When I was about 8 years old I remember being in my first car accident. No It was not because I was an 8 year old driving a car. I was driving with my grandfather to get some ice cream and root beer from the grocery store "up the street" so we could make dessert for the rest of the grand kids. I felt special to be the one that go to go with him to get the supplies. He let me sit up front, and his car had electric windows that I loved to play with. That night it was dark and cold. We had pulled up to the intersection to make a right hand turn into the store. The car in front of us had about 50 helium balloons in the back seat, completely blocking the drivers view of us behind her. Apparently the driver of the other car had gone beyond the stop bar while the light was green, and decided to back up after the light turned red. I remember her reverse lights coming on and instantly knowing that something was not right. My grandfathers strong arm reached across the passenger seat to secure me in place as we braced for impact. She did not see us there, and by the time she realized that we were honking at her it was too late. The damage was minimal, both cars had old fashioned bumpers on them that really hadn't been scratched, but my grandfather had to replace a head light. The driver ahead felt horrible, and even worse when she realized there was a child in the car. A local police officer was close by, he quickly helped secure the scene, write a report and helped us all on our way.
My grandfather did all he could to protect me then, when the accident was slight and we could all see it coming in slow motion. Most accidents don't happen that way, and usually there are a lot of things going through your head all at once to process. I've complied from a number of sources the following lists of things to do before and after an accident.
First, preparation. My days in the scouting program taught to be prepared, so first things first, 5 things to do to prepare for an accident:
1. Prepare a paperwork packet to get to easily. This would have a copy of your registration and insurance, phone number or card of your agent, a note pad and pen and if you have one the number for your family lawyer.
2. Prepare a packet of things for your trunk. Cones or flares to help divert traffic, snacks and water bottle in case you our small passengers need something because of the delay.
3. A cell phone and camera.
4. A plan as to who to contact to let them know what the situation is. This can be critical, and a great thing to prepare for. When I got my drivers license, I was told that if or when I got into an accident, I was to call my Dad first. When I got into my first accident, guess what the only thing I remembered was? Call Dad. That helped me through the rest of the incident.
5. First Aid kit and basic first aid course. Sometimes you are the first responder to an accident. having a basic knowledge of what to do in an emergency can be invaluable. Also having a basic kit in the car can help in any situation.
Now 10 things to do after an accident:
1. STAY CALM. No seriously. Take a deep breathe and assess the situation. It will not help you to jump out and yell at someone. Take a second and collect yourself, whether you are involved in the accident or a witness.
2. Assess the situation. Are you obviously injured or bleeding? Are your passengers all right? Is your car smoking and about to catch fire? Calmly seeing what is going on can help more than you know.
3. Stay in your car and do not leave the scene of the accident. Unless there is a major emergency, this is the best place to be. You are less likely to be seriously injured in a vehicle on pedestrian accident inside your car. A good friend was an over the road truck driver. He witnessed a accident and got out or his truck to assist. Before he got to the accident, another truck hit him at highway speeds. The man is lucky to be alive today. So unless there is a fire, or the police have arrived and secured the scene, stay put.
4. Report the accident. This involves that cell phone from earlier. In Florida, you can decide to have a law enforcement officer file a report or not later, but having them there will help to make sure that there is nothing wrong, ie, oil or coolant pouring out of the engine compartment that you think is fine or other safety issues. They are trained in this stuff, let them do their job.
5. Exchange information. Once the scene is safe, get out and exchange information if you are able to. Having things prepared in your car already is great, or use the note pad to write down yours for them. Name, Address, Phone numbers, Driver's License number, Insurance information, Make model of vehicle. Any information that would be useful to help you describe the situation later.
6. Photograph and document what happened. Again that cell phone, use the camera to document what happened, use the voice recorder to say what you remember happening, use the note pad to jot some things down. You probably won't remember later and everything feels like it is happening so fast.
7. Assess injuries, but do not share them. Often injuries go unnoticed because of an adrenaline rush or other situation. If asked if you are hurt, be honest, but also realize you probably don't know for sure yet. You may be in shock, or just not feel it yet. When I played football, I got clocked on a punt return. Helmet to helmet, big linebacker knocked me off me feet. Coach asked if I was hurt and I said I was not, but I sure hurt in the morning. "I am not sure", or "I am still a little shaken up" are perfectly honest answers that allow you to take some time to see how you really are doing. This is not the time to show how tough you are.
8. Receive medial treatment. Again, like talking to the Officer, these people have gone through a ton of training to assess peoples injuries. Let them do their job. You don't know what to look for, and if you do, you should not be practicing on yourself. This does not mean you have to ride away in an ambulance, but at the very least get in to see your doctor the next day. It will help to know that either you are or are not hurt.
9. Don't claim responsibility. You may feel like it was your fault, you may think it was your fault, but it may not be your fault. On the flip side, you may think it was the other guys fault, and start screaming that and it only makes the situation worse. The officer, who again is trained to determine what happened and who is at fault will make that determination. Sometime, both parties are at fault and sometimes neither are. Let them do their job.
10. Report the accident to your insurance company. You pay for them for this reason. They will be able to help you sooner if they know about the situation.
Contact your Lawyer; Having a family lawyer can be valuable here. Just like I called my Dad, calling another person, who knows what to do, and is a little separated from the situation can help you navigate through the mess.
Count your blessings; According to asirt.org, nearly 1.3 million people die in car accidents each year. If you are able to go through that checklist, be grateful that you aren't of that number.
Again, not legal advice for your specific case, just some thoughts on how to better handle a car accident.