Washington, D.C., Car Accident FAQ

The odds are pretty good that you won’t give a lot of thought to what you should do after a traffic accident. After all, most people have not suffered a significant automobile accident. And of those who have, almost nobody knew what they should do. Maybe they called their insurance company—never a bad first move—or maybe they called their lawyer—also hard to argue with. Of course, most people don’t have a lawyer, because they never need one. Some might call the police. But in the end, most people don’t really know what to do when they are in a traffic accident, and the more serious the accident, the less likely they are to know what to do.

Maybe you should give it some thought. Serious accidents do take place. More than 35,000 traffic fatalities happened in the United States in 2015, almost 2.5 million injuries arising from traffic accidents that year. So would it hurt to have at least an idea of what you should do when you are in a traffic accident?

The Best First Steps After a Traffic Accident

One obvious first question is, what are the first things I should do following a traffic accident? The answers seem intuitive:

  • First, call 911 to bring the police to the scene. In the same call, if anyone is hurt you should ask for an ambulance to come.
  • If it is possible, move your vehicle out of the way of traffic.
  • Get all possible information from other parties to the accident, including contact information, insurance information, vehicle descriptions, and license plate numbers. Get names and contact information from any witnesses, and record witness statements on your phone if possible. Take pictures of the accident scene, being sure to photograph all vehicle damage, any injuries you can, and take photos that show road and weather conditions.
  • Once the police arrive, ask to have an official report filed if there is significant property damage, serious injuries, or a fatality. This information will be important later, whether you are dealing with an insurance company—yours or the other driver’s—or you are pursuing (or defending) a court case. You should provide all of the information you gather to the police on the scene to ensure that it can be in the police report.
  • Do not admit fault in the accident. Many people feel guilty after an accident because they think they could have done “something” to avoid the accident. Well, so could the other driver. Let the police and the evidence show who was at fault.

Your Next Steps Be

So, you did all of those things at the accident scene. What steps should you take the next day and in the days and weeks immediately following the accident? Pretty much anyone would have questions, and here are some answers:

  • Should I get a copy of the police report? The short answer is yes. This is especially true where there is major property damage, injuries or even deaths. The police report will help you build your case, especially when combined with the information you gather at the accident scene. The police report can be vital in establishing which driver was at fault, particularly when charges are filed. If you have to fight the other driver’s insurance company for compensation, the police report of the accident will be one of the central documents at issue. A police report containing all of the available information on the accident can be invaluable. That is all the more reason to do the information-gathering at the scene of the accident described above. If injuries keep you from doing this, delegate to an uninjured passenger if possible. Sometimes you simply can’t do that kind of information gathering, but if you can, make sure it gets to the police so they can include it in the report. Even if they don’t include that information in the report, you will have photos, recorded witness statements, and other information about the accident that could prove decisive later.
  • Should I see a doctor? Again, the answer is an emphatic yes. Even if you think you’re okay, see a doctor to make sure. If you have been injured, you should get copies of all medical records related to those injuries, including treatments needed and expenses incurred. This should also include records of any work missed and wages lost because of the accident or injuries suffered in the accident. Do not provide these records to the other driver’s insurance company—especially medical records—unless your lawyer tells you to. And, yes, if you have been injured, you are going to get a lawyer.
  • Should I rely on the insurance adjuster’s estimate of damage to my car? No. Insurance companies are in the business of paying out as little money as possible. You should get at least two independent estimates on damage to your car. If the vehicle is totaled, get at least two quotes on replacement cost. The insurance company footing the bill—yours or the other driver’s—likely will try to pay less than actual costs. You need to have a solid foundation for your arguments on replacement cost.
  • Should I hire a lawyer? As mentioned above, if you suffered injuries in the accident, hire a lawyer. If the accident clearly was the fault of the other driver and you are getting pushback on a fair settlement from the other driver’s insurance company, you probably should hire a lawyer. The insurance company is good at post-accident negotiations; you’ve never done it. If there were injuries other than to you, or fatalities, hire a lawyer.

Reach out to The Abelson Law Firm if You Were in an Accident

If you were in a traffic accident and you have questions about what you should do, consult an attorney. An attorney’s experience with traffic accidents can guide you through the process and help you recover compensation for your injuries if possible. Attorney Michael A. Abelson at The Abelson Law Firm has helped many people through their car accident cases. You can reach him at (202) 331-0600 or through our online contact form.


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