How to Handle the Scene of an Accident
There are fewer more confusing and emotionally painful moments than the sudden shock of a serious car collision. There are so many things running through your head, but outside that car door lie many legal pitfalls. Here are some tips as to how to avoid them.
SHUT YOUR MOUTHPlease re-read that title. The common small-talk at the scene of the accident becomes evidence. But more frightening is the fact that it's not what you said, but what the witnesses there THINK you said. That's what they'll tell the police and repeat in court. When all of that adrenaline is flowing through your system, your body is instinctually (and incorrectly) behaving as if you are in physical danger. As such, your mouth is your worst enemy. People say things that sound like apologies, may tell someone that they are fine, and may give a partial account that sounds like an admission. And don't discuss fault with anyone. Only say what you must to the police. Which brings me to the next matter.
Call the Police.Even if you know for sure that you are at fault, just call and if there is no danger in remaining in your car, do so, with the door closed. Just tell the dispatcher that, "I've been in a serious car accident and I need the police." If they ask about an ambulance, don't refuse one. But that cop will serve several purposes. Most importantly, they will keep the peace at the scene. You never know if someone in the other car is a reasonable person or a nut. The police will also document everything. When asked, tell them what happened to the best of your recollection, but don't guess at anything. If you can't remember some detail when asked about it, just tell them that you are very shaken-up right now and that you need to gather your thoughts. Provide your license, car registration and insurance information to them.
Get the officer's card and cooperate as best you can. But remember, cooperation does not involve endorsing a particular account if you disagree with it. And if you hear something with which you disagree, make certain that you say so to the officer. Then tell the officer what it is that you do remember that conflicts with what you just heard. Don't argue with the other people at the scene. But make sure the cop hears your side and that anything incorrect is corrected.
Photograph and RecordYour cell phone has the ability to take audio and video. Use it at the scene, and make certain that you can clearly be seen using it. If people ask whether you are recording, tell them yes. That way, if someone later complains that they didn't want to be videoed, especially if they make admissions, they can't claim that they weren't on notice at the time. If there are other people present, all the better. Video the damage to your car and to the other car. Walk around the scene and take video of the approach to the scene and the area after the scene. Don't presume that someone else will do it for you.
And if they don't want to be recorded, tell them that they need to get away from you. It's a public place, and you have the right to document what went on. But don't turn it off.
Don't Be Afraid to Use the AmbulanceIf you feel in any way like your health is in any way compromised, let the EMTs check you over. If they recommend that you go to the hospital, then go. The last thing you want is someone later arguing that your injuries are somehow less serious than they are.