If you’ve ever been in a car accident, you know how chaotic and confusing the aftermath can be. Your heart is pounding, your head is spinning, there may be serious injuries, and there is almost certainly vehicle damage. You know you’ll have to make stressful phone calls to your insurance company, employer, friends, family, and possibly, a tow service.
It’s not always easy to navigate your rights and responsibilities after a motor vehicle accident. This is precisely why we have compiled this simple step-by-step guide on what to do after a crash or collision occurs. It also covers some basic points about obtaining compensation after a car accident, which generally begins with an insurance claim and sometimes leads to a personal injury lawsuit.
12 Steps to Take After an OKC Car Accident
1. Remain calm
We know how difficult this can be in an emotionally charged and perhaps physically painful situation like a car accident. However, keeping a level head can prevent a bad situation from worsening. If you want to scream at the other driver, tell yourself to keep cool. You’ll thank yourself later.
2. Turn off your car’s ignition and activate your emergency flashers
If you can do so without creating a safety hazard, move your vehicle out of the path of oncoming traffic before you turn the engine off.
3. If you, one of your passengers, or the other driver or passengers have been injured, call an ambulance immediately
Not only is this basic common sense, it’s mandated by law. Several of Oklahoma’s motor vehicle statutes require drivers to notify law enforcement, remain at the accident scene, and seek medical attention for injury victims.
4. Call the police, even if you do not think you are injured so that an accident report will be on file
While accident reports are classified as “hearsay evidence” and generally aren’t admissible in court, they can be powerful sources of leverage during settlement negotiations.
5. Get the contact information of the person who caused the accident
This should include his or her name, phone number, license plate number, and insurance information. We cannot emphasize the following enough: write this information down or make a text note on your phone.
6. Get the contact information of anyone else who was present when the accident took place
Impartial witnesses often make the difference in a case’s outcome when, for example, two drivers blame each other. Since witnesses observe the accident from the outside, they typically have a clearer, less jumbled picture of what occurred.
7. Request that the police officer at the accident scene write up an accident report
Police accident reports can be tremendously useful when negotiating a settlement. There’s no need to be pushy, but ensure a report is written.
8. Take plenty of photos
You should photograph your car, the car that belongs to the person who caused the accident, and, as people too regularly forget, the area surrounding the accident scene. The surrounding area sometimes contains more information than the vehicles, such as tire skid marks. Ideally, you should try to get photographs from as many angles as possible while prioritizing safety first.
9. Create an informational record
A police report is a great start, but it’s not sufficient. You should document as much information as possible about the accident, including how the crash happened, damage to your car, and any injuries sustained. Write down everything, even if you’re confident you’ll remember it accurately. Memories can warp with time, even if we don’t always realize it’s happening.
10. Seek any necessary medical attention immediately
Remember to explain to your doctor how the injuries occurred. Resist the urge to downplay your pain or discomfort. You’re not inconveniencing anyone – that’s what the doctor is there for. Creating an accurate medical record that reflects the true extent of your pain, suffering, and injuries is essential.
11. Be careful when talking to insurance companies
Remember that any insurance adjuster who calls you is calling on behalf of the insurance company and the person who caused the car wreck.
12. Seek legal help
Unfortunately, you cannot trust insurance companies to look out for your best interests. Insurers will do anything to minimize their losses, sometimes by resorting to unethical and illegal “bad faith” practices, like creating unreasonable delays in claim determinations or ignoring evidence of what occurred. Contact an attorney with experience handling automotive accidents as soon as possible if you have been injured or think you might have a case against the person responsible for the accident.
Filing an Insurance Claim After You’re Injured in a Car Accident
According to AAA estimates, the average cost of a car accident resulting in personal injury is roughly $125,000. That’s equivalent to spending about $342 daily for a year, all in addition to your mortgage, health insurance, groceries, utility bills, and other day-to-day expenses. The average cost of a fatal car accident is 48 times greater: about $6 million, roughly equivalent to spending $16,438 per day for one year or about $3,288 per day over five years.
For most hard-working Oklahomans, budgeting for these tremendous costs is not feasible. However, you may not need to pay out-of-pocket for your losses. If you were hurt in the accident, there are a few methods by which you may be able to obtain compensation for your current and future medical bills. As well as any earnings or income you have lost or are projected to lose due to your injuries.
For most accident victims, the first action is filing an insurance claim. Oklahoma is a “fault state” rather than a “no-fault” state. The claimant must prove that the other driver was responsible -or, in the case of shared fault, at least primarily responsible – for the accident. By “primarily” responsible, we mean the claimant must be less than 51% at fault, a doctrine aptly referred to as the 51% Bar Rule. This rule comes from Okla. Stat. Ann. Tit. 23 § 13 provides that “contributory negligence,” or partial fault, “shall not bar a recovery unless any negligence of the person so injured… is greater than any negligence of the person… causing such damage.”
To start the process of filing a claim, you must call the insurance company to notify them of the crash. State only the bare minimum facts at this stage – do not offer any additional information. Do not play down or even apologize for the accident, as unnatural as it may feel – because an apology can later be used against you as a potential admission of fault. Once you notify the insurance company, a claim adjuster will be assigned to your case.
At this stage, you should make every effort to consult an attorney immediately. The claim’s adjuster will take any measures necessary to pay as little as possible – often far less than the true cost of caring for the injury. Your attorney will ensure your rights are not violated and the insurance company does not take advantage of you.
When Settlement Negotiations Fail: Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit
While most claims ultimately end with a settlement, there are some instances where settlement negotiations fail. In this scenario, the accident victim may wish to file a civil lawsuit as an alternative method of recovering compensation for their injuries. The driver (or pedestrian, cyclist, etc.) who files a lawsuit is called the “plaintiff,” while the driver being sued is called the “defendant.”
As with insurance claims, the plaintiff must be able to prove that the defendant was primarily at fault to be awarded compensation. More specifically, the plaintiff must be able to establish four facts, an obligation known as the “burden of proof.” These facts are:
- The defendant had a “duty of care” to the plaintiff: All drivers must obey traffic laws and take reasonable precautions to avoid creating road hazards while driving.
- The defendant breached the duty of care: This means the defendant negligently failed to take reasonable and appropriate actions to reduce the risk of causing death or injury while driving, considering all pertinent circumstances. This is known as “breach of duty.” There are innumerable ways a defendant can breach their duty as a driver, including but not limited to running a red light, failing to yield right-of-way, following too closely, excessive speeding, driving while intoxicated, distracted driving, and other safety hazards.
- The accident was caused by the defendant’s actions or failure to act. Known as “causation,” this point is further divided into two components: “actual cause,” or “cause in fact,” and “proximate cause.” Actual cause is precisely what it sounds like, while the proximate cause is an accident’s indirect or legal cause.
- The plaintiff suffered actual harm due to the accident: This element is known as “damages.”
If the plaintiff can prove the existence of all four of these facts, they may receive compensation for various present and future expenses and damages such as hospital fees, medical equipment, income loss, and other difficulties.