Below are some simple but often essential steps to take when you are involved in a motor vehicle accident. Again, as noted in the disclaimer, this information is published for general informational purposes and does not constitute legal advice, nor create an attorney-client relationship between HAO and the reader.
1. Don’t leave the scene
If you are involved in a motor vehicle accident, Utah law says you are required to stop. Do not leave the scene of the accident. If you do not stop, you may be found guilty of hit-and-run, even if the accident was not your fault.
2. Take safety precautions
If your vehicle is in a dangerous position on the roadway where it might be a traffic danger, you should move your car to a safe location, if possible. If your car is undriveable or there is no safe area nearby, you should put on your hazard lights and use flares (if you have them) in order to warn other motorists and prevent another accident.
3. Call the police and get documentation
Attend to your injuries and your passengers’ injuries, and make sure that any responding parties such as the police or ambulance personnel know about all injuries. It is important to contact the police or Utah Highway Patrol (“UHP”) and have an accident report created to document the facts of the accident. The police report should include all relevant information, including but not limited to the names, addresses, phone numbers and insurance companies of all parties involved in the accident. If you are physically able to do so, ask the reporting officer if they obtained the insurance information of the other driver(s). In any event, you should always obtain the following information:
(a) the other driver’s name, address, date of birth, telephone number, driver’s license number and expiration date, and insurance company and policy number;
(b) the other car’s make, year, model, license plate number and expiration date, and vehicle identification number (VIN);
(c) if the driver does not own the car, the names, addresses, telephone numbers, and insurance companies of the other car’s legal and registered owners; and
(d) the names, addresses and telephone numbers of any passengers in the car.
4. Take a picture or draw a diagram
If possible, you should personally look at and write down the license plate information of all the other vehicles involved in the accident. If you have a camera with you and you are physically able, it is extremely important to take PHOTOGRAPHS of the vehicles at the accident scene, preferably in the position that they came to rest after impact (if it is safe to do so). If you do not have a camera, draw a simple diagram of the accident; to the best of your ability, draw the positions of the cars involved, before, during and after the accident.
5. Identify witnesses
If you are physically able, try to obtain and write down the name, address and phone number of anybody who witnessed the accident, before they leave the accident scene. Often, people involved in an accident see or even talk to witnesses but fail to get their names. If witnesses leave before the police arrive at the accident scene, you may never be able to locate them. Independent witnesses are often crucial to determining fault for an accident.
6. Watch what you say
Avoid discussing the accident with anyone other than the reporting police officer. What you say can and probably will be used against you in a court of law. For instance, even if the other driver is completely at fault, you may say “I’m sorry” for the fact that they were also injured. The defense attorney for the other driver may try to twist this around and say that you meant you were sorry for causing the accident, and that your statement means you feel that you were at fault. Be courteous, but be extremely mindful of your choice of words.
7. Get medical attention for your injuries as soon as possible
Sometimes the severity of injuries is not immediately known, and what may appear to be a minor or moderate injury can eventually become much more serious. This is especially true with head injuries or possible internal bleeding that may not be evident to you immediately following the accident. Sometimes, herniated discs in your spine do not cause pain immediately, or the pain fluctuates greatly over time, getting better but then getting worse. Thus, it is important to go to an emergency room as soon as possible and then follow up with your own personal physician or any specialist to whom you are referred. If you have a serious injury and do not see a healthcare provider for a long period of time, not only may it be detrimental to your health, but the opposing insurance company may also attempt to use this fact to argue that your injury is not as serious as you claim. Of course, you do not want to incur unnecessary medical treatment, but undertreating may be extremely hazardous to your health. Insurance companies often LOVE to point out missed appointments to disparage a claimant’s case, so if you have to cancel an appointment, call ahead of time and reschedule.
8. Call your insurance company
Contact your insurance agent and give them whatever information they need regarding the accident. This is especially important if the other driver does not have insurance, or if you are hit by a hit-and-run driver, who flees the accident scene. You are required to notify the police department within twenty-four hours of a hit-and-run accident in order to later make an uninsured motorist claim. In addition, you are responsible for filing a DMV accident report (SR1 Form) within ten days of an accident (even if you are not at fault) if the accident causes property damage over $500 or any injury or death. Ask your insurance broker to file the SR1 Form on your behalf; if they cannot do so, you need to go the DMV department and fill out and file the SR1 Form yourself.
9. Take good photographs and video
It is absolutely crucial that if you do not have a camera in the car at the time of the accident, you take PHOTOGRAPHS of the property damage to your vehicle and any injuries you suffered in the accident. Try to take the photographs outside in good light from as many different angles as possible. If you do not have good lighting or you are taking photographs indoors, make sure that you use a flash when taking the photographs. Take your own photographs even if your insurance company has taken photographs because insurance companies have been known to lose photographs they have taken. If you eventually have surgery, ask the doctor to take a VIDEOTAPE of the surgery. If your case goes to trial, this will be powerful visual evidence for the jury regarding the severity of your injury.
At Hillyard, Anderson and Olsen, our lawyers handle personal injury cases for people in Logan, Utah, as well as throughout Cache Valley and the entire State of Utah, every year. Based on our experience, we have discovered
that following the steps above or failing to do so can often completely change the course of a case. These 9 steps are intended to provide you with an idea of some of the precautionary measures that should be taken after being involved in an accident. Again, this list is not intended as legal advice or as an exhaustive or complete list of precautions to take after being in an accident—it is merely intended as potentially helpful information for people who are unfortunately involved in a motor vehicle accident.