I’m sure it wasn’t very long ago when you were driving along and came upon the scene of a car accident. Chances are the police were already there, possibly an ambulance, and two or more smashed cars were in distorted positions across the roadway.
Did you ever notice the people who were involved in the accident? Usually they are so shaken up by the event they are wandering around looking confused about what to do. They are discussing the accident freely with the other party as well as with witnesses and other passersby. By time the police show up, there are several versions of the accident progression being passed around.
Or how about the last time you were in a car accident? Did you know what to do or say? Or what not to say? Did you do anything that may have compromised your rights? What are the proper steps to take when you find yourself involved in a crash?
Well, common sense should dictate that if anyone at the scene has been hurt, contact the police and an ambulance as soon as possible. Beyond that, it is only sound judgment to begin to conduct yourself with regard to protecting yourself and your legal rights to as not to be victimized later.
First, do not leave the scene. Even if you believe you were not at fault, leaving the scene of an accident will only make things worse for you. By fleeing, you will have two problems to deal with later: the accident itself and a whole other separate police charge. Next try to call the police (and ambulance if necessary) from the accident scene or close by.
Concerning the vehicles, leave them in place to the extent that they do not block traffic. If traffic cannot get by and the cars are still mobile, move them out of the lane of travel but no farther. The police can tell a lot about the accident and whose fault it was by the position of the cars after a collision.
Next, your inclination is usually to begin conversing with the other driver and witnesses about what has just happened. You may be better served by keeping your statements in this regard to a minimum. You should tell them your name and address but it would be best to refrain from discussing the details of the accident as well as your insurance coverage. And never admit that the accident was your fault. If it was your fault, you will be told that soon enough. Once the police arrive, you may discuss the accident details with them. At this time, be sure to gather the names, addresses, phone numbers, registrations numbers and insurance company names of the other drivers involved in the accident and the names and phone numbers of any witnesses.
Concerning your car, if it cannot be driven, ask the police to radio for a tow truck to transport your vehicle to the garage of your choice. Once you get home, it is important for you to contact your own insurance company and give them notice of the accident. Once done, begin to gather any bills, medical fees, invoices, estimates and expenses that relate to your losses from the accident. If there has been personal injury or property damage in an amount over $500, you will be required to file a special report with the DMV.
At this time, you should consider contacting an attorney to review the facts of your case and further advise you as to any possible recovery for your damages if you believe the accident was not your fault or if you are running into problems with the insurance companies.
There is no doubt that a car accident can be a stressful and traumatic incident, but keeping a cool head and following these steps can help protect you and your legal rights.
Marc Page is an attorney with a general law practice in downtown Westerly. He is licensed in both Rhode Island and Connecticut and can be reached at 401-596-1726.