Car accidents are scary. The noise, the pain of injuries, the vehicle damage and the stress: they overwhelm the senses, ratchet up the emotional response, and are capable of frazzling the steadiest of nerves. With all that is going on, it is easy to forget steps that could be vital to filing an insurance claim or bringing a suit to recover the costs of medical bills and vehicle repairs.

That is why knowing what to do – or not do – following a car accident is vital; having a plan ahead of time about how to proceed can make the difference between the compensation necessary for recovery and being saddled with expenses that add more stress at a time when your body is still in pain.

At the scene

The first thing that should be done at scene of any car accident, truck accident or motorcycle accident is to check for injuries and contact emergency services. Obvious injuries like broken bones, head wounds and lacerations should clearly be treated by medical professionals, but anyone involved in an accident should at least be “looked over” by first responders. This is important because some of the most complicated injuries from a motor vehicle crash are “invisible” traumas like whiplash, nerve injuries, herniated spinal discs and other soft tissue damage that may not manifest immediately, but can have a huge impact on the victim’s life.

If there are injuries, police should be alerted so that they can file a report. Oftentimes, police reports are necessary for insurance claims, and they will be an important part of the evidence used to support a lawsuit to recover compensation.

Whenever possible, it can be very helpful to have statements from or contact information for drivers, passengers and witnesses at the scene. Of course, getting the insurance information from other drivers is also important, but this information should be available in the police report if serious injuries prohibit the collection of it at the scene.

While speaking with other parties, though, be careful not to express any thoughts regarding fault. Offhand remarks like “I never saw that car turning in front of me” or “the sun was in my eyes and I thought the light had turned” could be construed as an admission of fault that could have very negative consequences for both your insurance claim and any possible legal remedy you might have had to recover damages for medical expenses, lost wages and vehicle repairs.

The same thing goes for pictures of the scene: if photos can be taken, they can be invaluable to help prove fault in court and help back up insurance claims. This is becoming increasingly easier since most smart phones and high-end mp3 players (like iPods) have fairly sophisticated cameras.

Looking ahead

As soon as possible, insurance companies should be notified so that they can begin the claims process. Injured parties should also strongly consider seeking the advice of an experienced personal injury attorney in their area. Most car accident attorneys offer free initial consultations, and provide representation on a contingency fee basis, meaning that clients won’t pay anything if their legal claims are unsuccessful.