Car accidents happen. It doesn’t matter how careful and cautious you are. There are so many other factors at play that you can’t anticipate all of them, which leaves you vulnerable anytime you’re behind the wheel.
Because of this, the issue of fault can be complicated. In some states, there’s a no-fault rule: everyone shares the same degree of responsibility by virtue of being on the road. But in states where the accident can be someone’s fault, you need to tread carefully.
What should you do if you’re involved in an accident that wasn’t your fault in an at-fault state? Here are the five steps you must take.
1. Check for Injuries and Damage
Your first step is to make sure that everyone in your car is safe and unharmed. If there are any obvious injuries, don’t hesitate to call 911 immediately. If anyone is unconscious or seriously injured, don’t try to move them. Wait for the ambulance to arrive.
If your car is still operational and it’s safe, then try to move your car out of the way of traffic and onto the hard shoulder.
In the event that everyone is relatively unharmed and you can move your car, you can then check your car for obvious damage. However, don’t put yourself in danger to do so.
2. Call the Police
A car came out of nowhere and now you’re left wondering what happened. If you know that you’re now involved in an accident that wasn’t your fault or you’re not sure if you were at fault, then call the police.
In many cases, reporting accidents to the police is the law. Failing to do so could even be a misdemeanor, even if you exchange information with the other driver. But if you weren’t at fault, it’s also in your best interest.
When the police arrive on the scene of an accident, they conduct an investigation based on the scene and the damage that exists. They can do far more than you can because they have the ability to stop traffic and investigate safely. They also have an experienced, third-party perspective.
If it wasn’t your fault, it will likely show up in evidence.
Do you live in a state that assigns fault? The police report can help clear your name and get your insurance claim paid.
3. Don’t Apologize or Admit Fault
One of the most common mistakes people make is apologizing or admitting fault at the scene—even when they don’t cause the accident. In a scenario where tensions are running high and no one is quite sure what happened, apologizing can feel like the natural thing to do. Don’t do it, especially if you’re not at fault.
You can be kind and helpful and generous after an accident. However, as soon as you admit fault to the other driver, the police, or even the witnesses, you could enter a quagmire of red tape with your insurance company.
Why? Because if you say “I didn’t see you,” the other driver could report it to their insurance company. As soon as that happens, you could watch your compensation drop dramatically.
4. Call an Attorney
Were you injured in the accident? After the ambulance and the police, your next task is to find a car accident attorney.
Speaking to an attorney can better prepare you for filing an insurance claim and dealing with an adjuster. Remember that an insurance company’s goal is to spend as little as possible on claims. It’s in their best interest to minimize or even avoid paying your claim, even if your agent is friendly and your adjuster is cooperative.
A car accident attorney can consult with you to help you avoid signing or saying anything that could damage your right to a claim.
You don’t necessarily need an attorney if you’re not injured or if you have medical confirmation that your injuries are very minor. A good rule of thumb to follow is to call an attorney if you’re injured enough to need the emergency room after the accident.
5. Follow All Medical Advice
One of the best tips available for dealing with a car accident is a simple one: if you’re injured, follow your doctor’s instructions.
If you’re injured in the accident, then you’re entitled to compensation. However, insurance companies will work hard to avoid paying a fair settlement. One of the first things they look for is whether you saw a doctor immediately and whether you took their advice.
So, if you receive a prescription, referral, or recommendation, take it. Follow their instructions to the letter. Don’t stop going to physical therapy or leave your prescriptions unfilled. Doing so could indicate to the insurer that your injury isn’t serious or doesn’t warrant a substantial settlement.
Worried about the costs of care? Talk to your doctor about alternatives rather than skipping treatment altogether. Your doctor may not understand your financial situation or know the full cost of treatment when they first prescribe it. Tell them you can’t afford it, and they may be able to help you out.
Protect Yourself When Involved in an Accident That Wasn’t Your Fault
Getting involved in an accident that wasn’t your fault can be tricky to navigate. One mistake at the scene could turn the tables and leave you vulnerable to lower compensation or even a denied claim.
By using these five tips, you will better protect yourself in the event of a car accident.
Looking for more helpful tips? Find even more great articles in our Tort law archive.