What To Do If You Are in a Car Accident

Almost all of us will be involved in a car accident sometime in our lives.  Following are tips for what to do if this happens to you:

Take Precautions

If your vehicle is a hazard to other traffic and it is possible to do so,  pull over to the side of the road. Turn on your flashers or set up flares to alert other drivers of the accident.

Get Help

If anyone is injured in the accident, call 911. Do not move anyone who is injured, except if the vehicle is on fire or there is other imminent danger.

Unless the accident is a minor fender bender in which no one suspects any injury and there is no significant property damage, call the police to report the crash.

Exchange Information

In any accident, even if you think there is no damage or injury, get the names and addresses of all other people involved in the collision, as well as any witnesses.

In addition to the names and addresses, get the driver license number, vehicle information including license plate, make, model and year of the vehicle, and insurance company name and policy number from all other drivers involved in the accident.

If there is a police officer at the scene, note their name, badge number, phone number, and accident report number. You should also request a copy of the accident report. Here is a link to the Washington State Patrol website where you can make this request: WRECR site.

Take Photographs

Take photographs of any damage to the vehicles involved in the collision. You may also want to take some photos of the accident scene.

Do Not Discuss Fault

Do not discuss what happened with anyone at the scene other than the police.

Do not admit fault yourself even if you feel you may have been partially at fault for the accident.  There may be factors about which you don’t know that played a role in the collision.  Deciding fault can sometimes be complex depending on the facts and the laws that apply to the facts.

But if the other driver admits the collision was their fault, make a mental note and then as soon as you can after you leave the scene write down as precisely as you can what you remember them saying.

File An Accident Report Or Make An Accident Note

In Washington, if a crash is not investigated by a law enforcement officer and it results in an injury, death, or significant property damage you must report it to the Washington Department of Transportation on their form within four days. Here is the Washington State Patrol Online Motor Vehicle Collision Reporting website: WSP OMVCR site.

In Oregon, even if the police do investigate the accident, you must file an Oregon Traffic Accident and Insurance Report with the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles within 72 hours of a crash if anyone was injured or it resulted in significant property damage. Here is where you can obtain the Oregon Traffic Accident and Insurance Report: Oregon Traffic Accident Report form. You then should deliver the completed form to any Oregon DMV office or mail it to:

DMV – Accident Reporting Unit
1905 Lana Ave NE
Salem OR 97314

You should also either keep a copy of the accident report you file or write a note to yourself after the accident that includes all the information you gathered and can remember while it is still fresh in your mind.  In your note, explain how the accident happened as best as you can.  You might also want to draw a sketch or diagram of the collision.  Sometimes it can take months or years for insurance companies to fully resolve all claims from a collision.

Call Your Insurance Company

All insurance policies require you to promptly notify your insurance company if you have been in a collision.  Failing to do so can result in them denying your claim.

Ask your insurance agent about the benefits available to you under your own policy.  You may have coverage for the cost to repair your car, the cost of a rental car, and your wage loss and medical bills.

The insurance company for the driver responsible for your injuries is not under any legal obligation to pay your bills as they are incurred.  They will only pay your bills and other expenses when your case is settled.  You may have Personal Injury Protection (PIP) or medical payments benefits available to you that can be used while you wait to settle your claim with the other driver.

Get Medical Care And Follow Your Doctor’s Advice

If you think you may have been injured in an automobile accident, you should get medical care as soon as possible.  A failure to seek medical care and follow your doctor’s advice can hurt your claim.

If you have PIP or medical payments coverage under an automobile policy, the insurance company may use any delay by you in seeking medical care to argue that your injuries arose from something that happened after the accident.  If you end up suing the other driver, they may make the same argument.

If you do not have PIP or med pay coverage to pay your medical bills, or if you do but use up all the benefits available, most health insurance carriers will pay your accident-related treatment subject to the conditions of your health insurance policy.

Even if you do not have any insurance available to pay your bills, some health care providers may agree to treat you and then wait until your case settles to be paid.  They will usually file a “lien” against your settlement to ensure they will be paid out of the settlement proceeds at the end of your case.

Cooperate With Your Own Insurance Company

Refusing to cooperate with your own insurance company can cause you to lose benefits.  They may want to record your report of how the accident occurred.  They may also want to inspect your car and speak with your health care providers.

But do not sign documents or give recorded or written statements to the other driver or their insurance company without first seeking legal advice.  Doing so could cause you to lose valuable rights or benefits.

Consider Hiring An Attorney

If you have been injured or if you become involved in a dispute with the insurance company a lawyer can help.  Injury and insurance law is complex.  Insurance companies are experienced in dealing with these issues, but you probably are not.