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What to do following a car accident

Sometimes it can be hard to know what to do right after a car accident. The situation is unfamiliar, adrenaline is pumping and people could be hurt or worse.

First, stay at the scene. Don't leave. If you leave, especially if someone was seriously hurt or killed, you may face criminal penalties. Instead, check on everyone at the scene. See if anyone needs any medical attention. If they do, get them medical help. While doing so be careful of anyone who is unconscious or has a neck injury. Don't move them. Wait for qualified medical help.

Once you've assessed the injuries, the next step is to decide whether to call police. Do so if someone was seriously hurt or there was significant property damage. After that, exchange information with the other drivers. Get their contact information, driver's license number, license plate numbers and insurance information. While doing so, it can be important to avoid saying that the accident was your fault. Fault can be hard to determine right after an accident, and it's not wise to concede so early.

Next, talk with witnesses. Be sure to get their contact information - the more, the better. If you have a camera or a cellphone camera, you should also take pictures of anything relevant, such as your car, your injuries, the other person's car and injuries.

At this point, you've covered your bases, but you're not done yet. Following the accident, inform your insurance company of the accident. Cooperate as it investigates what happened. Any false statements could invalidate your insurance.

However, while you should cooperate with your insurance company, be careful of early settlement offers. Some insurance companies make discounted offers that seem fair at the time. But what these insurers know that their customers don't know is that oftentimes injuries and other problems take time to manifest. In other words, the company will offer to pay fast before its customer realizes the full extent of their injuries.

Source: FindLaw, "After a Car Accident: First Steps," Accessed Aug. 9, 2016

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