At the Scene of an Accident

If you’ve ever witnessed an accident, you know that the people involved can tend to act abnormally. Victims jump up from seemingly destructive impacts, witnesses shrug and move on, guilty parties split the scene. In this chapter, we want to share some things that you should keep in mind if you’re in an accident.

This chapter covers:

  • What is a typical auto accident?
  • If you’re in an accident, what do you do?
  • Why are witnesses so important?
  • Your behavior at the scene of an accident

What Is a Typical Auto Accident?

RearViewBelieve it or not, there is a typical auto accident. This scenario happens so often that it’s almost predictable: A car is at a light, stopped in traffic and waiting to turn. Then, out of the blue, they get hit from behind. The damages can vary from minor bumper damage to the back seat of the car being pressed into the front dash.

Another common accident is when a driver is traveling on a busy street and someone pulls out to turn in front of them. These accidents are all-too common, and they can also result in serious injuries.

If You’re In an Accident, What do You Do?

Let’s say that you’re in an accident and you’re coherent enough to take action. These are the steps you should take:

  • If you’re not in danger from traffic, you should leave your car right where it is. If you are in danger, and if your car can move, get yourself off the road and out of traffic.
  • Call 911.
  • Never, ever stand behind or near your car as you wait for police to arrive! Don’t even sit in your car. Your car is an obstacle to other drivers and it can get hit again. Stay away from it.
  • Exchange insurance information with the other party. Get his or her name, telephone number, email address, mailing address, and insurance information including policy number and insurance company name.
  • Even if it is a minor accident and you don’t think you’re hurt, don’t let the other person leave. At a minimum, get his or her driver’s license number.
  • If the other party drives away, you stay right there and wait for the cops.
  • Get pictures. Use your phone’s camera and take as many pictures as possible. Take shots of the intersection, damage to your car, witnesses, the location of the car, debris on the road – anything in or around the scene of the accident.
  • If you’re taken to the hospital, use your health insurance. (See Chapter 5 for more on this issue.)

Why Are Witnesses So Important?

Statistics have proven that people who run red lights or stop signs are likely to lie. They say, “The light was green!” or “I came to a complete stop!” They will lie to you and they will lie to their insurance companies. When it comes down to your word against theirs, you need proof. You need witnesses.

In order to illustrate this point, consider the following real-life story from the O’Sullivan Law files.

TrueStoryPatrick was driving southbound on a busy, four-lane road. A northbound driver turned left in front of him and Patrick barely had time to hit the brakes. He hit the other car and sustained a shattered left collarbone, broken ribs, torn ligaments in his knee, and other injuries.

The police arrived. Because Patrick had no traumatic head injury, he was able to explain the accident. However, one witness told the police that she had seen Patrick earlier driving erratically. She admitted, however, that she did not see the accident. Two other witnesses saw the accident and said Patrick was not at-fault and that he had the right-of-way.

The police officer gave Patrick the ticket.

Patrick asked the O’Sullivan Law Firm to represent him and we visited the scene of the accident. We were able to collect witness statements from people who worked in a nearby restaurant. These witnesses also said that Patrick was driving legally and had the right-of-way. We took those statements to the prosecutors who promptly dropped the case against Patrick.

And yet, the at-fault driver’s insurance company continued to deny responsibility until we filed a lawsuit and took the witnesses’ depositions. Finally, the insurance company dropped their defense and accepted full responsibility.

Clearly, in Patrick’s case, witnesses made all of the difference.

And you know those red light cameras that cities are installing at intersections to catch red-light-runners? You and your personal injury attorney can’t get access to those tapes. Again, you need witnesses.

Your Behavior at the Scene of an Accident

Your behavior at the scene of an accident can impact your case’s outcome later. Here are two tips that you should follow after an accident:

  • Don’t diminish the incident. We live in a society where people are expected to be tough! We also tend to be helpful and polite, genuinely wanting to help each other. But if you’ve been in an accident, don’t walk around saying, “I’m fine. I feel great!” Auto accident injuries tend to reveal themselves 24 hours after an accident. Anything you say at the scene of an accident can affect your case later.
  • Settle down. Your demeanor at an accident can also be used against you later. If you walk around angrily, yelling and screaming, that can also affect your case.

A final note that bears repeating: It is crucial to call 911 when you’ve been in an accident. If you don’t call the police and you discover injuries from the incident 24 hours later, you won’t have a record of the accident. We’ve never had someone regret calling the police to the scene of an accident… but they do regret it if they don’t!