After a car accident, you may find yourself reeling. What should you do next? How can you protect yourself against further injury, including financial challenges you may face because of your injuries or the damage to your vehicle?

The steps you take immediately after a car accident and in the days and weeks to follow can make a big difference in the eventual outcome, especially financially. To help protect yourself, make sure you remember these steps.

1. Report the accident to the police.

Generally, unless you feel unsafe at the scene of the accident or need to leave the scene to seek medical attention, you should stay at the scene of the accident and wait for the police to arrive. Never fail to report an accident or leave the scene of an accident, which could cause you to face charges of your own or make it more difficult for you to receive the compensation you deserve for the accident.

In many scenarios, the driver that caused your accident may request that you avoid calling the police. Young drivers may not want to face the repercussions of their dangerous actions behind the wheel, especially if they did not cause serious damage to their own vehicles. Drunk drivers, or those with multiple points already on their license, may know that they will face severe repercussions if they report the accident to the police.

Despite those complaints, however, you should not leave the scene of the accident without reporting the accident to the police.

2. Exchange insurance information with the other driver.

If you did not suffer serious injury in the accident, and you can get out of the car safely and without putting yourself in additional danger, exchange insurance and contact information so that you can report the accident to the insurance company and seek compensation for the damage to your vehicle and for any injuries you suffered.

To make it easier to keep track of insurance information, consider snapping a photo with your phone. This will make the other driver’s insurance information much more easily accessible and decrease the odds that you will lose it or mistakenly transpose a number when trying to copy it down.

3. Seek medical attention, even if you do not think you suffered serious injuries.

Some injuries, you know about as soon as you suffer them. If you have severe lacerations, obvious broken bones, or signs of traumatic brain injury, you may know that you need to proceed immediately to the nearest emergency room for evaluation and treatment.

Some other injuries, on the other hand, may not appear as obvious immediately after the accident. Signs of whiplash may not appear until several hours after the accident. The adrenaline from the accident can also conceal or divert your attention from some serious injuries, including broken bones. You may not realize, immediately after the accident, that you have significant pain. By the next day, however, you may realize that you sustained serious injury.

Unfortunately, the longer you wait to seek treatment for those injuries, the worse they may become. Walking around with a broken bone in your leg, for example, could continue to put pressure on the bone, pushing it further out of alignment. Over time, the bone may even heal incorrectly. If you have symptoms of traumatic brain injury, further head trauma, including participation in some sports and activities, could worsen the symptoms and lead to more serious problems.

Seeking medical attention immediately after the accident also serves another vital purpose. When you visit the hospital, it creates a record of exactly when your injuries occurred. If you need to file a car accident claim to help you seek compensation for those injuries, your immediate hospital visit will help establish how your injuries happened and prevent the other driver’s insurance company from trying to claim that you injured yourself in another situation and simply want to seek compensation through your claim.

A Note on Your Medical Records

After your accident, make sure you keep track of all of your medical records and medical expenses, especially if you suffered severe injuries that will likely have long-term, lasting consequences and costs. You may want to start a file that will allow you to easily keep track of those expenses and the progression of your recovery, including the scans that show healing over time.

Keeping track of your medical bills will make it easier to establish exactly what you have had to pay for treatment as well as showing how your injuries have impacted you.

4. Contact your employer, if needed.

After a minor car accident on your way to work, you may need to let your employer know that you will have to come in late because of dealing with the aftermath of the accident. After a serious car accident, on the other hand, you may end up out of work for several days, several weeks, or even longer.

Contact your employer as soon as possible after the accident. Immediately after the accident, you may simply let your employer know that you may need to take a couple of days, especially if you suffered relatively minor injuries. As you learn more about your injuries and your recovery, keep your employer updated.

You may need to discuss how long you will have to stay out of work. Further, notify your employer of any modifications that might make it possible for you to return to work faster or to take on some of your usual work tasks while you recover. For example, you might need to work from home on a part-time basis while going through some of your recovery, or you might need a special desk chair to make you more comfortable despite severe injuries.

Offer your employer honesty regarding your current capability, and make sure you follow your doctor’s instructions regarding when you can return to work. Do not try to go back to work too soon, especially if you have sustained severe injuries or if going back to work will endanger you in any way.

Keep track of your lost hours at work as you recover from your car accident injuries. In many cases, you can claim compensation for those lost wages as part of the car accident claim related to your car accident.

