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Car Accident Checklist - Protecting Yourself After the Crash

If you are in a car accident, chances are the last thing you'll be thinking about will be getting financial compensation. You'll probably be more interested in wiping your windpipe off the windshield, or making sure that all your fingers and toes have survived intact. The withering economy means that uninsured drivers are on the rise, according to recent statistics published by the Wall St Journal.

Jokes in bad taste aside, once you ascertain that both you and everyone else are all right, there is a lot you need to do to. While seeking medical attention and making sure everyone else is out of danger's way obviously is the most pressing item on your list, keep in mind that there are other steps you need to take as quickly as possible - regardless of whether the accident was your fault or not.

Car Accident Checklist

11 Important Steps to Take When an Accident Occurs

Here's a checklist of actions to take if the worst should happen:

1. Stick around at the scene. Even if it wasn't your fault, you could be charged with a hit-and-run if you leave. If everything looks okay and there seems to be no reason to stick around, resist the temptation to bolt until you receive reassurance from others that everything is all right.

2. Round up everyone is a safe place. Don't let people stay by the side of the road, especially if they are a bit dazed or confused by the accident. Make sure all children are out of the line of traffic.

3. Check for injuries and call for help. Call 911 and tell them the exact location of the accident, detailing who you think is involved and what the extent of the injuries are. If someone is seriously hurt, try to find out if someone has First Aid skills or medical qualifications before trying to move them or do anything that could endanger them even further. Only move them if absolutely necessary - if the car is about to explode, for example.

4. Move all vehicles to a safe area. This is doubly important: not only do you want to prevent further injury, but you could face additional financial claims if an oncoming vehicle suffers damage from not being warned. Use hazard lights if you cannot move the cars and call a tow truck.

5. Help the authorities. This means not only telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but also showing them your driver's license, insurance information and everything else they need or ask for. Be polite but...

6. Keep mum about who's at fault. Remember that a determination of liability can only be proven if one driver was careless, which in some cases is obvious, in others isn't. If it can be proved that someone failed to stop at a stop sign or ran a red light, for example, your life will be made easier. If you get rear-ended the liability usually falls on the other driver; they must be able to stop safely if someone stops in front of them - if they didn't, it's their fault.

7. Take notes and photos - and keep the evidence. As soon as you can, either directly following the accident or once you are in a fit state to do so, you should take notes about what transpired. While you may think you have a good memory, documenting everything in writing as quickly as possible will increase your chances of making a successful claim. Jot down what you were doing, where you were going, what you saw, what happened - even the weather. You should also take notes of any injuries or discomfort you, other passengers or the driver may be feeling, and take photos of all damage and injuries, if possible. And keep the evidence - if the car is totaled, don't let it be towed away to the dump immediately or you may lose out.

8. Talk to witnesses. Try to talk to as many people as possible who actually saw the incident with their own eyes, taking careful notes and getting all contact details. This might be especially important if the other party later makes claims about injuries that are non-existent, or greatly exaggerates them.

9. Exchange information with other parties involved. Make sure you get all the contact details of the other parties, not only their full name, address and contact numbers, but also their vehicle registration, their insurance details etc.

10. Report the accident. Many states mandate that accidents are reported to the Department of Motor Vehicles if there was an injury, and you should also call the police. However, lawyers suggest that you make the report as brief as possible, and admit no responsibility. Insurance companies could later use this information against you (see No 6).

11. Call your lawyer and file a claim. Even if the accident is relatively minor, this can nonetheless be a good idea if you think that money will be involved. An attorney who has lots of experience with personal injury cases might be the attorney for you - they sometimes work on a contingency basis. You will have to file a claim with the other party's insurance company as well if you are seeking compensation from them for your injuries or damage to your vehicle.

Top Tips:

  • Carry a list of emergency items in your glove compartment just in case, including a pen and paper, disposable camera, basic first aid kit and medical history card.
  • Every state has different laws, so it's important you discover which ones are pertinent to your situation. Don't just get information across the board, make sure it applies to you.
  • Know your insurance policy from top to bottom. If you know what is covered and what isn't, your life will be a lot easier should the unforeseen occur.
  • The withering economy means that uninsured drivers are on the rise, according to recent statistics published by the Wall St Journal. Attorneys today are recommending that drivers have under-insured and uninsured motorist coverage, to protect them when they have an accident that is not their fault and the driver has no insurance or only the bare minimum as required by their state.

Getting in a car accident can be frightening and unpleasant experience, but it happens to the best of us. Fortunately, most accidents are relatively minor, and the aftermath can be dealt with fairly easily. Still, you don't want the headache of dealing with all the paperwork for months on end, and find yourself still trying to get compensation the following year.

If you prepare ahead for the possible eventuality of an accident occurring, you'll be well ahead of the game. If the worse does happen, maintaining a clear head and following the above checklist should help you get the best deal you can.

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