What to do After a Car Accident (Before Leaving the Scene)

“Hey. I just got in a car accident. This guy just whipped out of his parking spot and hit me. What should I do?”

It was a crisp winter Saturday morning, as my frustrated wife recounted the event that had just turned her simple errand run into an awful day.

“Was it mostly his fault?”

“Yes, it’s like he didn’t even look when pulling out quickly. Probably on his phone or something. This young chatch (19 years old). There isn’t even a scratch on his car, but there is a big crack on the right side of our front fender.”

(chatch, hehe) “OK, hold on a minute.”

<A few rushed Google searches ensue>

what to do after a car accident

Fortunately, I was there to answer her call for help, quickly do some rough amateur research online, and then provide some advice. In the future, you may not have the same time or resources available to you (or a lawyer on speed dial) – so hopefully this advice sticks for when you need it. Once you leave the accident, your ability to improve your case dramatically decreases.

Insurance rules vary per state, but as a general rule, it is usually beneficial to be able to prove that you were not at fault in the accident, as it can prevent rate increases. In Michigan, if you have broad collision coverage and can prove you are 50% or less at fault in an auto accident, not only will your insurance pay for the repairs, but they also will cover your deductible.

“OK. Get his name, number, license plate, insurance customer ID #, take a few photos, and call the police to come out and do a report of the accident.”

A week later, after producing all of this evidence and finding out that the responsibility in a parking spot accident typically is with the driver pulling out of a spot to ensure that there is a clear path to exit, our auto insurer agreed to waive our $500 deductible on an estimated $650 in repairs (which later ballooned to $1,200 once repair work began).

Our car is 3 years old, so we still have collision coverage on it. Whether collision coverage is worth the funds or not is up for debate (and given that the car is now over 3 years old, I am thinking of dropping collision). However, on this day, and with her previous accident, it has produced a positive ROI for us over the last few years.

Now, keep in mind that I am not qualified to give legal advice and there are infinite possible accident scenarios, but outside of getting your deductible waived or paid for by the responsible party at fault, I would think that doing the following (particularly if you or the other party is aware of any immediate injury):

  1. Make sure everyone is OK – call for help, if not.
  2. Do not admit fault or apologize. Poker face. You don’t have to say much of anything.
  3. Get the driver’s contact name, number, email, license plate, and insurance ID.
  4. Take a few photos of the scene of the accident and the damage to both vehicles.
  5. Call the police to come out and document the accident in a report and ask them where you can get a copy (note: we later had to purchase the report online for $11).
  6. Be able to re-count the accident effectively. Take notes before you drive home or as soon as you get home.

… would not only help you make the case to your insurer, but would also provide you some level of protection or help make your case in the event of injury in a court of law. And that is relevant, whether you have collision coverage or not.

Once you leave the scene of the accident, if you haven’t done those things, it’s too late to go back and re-create the scene for an insurer and/or judge and jury. I know it’s tempting to want to get the hell out of there ASAP because it is a stressful situation, but a calm, calculated, and patient approach could benefit you in the long run.

Then, report the claim as quickly as possible to your insurer and be as helpful as possible with all of the other driver’s information that you have gathered, as well as the police report and photos. I think it’s important to note that YOU were the one who took photos and called the police (shows a lack of fault and belief of fault in the other party).

Of course, if you are undoubtedly 100% responsible for the accident, first, shame on you! And second, after checking that the other driver/passengers are OK, do not admit you were at fault, exchange information, and go (again, I’m not a lawyer, but I used to watch a lot of Matlock when I was a kid in the 80’s) ;-)

Add this to the previous learnings from when she was at fault in an accident, such as what type of insurance covers you if you are at fault in an accident, how to drop points and get insurance discounts by taking a defensive driver class, and accident forgiveness, and we’re getting to be more educated on car accidents than we’d probably like.

Any car accident advice of your own? Leave it in the comments.

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