What to Do After a Car Accident

Whether it's your fault or someone elses

Woman calling about what to do after a car accident

How many people a year ask “what to do after a car accident?” You can bet the farm it’s a lot.

Over 5 million people a year get into a car crash according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and those are just police-reported accidents. Chances are, if you found this page, you are in the same predicament. You may be wondering how to get your life back on track and find out who is responsible for paying medical bills or replacing damaged property. The good news is that there are options available to help you recover from an auto injury, even if the car accident was your fault.

The 4 Most Important Things to Do After a Car Accident | A Legal Newbie & a Lawyer

6-step what to do after a car accident checklist

  1. Move to a safe place and check for injuries.

  2. If you or anyone involved has injuries, call for medical assistance and the police.

  3. Exchange information with all parties involved in the crash, including driver's licenses, insurance cards, and insurance policy information.

  4. Document all information at the crash site and take photos with your phone if you can.

  5. Contact your insurance company.

  6. (Optional, but recommended) Call a great car accident attorney. They may want to have an accident reconstructionist examine the vehicles before they are repaired or totaled. They may also want to determine if there are any data recording devices on any of the involved vehicles or surrounding buildings that would help with accident investigations/recreation.

What to do after a car accident that's not your fault

After you've been in an auto accident, the first thing you should do is make sure you are in a safe spot. Sometimes, that means staying in your vehicle but other times you should pull over to the side of the road to get out of the way of traffic. After you are sure you are safe, if you are the driver, check yourself and all passengers for injuries. Make sure to document any immediate aches, pains, or hurts for future reference. 
 
If it's safe to do so, exit the vehicle and check on the other driver or parties involved in the collision. It's important to remember that unless someone's life is in direct danger, do not move an injured person from or around a vehicle without medical supervision or emergency personnel to help. 
 
Should I report the incident to the police?
 
In Washington state, you are not required to file a police report on an accident with no significant injuries and property damage under $1,000. However, if it is a significant accident of more than $1,000 in damage and anyone has significant injuries, then yes, you must notify the police within four days of the accident. The police officer should fill out a police report on-site and give all parties a copy.
 
Be careful. Damages can be deceptive. Consumer Reports performed several test crashes and determined that even though the damage looked minor, the actual repairs from an independent autobody or collision repair shop repairs could cost more than $6,000. If the other party is asking to pay cash, not call the police, or forgo filing a claim, think twice before agreeing.
 
Do I need to report a car accident to my insurance?
 
The driver should absolutely notify his or her insurance company of any accident. If you fail to notify them, they can use that fact as a basis to deny coverage to you in the future. 
 
However, you have no obligation at all to help or even talk to a company that represents a different party in the accident. In fact, it would be wise to not talk to a different insurer without proper representation to safeguard your interests.
 
What information should I document about the car accident?
 
You should always get the name of other drivers and passengers as well as a description of the vehicle or vehicles involved. Don’t forget to get a description of the damage. If your phone is still working, make sure to document with pictures and upload those to the cloud for safety. 
 
If you're not in shock, it's important to note exactly what happened before the accident occurred and jot down the location, date, and time of the incident. Trying to remember those details later can be tricky. If there were any witnesses who saw the accident, make sure to talk to them and get their contact information as well.

Later on: Handling the aftermath of an accident if you are not at fault

Sometimes, the aftermath of an accident can drag on for years. A moment in time can suddenly occupy all your free time as you try to sort out all of the details. A few of the tasks you need to consider in the aftermath of a collision are notifying your insurance company, medical bills and ongoing medical treatment, finding money to pay for car repairs and medical bills, filling out claim forms, talking to the police if they have additional questions, time off work to heal in the case of a major accident, and finding a qualified lawyer to help represent you. 

Is my insurance company going to cover everything after a car accident?

No matter which type of insurance claims policy you have, insurance companies will only pay up to their policy limits. This means that your insurance company will pay up to the limit and own personal responsibility does not extend beyond the contracted limits. If you were not at fault, you could receive compensation for damages above those limits. 

For example, let's say you were the driver in a minor fender bender where the other driver is at fault. If the other driver’s liability limit is $50,000 per person that means their insurance will only pay for up to $50,000 in damages per person. To recoup expenses above that $50,000 policy limit, you will need to sue the at-fault driver for damages. 

