The Ultimate Guide to Handling a Car Accident

Car Accident One Car
Whether you’ve been in one accident or three, there’s one thing most of us have in common. We’re never really sure what we’re supposed to do.
 
At Jim Ellis Hyundai Atlanta, we know car accidents come on suddenly and without warning. There you are on your way to work, and someone comes out of nowhere and sideswipes your car.
 
And after the car accident, you always find out about the things you “should have” done. Whether it’s from your dad, your local service department, or an insurance agent, someone will advise you on at least one step you could have taken differently. 
 
But now that you know for sure that accidents happen to all of us, it’s a good idea to brush up on the dos and don’ts of handling a car accident.
 
This way, you can be prepared for next time. 

What to do in a car accident: The first moments
Your mind races in the moments directly after a crash. It often feels surreal, like more of a dream than reality. But it’s important to keep calm and focused in these moments. 

Perform a safety check
Before you do anything else, perform a quick safety check.

 
It's important to make sure you're okay before you help anyone else. But if your children are in the car, you're probably going to check them before you can take your first breath after the crash. Once you see that they're okay, evaluate your condition before going any further.

If anyone in the car needs serious medical attention, call 911 immediately. Don’t wait for the other driver and don’t move the vehicle before you call.  


Woman calls for help car accident.jpg
If someone is injured, but it doesn't seem serious, you can either call 911 or your local police department. If you don't know the number to the local police, you can dial 311. This service will connect you with an ambassador in the local area who can connect you with the police department.
 
If someone is seriously hurt, do not move your vehicle.

When to get out of your vehicle
As soon as you’ve assessed (or while you’re checking on) everyone’s safety, put the car’s hazard lights on.
 
If there are no serious injuries and the car is drivable, pull over to the side of the road. You’ll be safer out of the way of traffic, which will prevent further injury to your or your car. 
 
If you have emergency flares, it’s always a good idea to use them. They are especially handy on highways, busy roads or dark conditions. If it’s dark, make sure to keep your headlights on – especially if you don’t have flares.

When to call the police
When it comes to calling the police, you're going to encounter different schools of thought. Some people will tell you to call the police after any and every accident. But in truth, this probably isn’t necessary. 

 
Still, it’s probably better to err on the side of caution if you’re unsure. 
 
After a car accident, it's more likely that you'll need the police than not. The only time you don't need to call the police is if it's a minor fender bender with very little damage and no bodily harm.
 
As far as damages go, it’s best to have a police report on any damages above $1,000. And if you think about it, it’s very easy to rack up a bill for $1,000 in damages. It’s almost anything above minor scratches. 
 
The police report will document each side of the story and help insurance adjusters determine who is actually at fault. This will come in handy if it comes down to your word against the other driver’s.

Who's at fault in a car accident?
Two Drivers Arguing After Traffic Accident
When two parties first make contact after the accident, each will have an idea of who was at fault. In most cases, the two ideas are polar opposites. I think it’s your fault and you think it’s mine. 
 
In truth, fault matters a whole lot when it comes to auto accidents. Whoever is at fault will be liable for all damages. It can get complicated in larger accidents when more than one person is at fault. In this case, you’d be responsible for any damages associated with your actions whether that be damaged car parts in the exterior or interior. 
 
But since there’s more often only one party considered at fault, let’s look at what to do on either side of the coin. 
 
What to do after a car accident that’s not your fault
Let’s say you were sitting at a stoplight and got rear-ended by the car behind you. It’s a cut-and-dry case. This isn’t your fault. So what do you do?

 
Well, after doing a safety check and pulling to the side of the road, start by gathering information. Here’s what you’ll need:
o The other driver’s name and address
o The other driver's insurance company name and policy number (take a picture of the insurance card if possible)
o Witness statements (if there is serious damage or injury)
o Pictures of the damage

If there's bodily injury or more than $1,000 in damages, call the police. You'll want a police report. Next, you'll call your insurance company, but you don't have to do this at the scene. Most insurance companies allow up to 7 days to file a claim but sooner is always better.

What to do after a car accident that’s your fault
What if you were the car that did the rear-ending in the example above? Well, it’s certainly not your finest moment, but you’ll get through this. 

 
No matter what type of day you're having or where you have to be, do not leave the scene. It's not just messed up; it's illegal.
 
Even if you think the accident is your fault, there’s no need to mention it. In some cases, you might be wrong. Probably not in this example, but as a general rule, don’t admit fault. Don’t apologize. 
 
You should be polite and get the other driver’s information. Handle this accident in the same way you’d handle it if you thought it wasn’t your fault.

