No one plans on being in a car accident. They come as a shock, whether caused by your error or another motorist. After a major accident, you may be too injured to think about what you should do to protect your legal rights. Having a plan for what to do after a car accident, you are prepared to react correctly even under intense stress.
What To Do After a Car Accident?
After a car accident, your first reaction is most likely to evaluate whether you have injuries, check on any passengers, and inquire whether people in other vehicles are okay. If serious injuries have occurred, taking care of your wounds or helping others will take priority. For accidents involving property damage only, you'll likely be exchanging information with other motorists.
Avoid discussing the accident's cause with other drivers. They will likely report your statements to their insurance company and may hire an attorney to bring a lawsuit against you. Anything you say can become evidence for the other side. This may result in weakening your case or even lead to the blame being unfairly transferred onto you.
Instead, follow these steps for what to do after a car accident::
1. Check for injuries and move to a safe area
2. Call 911 / Call the police
3. Call an ambulance and wait for help
4. Gather potential evidence
5. Document the accident & exchange information
7. Notify your insurer and start the claims process
1. Check for Injuries and Move to a Safe Area
When under pressure, it's easy to overlook less apparent injuries or remain in a hazardous location. If your vehicle is drivable, move away from oncoming traffic. Many serious accidents happen when an oncoming vehicle strikes a stationary one.
Also, be very careful if you need to exit your vehicle in traffic. Many people are surprised when vehicles close the distance faster than expected, setting up a risk for tragedy.
If you are seriously hurt, only move if necessary for your safety. Attempting to stand and walk can worsen many injuries and even cause new ones.
As soon as it is safe to do so, check yourself and any passengers for injuries. Often, adrenaline masks pain, making it possible for you to have serious cuts, sprains, head injuries, and other wounds without noticing it immediately. Also, some injuries have delayed the onset of symptoms. For instance, a sprained ankle may take many hours to swell and grow painful.
2. Call 911 / Call the Police
Georgia requires those involved in an auto accident to report the matter to police in cases of death, injury, and property damage over $500.
Unless the accident is very minor, you'll likely need to call the police as soon as possible. If another driver hits you, filing a police report helps establish your case. In addition to identifying the other driver and his or her insurance company, police reports create records of how incidents occurred, making it less likely the defense can succeed in placing some or all of the liability on you.
3. Call an Ambulance and Wait for Help
If you or others have sustained injuries, call an ambulance and wait for help. In many cases, being treated at the scene and transported to the hospital is an undeniable necessity. However, even if you have slight injuries or appear unhurt, you should receive a medical evaluation.
Many injuries are worse than they first seem. Delaying treatment often results in less favorable outcomes.
Additionally, seeking medical care generates a record of the incident. These documents prove that your injuries occurred as a result of the collision. In court, the burden of proof rests on the plaintiff. You must have evidence establishing that your damages were due to the accident. It is not unusual for the defense to maintain that some or all of your damages are unrelated to the accident.
For example, an accident victim may suffer from recurrent back pain after an auto collision. The condition may require physical therapy, medication, and surgery. The defense could argue that the back pain was from another incident, was genetic, or was otherwise unrelated to the crash.
In such a case, having medical records from an exam conducted the day of the accident is invaluable. These records show the link between the accident and the back injury. However, if the plaintiff delayed treatment and an exam was conducted days, weeks, or months after the incident, the defense has a powerful argument that the back pain is unrelated.
4. Gather Potential Evidence
If possible, gather evidence at the scene to bolster your case. Evidence can include pictures, videos, and witness contact information. As discussed, medical records establish what injuries the accident caused.
Your attorney will continue gathering evidence in the time leading up to a lawsuit and during the legal process. He or she will likely review all reports and other documents related to the accident, interview witnesses, and collect medical documentation.
Evidence gathering continues after a lawsuit is filed. Through the discovery process, your legal team has the right to subpoena evidence and witnesses. In addition, the discovery provides the opportunity to discover what evidence the other side has gathered. No surprises are allowed in court, so the other side must furnish the other side with copies of all records and allow your lawyers to examine the evidence.
