At some point in our lives everyone is bound to be involved in a car accident. Motor vehicle accidents are fairly common in South Africa, especially on rainy days or during the evening when visibility is severely reduced.
From bumper bashings to 10 car pileups on the highway, car accidents are an everyday occurrence on South African roads.
It’s an overwhelming situation that can happen when you least expect it, and it may be tempting to escape but a hit and run is never the answer. If you are involved in an automobile accident, there are certain things you can do to protect yourself and your interests.
So, we’ve put together a handy guide to dealing with car accidents to help you navigate through this frustrating situation.
Here are 10 steps to take after a car accident.
Never drive away from the scene of an accident, even a minor one.
- PROTECT THE SCENE
You can prevent further accidents by setting up a boundary around the scene of the accident or moving the vehicles if it is absolutely necessary for road saftey. If it is dark and your lights don’t work, you should have a flashlight to keep you safe while you wait in your disabled car or by the side of the road.
- CALL THE POLICE
Even if there are no serious injuries, it is a good idea to call the police. You may need a police report to file a claim with your insurance company, even if it is just to make a claim for damage to your vehicle. The vehicles involved in the accident should remain where they are, unless they interfere with traffic.
- MAKE AN ACCURATE RECORD
When the police arrive, make sure you tell the investigating officer(s) exactly what happened, to the best of your ability. If you do not know certain facts, tell that to the officer. Do not speculate, guess or misstate any of the facts. If you are asked if you are injured and you are not sure, say you are not sure, rather than no. Often, the pain and injuries from motor vehicle accidents become apparent hours after the actual collision. You should also make sure statements made by other persons involved in the accident are accurate as well.
- TAKE PICTURES
If you happen to have a camera in your vehicle, or a cell phone equipped with a camera, you should take pictures of the vehicles if there is visible damage. If you have visible injuries, you should photograph them as well. However, you should in no way interfere with the on-going police investigation. If you cannot take pictures at the scene of the accident, take them as soon as possible after the accident.
- EXCHANGE INFORMATION
Typically, the investigating police officer obtains this information. However, if the police do not respond to the accident, you should obtain the name, address and telephone number of all persons involved in the accident, drivers and passengers alike.. If there are witnesses, you should get information from them as well so that you or your attorney can contact them in the future. If police respond to the accident, the investigating officer usually will provide all drivers with a police report number. You can use that number later to obtain the police report. If the accident occurs on a state highway, you must request the report from the state police.
- REPORT THE ACCIDENT
Notify your insurance company as soon as possible. Many policies require immediate reporting and full cooperation. Find out if you have medical benefits as part of your insurance coverage.
- SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION
Often, injuries caused by motor vehicle accidents are not immediately apparent. Unless you are absolutely certain you were not injured, you should seek medical attention at your local emergency room or by seeing your family physician. Even in accidents involving minor impact, you can sustain a serious and permanent injury to your spinal cord. If you lost consciousness or were dazed for even a short period of time following the collision, you may have suffered a concussion or closed head injury. This can cause cognitive and behavioral changes if left untreated.
- KEEP A FILE
Keep all your accident-related documents and information together. This information should include a claim number, the claim’s adjuster who is handling the claim, names and phone numbers of all contacts, receipts for a rental car and other expenses incurred as a result of the accident.
- PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS
Perhaps the most important thing you should do after an accident is to consult your attorney. Your attorney can protect your rights and make sure valuable evidence is not destroyed. Often, insurance companies want to take statements immediately after an accident. It is important that you have received legal advice before providing such a statement. Your attorney can advise you on issues ranging from how to make sure you are fully compensated for your vehicle to how to make sure you are getting the best medical treatment available. Personal injury attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, which means there is no legal fee unless the attorney recovers compensation for your injuries.