Check to see if anyone in your car is injured and ask about the safety and condition of everyone involved. Call 911 immediately if anyone in either vehicle is injured. Then, pull your vehicle safely off the road.


Gather information, including: 
o The other driver’s name and address
o The other driver's insurance company name and policy number (take a picture of the insurance card if possible)
o Witness statements (if there is serious damage or injury)
o Pictures of the damage
 
Taking photo of car accident
 
If the other party hasn’t called the police, assess whether there’s bodily harm or significant damage (over $1,000). If so, call the police yourself.
 
This is where some people make a big mistake. If you think the accident was your fault, you may be afraid to call the police. But don’t be. The police report will only help you as you navigate through the next steps. 

How to file a police report
Once the police arrive at the scene, they will begin to assess the situation and start the process of filing a report. The officer will take a statement from you and the other party, and he or she will provide an objective view. This can help diffuse any tension or anxiety, especially if there's any conflict between you and the other driver.

So if an officer shows up, you need to cooperate and follow through with the process of filing a report. Just be sure to also take all the pertinent information on the other driver and your pictures of the damages and scene.


Accident Report
But in some cases, the police may not show up. This may happen if there are no injuries and the damage is relatively minor. The police are also likely to be a no-show in extreme weather conditions like blizzards, tornadoes or hurricanes. In these times, many other emergencies need their attention, and they may not be able to get to yours.

But no worries, you can still file a police report. 

 
You can file an incident report at the nearest police station, and you may also be able to do this online. In some states, you must file a police report for damages over a certain amount, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
 
Here’s what you’ll need to file the police report after the accident:
Name and insurance info of the other driver
Names and contacts of any witnesses
Pictures of both vehicles at the scene

What happens if your car is undrivable
Car Accident Two Cars Undrivable

So what happens if you’re in an accident that renders your car undrivable?

Naturally, you'll need a tow truck, but who pays for it? This can be a sticky situation at the moment because it doesn't matter how obvious the blame seems to you. The insurance company doesn't immediately assign fault.

This means that you could be liable for the cost of the tow.

It might be tempting to call around and find a tow service that will come quickly, but it's usually best to go through your insurance company.

After an accident, you usually have a few days before you must file the claim (check with your insurance company for the rules). So you don’t always have to start the claim at the scene of the wreck. But if your car is undrivable, you may want to. 

This is the best way to ensure that the cost of the tow will be covered by insurance. Otherwise, you'll have to submit your receipt later to be approved or denied.

Now, if you have a service like AAA and don’t care whether the insurance company pays for the tow, go ahead and handle the arrangements yourself. In the end, this is your call. But you should know that it’s always best to involve the insurance company if you want insurance to pay.  

Next steps for handling your car accident
Okay, now you’re home after the accident. What do you do?

 
Well, if you haven’t already, it’s time to call your insurance company. You typically have a few days to do this, but it can vary by state and company, so don’t risk waiting long. 
 
With that said, if you have to wait until you’re home from work, that’s usually not a problem. 
 
Here are some tips to help you get the most from your claim.
 
1. Decline to make a recorded statement
If you already have an accident report, this isn’t necessary. And if the insurance company determines you’re at fault, the recorded statement may be used to minimize your claim. If you do have to make a statement, talk to your lawyer first.
 
2. Don’t be quick to settle
You might assume you know the scope of your injury and feel comfortable settling, but many people get burned by this. If something comes up later or the injury becomes chronic, you’ll regret taking the settlement.
 
3. Take pictures of injuries
If you’re injured in an accident, take pictures of the injury at the scene and every day within the first week. Some injuries become more apparent over time and photo evidence can help your claim.
 
4. Protect yourself
If there's any chance (even if it's minuscule) that you could be liable for the accident, consider hiring a lawyer. Insurance agents may be friendly towards you, but they work for a company that's in business to make money. Unfortunately, they are going to look out for their bottom line – even if it's not aligned with your best interests. Even if the accident wasn't your fault, it's probably best to involve an attorney when you or your passengers have injuries.

Depending on the amount of damage, you may have to start looking for a new car. You'll have to do more follow up with your insurance company to see the extent your damages could be covered as well as what body shops or collision centers are in your network. 

No one wants to think about being in a car accident, but the reality is that your chances of having a car accident are about 1 in 77. It's a common occurrence that most of us encounter more than once in a lifetime. We can only hope to walk away without injuries and major liability.  
 
In the event you're in a car accident, follow the steps outlined here to encourage safety, document the process and begin the claim. Depending on the severity of the accident, the claim may take months to years, but you will get through this. 
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