Do I need a lawyer after a car accident? 

You are not required to retain a lawyer to represent you in your case. But, people who secure the services of a qualified personal injury attorney often see much higher settlements than those who do not.

Who pays my medical expenses after a car accident?

If you are injured in a motor vehicle collision, there may be several sources from which you can collect money for your medical expenses and other accident-related expenses. The primary source is usually your health care provider. They bill insurers on behalf of patients and sometimes negotiate discounts directly with providers. You may also be able to recover these costs through third-party benefits such as automobile insurance through their claims process. Finally, you may qualify for Medicaid or Medicare reimbursement. These programs provide financial assistance to low-income individuals and families.

Can I sue anyone else involved in the crash?

Maybe. There are two main reasons why you'd want to pursue legal action: 1) To obtain monetary relief, 2) To hold others responsible for causing harm to yourself. Both types of claims require filing a lawsuit. A civil claim allows you to seek recovery for non-economic losses like pain and suffering, emotional distress, lost wages, and other damages from this stressful situation. An intentional tort requires proving that an individual acted intentionally when he/she harmed you.

Is there any legal recourse when dealing with an uninsured motorist?

If the driver who hit you doesn't have insurance, then you will have to rely on your uninsured motorist coverage to receive compensation. If you do not have that coverage, you don't have much in the way of recourse other than pursuing a private civil claim in small claims court. If the other party has no substantial assets however, it's unlikely that you receive proper compensation. 

When filling out an accident claim form, how much detail must be provided?

Simply, provide as much detail as you can. That's why you should make sure to note everything that you see and experience after the accident. Make sure you should include the date, time, location, weather conditions, road condition, type of vehicle, make & model, license plate number, damage description, injuries sustained by all occupants, including passengers, and whether or not the property was damaged. Also, note down the name and contact information of witnesses.

If your insurance company requires other information, make sure to include that.

How can I get compensation for the damage caused by another driver?

The first thing you'll probably want to know is if the person at fault had liability insurance. This means they were legally obligated to pay damages resulting from the incident. It does NOT mean that they actually paid anything! In fact, most drivers simply refuse to settle unless they're forced into doing so. So, even though they might have been found liable, they could still walk away without paying a dime. 

However, if the driver did carry adequate insurance, then you would likely file a personal injury suit against them. Your attorney will need to prove negligence, which involves showing that the defendant failed to act reasonably under the circumstances. 

How much compensation can I expect after a car accident?

Besides the cost of repairing your vehicle from an independent body shop, and paying for any medical bills you accrue, you can also sue for pain and suffering. Pain and suffering is a catch-all for not just the physical pain that you feel but also losing out on normal life because of the injury that you've sustained. It also involves significant emotional or financial harm as a direct result of being involved in the accident. This includes lost wages and other financial losses. Other non-economic damages such as mental anguish, embarrassment, inconvenience, and loss of enjoyment of life.

If you want to learn more about how compensation for personal works, you can learn more by reading about personal injury calculators here.

What to do after a car accident that's your fault

First things first. If you know for sure that you are at fault, do not flee the scene. Follow the checklist above and stay calm. Don't freak out and don't let anyone in the car panic. 

Chances are if you are the driver, you didn't see the entire incident with clear eyes. You may be sure that the accident was your fault at the moment, but as you find out all the facts, you might find that you are in the clear. Wait for all the facts and let third parties determine who is at fault.

Legally speaking, it’s not wise to apologize or admit culpability at the accident scene. Immediately after an accident, you don't have enough information to make that call and the other party's insurance company can use your confession against you, even if you try to recant later. 

Am I still at fault if I wasn't speeding?

If there were no signs of negligence on your part, then it doesn't matter whether you were driving too fast or not. Other factors usually come into play here. For example, if you caused this crash by running a red light or hitting another vehicle head-on, you're responsible regardless of how slow you drove. However, there could be mitigating circumstances such as if the other party causing the collision had their lights off so you couldn't tell them from behind.

If I had a medical care emergency, am I still at fault for causing the accident?

If you have a medical emergency, like a heart attack, while driving and cause an accident, you probably won't be at fault but not in every case. In Washington state, medical care emergencies supersede everything else when determining liability. In these cases, the courts will generally rule in favor of the person whose health was in danger. 

