Unfortunately, accident victims sometimes make critical errors at the crash scene or just after, often without realizing it.
The good news is that you can learn from other people’s past mistakes. Here are a few examples of what NOT to do after a car accident.
DON’T: Handle the Accident without the Police
It is unlawful to leave the scene of an auto accident without notifying law enforcement first. Doing so may constitute a hit-and-run under New York law, and it can also unnecessarily complicate your personal injury claim. (Note: the one exception is if you are transported away for emergency medical care.)
Even if the accident seems minor, you must still notify law enforcement.
Likewise, even if you and all the other drivers and passengers agree that the accident doesn’t require an officer’s attention, you still should call the local police department first.
Let an officer decide whether the accident requires their attention. You shouldn’t make that call for yourself.
Once the police arrive at the scene, do your best to cooperate and follow their instructions. Try to get a copy of the officer’s official accident report (or at least a reference number with instructions for accessing the report later). An official police report can provide useful evidence for your personal injury claim.
DON’T: Admit Liability
Just as important as what not to do after a car accident is what not to say.
Try your best to avoid making any statements that:
- Imply you were at fault for the accident, or
- Imply that the other parties weren’t at fault, or
- Imply that you haven’t suffered any injuries or damages.
These types of statements, as harmless and polite as they might seem, could be used against you when pursuing your personal injury claim later.
Avoid saying things like, “It wasn’t your fault;” “I should have been more careful;” or “Don’t worry, I’m fine.”
This rule applies to anyone you might talk to after the accident, including:
- The other drivers and passengers
- Your own passengers
- Pedestrians and eyewitnesses
- The police officers
- Insurance adjusters
- Your friends, family members, and coworkers
- Your social media networks
While it’s always good to be civil and caring, and while you should certainly never lie to a police officer, it is in your best interest to avoid admitting liability.
Remember: you don’t necessarily know if you are legally at fault (a lawyer can help make that determination), nor do you know if you are injured (only a doctor can tell you that).
DON’T: Fail to Get Medical Care
There may be no better example of what NOT to do after a car accident than putting off your medical care.
As human beings, we all sometimes have a tendency to talk ourselves out of seeing a doctor. But an auto accident isn’t the time to delay care. There are two big reasons for that:
- You could have serious injuries without realizing it. Did you know that many auto accidents cause injuries that do not show symptoms for hours, weeks, or even months? Or that serious injuries can happen when traveling at just five miles per hour? Only a physician can properly assess your condition after a car crash.
- Insurance companies will use any delay in medical care against you. If too much time passes between your accident and your doctor’s visit, the insurance adjuster might argue that your damages were caused by something other than the car crash. A documented examination soon after the accident can help to strengthen your personal injury claim.
DON’T: Give a Recorded Statement to the Insurance Adjuster without Talking to Your Lawyer First
Insurance adjusters frequently pressure auto accident victims to give a “recorded statement” soon after the accident.
If that sounds like a trap to you, you’re on the right track.
The insurance adjuster wants you to give a recorded statement because they know you’re likely to say the wrong thing under pressure.
Especially without an attorney present, recorded statements can be very intense. And the things you say during that recording will become a permanent part of your claim. The insurance company will try to use each and every word against you.
There may be situations where you are required to give a recorded statement in order to pursue a claim under your policy. There are other situations where doing so is not required. (Do not trust the insurance adjuster to accurately advise you as to whether you need to give a recorded statement. The adjuster is not a lawyer and is not on your side.)
You have a right to seek legal representation before agreeing to a recorded statement, and you should absolutely do so. Your attorney will tell you whether agreeing is a good idea in your situation. If it is, the attorney will want to prepare you for the experience and be by your side the entire time to protect your interests.
DON’T: Accept a Settlement for Less Than You Deserve
No discussion about what not to do after a car accident is complete without the “S” word: settlement.
If the insurance company has made you a settlement offer, should you take it?
Insurance companies are not known for being charitable to the people who file claims against them. They do not offer settlements because they’re feeling generous or sympathetic. Each settlement offer is calculated to protect the insurer’s interests, which usually means paying you as little as possible.
Did you know that accident victims who hire a personal injury lawyer to represent them against the insurance company tend to end up recovering more money?
Don’t accept a settlement for less than you deserve.
Free & Confidential Consultation with a Kingston Auto Accident Lawyer
O’Connor and Partners is a personal injury law firm based in Kingston and providing legal services across the state, including: Kingston, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, Ellenville, the Hudson Valley, New York City, and beyond.
We fight hard to maximize compensation for injured drivers, passengers, and pedestrians in New York car accidents. We are proud to offer confidential, no-cost, no-obligation claim consultations to accident victims throughout the state.
If you choose to hire us after your consultation, we will not charge you a fee unless we get you money first.