If you’ve recently been in a car collision, you know how scary the experience can be. The last thing you want to do is follow a methodical set of steps to achieve the best conclusion possible. But that is what you must do, in order to protect your rights and ensure you are fully compensated for your vehicle damage and injuries.
In general, after a collision, you want to call the police and an ambulance if serious injuries are involved, then file a claim with the insurance company. But here are the steps you should take in detail.
Step 1: Call an Ambulance if Injuries Are Involved
First thing? Check to see if anyone was injured in the collision. If so, call an ambulance. Move everyone to a safe location if possible, such as the side of the road. Do not move injured people if you can help it. Let the EMTs handle this when they arrive.
Step 2: Contact Police
Next, call the police on a non-emergency number if nobody was hurt or just property damage was incurred, or 911 if injuries are present. Tell the operator that a collision occurred, tell them if anyone was injured, and give them a location. Do not speculate on fault at this juncture.
Step 3: Don’t Talk to the Other Driver
Avoid speaking to the other party if possible, other than to ask about injuries. If they approach you or continue to speak to you even after you have made it clear you don’t want to talk, you can record the conversation. They may ask you to ignore the collision, or settle it between the two of you.
Tell them in a calm manner that police are on the way and you will let them handle it. Anything you say to the other driver can be construed as guilt. Do not even apologize to the driver out of instinct, as even polite apologies can be twisted to imply fault.
Step 4: Document Evidence and Take Pictures
Once police have been called, start taking photos of the scene and the damage to the vehicles. You will want to take photos of:
- The license plate of the other driver.
- Your injuries and those of injured passengers.
- Vehicle damage, no matter how minor. In fact, even if there seems to be no damage at all, take the photos, as documentation of the lack of damage is just as critical in many cases.
- Skid marks, debris left behind, or damage to the surrounding environment. When snapping a photo of debris, such as car parts and trees, try to get the vehicles in the same photo to establish location and scale.
- Weather conditions, such as large puddles, snow or icy roads.
- The other driver, just in case they flee the scene and police need to identify them later.
Step 5: Give a Statement
Get out your license, registration, and insurance information so you can simply hand it over to the police when they get there. Be as organized as possible in the interest of time and efficiency. Once they have that information in hand, they will want to take a brief statement from you.
Be succinct and factual but don’t speculate as to cause or fault. Just the facts! Do not talk about your feelings and don’t speculate on the other driver’s behavior, which will increase the odds that your statements will be misunderstood later. You will be given a copy of the report. Make a copy to send to the insurance company.
Step 6: Contact Your Insurance Company and a Lawyer if Necessary
Now that the police have their statement, you can leave and go home. Immediately contact your insurance company. However, your insurance carrier is not the one that will pay the settlement; this is why you need to also contact the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier to address both the property damage and personal injury claims.
Keep in mind, though, that property damage and personal injuries are two separate claims. The property damage claims usually being resolved first, whereby the insurance company will mail you a check for property damages. You can then get your vehicle repaired at your discretion, using the provided funds to do so.
However, it’s important to make sure that the check and release for the property claim does not also settle the bodily injury (BI) claim.
Once you accept a settlement on the BI claim, negotiate the check, and sign the release, you cannot change your mind. The time to call an attorney is before a check and release are issued by the at-fault insurance carrier.
The at-fault driver’s insurance company will later approach you with a settlement. If you accept what they’re initially offering, you are waiving your right to bring a lawsuit against the other driver later.
If you feel that the settlement you received was unfair or does not cover the expected damages fully, you may choose to contact a VA car accident lawyer to handle further negotiations.
Your car accident lawyer in Southwest Virginia will negotiate with the insurance company for more compensation. Usually, the insurance company’s first offer is not sufficient, and some back and forth is expected. With an attorney doing the negotiating for you, this process can be expedited.
Contact Altizer Law
Bettina C. Altizer and her team at Altizer Law know the ins and outs of auto collision cases in Virginia. Start off with your free, no-obligation consultation when you contact us at 540-345-2000. Having a southwest Virginia car accident law firm in your corner is critical as you navigate the confusing steps following a collision.