You are driving along when you suddenly find yourself involved in a car or truck accident. What do you do? Remain calm, and follow these steps:
- Stop! Any driver of a motor vehicle (car, truck, tractor trailer, or motor cycle) involved in an accident must stop immediately if (1) a person is injured or killed or (2) if an attended vehicle or other attended property is damaged.
But where should you stop? If you are physically able and your car is operable, stop as close to the scene of the accident as possible without obstructing traffic. If they are working, activate your emergency lights.
- Call the police! You should call either the State police or the local law-enforcement agency to report the accident. Give them the location of your vehicle, your name, address, driver’s license number, and vehicle registration number.
- Cooperate with the investigating officer! Answer his or her questions regarding the facts of the accident truthfully. Do not admit fault. Do not discuss the accident or how it happened with anyone else.
If you are unable to call or communicate with the police at the scene of the accident, make the required report to the State police of local law-enforcement agency as soon as possible.
- Get information from the drivers of other vehicles involved in the accident! For each driver obtain: (1) name; (2) address; (3) phone number; (4) driver’s license number; (5) license plate number; (6) vehicle’s make and model; (7) name of automobile insurance company; and (8) insurance policy number. If any of the vehicles involved in the accident are commercial vehicles, write down the company name on the vehicle and any other identifying information.
If you are hesitant to ask the other drivers for their insurance information, you should be able to obtain that information from the responding officer(s). The law allows any law-enforcement officer present at the scene of a motor vehicle accident to ask drivers of all motor vehicles involved in an accident to provide proof of insurance.
- Take pictures only if you are able and it is safe to do so! Photographs of the scene and vehicles involved can be helpful not only to your insurance company but also to your lawyer if you decide to pursue a claim.
Pictures are especially important if your vehicle sustained substantial damage in the accident. If this is the case, make sure to photograph the vehicle before it is repaired or destroyed. Also, photos of the scene of the accident can be important to your insurance company and your lawyer. Evidence such as skid marks, debris, and the appearance of the surroundings might change or disappear within just a few days. For this reason, you may want to return to the accident scene as soon as possible to take pictures. These photographs should be taken from different perspectives from varying distances.
What should you do if someone in the accident has been injured?
- Render reasonable assistance to the injured persons. This includes calling for medical help or taking injured persons to a doctor or hospital if medical treatment is necessary or requested by the injured person(s).
If you have been injured in the accident and other passersby stop at the scene before police arrive, tell them you are injured so they can call 911 or the rescue squad. If a law-enforcement office is the first person to stop at the scene, immediately inform them that you are injured and describe your injuries.
Once the rescue squad or ambulance arrives at the scene of the accident, you should allow the squad members to examine you. They may recommend taking you directly to a hospital Emergency Room. If they do make this recommendation, you should go. If you believe you are injured, but don’t go to the hospital from the scene of the accident, have someone drive you to the Emergency Room or your doctor’s office as soon after the accident as possible.
If you have been involved in an accident but were a passenger in one of the vehicles involved, the above advice applies. But, what happens if you are a passenger in a vehicle involved in an accident where your driver did not stop at the accident scene or inform law-enforcement officers of the accident? Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you 16 years of age or older?
- Did the accident cause injury to a person or property damage?
If the answer to both those questions is “Yes!” then you are legally obligated to report the following to a law-enforcement agency within 24 hours of the accident:
- Name of the driver;
- Address of the driver; and
- Other relevant information.
All of the above advice applies to accidents involving injury to persons and damage to attended vehicles or property. But, what happens if you find yourself in an accident involving unattended vehicles or property? Here is what you should do:
- Make a reasonable effort to find the owner of the property;
- Give them your name, address, driver’s license number, and vehicle registration number.
If you cannot find the owner, you must leave a note containing that information in a visible, easily noticeable location at the accident scene. Additionally, you must report the accident to a law-enforcement agency in writing, within 24 hours. Here is what the written report should contain:
- Date of the accident;
- Time of the accident;
- Place of the accident; and
- Description of the property damage.
About the Author: Since joining Allen & Allen in 1991, Virginia personal injury lawyer Chris Guedri has focused his practice on complex traumatic brain injury cases, car accidents, trucking accidents, and product liability cases . He has handled cases in across the state of Virginia and nationwide. Chris Guedri is AV Peer Rated by Martindale Hubbell and is listed in Best Lawyers in America.