Car accidents can shake you up. But what you do in the heat of the moment can ruin your chances of getting compensation. Here are some mistakes to avoid in the moments after a crash.
Leaving the scene
If the accident is your fault, you might panic. But whatever you do, don't leave the scene. State laws vary when it comes to hit-and-runs, but the consequences could involve steep fines and imprisonment. Stopping just long enough to make sure everyone is OK is not enough, according to the website of San Diego personal injury attorney Mark C. Blane. You must exchange proper information with everyone involved and provide enough information so that you can be contacted later.
If the car you hit is empty, you're still required to stop. If you don't, it's considered a hit-and-run. California law, for example, requires you to put, in a conspicuous location on the vehicle, a written note that includes your address, the contact information of the vehicle's owner and a description of the accident.
Not documenting the accident
Your emotions are probably running high while you're checking for injuries and getting your first look at the brand new dent in your car's side. And those emotions could wipe out important details from your memory. That's why it is vital to document the scene of the crash. GMAC Insurance recommends doing the following:
- Exchange insurance and contact information with all other drivers and passengers.
- Get reports from eyewitnesses, and take down their contact information. The information given by an eyewitness can make all the difference if the details of a case are contested in court.
- Take photos of the accident scene. If your account differs from that of the other driver, photos can provide vital proof of what happened.
- Take down the license plate numbers of all cars involved and draw a diagram that shows where they were positioned after the crash.
Admitting fault or apologizing
Even if you're pretty sure the accident is your fault, do not admit fault at the scene of the accident. Do not even apologize. The emotional moments right after the crash are not the time for assessing blame.
You may not know all the details of the crash. Moreover, "fault" in the legal sense is different from "fault" in the colloquial sense, according to the Law Offices of Charles A. Gilman, a law firm with offices in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Even if you did something wrong, the accident may not be entirely your fault if, for example, the other driver broke traffic laws. It's up to your insurance companies to figure all that out -- and admitting fault too early can ruin your chances of a fair outcome.