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What to Do After a Car Accident: The Complete Guide

what to do after a car accident checklist

A car accident can be a traumatic experience, from those first few dizzying moments to filing an insurance claim and paying for repairs and medical bills in the weeks that follow. Knowing what to do if you get in a car accident and what to expect after a collision is essential to keeping a clear head and ensuring a stress-free claims process.

Here’s a look at what happens after a car accident and the steps you should follow.

What to Do When You Get in a Car Accident: At the Scene

Panic can cloud your decision making, so it’s important to remain calm.

What Should You Do Immediately After a Car Accident?

1. Safety first. Check on the well being of you, your passengers and the other parties involved. Pull off on the shoulder or a nearby parking lot to avoid a secondary collision.

2. Call 911 and roadside assistance. Stay in a safe place, ideally buckled up inside the vehicle, until help arrives.

3. Exchange information. You and the other involved parties should exchange the following:

  • Name
  • Driver’s license number
  • License plate number
  • Name and address of the vehicle owner
  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
  • Insurance company and policy number

4. Collect evidence: Take pictures of damages to your car and the other vehicles, plus pictures of the scene to show driving conditions. Write down relevant details such as the crash location, time of day, weather conditions and any other factors that may have contributed to the crash.

5. Notify the insurer and an attorney. You can call them from the scene to get the claims process started.

What Should You NOT DO After a Car Accident?

  • Flee the scene
  • Admit fault
  • Leave the police out of it
  • Forget to exchange information
  • Not contacting insurance
  • Ignore possible injuries
  • Fail to contact the insurer

How to Report a Car Accident to the Police

One of the first things you should do is call 911 to dispatch police and first responders. The officer on scene will determine who was at fault and compile a report.

How Long Do You Have to Report a Car Accident?

Most insurers require you report an accident within 24 hours.

How to Get a Police Report for a Car Accident

You will need to submit a request to the police department that responded to the accident. You may have to pay a fee to obtain a copy of the report.

Finding Fault

The police and the insurer will separately determine who was at fault. Even if the police concluded the other driver was at fault, the insurer will make their own determination – and it may or may not line up with law enforcement’s findings. It helps to know what to do after a car crash that is not your fault, and what to do if the collision is your fault.

If the car accident is not my fault

If the police determine you were not at fault, then you should notify the insurer of the at-fault party to begin the claims process. It’s a good idea to report the accident to your own insurer, too, just in case the other party denies responsibility.

If the car accident is my fault

Law enforcement will likely ticket you. If the accident was serious or you were intoxicated, they may charge you with a crime.

If the insurer determines you were at fault, your collision coverage should cover damages for you and anyone else involved. Bodily injury liability insurance should help pay for medical bills if there were injuries.

What if I’m in a no-fault state?

Some states have no-fault laws, which means that individuals have to pay for their own medical bills and damages, regardless of who caused the accident.

What to Do After a Car Accident Injury

After you’ve sought treatment, you’ll need to file a car accident injury claim – either with your insurer or other driver’s insurance company, depending on who was at fault.

Should I Go to the Doctor After a Car Accident?

See a doctor immediately after you’ve been injured in an accident to evaluate your condition and begin a plan of care. Even if you don’t think you were injured, you should still get checked out. Symptoms of injuries like whiplash may not show up right away.

Your insurance company will need proof from your doctor that you are under medical care and that your injuries are related to the accident.

How Long After a Car Accident Can You Claim Injury?

The deadline for filing injury claims varies from state to state, and the countdown clock starts ticking as soon as you know you’re injured.

What if I Don’t Have Insurance?

If you’re at fault in a car accident without insurance and you or someone else is injured, you could be sued to pay the medical expenses of any injuries you caused them.

If someone else was at fault, the other driver is responsible for your damages and health care costs, although the laws in some states may limit how much of those expenses you can get back if you were an uninsured driver.

Should I Get a Lawyer for a Car Accident?

Hiring an attorney can work to your advantage if the other driver was at fault and you’ve experienced an injury, significant damages or both. An attorney is also important if you are facing criminal charges related to the accident. An experienced attorney can help you cut through red tape, recover lost wages, resolve medical and repair bills and navigate the justice system.

When to Hire an Attorney for a Car Accident

To avoid expensive mistakes, sooner is better in terms of when to get an attorney after a car accident.

How to Settle a Car Accident Claim Without a Lawyer

Research and detailed record-keeping are critical if you plan to settle a car accident claim on your own. Keep a detailed list of damages and expenses, and speak with the insurance adjuster to find out what’s covered after you file your claim. Negotiate with the insurance provider for the damages you believe you deserve. Take every step possible to keep the case out of court.

When to Contact Your Insurance

Car accident insurance payouts hinge on timely, detailed reporting. The sooner you take action, the faster and more likely you are to receive a payout. Here’s a step-by-step guide to how car accident claims work:

1. Report the accident: Contact your car insurance as soon as reasonably possible to report the accident after it happens. Many insurers require you contact them within 30 days of the accident, although the reporting window varies by provider. You will need to provide all of the information and photos you collected at the scene, as well as the police report and the names and contact information of any eye witnesses.

2. File a claim: This is different from reporting the accident. After you’ve notified your insurer, your provider will give you instructions and a deadline for filing the car accident claim. Deadlines may vary depending on which claim you’re filing for the car accident. For example, the window of time for filing a damage claim could be different from the time limit for an injury claim. Remember that the longer you wait to file, the more likely your insurer is to deny the claim.

3. Contact your claims adjuster: After you’ve filed your claim, your insurer will assign a claims adjuster to your case. Work with your adjuster to provide any necessary documentation and evidence. Your adjuster may also schedule a time to meet with you and look at your car in person.

4. Maintain records of expenses: Hang on to any receipts or documentation of related expenses, such as doctor bills or car repairs.

What to Do After a Car Accident Checklist

To recap, here’s a quick checklist of what to do in the event of a car crash:

  • Check everyone for injuries and move vehicles to safety
  • Call 911 and roadside assistance
  • Assess, photograph and document the damages
  • Exchange information with the other drivers
  • See a doctor
  • Notify the insurance company and file a claim
  • Contact an attorney, if you plan to hire one
  • Work with the insurance claims adjuster to make sure you receive appropriate compensation for damages or injuries
  • Keep extensive records of repair expenses, medical bills and notes from conversations that pertain to the accident
  • If your rates go up, shop around for cheaper insurance

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