Everyone thinks car accidents happen to someone else until it happens to them. There were 5.25 million crashes reported to the police in 2020, the most recent year that the Department of Transportation reported this data. In 2022, 42,795 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes. The odds could catch up with you some day, especially if you in urban area such as Chicago. So, what should you do if you are in a car accident?
If you are involved in an accident – even if you were not behind the wheel when one occurred – it is essential that you take appropriate steps in the immediate aftermath. If you don’t, your trauma could be compounded by costly legal action against you. Here is what you need to do when an accident happens:
- Check for injuries, and get medical help if someone is hurt. The first thing to do after a car accident is to check yourself and your passengers for any injuries. If anyone is hurt, call for medical help right away. If you have suffered what seems like a minor injury, consider getting medical attention of some kind within the next few days. Some injuries, such as head trauma and neck pain, don’t manifest themselves right away. You may not appreciate just how seriously you have been injured until you see a doctor. Moreover, waiting too long to get medical attention could make it difficult for you to get compensated if you file an insurance claim.
- Get to safety. If your car is drivable, move it off the road. If doing so is not possible, make sure you are out of harm’s way. In an urban setting such as Chicago, there may be a lot of traffic and pedestrians — so it’s important to move your vehicle to a safe location as quickly as possible to prevent further accidents. It is not uncommon for people in an accident to suffer serious injury or death from oncoming traffic after the accident occurs – tragedies that could have been avoided by the accident victim remembering to move to safety.
- Call the police. Get police on the scene. They will verify what happened with a police report, which you may need later. The police presence may also be necessary to keep everyone calm. You might wonder whether it’s necessary to report even a minor fender bender to the police. Requirements vary by state. In Illinois, each driver involved in an Illinois traffic crash must file a crash report if the crash caused a death, bodily injury, or more than $1,500 of property damage when all drivers are insured. If any driver does not have insurance, the threshold is $500. But in the immediate aftermath of an accident, it might not be clear how much damage has been caused. It’s best to err on the side of caution. Report even a minor fender bender.
- Stay calm. However upset you are, take a deep breath and stay focused on what you need to do to be safe and to protect yourself. You may be upset that someone else has damaged your car, but by no means should you lash out at the other driver.
- Never admit wrongdoing. Do not apologize or admit fault, as this can be used against you in any legal proceedings. Even if you’ve damaged someone else’s car, be very careful about what you say. Focus on what you need to do next, not on whether you believe you are in the wrong.
- Exchange information. Get information from the other driver, most importantly their insurance cards, driver’s licenses, and contact information. A quick way to get most of what you need is to photograph each other’s insurance cards and driver’s licenses.
- Take photos and video. Document visually as much as you can, including the damage done to vehicles, scene of the accident, injuries sustained, and any pertinent information such as visible ice on the road. Do so immediately, not after the fact.
- Find out of the accident was recorded. In addition to taking a visual record of the accident’s aftermath, check to see if someone recorded it actually happen. Nowadays, there are cameras everywhere – such as security cameras on homes or businesses, traffic lights, police cameras, or even dashboard cameras on your or nearby vehicles. Or someone might have recorded the accident on their mobile phone. See if anyone in the immediate vicinity recorded the accident. Ask bystanders. Consult with neighbors and businesses that might have security cameras installed on their property. Take immediate steps to gather or preserve that video if you find it. Oftentimes security cameras automatically purge video after a finite period of time, and if it is not preserved it can be lost.
- Get contact information from any witnesses. In many car accident cases, both parties allege the other driver did something wrong. Having the contact information of someone else who was on scene provides you protection if a case arises out of the accident and you need someone to corroborate your version of events. Make sure you act quickly, though, before witnesses leave the scene.
- Keep a diary. Diary everything that happened, including expenses incurred and when/where the accident occurred. You may need this information if it becomes necessary to seek an attorney’s counsel.
- Contact your insurance company. Regardless of who is at fault, contact your insurance company. At the very least, doing so gives you a chance to describe in your own words what happened early on while your memory of the incident is clear. If your accident occurred in a city such as Chicago, there may be more complex insurance issues to consider, such as no-fault insurance or uninsured motorist coverage. Your insurance company can help guide you through the process.
- Be vigilant. Don’t assume everything that happens next will go smoothly. Sure, for a minor fender bender, chances are that the situation will resolve itself quickly and routinely. But don’t assume anything. Stay on top of your insurance company to ensure that the follow-through is happening to your satisfaction. Make sure you get that police report on file. In a serious accident, be prepared to consult a personal injury attorney.
- Avoid posting on social media. Avoid going on social media to discuss the details of your accident. What you share on social could become discoverable and used against you should any legal action happen.
If you believe you need legal help in the aftermath of an accident, call Capron Avgerinos & Heinlen now at (312) 346-6444. We are ready to assist you over the phone or in person. We perform our cases on a contingent fee basis, which means we are not paid unless you recover compensation for your claim. Call Capron Avgerinos & Heinlen at (312) 346-6444 – let us show how we can deliver results for you.
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