Auto accidents aren’t something you plan for, and no one expects them to happen until they suddenly happen. Naturally, immediately after an experience like this, you’re going to be confused and flustered. And after verifying that everyone involved is OK, you’re likely to feel relief and a desire to talk about what happened.
All of this is natural, but your natural inclinations in this situation could end up getting you into legal trouble or costing you money. Your words and actions after the accident can be extremely important in determining fault, and it’s important to remember this and stay focused and composed. The first priority after any accident is, of course, determining if anyone is injured and arranging for medical assistance if they are. After that is taken care of, watch out for these common mistakes that people make without realizing how costly they can be.
Discussing or Assigning Responsibility For The Accident
It is important to both not admit to fault, and not to verbally judge other people involved or attempt to place blame after the accident. You may very likely have an instinctive feeling that either you or another party was the clear cause of the accident, but it is important to remember that you probably don’t have a completely clear picture of everything that actually factored into it and that your initial assumptions could be wrong or incomplete.
It’s very important to not get swept up by anger, guilt or feelings of awkwardness into making statements of any sort about who was at fault. That is a matter for the police and insurance companies to work out later. If another party is attempting to play the “blame game”, maintain composure and don’t get sucked in. If they’re being aggressive about it, simply give them your information and tell them you have nothing else to say until the police arrive.
This includes curbing your natural impulse to apologize and smooth things over. Even though you don’t mean it as an admission of guilt, it can be taken that way later and used as a factor in determining liability. While your words usually won’t be held against you if the insurance companies fully handle the issue, when attorneys get involved they may seek to assign liability by scrutinizing everything you did and said at the scene.
Leaving Too Early
Naturally, as a responsible and licensed driver, you know that you have a legal responsibility to provide your insurance information to other involved parties. Some people simply leave after insurance contact information is exchanged, however, and that can be a mistake.
For most accidents, you are actually required to remain at the scene until the police arrive. If you can’t remember the police non-emergency number or your phone service is disabled, you won’t get in trouble for calling 911 to report the accident even if there isn’t any serious injury. If you’re a member of a roadside assistance organization like AAA, that’s a good first call to make as they can contact the police and arrange towing for you if needed. The police need to write up a report on the accident, and as part of this they may ask you to make a statement. After the statement, they will usually tell you it’s OK to leave.
If you’re uninsured or underinsured, you might be tempted to flee the scene. This is a move that can backfire on you in a big way. Having to pay for the costs of an accident is certainly a burden, but if you flee the scene, you’re adding a criminal offense and fines to the pile. If anyone at the scene gets your license plate number or you pass any kind of traffic camera as you flee, you’re going to be getting a visit from the police. Even without your plates, a description of the vehicle and corresponding damage from the accident can be enough for police to locate you. If the police have to come get you, you’re looking at a felony charge if there was injury or major property damage.
There is one exception — Minnesota law does stipulate that it’s OK for you to transport someone needing emergency medical attention to the hospital immediately, provided you go straight there and contact police as soon as possible once the injured person is under medical care.
If you find yourself in need of an attorney after an auto accident, contact us for a free no-obligation consultation.