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Auto accident aftermath: What to do first

No matter how careful you are, accidents happen, and they can leave even the most experienced driver feeling shaken and confused. Whether the crash was major or just a fender-bender, whether it was due to inclement weather or another driver's negligence or error, there are certain steps you can follow that may help make the immediate aftermath smoother and can even save lives.

There's a saying: Failing to prepare is like preparing to fail. Even if you are never involved in a serious automobile wreck, there's no harm in making sure you're as mentally and physically prepared as possible ahead of time. Knowing what to do in the event a car crash occurs can make a big difference in the outcome.

Immediately after the accident

You probably already carry your vehicle registration and auto insurance paperwork in your glove compartment, but you may also want to keep important medical information in the car as well, in case it turns out to be relevant in the event of injury. Regardless of who or what caused the accident, you will want to:

  • Check for injury: This is probably the most important item on the list. Examine everyone involved — passengers and drivers — to see whether they suffered any injuries, however minor. When in doubt, call an ambulance.
  • Call the police: Even if the accident is minor, responding officers can file an accident report and help document the scene. Their paperwork may come in handy later for insurance claims or if you need to pursue legal action against the other driver in a civil personal injury suit.
  • Collect information: Assess the damage to the vehicles and make notes about the crash, including the name, phone number and insurance information of the other driver or drivers and their license plate numbers, and get the contact information for any witnesses. You may even wish to take photos of the damage and the accident site.

One thing you should not do is leave the scene of the accident. However, if the vehicles are still functioning, you may wish to move them to the side of the road out of the way of oncoming traffic, for the safety of yourself and others.

Filing an insurance claim

As soon as possible after things have settled down in the immediate aftermath of the accident, you will want to notify your insurance agent and get the claims process started. This is when all the details you recorded and the official police report will come in handy. The claims adjuster can help answer any questions you might have. You can usually begin the claims process over the phone, but the company will likely send you paper forms to fill out as well.

You may find it helpful to start a file to keep the copies of these claims forms organized, along with all of your notes from the accident and information from the official police report. If you or any of your passengers suffered injury during the accident, you will also want to file medical paperwork and bills as well, in case you decide to pursue compensation in a personal injury suit against the driver at fault.

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