Protect Yourself: 5 Steps to Take After a Car Accident

If you've been injured in a car accident caused by someone else's carelessness, you have a right to compensation for your losses. Here are five steps you can take to help your case.

Updated by Stacy Barrett, Attorney
Was a police report filed?
  • If you've been injured in a car accident caused by someone else's negligence, you have a right to be compensated for your accident-related losses. In most cases, you'll file a claim with the at-fault party's insurance company. If that doesn't work, you can file a car accident lawsuit.

    Protecting your right to compensation comes down to three things: documentation, patience, and persistence.

    Step 1: Document the Scene of the Accident as Soon as Possible

    The aftermath of a car crash can be chaotic. Immediate medical attention, if necessary, should always be your first priority. But when you're safe, document as much as you can about the moments leading up to the accident and the scene of the crash. Gathering good evidence is key to winning your claim.

    Talk to witnesses. Get the names of anyone who saw the accident and their contact information. Get a sense of what they saw and ask follow-up questions. Find out if they are willing to write a statement or talk to an investigator. The more information you can get that confirms your version of the accident, the stronger your claim will be.

    Call the police. Police involvement adds another layer of documentation to your claim. A police report carries a great deal of weight with insurance adjusters and attorneys. The person who is at fault for the crash might try to keep the police out of it. Don't fall for this tactic. If you're injured or your car is damaged, call the police. Once everyone involved in the accident is safe, your number one priority should be protecting your rights and setting up your future claim. A police report contains information about the accident scene, liability, and damages. Don't skip this step in an attempt to seem like a chill or nice person.

    Take pictures. Use a camera or your phone to take pictures of the scene, all vehicles involved in the accident, and your injuries. Capture anything that might have contributed to the accident—a traffic sign that the other driver ignored or a poorly maintained or designed road. Make sure that you can tell what date the pictures were taken so that they can be used as evidence in court if necessary. If you don't have a camera or camera phone, ask witnesses if they would be willing to take pictures.

    Step 2: Seek Immediate Medical Attention

    If you're injured in a car crash, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Your medical records, bills, and doctor's notes are the absolute best evidence of your injuries and expenses. Whether you're dealing with your own insurance company or the at-fault driver's insurer, a complete set of medical records will provide difficult-to-refute evidence of your physical condition and support your settlement demand.

    Follow your doctor's orders to the letter. If your doctor puts restrictions on what you can do, follow your doctor's orders. Don't get caught playing tennis while making a claim for a shoulder injury. If your injuries—and your losses—are significant, you don't want to risk blowing your settlement by overexerting yourself. When it comes to insurance claims, perception can play a role in getting paid. If an adjuster thinks you're faking or exaggerating your injury (malingering), your claim will be denied.

    Step 3: Get Repair Estimates for Property Damage

    After you've documented the scene and sought medical attention, start collecting repair estimates for any damage done to your vehicle. Most insurance adjusters will demand an "independent" inspection of the damage to your vehicle, but if you're armed with two or three estimates of your own, you will be able to make a strong argument for the repairs you need, and the associated costs.

    Step 4: Be Patient, Professional, and Persistent

    Insurance adjusters are dealing with hundreds of claims at a time. While your claim is, understandably, your number one priority, it isn't always the adjusters. Dealing with insurance professionals requires patience and persistence. The old saying about catching more flies with honey than vinegar applies in car crash claims. If you want to maximize your settlement amount, you should try to stay on the insurance adjuster's good side. Adjusters hold the purse strings, and ultimately, they decide your fate until you're ready to file a civil lawsuit.

    Don't be afraid to make follow-up calls, or regularly check on your claim. Again, insurance professionals are dealing with hundreds of cases and sometimes yours may unintentionally get put on the back burner. But don't be rude. You may be able to negotiate a favorable car accident settlement if you maintain contact and stay professional.

    Step 5: Talk to a Lawyer

    Sometimes your persistence and professionalism won't be enough to get the outcome you want. If an adjuster is ignoring you or denying liability, don't hesitate to hire an attorney. Attorney involvement—and the threat of a lawsuit—can motivate adjusters to settle a claim.

    Learn more about when to hire an attorney after a car accident. You can also connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.

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