What To Do If You've Been Involved in A Motor Vehicle Accident

Some tips from a New York attorney to help with your car accident case.

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Unfortunately, motor vehicle accidents are a frequent occurrence in our fast-paced mobile society. If you listen to any news radio station in the New York–New Jersey area you know how often traffic accidents get reported.

We in the New York-New Jersey metro area suffer particularly from a poorly managed, under-maintained, and outdated road transportation system, which is plagued by choke points and traffic jams which increase the chances that a motor vehicle accident will occur. How you behave when you are involved in an accident can significantly affect whether or not you will receive proper compensation if you are injured as the result of any accident.

The following is a checklist of things you should do to remain safe after an accident and to help you increase your chances of receiving an just monetary recovery if you’ve been injured in an accident.

Help Injured Persons First

If anyone is injured, call 911 immediately. When you call for help, it is important to communicate your location as accurately as possible so help can reach you without delay. While help is on the way, make the injured person as comfortable as possible. Ordinarily, you should not move an injured person. But if it’s cold, keep them warm with blankets or coats until help arrives.

Move Uninjured Persons Out of Danger

Get any uninjured persons out of your vehicle to the shoulder of the road, safely away from your vehicle and from oncoming traffic.

Protect the Scene

Try to prevent further accidents from occurring. You may be liable for damages suffered by other motorists approaching the accident scene unless they are properly warned. Vehicles should not be left in a dangerous place on a highway if they can be moved safely, and passengers should not stay in a vehicle left exposed on a roadway in a dangerous position. Activate the flashers on your vehicle. If it’s nighttime, have someone with a flashlight warn approaching motorists. Put out flares or reflectors at least 300 feet from your vehicle and facing oncoming traffic (you should have these in your trunk).

Call Police Immediately. When police arrive, give the officers the basic facts about the accident. The official police report may help you later either by supporting your claim against some other reckless motorist or in protecting you against a claim made by another motorist. Note on paper the name and badge number of any police officers you speak with at the scene.

Take Photographs

If you are able, take photos of the accident scene and damage to your vehicle and any other vehicles involved in the accident. These photos will be helpful to you both in supporting any claim you may make after the accident and in defending yourself from exaggerated descriptions if any claim is filed against you.

Exchange Information With Other Drivers

Always keep pen & paper in your vehicle so you can record the names and address of all other drivers involved in the accident. Also note the names and addresses of other passengers in the other vehicles if you can get this information at the scene. Note the license number, make, and model of all cars involved in the accident.

Identify Witnesses

Witnesses will be a significant help to you in any lawsuit which may arise from the accident if there is any dispute about the cause of the accident. Get the names, addresses, and phone numbers of as many witnesses as possible at the scene of any accident if you are able; if you’re not, ask a family member or friend to do it. If witnesses refuse to identify themselves, at least note the license numbers of their vehicles. But don’t discuss the accident with the witnesses. Don’t give witness names to anyone but the police, your insurance company, or your attorney.

Make Short Notes about the Accident

Note on paper (or computer) the details of the accident as soon as you are able. Memories tend to fade over time and a lawsuit may not be filed until several years after the accident occurs, so making a record of the details of the accident while they are fresh in your mind is critical to your success in any future court action. Make your notes at the scene or during the same day as the accident if at all possible. Your notes should include the date and time, road conditions, weather conditions, and direction and speed of all other cars involved. Also note anything unusual you may have noticed about the drivers of the other vehicles involved just before the accident took place, such as other drivers talking or texting on a cell phone, eating or drinking, fixing makeup or shaving (I’ve seen that!), reading maps, or anything else which would interfere with a driver’s ability to drive safely. If possible, draw a diagram of the accident showing the position and direction of the cars just before and immediately after the accident.

If You Are Injured

If you or a loved one is injured, seek medical attention immediately after the accident. Potentially significant and costly injuries may seem inconsequential at first. New York State’s “No Fault” law requires that automobile insurance policies of all involved vehicles make payments to any injured drivers and passengers, as well as to pedestrians, for accident-related medical expenses, lost wages, and other expenses, regardless of fault up to $50,000.00, so don’t worry about the medical expenses for any emergency room treatment which may follow from an accident. If the emergency room doctors give you recommendations for follow-up treatment such as contacting your own doctor, or, for example, contacting an orthopedist or neurologist, be sure to follow those recommendations.

Report the Accident to Your Insurance Company or Agent Immediately

If your are able, you should report the accident immediately after the accident - within the hour - after the situation has calmed down. If you’re not able, ask a family member to do it. If you fail to notify your insurance company, this could be grounds for the company to deny any responsibility to protect your interests if any claim is made against you after the accident. In addition, New York State law requires that the driver of each vehicle involved in any accident in which a person is killed or injured, or one in which the property damage exceeds $1,000.00, must file a written report with the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles within 10 days of the accident’s occurrence. The law further requires that if the driver of the vehicle cannot make this report, the owner of the vehicle must do so within 10 days after learning of the accident. Failure to follow this law is a misdemeanor and can be grounds for suspension or revocation of the operator’s driver’s license, or of the owner’s vehicle registration. Your local police station or precinct, or insurance agent will help you prepare the necessary paperwork; there is a standard Report of a Motor Vehicle Accident form – called an “MV-104” which the police or your insurance company or agent will usually provide to you.

Don’t Speak to Anyone About the Accident Except the Police and Your Insurance Company Until You Consult an Attorney

Frequently after an accident, the reckless driver who caused the accident, or the insurance company for that driver or its agents, contacts an accident victim and tries to persuade the victim into a quick settlement, offering some small amount of money and telling the victim that the time and trouble of court proceedings and the cost of lawyers can be avoided. Don’t fall into this trap. No matter how friendly the person calling may sound, or how tempting an offer of quick cash may be, their job is to save their insurance company money. They are looking out for their company’s best interests, not yours. If you are contacted by anyone before you consult with an attorney, refer that caller to your insurance company; do not give the caller any information about the accident. Once you have an attorney, refer all calls to your attorney. Also keep in mind that virtually all attorneys in New York take accident cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that the person injured in the accident does not have to pay any legal fees or costs unless and until the lawyer gets a money award for the client by either a pre-trial settlement or by a verdict after trial. So if someone tries to persuade you into accepting a quick settlement to avoid the costs of attorney fees, you should now know they’re using a questionable argument.

If someone contacts you after the accident demanding payment, don’t make any payments, or any promises to pay to anyone. Refer all such calls to your insurance company or agent. If you receive any legal papers delivered to your home in any way, immediately send all of them to your insurance company.

If you follow these general guidelines after you’ve been involved in an accident, you will have a much easier time during all the events that may occur after the accident and you will be increasing your ability to recover a proper monetary award if you have been injured.