Further evidence can be obtained through interrogatories and depositions. Interrogatories consist of written questions lawyers prepare for the opposing side's witnesses. They are the in-person interviews lawyers conduct with the other side's witnesses. During these exchanges, attorneys frequently elicit information that is helpful later at trial.
5. Document the Accident & Exchange Information
Contacting the police documents the accident, making it impossible for a defendant to deny the incident occurred. The police also collect each driver's contact- and insurance information and make records of witness statements.
After an accident involving no injuries and less than $500 in property damage, you may elect not to contact law enforcement. In that case, exchange license, insurance, and contact information with the other party(s). Photos and videos also prove helpful if the opposing insurer fights the claim.
6. Talk to a Lawyer
After an injury accident, contact a lawyer as soon as possible. You want to review your case while the incident is still fresh in your mind. In addition, your attorney can advise you on collecting evidence and dealing with insurance companies. If the other driver hits you and you have substantial damages, the case will likely go to court. Litigation is a long process; the sooner you start, the sooner you receive your compensation.
7. Notify Your Insurer and Start the Claims Process
You will need to notify your insurance company and open a claim. Even if the other driver has a clear liability, his insurer may refuse to pay your full damages, requiring you to file a lawsuit. As a result, you could be waiting a long time for your settlement or award.
In the meantime, your insurer will fund vehicle repairs and other related expenses and seek reimbursement from the opposing insurer through subrogation.
Be wary of speaking to the opposing insurance company. Insurers train claims adjusters to seek ways to reduce or avoid payouts. They have financial incentives to try and turn the tables. You can assume any telephone conversation is recorded, and anything you say that feeds into defense will be used against you.
It's best to refer any calls from insurance companies to your lawyer.
How Can an Attorney Help With Your Car Accident Claim?
When you are up against an insurance company, you need a seasoned, detail-oriented, and aggressive litigator to even the playing field. Insurance companies employ teams of trial lawyers to battle against high-value claims. The higher your damages, the harder they fight.
Georgia law gives insurance companies an edge through its modified comparative negligence statute. According to this rule, courts can split liability between parties in a personal injury case. For instance, if the court finds the defendant 90% liable and you 10% liable, it reduces your damages by 10%. Worse, if the insurance company can convince a jury that you are over 51% at fault, you get nothing,
Defense attorneys use modified comparative negligence as negotiating leverage. They insist, sometimes without evidence, that the plaintiff is partially at fault. This gives them the rationale for offering a low settlement. They hope the plaintiff won't want to go to trial and will accept an inadequate amount just to get the case over sooner.
Further, they may try to pin more than 51% of the blame on the plaintiff, hoping that the fear of receiving nothing will compel the plaintiff to take a low offer.
Your personal injury attorney pushes back against these attempts to force an inequitable settlement. As a legal professional, he or she is versed in high-stakes negotiations and understands the strategies and tactics employed by defense attorneys.
In addition, your attorney knows what a jury is likely to award you at trial. This knowledge allows your legal team to assess settlement offers and reject ones that are too low. If the defense refuses to raise the amount enough, then your attorney takes the case to trial.
Most cases settle out of court because the defense realizes they are unlikely to win at trial and will only lose more money by defending the case. Your personal injury attorney builds an airtight case to ensure success at trial, which convinces the defense to avoid a jury and settle the case for a high level of compensation.
However, sometimes defense lawyers miscalculate the risk a trial imposes and insist on an unacceptable settlement figure. When this occurs, your personal injury attorney takes the case to trial, presents clear evidence to the jury, and convinces the members to award a big verdict.
Many times, the jury's award ends up being vastly larger than the defense expected. Auto accidents seem to come out of nowhere. In shock and sometimes injured, victims are often at a loss for what to do.
Understanding beforehand what to do after a car accident allows motorists to react calmly and purposefully in an emergency. By following a logical process, you can do everything you need to preserve your legal rights even when taken by surprise by a collision that happened so fast you had little or no time to react.