Imagine you’re driving to work one morning and pull to a stop at the red light a block from your building when suddenly, your chin snaps down to your chest as your body unexpectedly jolts forward to the sounds of crunching steel and cracking glass.
Your ears ring as you shake off the initial shock of the impact and you steal a glance in your rear-view mirror just in time to see debris from what used to be your brake lights making their descent onto the pavement.
You've just been involved in a car crash that wasn't your fault, an unexpected situation thousands of New Yorkers are faced with each year.
If you're like most people, you may be wondering what to do next.
If you've been injured, knowing what to do after a car accident that's not your fault can make a huge impact on your physical health and financial well-being.
Understanding the following guidelines after an auto accident will help you achieve the best possible outcome, and avoid a stressful battle with the insurance company.
Remain Calm, Stay at the Scene & Get to a Safe Place
The first step to do after a car accident that's not your fault is to remain calm and stay at the scene of the accident. It can be difficult to think clearly after the shock of someone striking your car, but remaining calm is an invaluable asset.
The most important rule-following all auto accidents in New York is that you should never leave the scene until you've been advised it is ok to do so.
Before assessing your vehicle damage or attempting to move your vehicle away from traffic, check to make sure that your passengers and anyone involved in the accident is ok.
If anyone is unconscious or complains about neck or back pain, request medical attention immediately and advise them to keep any movements to a minimum unless they are in imminent danger.
If there appear to be no serious injuries, turn on your hazard lights and try to get your car to the furthest shoulder of the road, away from oncoming traffic.
Report the Accident to the Police
The next thing to do after a crash that wasn't your fault is to call 9-1-1 from your smartphone or, if you are uninjured, flag down another motorist to do it for you. Let the dispatcher know if anyone in your vehicle or surrounding vehicles needs immediate medical attention.
If so, the dispatch center operator will send an ambulance. He or she will also dispatch a police officer to the scene to gather information about the crash.
The police report can be a critical piece of evidence to help determine liability or to use when negotiating with the insurance company or filing a personal injury claim.
The responding police officer will ask for your name, contact information, and insurance information. This is only a standard procedure and doesn’t mean that you’re at fault for the accident.
Although you should also gather this information from the other party, let the police take care of the rest. We recommend keeping your interactions with him or her to a minimum and never assign or accept blame at the scene.
Document as Much as Possible
Another answer to the important question of what to do after a car accident is to document as much as you possibly can while you're still at the scene.
For example, use the camera app on your smartphone to take pictures of the damage to your vehicle or the personal property inside of it such as a laptop computer. Having photographic proof of any damages can help your insurance adjuster determine compensation, and may also assist your case in court if needed.
If anyone witnessed the accident and is willing, be sure to take a photo of that person as well.
If you’re not too badly injured, write down how the accident happened before you forget important details. In the example above, you would simply indicate that you had your car stopped at a red light and another car struck you from behind. Describe where each car was on the roadway as well.
It can be tempting to leave the scene quickly if you are involved in an accident that's not your fault - we highly advise against this. You may know that the other party is 100 percent to blame but leaving before the police arrive or before you have documented the evidence makes it look like you have something to hide.
Be sure to wait at the scene until the police obtain all the information they need. An officer will give you the okay to either drive home or call a tow truck and arrange for a ride.
Gather Information from Witnesses
You and the other party in the car accident have an obvious stake in describing events to make the other look like the one at fault.
Since judges and juries on personal injury cases know this, they will likely give less weight to your testimony than that of an onlooker with no personal stake in the outcome. If you know that someone saw what happened, ask for his or her name and contact information to provide to your insurance company and police.
Be sure to write it down so you don’t forget important details when you need to pass the information along.
Get Checked by a Medical Professional (Even if You Don’t Have Immediate Car Accident Symptoms or Pain)
While it's common to have neck pain after a car accident, many people refuse to see a doctor because they don’t notice any visible injuries or think they don't think their symptoms are severe.
This is a serious mistake because while many car accident symptoms may not show up until days, weeks, or even months after the crash, they may have just as serious long-term effects as broken bones or a dislocated joint. Whiplash and concussions are prime examples of this.
Other car accident symptoms that may not show up until much later include:
- Abdominal swelling and pain
- Loss of physical function
- Personality changes
- Post-traumatic stress syndrome
Just because some of these injuries don’t appear right away doesn’t mean that you won’t have lifelong problems from them. By visiting a medical professional shortly after the accident, you can determine such things as soft tissue injuries as well as have a written record of your visit.
This is important to establish credibility if the lawyer for the at-fault party claims your injuries couldn’t have been that serious if you didn’t even visit a doctor for them.
Keeping a diary of any doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors, caregivers, or any other medical professional you receive treatment from, as well as itemizing any related expenses, will help your insurer, your attorney, and the court understands the full extent of your injuries and any related costs.
New York is a No-Fault State for Auto Accidents
It’s important to understand that New York is one of several states that have no-fault laws on the books for car accidents. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t recover compensation if another person caused your injuries.
It simply means that state law requires you to file a claim with your own insurance company for damages.
This can provide you with limited funds, especially when your injuries are significant. You would want to proceed with a personal injury lawsuit against the other driver in this case.
Keep in mind that you have three years from the date of the accident to do so under New York’s statute of limitations.
Consider Hiring an Car Accident Attorney
A serious car accident can leave you with thousands of dollars in vehicle damages, mounting medical bills, lost wages, and even permanent physical and emotional damages.
If you were a victim in a car crash, even a minor one, you have legal rights to recover compensation for property damage, pain and suffering, emotional distress and more under New York law, and you should not have to worry about paying out of pocket for expenses caused by the accident.
An insurance company may try to offer you a settlement within a few shorts days after the accident. One of the most critical steps you can take after a car accident that's not your fault is to use caution before accepting any early settlement offers and consult an attorney before signing any documents pertaining to your settlement.
It's often difficult to know the full extent of your injuries, and their long-term effects, until many days, weeks, or even months after an accident. Don't settle a claim until you are confident you are being fairly compensated for all of your injuries.
If you were involved in an accident that wasn't your fault and have experienced any of the car accident symptoms mentioned above contacting an experienced New York car accident attorney can help you understand your legal options and decide what course of action to take.
Raphaelson & Levine has helped not at fault accident victims recover more than $700 Million dollars. If you have questions about what to do after a car accident that's not your fault or have questions about your legal rights and options to recover compensation, we can help.
Call 212-268-3222 or contact us online to have an accident attorney at our firm review your case at no charge.