Anyone who's ever been in a car accident knows that the immediate moments following the crash can be overwhelming. If you're fortunate enough that there are no injuries, you find yourself in a whirlwind of paperwork, honking horns and pointed fingers - all while adrenaline is pumping through your veins.
The result is people often forget to take the proper steps to protect themselves financially after a crash. Attorney Loni Coombs has some tips for making sure you know what to do in the minutes after an accident.
Prepare a crash packet for your car
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Fill a small plastic bag with your registration, insurance, a copy of your license, a list of emergency numbers and pen and pad so everything is in one place. "It's that panic, you can't think straight," Coombs said. "It's a matter of getting all the things you need in one little package. So all you have to remember is 'let me grab that packet and everything is going to be in there ready to go.'"
Have a checklist ready
It can be hard to remember all of the info you need to exchange with the other driver in the frantic moments after a crash. Make a list with spaces for the name of the driver, the owner of the car, their insurance information, their registration, license and license plate number. "Under California law, you are able to ask for their driver's license and they are legally required to show you," Coombs said.
Keep a disposable camera in your glove box
It may sound silly in the age when everyone has a smart phone, but you don't want to be reliant on a device that may not work after a crash. "In a car accident your phone might go flying. It might get cracked." Coombs said. Photos of the scene can frequently be the determining factor when insurance companies are deciding who is at fault in an accident. Get pictures of the damage, the whole scene and, crucially, any skid marks your car made while braking.
Contact emergency services and insurance
Even if there are no injuries and the other driver is saying they prefer to not get insurance involved, you should still call emergency services. "You write in a contract when you sign up for your insurance policy that you will notify. So under contract you're required to notify them," Coombs said. The police may decide not to come to the scene, but you may be legally required to inform them of the crash, depending on the situation.
Never admit fault
The one thing you never want to do at an accident scene is say 'It's my fault.' Coombs said. "That's for the insurance company and the police to figure out." Admitting fault can cost you thousands when the accident is processed by insurance. Also, you may not have all the information you need to make that determination right after a crash.