When You're at Fault for an Accident

When you're the defendant in a personal injury case, consider these dos and don'ts.

Updated by , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

If someone is injured as a result of your negligence or other wrongful conduct, there are a number of things you need to keep in mind—partly to protect your legal and financial interests, and partly so as not to make a bad situation worse. Whether you're on the other side of an insurance claim or a personal injury lawsuit, let's look at some dos and don'ts when you could be deemed at fault for an accident.

What to Do as a Personal Injury Defendant

DO contact the police. Especially after a car accident, but also after allegations of intentional harm like assault, it's important to contact the police so that they can come to the scene and take statements from all the parties involved, and speak to any witnesses. Having a police report will also help if, later, the plaintiff exaggerates or changes his or her story. (Obviously with certain kinds of accidents, like a slip and fall, law enforcement shouldn't be notified, and won't get involved.)

DO cooperate with all law enforcement and emergency responders. Do not get in their way. Doing so can only make matters worse—aggravating any injuries you might be on the hook for causing, or just making you look bad.

DO exchange information with everyone involved in the accident. Write down the name, phone number, and email address of all people involved. If this is a car accident, be sure to get the other party's insurance information and license plate number as well. If there are any witnesses, be sure to get their contact information as well.

DO take photographs. Take pictures of any damage caused by the accident, as well as any injuries, if possible. Also be sure to take pictures of the surrounding area. Take as many pictures as you can, from as many different angles as you can.

DO seek medical attention. If you suspect that you are injured as well, seek immediate medical treatment, not only to protect your health, but also to protect any claim you might have against others involved in the accident, or any insurance claim you might end up filing over the incident.

DO report the injury to your insurance company. Contact your health, homeowner's, or automobile insurance companies, whichever policy might offer coverage for the underlying incident (and any claim that might be filed). Failure to notify your insurer of a "covered event" in a timely manner can result in denial of a claim or even cancellation of coverage. Learn more about contacting your insurance company after an accident.

DO consider contacting an attorney. Think about contacting an experienced personal injury attorney if you've been sued, especially if your insurance company isn't defending the case against you. An experienced attorney will protect your rights and help guide you through the process.

What to Avoid as a Personal Injury Defendant

DON'T leave the scene of the accident. Stay at the scene until you have exchanged information with the other party, or the police allow you to leave.

DON'T move your vehicle. If a vehicle is involved, only move it if it is creating a safety hazard or you are required to do so by law.

DON'T throw away or hide any evidence. Anything that may be relevant to the accident or injury must be preserved.

DON'T discuss the accident with anyone. After the accident, do not discuss the details with anyone, including the other party's attorney and any insurance company representative (including your own!). Do not apologize to the other party, since this might be construed as evidence of fault. If you have an attorney, don't speak with an insurance company representative—either yours or that of the other party. Let the attorney handle it. If you don't have an attorney, be very careful what you say. Get tips for the first call with an insurance adjuster after an accident.

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