A car accident is a traumatic event, one that, hopefully, most people will not have to experience. It’s easy to feel panicked and confused in the moment an everyday drive turns into something with the potential for long-term consequences for your health, finances and future.

While it’s impossible to anticipate when an accident will happen, understanding your obligations can help you make smart decisions at the scene and afterwards.

After an Accident: What to Do First

The first thing you should do after an auto accident is try to calm yourself down. Center yourself by focusing on your breathing and everything else will follow. Before getting out of the car, take a second to consider the following:

  • Am I hurt? Sometimes the full effects of a crash aren’t readily apparent. You may be in shock or otherwise unable to process what has happened. If there are passengers in the car with you, make sure they are okay before doing anything else.
  • Is it safe to get out of the car? Look around you. If your car can be driven, put your hazard lights on and pull over to the shoulder. Be aware of oncoming traffic or any other hazards before getting out.
  • What happened? Take a second to process how the accident happened. What were you doing? What was the other driver doing? Even straightforward events can become muddied in a situation like this. The earlier you can establish a clear narrative in your mind, the more consistent your thoughts and actions will be as you sort out the implications.

If it’s clear you were not at fault, and the accident was caused by the other driver’s negligence, remember that getting angry will only make things worse. Keep the situation from escalating by being courteous and considerate of the fact that the other driver has also experienced a traumatic event.

At the same time, however, be careful with what you say. Apologizing or admitting fault, even tacitly, can jeopardize your chances of obtaining compensation for your losses.

When to Call the Police

In almost all car accidents, police should be notified immediately. Call 911 for assistance, even if the accident isn’t major.

Under Nevada state law, any accident involving more than $750 in damages must be reported to the DMV within 10 days. In most cases, this will be done by the police who arrive on the scene.

However, if for whatever reason police are not called, you will have to file a form at the department office nearest you. Police must also be called in single-vehicle accidents, in collisions with deer or other animals or in any incident involving property damage.

When dealing with the police, be honest and forthcoming. Particularly if fault in the accident is unclear, be careful what you say. As noted above, your words can be used against in the future.

Getting Medical Help

Your health isn’t something you should take risks with. Car accidents can have long-term effects that we may not notice at first.

If you’re at all uncertain about whether or not you should visit a doctor, err on the side of caution. Injuries such as whiplash, strains and fractures, and traumatic brain injury can all involve a long recovery that includes surgery, prescription medicine or physical therapy. Failing to follow your doctor’s orders can lead to permanent disability and other long-term consequences.

When to Call a Lawyer

After any serious auto accident, it’s always a good idea to speak with a lawyer sooner rather than later. If you have a personal injury attorney you know and trust, call them at the scene, before speaking with police. Whether you were at fault or not, having someone advise you who knows the law can help you avoid issues that will slow down the claims process or cause you unnecessary stress down the line.

If you’re worried about the implications of speaking with a lawyer after a car accident, there are two important things to remember:

  • Calling a lawyer doesn’t mean filing a lawsuit. In fact, most lawyers will attempt to settle the matter quickly and out of court, by negotiating a settlement with either the insurance company or the other driver. Many people speak with a lawyer simply for advice on how to protect themselves and reduce their liability. At Dallas Horton & Associates, we offer free, no-obligation consultations to anyone who has been involved in a car accident.
  • Calling a lawyer isn’t about punishing the other driver. Too often, injured accident victims will refuse to speak with a lawyer because they don’t want the other party to suffer. What’s important to remember, however, is that initiating civil legal proceedings of any kind against another driver is simply a way to ensure you get the settlement you need to recover properly. It’s up to criminal courts to determine and punish negligence in a car accident.

Gathering the Evidence

One of the things a lawyer will advise you to do after a car accident — particularly if fault is in question — is to begin collecting evidence to support your case. For insurance purposes, you will need to know at the very least the other driver’s name and license plate number.

Other information that can help expedite the claims process is the name of their insurance company, their policy number, their address and contact information, and the make and model of their vehicle. If the other driver is forthcoming with this information, you owe it to them to provide the same.

If you are able to do so, take photographs of the accident scene, including nearby signage, any hazards present on the road (such as an unattended construction site) and the damage to both your vehicles. Locate any witnesses to the accident and get their contact information, as well.

Though the police will likely be doing the same if called to the scene, it’s always a good idea to verify this information independently. This is a good time to write down what happened as you remember it, so you can avoid giving conflicting information.

While failing to do any of the above doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have trouble getting compensated, having this information easily available can be the key to quickly resolving any disputes or issues that come up later.

Dealing With Insurance

With the exception of the most minor accidents, filing an insurance claim is a necessity when vehicle repairs are required. What many drivers don’t realize is that even a small collision repair can run into the thousands of dollars to complete properly.

If the other driver offers to pay for your repairs out of pocket, think seriously before accepting. What if additional work is required? What if you’re not satisfied with the quality of the repairs? How will you get around while the work is being done?

Going through insurance ensures the job is completed according to recognized collision repair industry best practices. Any reputable auto body shop will guarantee their work and provide value-added services such as free pick up and drop off during repairs.

For these reasons, it’s best to call your insurance sooner, rather than later. Most major companies run a 24-hour toll-free hotline you can use to begin the claims process and get information about where to take your car for repairs.

Dealing With Medical Bills

Hopefully, the damage to your car will be your biggest concern following an accident. If injuries are involved, however, it’s all the more important to protect yourself from financial consequences, while still getting the best care possible.

Specifics vary from policy to policy, though most companies provide coverage for hospital and ambulance fees, any required procedures and prescriptions, physical therapy and rehabilitation, as well as any other necessary medical expenses. You may also be entitled to compensation for lost wages, lost earning potential and punitive damages.

Having an auto accident lawyer in Las Vegas assist you is especially important when a long recovery is involved. Often, insurance companies will attempt to settle before the full extent of your injuries is apparent. A lawyer puts the pressure on insurers to come up with a fair settlement that allows you to recover fully without unnecessary financial stress.

When Insurance Isn’t Enough

Insurance policies typically have coverage limits that determine how much they can pay out. When that cap is reached, it may be necessary to escalate matters, either through further negotiations or by initiating legal action. If you’ve been diligent about collecting information at the scene, have remained consistent in your statements and are being represented by an experienced auto injury lawyer, it is often possible to avoid a drawn-out legal battle at this stage.

Whatever the path forward holds, Dallas Horton & Associates can help. We are a Las Vegas personal injury law firm with more than 17 years of experience representing clients in auto and motorcycle accident cases. One of the first things you should do after an auto accident is to visit our office for your free consultation. Let us help you get the settlement you require for a full and stress-free recovery.