What to do After a Car Accident

There you are, out running errands or going about your daily commute, when the unthinkable happens:  a collision.  What should you do?

The best way to deal with a motor vehicle collision is to be prepared before one occurs.You should have the following in your vehicle:

(a)  a first aid kit (ideally, this should be in your glove compartment);
(b)  a set of flares, warning triangles, cones or emergency light sticks to help alert traffic;
(c)   a pen and paper;
(d)  a disposable camera in the event that you do not have a cell phone available to take photographs;
(e)  information regarding your insurance and vehicle registration;
(f)    a card with emergency contacts and relevant medical information for you or your family; and
(g)  a flashlight.

Some retailers or automobile insurance brokers also have accident kits that you can purchase, which include much of the above.

Before hitting the road, you should also be aware of what your insurance covers.  In all likelihood, your insurance coverage has exclusion clauses that limit the obligations of your insurer to cover you in certain circumstances.  You should consider purchasing additional coverage to deal with some exclusion clauses.

If you are actually in a motor vehicle collision, here are a few things to consider. You may want to print this article and keep it in your vehicle to assist you if the time comes.

1. Remain calm!  Take a deep breath and do the following

(a) Determine if anyone is injured.  If you have any doubts, call an ambulance.
(b) If you can safely do so, provide aid to anyone in need of it.

NOTE:   After a collision you may not feel the pain of an injury until hours or even days later. Seek medical attention as soon as you feel the injury.

2. Turn on your vehicle’s hazard lights and, where appropriate, use flares, warning triangles, cones or light sticks to alert traffic. If the collision is minor, and if it is safe to do so, move your vehicle to avoid causing further collisions.If the collision is more severe, allow emergency personnel to investigate the scene before attempting to move any vehicles. If you are unable to remove yourself from the vehicle, you should ensure that your seatbelt remains buckled.

3. At no point should you make any indication that you are, or feel that you are, at fault for the collision.  This includes conversations with your passenger(s), other drivers, witnesses, law enforcement and your insurer.  Even if you feel that you are at fault, you should be aware that an apology can be construed as an admission of fault.  Remember, anything you say can be used against you by the insurer.

4. Ensure that you get information from other drivers, including:

(a) full name;
(b) address and phone number;
(c) driver’s license number;
(d) the make, model and license plate numbers of the vehicles involved; and
(e) the insurance company and policy numbers.

You may wish to photograph information such as driver’s licenses, license plates and insurance documents to assist should numbers be noted incorrectly or illegibly.

If you notice that the driver’s name is different from the name of the insured, attempt to determine the relationship between the driver and the insured person.

In the event that the other driver leaves the scene of the collision before you are able to exchange information, you may be obligated to make “reasonable efforts” to determine the identity of that driver in order to get insurance coverage.   Such efforts can include, but may not be limited to, calling the police, calling your insurer, posting ads, seeking out and questioning witnesses and returning to the scene of the accident at the same time on other days to see if you can spot the same vehicle.

5. Obtain full contact information for any witnesses to the collision.

6. Call law enforcement.

If the accident is minor, law enforcement may not attend at the scene of the accident, but having a police report can help you to either pursue or defend a claim stemming from the accident.  A police report can also speed up the handling of your insurance claim.

You should never agree not to call law enforcement.  By not calling law enforcement, you give the other party an opportunity to change his or her story once the authorities will no longer investigate the accident.

7. Remove any valuables from your vehicle.

8. If you can safely do so, take photos of the collision, including the general area, weather, or any other contributing factors, as well as the damage to the vehicles involved (images that show the entire vehicle as well as detailed images of the damage). You should also take photos of your injuries.    If you are too injured at the time of the collision, take photos of the vehicle damage and your injuries as soon as you are able.

9. As memory tends to fade with time, you should write down what you recall from the collision as soon as you can after it occurs.  This will help you to refresh your memory later on.

10. When you are able to, contact a lawyer.  The sooner you contact a lawyer the better, as he or she will be able to gather evidence and ensure that you receive what you are entitled to from the insurance company.  A lawyer can advise you of your rights and responsibilities, and deal with the insurance company on your behalf.   A good lawyer can help you to get fair compensation from your insurer.

Ideally, you should not sign any document related to the accident until you have had a lawyer review that document.

If you receive a traffic ticket in relation to the accident, consult a lawyer before paying the ticket.  You may be able to dispute the ticket.

11. You or your lawyer must contact your insurance company to report the claim.  Ideally, you should not give any statements to your insurer until you have met with a lawyer.  Take note that anything you say to your insurer could be used as evidence later on.  Typically, the insurer will assign an adjuster to your claim, who will make initial determinations regarding liability and fault, and coverage to be offered by the insurer.

Avoid settling your claim directly with the driver or owner of the other vehicle.  This could impede your ability to bring a claim later on.

12. At some point, your insurance company may offer to repair your vehicle.  You will likely have to pay a deductible before repair work is completed.  Your insurer will pay the repair shop directly for any repairs.

In cases where your vehicle is considered to be a write-off, the insurer may offer you what it determines to be the actual cash value of your vehicle.  You should note that you may have to pay deductible even when your vehicle is a write-off.

13. If you suffer physical injuries as a result of a motor vehicle collision, the insurer may make an offer to settle your claim.  If you and your insurer cannot agree on a settlement value, then you may have to take the matter to court to what compensation you are entitled to.

If you have been in an accident in British Columbia, lawyers at Waterstone Law Group LLP can help you.  Please give us a call, or e-mail us, to arrange an appointment.

This blog is produced by Waterstone Law Group LLP. This blog is intended for information purposes only and is not offered as legal advice for a specific claim. Subscription to or use of this site does not establish a solicitor – client relationship between the user and Waterstone Law Group LLP or any of the individual contributors. For advice relating to your personal injury claim, please contact us to arrange for a free consultation.

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