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What to do After You've Had a Car Accident

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You are sitting at a stoplight and BANG! someone runs right into the back end of you. What do you do?

Many people react by getting out of their cars, marching right up to the person who hit them and start yelling and threatening physical violence. Bad idea on many levels:

1. They are in traffic and another car can pass and run over them trying to get around the accident or because there is another lane next to the cars.


2. They could be injured and not realize it because of the adrenalin pumping through their veins and more movement may only aggravate their wounds.

3. Threatening violence can only serve to escalate an already disastrous situation and turn what was not at fault into jail time for the one rear ended.

You should remain in your automobile after you have been involved in an accident no matter whose fault it is until you have determined you are safe to exit and that your injuries aren't severe. If you have access to a cell phone or have a car with an on board communication device with a subscription call center, like OnStar, remain in your vehicle. Call the proper authorities by dialing 911 when:

1. your car is not drivable as it may need to be towed from the scene,

2. you are in heavy traffic and without police intervention, your safety might be at risk,

3. there appear to be persons injured in your car or in others,

4. when you are being threatened by another person.

When is it not necessary to call for help?

When you are involved a small accident in which no one was hurt, only slight damage appears on the two cars and all parties are being level headed and cooperative, there is no need to involve law enforcement. You should exit your car only when you have determined it is safe to do so. You may need to pull off to the side of the road to a safe place only when traffic is clear enough.

It is a good idea to carry flares or reflectors in your car just for these types of events. Once you and the other party have made your way safely to a shoulder or parking lot then get out of your vehicle. Showing signs of concern and compassion for the other driver will get you a long way in the information exchange process. Keep a pen and paper in your car at all times. Use it to write down the information of the other driver(s). You will need:

1. name,

2. drivers license number,

3. phone number,

4. address,

5. name of their insurance company,

6. policy number,

7. plate number,

8. year, make and model of the other vehicle(s),

9. color of the car(s),

10. name and ages of passenger,

11. where the accident happened,

12. time of day,

13. and weather conditions,

14. names, addresses and phone numbers of witnesses.

That's a lot to have to remember. And don't leave the scene of the accident without obtaining this information of the other driver(s). Once you leave, you may lose contact with them leaving you responsible for fixing your own car if the other party is found to be at fault.

Click here to print off a little form you can keep in your car with your proof of insurance and your registration that will help you remember what you need to ask. Print two, one for the other driver to write down information about you. Oregon law says that at the time of an accident, all parties must exchange information.

Be cooperative, but don't admit guilt or liability for the accident, even if you know it was your fault. All you must do is just exchange information. Period. Admitting guilt or responsibility for an accident in front of the other driver or witnesses can hamper the ability of your insurance company to properly investigate and defend you should you be sued. There may be other circumstances that cause the liability to shift from you that you may not be aware of at that time. Let the insurance companies and police determine who was at fault.

Okay, you've exchanged information. Now what? If you are not injured and can move your car safely, take it to a reputable body shop for an estimate of damages. If you believe you were at fault, look for the phone number on your insurance identification card and call to report the accident to your insurance company only if you have collision coverage on your policy. If you have purchased liability only, your policy will not have anything to offer in this case. If you were not at fault and you believe the other party has insurance or you have collision coverage on your policy, get an estimate. It will be helpful to know about how much it will cost to fix your car before you call the insurance company. Having the estimate in hand when calling may speed up the process and you may get your car fixed more quickly.

If you were injured in the accident and can get yourself to an emergency room, urgent care clinic or to see your own physician, do that before you worry about your car. Any injury you sustain can worsen just because you waited too long to obtain medical attention. Get to the doctor first! Insurance policies issued in Oregon must have medical coverage for the driver and passengers. Don't worry about your car. You and your passengers are more important than a hunk of metal and plastic.

How ever you arrive at the place of your medical provider, have your insurance identification card ready. It has the critical information on it that the clinic or hospital will need in billing your insurance company. Be sure to give them the phone number to the claims department of your company, not to your agent's office. Your agent is great at helping you start, stop, change a policy and take your payment, but, claims are handled by the insurance company's claims department, not by your agent. If you don't see the claims phone number on your auto insurance identification card, call your agent and get the phone number or click here to see if your insurance company is on the list.


If you are in an accident, keep your cool. That's hard to do. Think about what you would do if you were an accident. Know where your insurance identification card is. Know where to find a piece of paper and pen or pencil. Write down the name of all drivers and witnesses. The witnesses will tip the balance in your favor if there is a conflict over who is at fault when it is your word against the other driver's. Assure you can exit your car safely. Make sure you and your passengers aren't injured. Take care of yourself and your passengers first. Call for help if you or another involved in the accident are injured or your car is damaged and dangerously stalled in the middle of traffic.

Seek medical attention immediately even if you are slightly injured. You could be hurt worse than you think. Once you are able to attend to the issues related to the damage of your car, call the responsible insurance company to report the claim. If you were at fault, call your own insurance company. If the other guy was at fault, call his insurance company to report the damage to your car and your own insurance company only if you were injured. There is no need to involve your insurance company if you were not injured or it wasn't your fault. The other company should cover all the damage to your car up to the limit the other guy had on his policy.

If you have any questions about what to do after an accident, call your agent. He or she should be happy to clarify any of these or other details.

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