With several million accidents occurring each year in the U.S, at some point or another you’re probably going to be involved in one. Knowing what to do, from calling 911 to getting your car fixed, can keep you out of legal trouble and help you get the most from your insurance claims.
Immediately After an Accident
If your vehicle is still moving, pull over as close to the accident as possible while still being out of the way of traffic. From there, you have a few legal duties to fulfill before you can leave the area:
- Provide your name, address and license number to the other parties involved in the accident. You must also show your driver’s license when asked.
- Provide “reasonable assistance.” If someone is injured, you need to either call for help or take them to a medical facility.
- Contact the police immediately for anything but the most minor damage. For Wisconsin, the threshold is $1,000 or more damage to a single property, $200 or more damage to a government vehicle or any injury. Other states have similar laws. When in doubt, call.
If you’ve called 911, you have the last two items covered, but emergency services shouldn’t be contacted if the accident was minor and everyone is OK.
Paperwork for Minor Accidents
In Wisconsin, you’ll need to file a Driver Report of Accident. This accident will go on the driving record of every driver involved, regardless of who was at fault. Most states have their own version of this that will go on file.
Hitting an Empty Vehicle
If you hit a vehicle without any occupants, say, in a parking lot, then you are required to contact the owner and give him or her your information so they can file a claim. This includes both your name and address, and, if you were driving someone else’s vehicle, the owner’s name and address. If they can’t be found, leave a note on the vehicle with this information along with a short description of what happened.
Dealing with the Police
When the police arrive, they’ll put together an accident report by observing the conditions of the collision and interviewing witnesses. You should always cooperate with the investigation, but never admit guilt: this admission can legally put the blame on you whether you caused the accident or not. Even if you’re sure you were at fault, there may be factors that you weren’t aware of.
Depending on the state, the police report will end up in the hands of the police department or the DMV. You should request a copy when it becomes available, usually a couple weeks after the accident. Your insurance company and any attorney you hire will also request their own copies.
Should You Get Legal Representation?
An accident attorney can do a lot more than just take your case to court. They can act as an intermediary between you and the insurance companies. Hiring an attorney usually isn’t necessary in a fender bender where both parties are insured, but it’s a good idea if anyone was injured, or if insurance coverage is lacking for either party. Most lawyers will give you a free consultation to see if they can help you with your claim.
If the insurance company decides to take the other driver to court, they will have their own legal staff representing them in the case.
Getting Your Vehicle Repaired
When it comes to getting your car repaired, the most important document for getting it paid for next to the police report is the estimate from the body shop. The shop will have a trained appraiser that will look over your vehicle and create an estimate that can be submitted to your insurance company. If they agree, they’ll foot the bill for the repair. Getting an accurate estimate will save trouble down the line, since your insurance company may balk when asked to pay for newly discovered damage. Getting new work approved is mostly between the shop and the insurance company, but even if they decide to pay, it can mean serious delays before work is completed. If you want the work done right with a solid guaranty, look for an auto body shop with industry certifications like I-CAR Gold and ASE.