After a Car Accident: 6 Steps to Take

Protect yourself and your car accident claim with this post-accident checklist.

By , J.D.

The steps you take in the days and weeks after a car accident can be crucial to getting the best result for any car accident injury claim you decide to file. Here's what to know at the outset:

  • Get prompt medical care and gather the right evidence.
  • Get your hands on the police report and document everything, including how your injuries are impacting your life.
  • Having a lawyer on your side can make a big difference in the outcome of your claim.

1. At the Car Accident Scene

You're probably not reading this at the scene of your car accident, but even after the fact it might help to get a sense of "best practices" when it comes to protecting yourself and others (and your legal rights) in the moments after a crash. That includes:

  • calling emergency medical services to the scene if anyone needs prompt medical care
  • calling law enforcement to the scene (probably via a non-emergency number if there are no serious injuries and the vehicles are safely off the road)
  • exchanging insurance and contact information with all drivers and anyone else involved in the accident
  • getting the names and contact details of anyone who might have witnessed the accident
  • taking photos of the position of the vehicles, damage to any vehicle or property, debris on the road, and anything else that might be relevant to how or why the crash happened.

Get more tips on what to do at the scene of your car accident.

2. Don't Wait to Get Medical Care

After your car accident, if you feel even the slightest hint of injury, or just have the sense that something's not right with you physically, it's important to get medical attention as soon as possible. Your health is your first concern, but getting necessary medical treatment after a car accident (and having medical bills and records to document that treatment) will only strengthen any car accident injury claim you make.

Learn more about seeing a doctor ASAP after a car accident.

3. Contact Your Car Insurance Company

Any time you're involved in an incident that could trigger your car insurance coverage, under the terms of your policy you're required to report the incident to your insurer. If you don't let your car insurance company know about the crash within a reasonable time (usually a week or so at most), it could cause you problems down the line. That's especially true if you end up making a claim under your own coverage, or if the other driver gets in touch with your insurer before you do.

Learn more about the importance of contacting your car insurance company after a car accident.

You might also need to report your car accident to law enforcement, to your state's department of motor vehicles, or to a similar agency. Get more details on reporting a car accident.

4. Get a Copy of the Car Accident Police Report

If a law enforcement officer came to the scene of your car accident, it's likely that a report was generated in connection with the crash. At a minimum, this police report will include details about the crash—where it occurred, who was involved, and so on. In many instances, the officer also records other circumstances of the crash, including witness statements, vehicle positioning, location of debris, and other factors that might weigh into the determination of who might have caused the car accident.

Get more details on how police reports can affect a car accident claim.

5. Document Everything After a Car Accident

At every opportunity, make sure you preserve any records related to your car accident, and produce your own documentation where doing so can help strengthen your car accident claim. That includes:

  • medical bills and treatment records (your attorney can handle this)
  • time you've missed at work, due to an inability to perform your job duties, or so that you can attend medical appointments
  • vehicle damage repair estimates and/or vehicle valuation reports
  • witness statements
  • your own written, detailed description of how the accident happened: everything you saw and felt, your impressions of who or what caused or contributed to the accident, and anything else that might be relevant
  • a personal journal or diary documenting the impact of your car accident injuries and your medical treatment on different areas of your life; this kind of detail will go a long way toward bolstering any "pain and suffering" damages claim you make.

6. Talk to a Car Accident Lawyer

In a Nolo/ survey, our users reported that having a lawyer on their side resulted in not just a higher likelihood of a payout of some kind, but also a much higher average compensation:

  • 74 percent of car accident claimants who had a lawyer on their side received some amount of compensation, while only 54 percent of responders who handled their own claims saw any kind of payout.
  • Car accident claimants who were represented by a lawyer received $44,600 on average, compared with an average payout of just $13,900 for self-represented claimants.

Get more details on how having a lawyer on your side affects the outcome of a car accident claim. And if you're ready to discuss your options with a lawyer, you can connect with a car accident lawyer directly from this page for free.

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