UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020
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Being involved in a car accident can be frightening. Being involved in an at-fault accident can be even worse. Today, we’re explaining the steps to take if you’re at-fault in an accident, including how to limit your damages and protect yourself from being over-exposed to liability.
Step 1) Stay at the Scene
The first and most important thing to remember is to stay at the scene of the accident. Never leave an accident scene until it’s appropriate to do so. If you leave the scene of a severe accident – like an accident where someone has sustained serious injuries or has been killed – then you may face serious penalties for being a hit-and-run driver.
Step 2) Check on Drivers and Passengers
Before assessing property damage from the collision, check on all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians involved in the incident. Get emergency medical assistance for anyone who needs it. Avoid moving someone who is experiencing neck or back pain, unless they’re immediately exposed to a hazard – like a car that’s on fire.
Step 3) Call the Police
It’s generally a good idea to call the police for any moderate to serious accident. If there are any injuries or fatalities at the scene, then you must call the police. When police officers arrive, request a police report to be filed. Ask for the names and badge numbers of the responding officers.
Step 4) Exchange Information with Other Drivers and Passengers
Talk to the other driver or drivers. Get the names, contact information, driver’s license numbers, license plate numbers, and insurance information of the other drivers involved in the collision. Do the same for any passengers involved in the collision.
While speaking with the other driver and passengers, avoid apologizing. In the United States, apologizing for any aspect of the collision can admit legal liability for what happened – even if you were not at fault.
Step 5) Speak with Witnesses
Talk to witnesses at the scene. Ask the witnesses what they saw. Record their names, contact information, addresses, and other relevant information. Ask locals if they’ve seen other accidents in the area. The intersection may be particularly dangerous, for example, due to reasons outside your control.
Step 6) Call your Insurance Company
You should have a card with the contact details of your insurance company. Tell your insurance company you’ve been in an accident. Explain the details of the accident. Tell the truth, even if the accident was your fault. Some insurance companies have an app or online form you can use to submit an accident claim. With more serious claims, you should contact your insurance company immediately. The longer you wait to file your claim, the more problems you can run into.
Step 7) Keep Track of Medical Expenses
If you require medical treatment, then you must keep track of your medical expenses. Your doctor might refer you to a specialist, a physical therapist, a massage therapist, a chiropractor, or another medical professional. Keep track of these referrals. Request all copies of medical records and medical bills. The more medical documentation you have, the easier your claim will be.
Step 8) Consider Keeping a Journal for Pain and Suffering
Documenting your physical injuries is straightforward. Your medical expenses help prove damage related to your physical injuries. However, documenting pain and suffering – which can be worth much more than your medical bills – can be more difficult.
To document pain and suffering, consider keeping a journal or some record about how your car accident has impacted your daily life. Include your daily pain medication, missed workdays, and any routine activities you can no longer enjoy.
Step 9) Photograph Any Vehicle Damages
Take photos of any vehicle damages. It will be ideal if you have a “before” picture of your car taken before the accident. This makes it easy for the auto insurance company to determine which damages were caused by the accident and which damages were there before the accident.
Step 10) Get an Independent Assessment of your Vehicle
Your insurance company might send an adjuster to your address to assess vehicle damages. If you’re unsatisfied with the assessment from your insurance company, then consider getting an independent evaluation. You can take your car to a repair shop, for example, to get an estimate of how much repairs will cost.
Step 11) Consider Hiring an Attorney
If you’re at-fault in an accident, then you may wish to hire an attorney – mainly if it was a severe collision. In this situation, you may want to avoid talking to your car insurance company without your attorney present. You may inadvertently reveal something that makes you more liable for the accident, for example. Use caution when discussing the accident.
An at-fault collision can have serious, lifelong impacts on your life. It can immediately cause insurance rates to skyrocket, but it can also cause you to incur financial liability beyond your insurance coverage. If you caused $100,000 in damages, for example, then your insurance company will only cover up to your policy limits – say $30,000. That means you could be required to pay the additional $70,000 out of pocket.
Most car accident attorneys offer free consultations. During a consultation, the attorney will explain how to proceed with your case, including how you may benefit from hiring an attorney. A good attorney will reduce your liability, protect your rights, and possibly even prevent you from being found at-fault for the accident.