Auto Accidents: A Checklist

For many people, traffic mishaps are an unfortunate fact of life.  A proper reaction can reduce injuries and costs as well as accelerate the clean-up and repair process.  The time to prepare for an accident is before one happens, when heads are cool, calm and rational.  The following are some simple suggestions to make an accident as painless as possible:
 
(a)    Create an emergency kit:
 
An emergency kit should be placed in an easily accessible part of every car and should include a first aid kit, flares, warning triangles a notepad and pencil for taking notes.  It is recommended that a charged mobile phone (ideally with a camera) remain in the car at all times.  There should be a medical emergency card with information about who to contact in the event of an emergency and, if applicable, any medical allergies or conditions that may require special attention if there are serious injuries.
 
(b) What to do if you have an accident:
 
Communication: Be polite and courteous to all involved, and cooperate with the authorities.  You should not talk about who is at fault with the other driver(s).  Never admit fault or apologize even if you believe that the accident was your fault (you could be wrong).   

Safety first: Remain calm.  Most police departments recommend that drivers who have no serious injury in minor fender benders move cars out of the way of traffic promptly; leaving an automobile in traffic can lead to more accidents and increase the possibility of further injury.  The engine should be turned off and parking brake should be engaged.  Emergency flashers (hazard signals) should be turned on.  If possible have flares and emergency triangles out to warn oncoming traffic of the problem ahead.  Assist the injured but do not move someone who may have a neck or back injury unless not doing so puts them in more peril. Dial 911 immediately if anyone is injured or any vehicle is disabled.  Clear all non-injured people from the area particularly if you smell gas or if a vehicle is on fire.

Exchange information: After the accident, exchange the following information: name, address and phone number of the drivers and owners of all vehicles involved if different from the drivers; contact information of any passengers; the insurance companies; policy numbers; driver’s license number; and license plate number of each vehicle. If a driver’s name is different from the name of the insured, establish what the relationship is to the owner.  Also make a written description of each car, including year, make, model, and color of any vehicle involved. 

Document the accident:  If possible use the notepad and write down the exact location of the collision and how the accident happened.  Identify possible witnesses and be sure to get their contact information.  If possible, photograph the accident area and the vehicles involved so as to get the overall context of the accident.  Document the time of day; the weather conditions including temperature and whether it was dark or light at the time of the accident.  Note the road conditions and whether the road was dry or wet.  Make note of any traffic control devices; and, if it is after dusk or before dawn, note whether there were street lights on the area. Notes about the accident should also include impressions about the condition of the people involved in the accident and a diagram of the accident scene.  If a party says something to the effect “I am sorry it was my fault” write that down.

(c) After the Accident:   

Report the accident to your insurance provider.  If the accident involves a death or an injury, or if a vehicle has been towed, Pennsylvania law requires that a Driver’s Accident Report be filed within five days of the accident. If there was any kind of injury to you or anyone in your vehicle, seek medical attention immediately and seek follow-up care if directed to do so.

If police are called to the scene, you should give the officer an account of the circumstances and the accident but preferably not in the presence of other persons. The police may not force you to give details of the accident or admit blame, and you have the right to speak with an attorney before making any statements. If the accident is serious, consult your attorney as soon as possible.

Finally, maintain a diary for as long as you have injuries that are not healed.  Together with your contemporaneous documentation of the accident, a diary can be invaluable if litigation results.  It is amazing how our memories fade and unconsciously revise the account of the “facts”.  We see it all the time.  Nothing lends credibility to the account of an accident and its aftermath more than notes made at the time of your experience.

For more information about what to do before or after an automobile accident contact our office.
 
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