by Rebecca Berlin
After an accident you need to keep two things in mind. First, take actions that will prevent further injuries or damages from occurring. Anyone who is injured should get medical treatment as soon as possible, as injuries may worsen if treatment is delayed. If possible move your vehicle out of the roadway to avoid being hit by another car. Second, you need to take actions that will preserve evidence of the accident and any resulting injuries or damages.
The very first thing to do after an accident is to stop your car. The situation can only be made worse by leaving the scene. You may be subject to criminal prosecution for leaving the scene of an accident, so if you are tempted to bolt, don't.
Do pull over to a safe spot, out of traffic, if possible. If not, use cones or flares to direct traffic away from the stopped vehicles. Go ahead and place these items in your car now so you'll have them if you ever need them.
Call for an ambulance, if necessary to treat any injuries incurred by anyone involved. You should avoid moving anyone who is injured if you are not trained in how to do so properly. This is because some injuries may be worsened if the person is moved improperly.
You should also call the police so that they can investigate the accident and file a report. Information in the police report may be valuable evidence later on. You need not rely solely on the police report for an investigation of the accident, though. You should record as much as possible about the accident on your own as well.
Take pictures of the accident scene. If you have a camera available to you, you should take the pictures immediately. If not, come back to the scene as soon as possible with a camera to take pictures before skid marks or other evidence disappears. For example, suppose a tree limb completely obstructed one driver's view. If you wait a week, or even a day, to take pictures, the limb may be trimmed back by the time you take the pictures.
You should also take pictures of the damage to vehicles or any structures with which the vehicles collided. Take plenty of pictures and take them from multiple angles. You don't know now which pictures may be most helpful to you if you are sued, or if you sue the other driver. Take pictures of injuries as well, so that you will have visual proof of the extent of bruising, etc. You may wish to continue to photograph injuries over time to show the length of the recovery.
Make sure you get the names and addresses of everyone involved in the accident, as well as the names and addresses of any witnesses. It may be impossible to locate witnesses if you do not get their names and addresses at the time of the accident.
Get the advice of an attorney as soon as possible after the accident. The attorney can evaluate the evidence that you have gathered and determine what else may be needed. Don't wait too long to contact an attorney, or you may no longer be able to locate valuable evidence.
To learn more about your legal rights after a car accident, see AllLaw's section on Auto Accident Laws.