5. Contact an attorney.

Ideally, you should get in contact an experienced car accident attorney as soon after the accident as possible. Many attorneys can start helping their clients after the initial call, before they even have a chance to receive a compensation offer from the other driver’s insurance company. Experienced attorneys help their clients at every stage of the claim process.

An Attorney Can Help You Understand the Compensation You Deserve

Many people do not realize how much compensation they really deserve for the injuries they sustained in a serious car accident. If you suffered severe injuries, you may deserve substantial compensation for your losses.

An attorney can help clients go over the details of the accident and the losses they suffered, then provide them with an assessment of the compensation they should expect for those injuries. Often, attorneys help their clients avoid accepting low settlement offers that could prevent them from receiving the full aid they deserve after a serious accident.

An Attorney Can Investigate the Accident

You may know that the other driver caused your accident, but you may not have enough evidence to solidly prove who caused the accident. Sometimes, it can prove difficult to tell, especially if the damage occurred in a sideswipe collision. You may also not know that other parties may also share liability for your accident.

For example, did you suffer injuries in an accident with a delivery driver? The driver’s company may share liability for the accident. Did you suffer injuries in an 18-wheeler collision? Your claim may require an in-depth investigation of the trucking company, the driver, and the company to determine who may share liability for your accident and your injuries.

Attorneys Can Represent Their Clients at Every Stage of the Claim

If you choose to handle your car accident claim on your own, you may have to handle complicated negotiations with the insurance company. From the earliest stages of clients’ claims, however, an attorney can help handle those critical negotiations.

An attorney can field calls from the insurance company and stick to their guns to maximize the odds that clients will get the full compensation they deserve. In addition, if your claim has to go to court, an attorney can present a compelling case that will help increase the odds that the judge or jury will find in your favor.

6. Notify insurance about the accident.

After the accident, you will probably need to deal extensively with insurance companies as you seek the compensation you deserve. Several key types of insurance can help provide compensation for your losses.

The Other Driver’s Auto Insurance

The other driver’s auto insurance will provide basic coverage for your vehicle and your injuries. How much compensation you can recover from that insurance policy may depend on the value of the policy.

In general, auto insurance will provide compensation for:

  • Damage to your vehicle
  • Your medical expenses
  • Your lost wages

In some cases, you may also receive compensation for the pain and suffering related to the accident.

Generally, you should contact a lawyer before dealing directly with the other driver’s insurance company regarding the compensation you deserve for damages you sustained in an auto accident.

Your Auto Insurance

It’s unlikely that minimum insurance coverage will fully address the cost of a serious accident. Minimum auto insurance in California, for example, provides just $5,000 in compensation for property damaged in an accident. With the average cost of a new car hovering around $40,000, that means many drivers might not receive the compensation they need to cover the cost of replacement or repairs to a vehicle, especially if an accident causes substantial damage.

If you carry underinsured motorist insurance, however, your auto insurance company may pick up some of the slack and help provide the compensation you need to get your vehicle on the road again. If you have an accident with an uninsured driver, uninsured coverage can also provide vital assistance covering the bills associated with your accident.

Some states require drivers to carry Personal Injury Protection insurance, or PIP insurance, to provide them with coverage for medical expenses after an accident. Most states, including California, do not have those laws, though California does allow you to purchase optional MedPay coverage.

Your Medical Insurance

If you sustained serious injuries in a car accident, your medical insurance will provide vital assistance covering the ongoing cost of your medical bills over time. Notify your medical insurance provider about your accident as soon as possible. Notifying your provider will streamline processing for your medical claims and help reduce the odds that you will receive unnecessary bills from the claim.

While talking to your medical insurance provider, ask about the specific coverage you may have for the services you will need as you recover.

In addition to considering your copays and deductibles, you may want to ask about:

  • Coverage for durable medical equipment or prosthetics, if needed
  • Coverage for long-term medical care in a facility
  • In-network providers for specific needs you may face
  • Help with in-home medical care or assistance taking care of daily activities, if needed
  • Coverage for physical therapy, occupational therapy, or psychological therapy

Dealing with the immediate aftermath of a serious auto accident can prove incredibly confusing. Fortunately, an experienced car accident attorney can help guide you through the legal aspects of your claim, from giving you more information about the steps you need to take next to helping you understand the compensation you should expect, including when to accept a settlement offer and when you may want to continue to negotiate.