The single most important thing to do following a motor vehicle accident is to protect the safety and well being of the passengers in your vehicle and yourself. Therefore, if possible move your vehicle to a safe location either on the shoulder of the road or a nearby parking lot. But before doing so, make sure that moving your vehicle will not cause or exacerbate anybody’s injuries.
Once you’re in a safe location, assess the well being of your passengers and yourself. Ask specific questions to each person. If someone is hurt you should call 911 and request an ambulance immediately. I always recommend calling the police to any accident scene, even if everyone is ok. But, let them know that no one is seriously injured.
The police serve an important role in documenting the accident. First, they gather all relevant insurance information. They also document the accident in terms of time, location and apparent contributing factors. They will gather any witness information. All of this can be incredibly important later on in the legal process. The information will be compiled on a document called a Police Accident MV-104 form. It usually takes about one week to get this document from the police. But you should be provided with a field report on the scene and request the MV-104 as soon as possible.
The police will also ask if you have suffered an injury and want medical attention. Many people will opt to decline medical attention even if they have injuries fearing both the time and expense associated with going to the hospital. I strongly recommend that if you have any pain whatsoever that you accept the offer of medical attention. It will be paid for by insurance and cannot only save your life, but also save any potential personal injury case that you may have.
I’ve come across many individuals that have declined medical attention on the scene, to only find later on in the evening or the next day that their injuries are serious and need to go to the emergency room. Also, I’ve represented many clients that had seemingly minor injuries that progressively grew worse until they were forced to seek medical attention days and even weeks after their accident. Often, insurance companies will try and deny that the car accident was the cause of my client’s pain because my client declined medical attention at the scene. As an attorney, I want to eliminate as many obstacles as possible when seeking compensation for my client. Therefore, always accept medical attention should you be in pain.
Another good idea at the scene of the accident is to collect information if you are physically able to do so. Take photographs of the scene and the vehicles involved in the accident. Also, get witnesses names. Seldom do the police take photographs at the scene of an accident. Only in case of catastrophic injuries will the police call upon the crime scene investigative unit to document the scene with photographs and measurements.
Further, there is no need to converse with the other driver. It is fine to inquire about their physical wellbeing. But, it is best not to discuss the circumstances of the accident. Discussing the accident with the other parties serves no legal purpose and often leads to verbal and/or physical altercations.
Finally, be weary of offers to resolve the matter without the police. This never goes well. There is usually a reason the other party wants to avoid the police and it’s never to benefit you. Either, there is an issue with their license or insurance or they simply know they are at fault and prefer not to have it documented so that they can later deny their wrongdoing. Learn more about handling an accident with someone who is underinsured.