Later on: Handling the aftermath of an accident if you are at fault

Some states are no-fault states, meaning that no matter who is at fault, the insurance will pay out to your claim’s policy limits. Washington is an at-fault or tort state, which means the insurance will only pay up to the policy limits unless it is a hit-and-run or uninsured motorist accident. In Washington, if you're at fault in an accident, you can seek out your own legal representation and sue for both economic damages (medical bills, lost wages) and non-economic damages like pain & suffering. 

Can I lose my insurance coverage if I'm found at fault?

This depends on your insurance carrier and the accident report by the insurance adjuster. Generally, you will see an increase in your rates, but it is rare for a carrier to drop a customer for an automobile accident. 

Do I have to pay for the medical bills of the people injured in the accident?

In Washington state, insurance coverage will pay out once the police determine fault in the accident. If there were multiple people involved, they can all share a percentage of fault overall. Washington state has pure comparative negligence laws, so one driver could be 30% responsible for the motor vehicle accident, and another driver could be held 70% responsible.

My insurance is handling all this, why do I need an attorney?

The insurance company doesn't always have your best interests in mind. You should always consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer before making any decisions about what happens next. An attorney can help guide you through the process and ensure that you get fair compensation for your injuries. They also handle negotiations between insurers and claimants. The best way to avoid getting stuck paying legal fees yourself is to hire an attorney right away. 

What NOT to do after a car accident

Car accidents can be very stressful situations. Here are some tips on what you shouldn't do immediately following an auto collision.

  1. Do NOT drive away. We can't stress it enough; you don't want to be involved in a hit-and-run. Stay put, stay calm, and follow the checklist above.

  2. Do NOT move anyone or anything around unless instructed to by police or medical professionals. It may seem like it would make sense to get out of the way if someone has been hurt but this could cause more damage.

  3. Do NOT admit fault. Even if it seems like you are the at-fault party, do not admit anything until the police arrive and complete their investigation. Wrongly admitting you are at fault when that is not the case can hurt your potential case down the road.

  4. Do NOT ignore injuries. If you are injured in an accident, make sure to seek medical attention. If you chose to ignore your need for medical help, that could reduce your settlement amount and cause long-term medical problems that you will have to pay for out of pocket. 

  5. Do NOT allow yourself to be bullied. If you judge that calling the police is needed, do it. A call is required if property damages exceed $1,000 or if someone has significant injuries. It’s always wise to exchange insurance info. Side deals are not helpful and often come back to haunt you. If you realize you are more injured than you initially thought, it will be difficult to seek compensation if you didn’t file a police report or secure the other driver’s insurance information.

After car accident symptoms

In the days and weeks following a crash, even a minor fender bender, you might feel neck stiffness, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, loss of consciousness, headache, blurred vision, ringing ears, confusion, memory problems, difficulty speaking, numbness, tingling, weakness, slurred speech, seizures, inability to move parts of your body, or even paralysis. Undiagnosed trauma has even been known to lead to coma and in the worst cases, death. If any of this happens, get help immediately by calling 911. Be proactive. If you have symptoms do not delay treatment.

Dealing with after car accident injury

How long does it take to get back to normal after a car accident? The severity of injuries will vary depending upon the level of impact your body experienced during the accident. In general, most minor accidents result in no serious damage to either person or their vehicle. 

However, some injuries can last weeks or months before they heal completely. If you were seriously hurt, you should consult a doctor immediately so that any necessary emergency procedures can begin right away. Afterward, follow his instructions carefully. Untreated or poorly treated injuries can result in permanent, irreversible damage to your body.

Summary

The most important thing to remember when dealing with any type of personal injury claim is that it’s not about money. It’s about fairness and making sure you have your best chance to recover. If you were injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, contact an experienced attorney right away. An experienced personal injury lawyer can make sure that all parties involved pay their fair share of damages and expenses related to your injuries. In the meantime, it’s important to understand Washington state car accident laws to keep yourself informed.

▲ back to top ▲

Questions about What to Do After a Car Accident? Ask Slater.

