If you Google this, you will find tons of articles written about what to do right after an accident so, this content is not anything new or novel, but what I have found is that they are very canned and fail to really address some of the things you might experience immediately following an accident.
For many of us, the experience of a motor vehicle crash is not just a thing we have heard of, rather, it is an unfortunate event that we have experienced firsthand. According to FLHSMV, in 2017, Orange County Florida had the third highest crash rate in Florida at almost 31,000 crashes. So, you can see how it is not an uncommon thing happening here in Orange County. Involvement in a car accident, regardless of how significant or insignificant it may be, is an absolutely unsettling thing to experience and that is why these 5 steps are good to file away in the unfortunate event you are involved in one.
STEP 1 – You
You are the most important thing in an accident and if you have children or family members or passengers in your car, they fall under this category too. Do not worry about anything else at first but you. Regardless of the severity, take a moment, take a deep breath, try to remain as calm as possible and assess yourself. Immediately determine whether you or your passengers have sustained any injuries. If you suspect anything, even if it is just a “funny feeling”, immediately call 911. This is not a time to be cheap or tough or brave. If you suspect even a minor injury and everyone is cooperative, still call 911 as at this point, you are not sure what has happened or the condition of the occupants in the other car and it is always better to be on the safe side and get EMS out to the scene. Additionally, regardless of the facts of the crash, you should always have police out to conduct an investigation and write up a report. The days of “lets just exchange info and I will pay for your damage” are SO GONE. If you have an accident and leave the scene with just a name and number written on the back of a receipt with a verbal agreement to pay, you are asking for trouble. It is best to just immediately call the police before you even exit the car so that there is no opportunity for other parties involved to try and broker a deal without the involvement of police. I must be honest; this isn’t always what is going to happen. The world is full of honest and good people, but we always do have to be prepared for instances where this isn’t the case, but if you have been in an accident and you know there is damage and injuries, calling before you even exit the car is a good thing to do.
STEP 2 If Able, Move To A Safe Area
Continue to take care of yourself and this means moving to a safer area. If your vehicles are still operational then you need to move them off the main road and onto the shoulder. If you have sustained serious injuries and your car is not operational, then it is best if you stay where you are. If you feel unstable or uncertain that you can even drive your car, obviously do not move. Getting yourself to a safer area is a step if you are able to do so. Otherwise, stay where you are and wait for EMS to arrive. During this time, you will most likely have people come to your car and offer to help…at least we hope so. If you are feeling significant pain or unsure of what has happened, tell them to just stay by and wait with you. If you have an emergency kit in your car, you can always direct any bystanders to their location and have them set them up. The take away from this step is do all you can, in your condition, to make yourself safe while you wait for emergency services to arrive.
STEP 3 – Document The Crash
This is a tricky one because it definitely depends on your condition. Let us just assume for this step that you are injured, but able to be mobile. Your cars are not able to be moved and you are out of your vehicle waiting for the police and EMS to arrive. So, be gentle to yourself and stay as close to the vehicle as safely possible. Here is where your phone will come in handy. Take photos of the scene from every angle. Make sure get photos of both cars and have roads in the photos too. In other words, focus less on the close ups of damage and more of the lay of the land. These types of photos can come in handy if the other insurance company tries to claim comparative negligence or that you share in the negligence of the accident. Without photos of the scene, it can sometimes be their word against yours. It may not look complicated or complex to you, but in some cases, a photo of the actual accident scene can make a huge difference. If you see things like large shrubs or signs that might have blocked view or impaired lines of sight, document those as well. This is your chance to document everything before police and EMS arrive and begin moving the scene. Remember that your phone has a video too. I have heard stories of other parties disposing of items from their car or impaired drivers running off or switching seats with other passengers in the car. Make sure you film anything “fishy” while always putting your own safety first. If you have a dash cam in your car, do remove it and put it in your pocket or give to someone to hold on to. If you are taken to the hospital and leave your car behind, you want to make sure that this doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.
STEP 4 – Visit the ER or a Doctor ASAP
This is an especially important step and one that you must understand the statute in Florida to see why it is so important. Under Florida Statute § 627.736, you have 14 days to see a doctor following an accident if you want to receive compensation for your medical expenses. Not doing so puts you at risk for receiving a denial from your insurance company when trying to secure benefits. I suggest reading my post on PIP benefits that explains the intricacies of this coverage and why it is SO important to seek medical treatment within 14 days of the accident.
Having said that, it is always best to just go via ambulance or take yourself to the hospital after an accident even if you do not believe you have any significant injuries. The stress and trauma from the accident and worries about all the details sometimes tend to mask what is really going on in your body. It is a fact that many injuries will not have symptoms right away and the symptoms of injuries such as traumatic brain injuries and neck and back injuries can be delayed. That is why it is a good idea to go the hospital to just be checked out. Let the trained professionals do their routine workups and document your condition after the accident.
When you go, be truthful and tell the doctor and/or intake nurse every single pain you are feeling. If you have any unfamiliar or strange sensations in your neck, back, hands, legs…anywhere, make sure to mention it. Again, this is not the time to be brave or tough or embarrassed to tell the physician of any weird feelings you may be experiencing. Most times, soft tissue injuries take time to manifest themselves and these abnormal feelings you might be experiencing could be precursors to more significant conditions. I have had many clients who have injuries, but are hesitant to go to the ER in the ambulance because they are worried about the cost. This is not the time to be concerned with things like that. Your health, wellbeing and ability to be compensated for these medical expenses depend on seeking immediate medical treatment so, do yourself a favor and receive the care you need!
STEP 5 – Confirm the Location of your Car
This might seem like a weird one to put in here and one not commonly found on these type of lists, but I add this after sad scenarios that I have experienced. You see, if your vehicle is not drivable, which is the case in many accidents, you leave the scene without your car. Often times, a random tow company will come and take your car to their tow yard or to a body shop they have an agreement with. As I am sure you can imagine, there is a fee for this service. But what you might not consider is that there is usually a hefty fee for storing your car while you are sorting everything out. This may be while you are dealing with your own insurance company or the other party’s insurance company. You are worried about who will pay for what and dealing with your own injuries and not aware that your car is incurring a sometimes-hefty daily fee for sitting on their property. Then, a couple of weeks later, you have sorted through the mess and are ready to move your car to the body show you have selected and are given a bill for thousands of dollars. This bill is due upon receipt and your car cannot be removed until it is paid. Trust me, these tow yards are not in the business of forgiving these bills just because “you didn’t know” and will not release your car without payment. So, it continues to sit there and incur more daily charges while you sort this out. My suggestion, if you are able to, immediately contact your insurance company and have the car moved asap.
In a nutshell, being in an accident is a traumatic event no matter the damage, injuries, or scenario. It is an event that you are never prepared for and can have lifelong effects on your health and wellbeing. As always, feel free to reach out to our office for any questions you might have. While it might seem like it, you are not alone and we are here to help!