Protect Yourself: 5 Steps You Should Take Both Before and After An Automobile Accident

Automobile accidents happen all too frequently in the United States.  Many drivers, however, have not thought about the steps that they should take to protect themselves both legally and financially if they are involved in an automobile accident.

Below is a list of some basic steps that every driver should take both before and after an automobile accident occurs.  By taking these steps, you not only will protect yourself from a legal and financial perspective, but you also will put yourself in the best possible position should you suffer injuries as a result of the accident.

Make Sure You Have the Appropriate Policy Limits

Before getting behind the wheel, every driver must make sure that they have the appropriate policy limits to protect their personal assets should they be involved in a serious automobile accident.  To be clear, while you may have automobile insurance, it does not preclude the other driver or passenger from going after your personal assets for their injuries as a result of the accident.  Insurance is critical in the automobile accident context because it serves as a source of funds to compensate an injured party so that he is less likely to look to your personal assets for compensation.

While many states only require drivers to have a minimal amount of insurance, individuals with even a modest amount of personal assets should be sure to have adequate policy limits to cover a serious accident.  For example, if you have a personal net worth of $300,000, you should not have an insurance policy with a limit of only $50,000 for bodily injury. If you have minimal automobile insurance policy limits but a high personal net worth, then the other party likely will attempt to satisfy any potential judgment against you by executing on your personal assets.  This can significantly damage your personal finances and create a legal headache for you.  The presence of an adequate amount of automobile insurance can minimize or eliminate the likelihood of another driver pursuing your personal assets for injuries arising out of an automobile accident.  Consult with your attorney or an insurance professional to ensure that your automobile policy limits are adequate to protect your personal assets in the event of a serious automobile accident.

Stay at the Scene

If you are involved in an automobile accident, you should stay at the scene of the accident.  If you leave the scene of the accident, you could face serious criminal charges, particularly if someone was injured or killed.  Of course, if you believe that you are in danger, then you should immediately drive to the nearest police station to report the accident.

Call the Police

Following the automobile accident, you should call the police and request that an officer come to the scene to complete a police report.  This is especially true in cases involving significant property damage, physical injury or death.  Likewise, once the police arrive be sure to get the names, badge numbers and telephone numbers of all responding officers.

Exchange Information but Do Not Admit Responsibility

Regardless of whether law enforcement comes to the scene of the accident, you must gather as much information as possible.  You should get the names, telephone numbers, drivers’ license numbers, license plate numbers and basic insurance information from all of the drivers involved in the accident.  Likewise, if there are any passengers in the other vehicles or eyewitnesses, be sure to get their names, telephone numbers and addresses.

While gathering this basic information from the drivers and the passengers involved in the accident, you also should be taking photographs and video of the scene.  It is particularly important to take photographs and video of the scene before any of the vehicles are moved.

While gathering all of this evidence at the scene of the accident, be sure not to admit liability or to apologize for anything.  Indeed, after an accident, your emotions are high and you might not truly know who was at fault or contributed to the accident.  In short, it is best to say nothing about liability and to simply gather information.

Contact Your Insurance Company and Legal Counsel

You should tell your insurance company about the accident as soon as possible. Under your insurance policy, you likely have a duty to cooperate with your insurance company, as well as a duty to timely inform them about the accident.  Make sure you satisfy these duties by, among other things, timely notifying your insurance company about the accident and giving them the information they need to process your claim.  For example, you should immediately forward the police report to your insurance company and give them any photographs and the contact information of any drivers, passengers or eyewitnesses.

You also should be contacting legal counsel to ensure that your rights are protected.  Do not think that you can navigate this complex process by yourself, especially if you were injured as a result of the accident.  Frequently, either your insurance company or the insurance company of the other driver(s), will want to get a recorded statement from you regarding the accident, especially when you have suffered severe injuries.  To protect yourself, make sure that you have retained legal counsel before providing a recorded statement.

Moreover, do not sign any documents or accept an early settlement from any insurer, as their incentive is to limit their liability and to avoid fully compensating you.

If you or a loved one has been involved in an automobile accident, contact us today via telephone at (301) 968-2384 or via e-mail so that we can bring our resources to bear and get every dollar you or your loved one deserves.

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Written by Law Firm of J.W. Stafford, L.L.C.

Attorney Jamaal (“Jay”) W. Stafford has extensive experience counseling and representing clients facing complex and challenging legal issues. He puts his experience to work with each client to help them get their desired results, no matter what legal situation they are facing. Each service that is offered is backed by his experience, education, professional training, and passion for employment law and litigation.