Why call an attorney after a car accident?▾

A car accident attorney can offer many services to people who have been in a car accident that they can’t get anywhere else. Accidents cause a range of damages from physical issues like injuries and vehicle damage to emotional damages that take a mental toll on you as you try to get back on your feet. Attorneys help you make sense of your options related to the accident’s damages. In addition, an attorney can help you with insurance companies, notorious for treating accidents like it's potentially your fault or trying to minimize your pain and suffering. A good attorney should lighten your load. The last thing that the attorney can do is make sure that you get the compensation that you need to move forward and try to put things back together. Insurance companies and claims adjusters protect their profits by lowballing their payouts, so a good car accident lawyer can make the difference in getting paid properly.

What should you do immediately after a car crash?▾

Immediately after a car crash, you should call 911 and stay at the scene until emergency personnel arrives, especially if someone has been injured or if it looks as if more than $1,000 of damage has been done to the vehicles involved. If you are involved in a car accident, be careful when getting out of the vehicle. Make sure to look both ways before stepping onto the road.

How long should you rest after a car accident?▾

After a car accident, it is important to stay calm and avoid any movement. If you feel dizzy, nauseous, or faint, do not move until medical help arrives. If you have been injured, do not attempt to drive yourself to the hospital. Instead, call 911 for emergency assistance.

What should you not say to your insurance company after a car accident?▾

After an accident, don't volunteer information. Be honest about what happened in response to their questions. Don't lie or give them any false information. If you lie to your insurance company, they could deny coverage or raise your rates.

What happens if you don't report an accident within 24 hours?▾

There are two types of reports to make after an accident: reporting to your insurer and reporting to the police. Different insurers have different reporting requirements, but typically, your insurance company will require that you report an accident within 24 to 48 hours of the accident. Failure to do so can result in serious consequences depending on your insurance policy. They may even cancel coverage. In Washington state, if there are no significant injuries and property damage is under $1,000, you do not have to file a police report. If the accident meets the requirements for reporting, you have 4 days to submit your report. Even if the accident does not meet the requirements for reporting, it may still be wise to do so, especially if you were not at fault because car accident injuries can take a few days to be fully felt. An accident report is an important part of establishing the facts of your case.  

How does your body feel after a car accident?▾

Auto accidents can cause a variety of symptoms. It’s always wise to seek medical treatment after a car accident. 

  • Headaches are very common after a car accident. They usually last for a few days. They may even go away without any treatment. Head pain is caused due to the impact of your head against the steering wheel or dashboard. 

  • Neck pain is another common problem after a car accident. It is caused by the sudden movement of your neck. This type of pain can be felt all over your neck and shoulders.

  • Back pain is also very common after a car crash. This type of pain is usually experienced in the lower back area. It is often accompanied by headaches and neck pains.

  • Bruises and swelling are two other problems that occur after a car accident. These symptoms appear immediately after the accident. However, bruises and swelling usually disappear within a couple of weeks.

  • Dizziness and loss of balance are common problems after a car crash. It is usually temporary and disappears within a few minutes.

Should I call my insurance if the car accident wasn't my fault?▾

Yes, call your insurer after an accident even if you weren’t at fault. Reporting accidents is often a policy requirement. Failure to report within your policy’s stated timeline can result in increased rates, coverage cancellation, or the insurer claiming your injuries resulted from some other incident. 

In order to file a claim with your auto insurer, you'll first need to gather all the information required to complete the form. Make sure to keep a copy of any documents related to the collision, such as police reports, witness statements, photographs, etc., available when speaking with your adjuster. Once you've gathered all the necessary documentation, you can begin filing your claim. In most cases, filing a claim online is the fastest and easiest option.

Before making any decisions regarding your claim, it’s wise to consult with an attorney. They can review the details of your case and advise you on whether or not you're eligible for additional compensation.

What to do after a car accident that is your fault?▾

An at-fault car crash means that you were responsible for causing the accident. This may be because you were speeding, texting, driving drunk, distracted, etc. If this was your fault, you should take responsibility for the damage to your vehicle and injuries to yourself and others.

  1. Call 911. This is mandatory. 

  2. Stay calm. Don't panic. Don’t flee the accident.

  3. Get checked out by paramedics and/or medical personnel. 

  4. Exchange insurance info. Find out if anyone in the other vehicle was injured.

  5. Cooperate with the police as they fill out their accident report.

  6. Try to avoid admitting fault on the scene. You may not know the full facts of the accident. Let the facts come to light naturally.

  7. Report your accident to your insurer.

  8. Seek medical care as needed to avoid long-term injuries.