What Should I Do After an Auto Accident?

Steven Sweat

Attorney At Law at Glotzer & Sweat, LLP
Award winning personal injury attorney based in Los Angeles, CA.Husband, father and mixed martial artist.

Latest posts by Steven Sweat (see all)

auto accident, attorney, car crash, lawyerQuestion: What should I do after an auto accident?

Answer: This is probably something no one ever wants to think about but, something that must be thought out.  According to the United States Census statistics, there are an average of over 10 Million traffic collisions every year in the U.S.  The chances of being involved in an auto accident increase exponentially if you live in an urban environment such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago or any other large metropolitan area.  Taking L.A. as an example, statistics show there are upwards of 100,000 traffic collisions every year in Los Angeles County with about 55-60 percent of these resulting in some type of bodily injury and about 3-5 percent involving a fatality.

With these stark statistics in mind, it is important to “plan ahead”!

Question: What should I do right now?

Answer: This is an excellent place to start.  Planning for the unfortunate eventuality of a car crash begins before you are ever involved in such a calamity.  I would suggest two things as follows:

  1. Prepare Your Vehicle: Keeping up with the inspection and maintenance of your car, truck or SUV is critical to possibly avoiding an accident or minimizing the chance of injury if a crash occurs.  This means making sure you have good working brakes, tires with good tread, functioning seat belts and air bags and an overall sound mechanical motor vehicle.   It also means storing some safety equipment in your ride including a First Aid Kit, flares or safety cones, extra oil or coolant, a flashlight, and a fully charged cell phone with an in car charger if the battery is depleted.
  2. Verify Insurance Coverage: You have auto insurance for one reason and one reason only: To insure against the risks involved with an accident.  It is perplexing to me as an attorney who represents auto accident victims, how many times my clients have no idea what their exact coverage is or have been “penny wise and pound foolish” when it comes to coverage.  Unless you have a terrible driving record, the difference between comprehensive coverage that provides good protection for you and your family and a “fly by night” minimal coverage policy can be in the hundreds of dollars per year.  Here are the things that you should make sure you have: (a) Liability coverage at the highest limits possible.  Umbrella coverage that would protect you above the basic auto policy limits is also advisable; (b) Uninsured (UM) and Underinsured (UIM) motorist coverage.  These usually go hand in hand and, in California, they are mandatory in every policy unless waived, in writing. UM protects you if you are hit by a driver with no insurance and UIM is coverage for being involved in a crash with a vehicle owner driving with minimal or low policy limits; (c) Medical Payments (Medpay) coverage adds supplement insurance that pays for basic medical expenses in the event of an accident causing personal injury.

Question: What are the Top Five Things You Must Do Following A Car Crash?

Answer: As a lawyer who has successfully represented many auto accident victims and their families, my top five things to do immediately after a traffic collision would be as follows:

  1. Stop and Assess: Come to a complete stop.  Assess whether you, as the driver, are injured and whether any passengers in your vehicle have sustained injury.  If anyone has been injured to any significant extent, immediately dial 911 and request both police and an ambulance.
  2. Get Out of Harm’s Way If Possible: If there are no injuries or only minor injuries and the vehicle is operable, it is best to move the car to the side of the roadway or in an emergency lane of a freeway.  This minimizes the chances of being struck a second time in traffic.  If it is not possible to move the vehicle, it is usually best to “stay put”.  You never want to exit a vehicle on a busy freeway and risk being involved in an auto v. pedestrian collision.  On a smaller surface street, it may be possible to exit the vehicle and get out of traffic but, use extreme caution when doing so.
  3. Obtain as Much Information As Possible From People at The Scene: At a bare minimum, you need to obtain the driver’s license and insurance information for any driver who was operating any vehicle that was involved in any way in the incident.  Verify that the address on their driver’s license is current.  If possible, also get the name, address and phone number for any other occupants in the vehicle and anyone who witnessed what happened.
  4. Document the Scene of The Accident: Unfortunately, memories fade and stories sometimes change as to how a motor vehicle collision occurred.  Take photographs of all visible property damage to any vehicle involved in the incident, where the vehicles came to rest, and any physical evidence such as skid marks or debris on the roadway.  Also get a overall view photo of the area including traffic signals (if the accident happened at an intersection).  These may all be useful later on in reconstructing events for purposes of proving legal liability or fault.
  5. Seek Out Prompt Medical Attention and Consult With An Attorney: First and foremost, any person who has sustained injury or begins to feel pain either at the scene or in the hours or days following the accident should immediately be examined by a medical professional.  Do not hesitate to accept an offer to be transported from the scene via ambulance if you are experiencing any physical pain or discomfort.  Follow up after any emergency trauma care with additional consultations with either your primary care physician and/or any medical specialist recommended by your primary doctor or the ER physicians.  If no one was hurt, consulting an attorney is probably not necessary.  However, if anyone sustained personal injury, a lawyer should be consulted prior to anyone making statements to any insurance representatives as this could affect the ability to fully recover compensation for medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering.

Additional Resources:

How to Document An Auto Accident Scene Using Your Smartphone, Author: Steven Sweat, Los Angeles Injury Attorney Blog

Author Bio: Steven Sweat is the principal attorney at Steven M. Sweat, APC, a Los Angeles based personal injury law firm serving all of California.  Mr. Sweat has an emphasis in representing auto accident victims and their families.

Last 5 posts by Steven Sweat