If you think that you might be at fault for a car accident, what can you do to best defend yourself and protect your financial interests? In this article, we'll explain the best steps to take if you're facing (or could face) a personal injury lawsuit over a car accident.
The first thing that you should do is to stop and exchange information with the other driver or drivers. Never leave the scene after an accident. That is a criminal offense in every state. Further, leaving the scene after an accident can be used against you in a civil case as evidence that you must have been negligent.
In speaking with the other driver and other people involved, never admit liability, and try not to apologize. Never admit that you might have been responsible, even if you rear-ended the other person. Just ask if everyone is OK.
You can certainly offer to call the police and report the accident if you have a phone. You can also offer to help any injured people. But it is best to simply not discuss how the accident happened. If the occupants of the other vehicle accuse you of causing the accident or are otherwise in no mood to talk with you, just move away and wait for the police to arrive.
Learn more about What to Do At the Scene of a Car Accident.
After any car accident, regardless of who is at fault, you should take pictures of the accident scene and the damage to all of the vehicles involved. Take pictures from all angles. Take close-up pictures and more panoramic photographs. You should also take pictures of any skid marks, traffic lights, and stop or yield signs. Make sure to take pictures from the point of view of all drivers involved.
If you think that road conditions, potholes, or poorly-located traffic signals played a role in causing the accident, make sure to take close-up pictures of those things.
Try to get the names and contact information of any witnesses that might have seen part or all of the accident. The testimony of neutral witnesses is generally very important in determining exactly what happened in a car accident.
Some accidents are caused by a mechanical failure of one of the vehicles involved. If you think that your car suffered a mechanical failure (like a brake failure) that you didn't anticipate and couldn't control, get your car to a mechanic immediately.
No one will believe that you might have had a mechanical failure if you keep driving your car after the accident. If the car is drivable, try not to drive it away from the accident scene if at all possible. Either way, make sure to take the car to a reputable mechanic within a day or two of the accident.
If the police come, tell them honestly what you think happened, but don't say too much. Simply answer their questions completely and don't offer any information. Try not to appear defensive or guilty, but you also don't want to talk too much. You have an obligation to respond the police honestly and accurately, but you have no obligation to tell them what they didn't ask for.
Make sure to report the car accident to your insurance company and to your state's department of motor vehicles, if your state requires it. You should call your insurance company within 24 hours. If you do not report the accident to your insurer in a timely manner, it may refuse to insure any claims against you in connection with the accident. Don't get into an issue with your insurer as to what a "timely" report is. Just call them within 24 hours and tell them honestly what happened. If you don't tell them the truth about what happened, they may deny coverage for the accident.
You can ask your insurer if your state requires people who were in car accidents to file an accident report with your state's department of motor vehicles. States that require such a report to be filed usually require that the report be filed within 10-14 days of the accident. You can generally find an accident report form on the department of motor vehicles web site.
If you think that you might be at fault for a car accident and have any questions about your legal rights, you should contact a qualified car accident lawyer as soon as possible.