So, you’ve just been involved in a car crash, a scary situation in any sense of the word. Unfortunately, now is not the time to react impulsively; keep calm and stay where you are unless your car is in a dangerous spot—like the center of a highway. In that instance, try to move over as much as you can or—if your car is inoperable—move yourself and any passengers to a safe location until the appropriate authorities arrive on the scene. Even if you are in shock or terrified of what may come after this accident, remain where you are until the appropriate authorities have been called, unless the accident is blocking traffic and you have the capacity to move safely to the side of the road. A “hit-and-run” accident can lead to a criminal prosecution and forfeit any chance of filing a claim.
This article serves as a five-step checklist that you should adhere to if you are ever in a car accident:
- Assess The Situation
The second after a collision, check to see whether anyone in your car, on the street, or in the other car involved has been injured. After that assessment, call 911 immediately. Authorities must be notified in any instant of injury, death, or damage to property resulting from a car accident pursuant to New York Vehicle and Traffic Law § 600(1). Even if injuries are not serious, the police must be called.
Once you have alerted the police, be cautious about oncoming traffic. If your car is unmovable and in the middle of the road, remove yourself and any passengers to the side of the road, out of the way of incoming cars, and wait for the proper authorities to arrive. If the accident did not damage the car’s ability to move, drive the car to the side of the road, the shoulder on the highway or any other location that does not block the flow of traffic. Before doing so, try to photograph the position of each car. The pictures should help insurance agencies have a better understanding of the situation for the purposes of a claim.
- Call For Help
As mentioned, motorists in New York are legally required to call the police from the scene of a car accident pursuant to New York Vehicle and Traffic Law § 600(1). The two circumstances outlined in the provision cover instances where an accident results in injury or death and damage to real property. If anyone was injured or killed in an accident—including any domestic pets—police must be notified immediately. If the owner of any real property—such as a parked car in a shopping center—cannot be located, police must be notified as well.
If you cannot determine whether an injury resulted from the accident, it is still in your best interest to report the accident to police. It is better to report an accident rather than failing to report an accident. In addition, a police report of the collision will provide all party information, insurance information, details about the scene, any traffic law violations and information from witnesses. All the information gathered by police officers can be useful in the claims process, particularly when proving negligence of the at-fault driver.
- Take Pictures Of Location And Of Damage To Car
It is important to take photographs of the scene and other details surrounding the crash. Having these photographs and documentation will be beneficial to preserve evidence during the claims process. Photographs can help prove valuable information such as property damage, vehicle damage and street conditions that may have played a role in the resulting collision.
It is best to take the photographs on your phone camera. The more photographs taken, the better. Here are a few tips and tricks that will help you know what to look for and document on your phone’s camera:
- When photographing smaller items, place a reference item—like a coin or pen—next to the item of interest to help communicate size and scale.
- Prioritize taking pictures of the entire accident scene. Zoom out on pictures to include all essential visual elements in one picture. Also take pictures of the scene from various angles.
- Photograph all of the vehicles involved in an accident from various angles, including each damaged vehicle’s license plate. Do not forget to take pictures of each damaged vehicle’s interior. These pictures should display any deployed airbags, shattered glass, blood stains, or debris.
- Take pictures of any surrounding damage or other evidence at the accident scene. These pictures could include damage to surrounding properties, skid marks, and damaged trees, street signs or any indicative sites.
- If the accident caused injuries, photograph the victims, including close-up shots of the injuries. Be sure to receive consent first.
- Dedicate time to capture the accident site and surrounding environment. These pictures include street signs, stop signs, traffic signals, weather conditions, and road conditions. These could have played a factor in the resulting accident.
The information you document through these photographs will help establish liability. Most of the legal rules surrounding car accident cases outline tort claims, where liability is measured on: (1) whether the driver was negligent; (2) whether the driver engaged in reckless or wanton conduct; (3) whether the driver engaged in intentional misconduct; or (4) whether the driver was strictly liable for his or her actions, regardless of fault. Photographs are a great way to present your evidence that can potentially help you get maximum compensation from the at-fault party’s insurance company.
- Make No Admittance Of Fault
During the police report, it is important not to volunteer any information about who was to blame for the accident. At first you may think that you are completely clear of any fault, only to find out later that it was your fault after explaining the situation to the officer on the scene. Conversely, you may think that you are completely to blame when the blame is on the other driver completely. It is strongly advised that you refrain from admitting blame or making accusations of blame. Anything you say to the police—or even to the other driver—can be used against you later should the other driver pursue litigation. Always cooperate with the police officer investigating the case.
Additionally, you should not make any agreement with the other driver to pay for damages or sign any documents outlining an agreement without consulting an insurance company, a lawyer, or both. The only thing that you should sign in the moment is an official traffic ticket given to you by a police officer, indicating acknowledgement that the report has been collected and the proper authorities are on their way to either handle the car or support any injured passengers.
- Report The Accident And Decide Whether To File A Claim
Pursuant to New York Vehicle and Traffic Law § 605(a)(1), all drivers involved in an accident resulting in injury or death or damage to property more than $1,000 must file an accident report to the Department of Motor Vehicles within ten days from the date of the accident. Failure to do so will charge you will a misdemeanor and can constitute grounds for suspension and revocation of your driver’s license. See N.Y. VEH & TRAFF § 605(a)(2). The accident appears on the records of all the involved drivers. An accident listed on your driver record does not indicate that you were at fault. The DMV does not try to determine fault in an accident. You can get a copy of this report, as well as of any police report, by contacting the DMV or local police station.
It is equally important that you report the accident to your car insurance provider as soon as possible. Insurers must receive written notice of an accident within 30 days of an accident. If you fail to meet this deadline, you may be prevented from receiving benefits for your accident.
When deciding whether to file a claim, consider whether the cost of repairing your car is less than or comparable to the cost of your insurance policy deductible. You’ll also want to check whether you’re required to report the accident to the insurer or your local transportation authority. Put all your accident-related documents and reports together so they are easily accessible for your claim. Before making any further statements to the police, other drivers, passengers, or even witnesses—save for the statements necessary in the moment of an accident—consult a personal injury lawyer.
KI Legal Personal Injury is committed to guiding you through the entire claim and potential lawsuit process with ease. At KI Legal Personal Injury, our skilled attorneys are here to protect your rights and make sure the evidence you collected is used properly to help award you the maximum compensation available. For more information on what to do after a car accident, contact us on our site or call us at (212) 404-8644.
Credit Karma Staff, Should I file an auto insurance claim or pay for the damage out of pocket?, Credit Karma, LLC, May 27, 2022. https://www.creditkarma.com/auto/i/should-you-file-auto-insurance-claim#:~:text=When%20deciding%20whether%20to%20file%20a%20claim%2C%20consider%20whether%20the,or%20your%20local%20transportation%20authority.
- Lee, What to Do After a Car Accident, MH Sub I, LLC dba Nolo Self-Help. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/what-to-do-after-a-car-accident.html
New York City Police Department, Non-Injury Vehicle Collisions, NYC.gov, Apr. 6, 2020. https://www1.nyc.gov/site/nypd/services/vehicles-property/non-injury-vehicle-collisions.page
Department of Motor Vehicles, How to file a motorist accident report, New York State.
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