your failure to promptly report injuries within that timeframe could lead to denial of coverage for your injuries.
  • Cooperate with your own insurance company.  The failure to cooperate with your insurance company can lead to a disclaimer of coverage.
  • In contrast, be wary of speaking to another driver’s insurance company.  We  recommend that you obtain legal counsel before you participate in such interviews.
  • Obtain a copy of the police accident report for the collision.  Be aware that the Department of Motor Vehicles also requires you to report certain accidents.  Under some circumstances, the failure to report an accident to DMV could lead to suspension of your license.
  • Do not sign any document that is any form of release, waiver, or check.  If you are not sure about what you are signing or whether it is fair, consult an attorney for assistance.

If you believe that you have suffered injuries as a result of another driver’s negligence, please consult us for assistance.  Personal injury litigation requires compliance with many specific limitation periods and statutory pleading requirements.  These details may prove to be fatal pitfalls to the unwary practitioner or pro se litigant.  At Maynard, O’Connor, Smith, & Catalinotto, we are well versed in prosecuting and defending personal injury litigation and offer years of experience in navigating these difficult issues.  In the unfortunate event that you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident, please consider consulting us for assistance