The first seven things you should do after an accident are:
1. Get Immediate Medical Attention
Call 911 or go see a doctor ASAP. Even if you are able to drive yourself home, you may have injuries that you won’t notice for several hours or even days. Some injuries—particularly head, neck and spinal injuries—can cause symptoms that develop slowly over time. Emotional injuries such as anxiety, depression and fear of driving can also develop much later than the initial incident. These physical and emotional injuries can impact your ability to work and enjoy life if left untreated.
2. Save the Evidence
Even if the at-fault driver admits fault at the scene, their insurance company will argue about who was at fault if they have any—even the smallest basis—for doing so. Moreover, the other driver’s recollection of the accident may shift over time due to pride or fear of increased insurance rates. If that happens, you could be stuck with a swearing match between two people. Every piece of evidence you are able to save and produce later will help confirm your story.
- Get the contact information for the other driver: name, address and telephone number; insurance company name and policy number; and the make, model and license tag of their car.
- Get the name and phone number of every witness who saw the accident. After the accident is over and the vehicles have been towed away, it can be next to impossible to find a witness. Get two telephone numbers for each witness and double check the spelling of their name. You cannot be too careful. Do not expect the police to do this for you.
- Preserve evidence of your injuries. If you have visible injuries, take photographs right away with a good quality digital camera or your phone. Take additional photographs as your injuries heal. Make sure to note the date of each photo. Photograph the damage to your vehicle and (if possible) the other vehicle(s) involved. Do it before the vehicles are repaired.
If you were a pedestrian or cyclist, the color and nature of your clothes may be important, particularly if the accident happened at night. Make sure to preserve them in their original condition.
- Write or record everything you can remember about the accident. Sit down and write it, if you are physically able to do so, or dictate it to someone else. You can also use a recording device. Try to record as much detail as possible. Your notes can be very helpful if you are later required to testify at a deposition or trial. Be aware that you may be required to turn over your notes to the lawyer for the at-fault driver.
3. Report the Crash Within 72 Hours
Oregon law requires you to file an Oregon Traffic Accident and Insurance Report (Form 735-32) with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) within 72 hours of the accident when:
- Damage to the vehicle you were driving is over $1,500; or
- Damage to any vehicle is over $1,500 and any vehicle is towed from the scene as a result of damages from the accident; or
- Injury or death resulted from the accident; or
- Damages to any one person’s property other than a vehicle involved in the accident is over $1,500.
You must file a report even if your vehicle was the only one in the crash. If you do not report an accident when required to do so, your driving privileges will be suspended.
You must fill out an Oregon Traffic Accident and Insurance Report (Form 735-32) and return it to the DMV even if a police officer files a report. A police report does not replace your requirement to file an accident report with the DMV.
If you were injured by a hit-and-run driver, most insurance companies require you to report the crash to the police or DMV within 72 hours. If you fail to do so, you may not be able to obtain uninsured, or underinsured, motorist benefits.
4. Report the Accident to Your Insurance Company
Contact your insurance agent as soon as you can. If you have medical expenses or lost wages, you will need to file an application for Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits with your own insurance company. Your insurance company usually will make a claim for reimbursement from the insurance company for the at-fault driver.
If you were struck by an uninsured or underinsured driver, you will also need to file a proof of loss form with your insurer.
5. Do Not Give a Statement to the Other Person's Insurance Company
Do not speak to the adjuster for the other person’s insurance company. You are not legally required to speak to the other insurance company’s adjuster or to give them a statement. Giving a statement to them is usually not in your best interest. No matter how courteous or charming the adjuster sounds, remember that their sole objective is to diminish or defeat your claim.
Do not fill out or sign any forms for the other person’s insurance company. This includes medical authorizations. You have no legal obligation to give any kind of release or authorization to the adverse insurance company to allow it to obtain records or information. Giving such an authorization statement is usually not in your best interest. Authorization forms sent by insurance companies are often not limited in time or scope. If you sign such an unrestricted authorization, the adverse insurer may obtain embarrassing private medical records that they would not typically get in a lawsuit.
6. Do Not Take an Early Settlement from the Other Person's Insurance Company
The insurance company may pressure you to settle your claim early. Once you settle, you cannot later obtain more money from the insurance company, even if your injuries are more severe than you first realized. Therefore, you should not discuss settlement until you have completely recovered from your injuries or reached the point of maximum recovery.
Many people have been tricked by insurance companies into settling their claim prematurely by agreeing to compensation that they thought was partial or interim. However, in the vast majority of cases, the insurance company will write only one check that will result in a final and permanent settlement of your claim. Do not let them send you a check until you are ready to completely resolve your claim.
7. Protect Your Rights
Take care of yourself, medically and financially. Time is not on your side. Some claims expire in as little as 180 days. The more time that passes, the greater potential for damage to your case. If you are considering making a claim, you should speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer right away.