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What to Do After a Car Crash


There are more than five million car accidents in the US annually, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)’s 2020 traffic crash report. That means at least one in every 33 people in the US will be involved in a crash each year. With chances like that, it’s important to understand how to respond after you’ve been in a crash. 

Knowing how to respond effectively to an accident makes traffic incidents less stressful and may reduce complications down the road. Keep reading to learn the six most important steps to take after you’ve been in a crash and why they matter. 

1. Get to Safety and Get Help

The first few moments after a crash are some of the most important. Before doing anything else, turn on your emergency flashers and get yourself to safety. Depending on the accident, this may require different things. 

If you’re in a parking lot or the side of a little used street, you can remain next to your vehicle if there are no risks of fire. If you’re on a busy highway or intersection, however, it’s a good idea to move away to a sidewalk or off the side of the road to avoid getting hit by another vehicle. 

Once you’re not in immediate danger, call the police. You may call 911 if you or someone else is seriously injured or the accident is disrupting traffic. You can also call the non-emergency line if no one is in immediate danger. The officer who arrives at the scene will document the situation and collect crucial evidence for any legal action you need to take.

2. Request Medical Care

If you have any obvious injuries, seek medical care. Call 911 if you need immediate medical treatment, and emergency services will send an ambulance to the scene of the accident to care for you and potentially transport you to the hospital. If your injuries are less severe, you can transport yourself to the hospital or urgent care.

Even if you don’t have obvious injuries, however, you should always pursue medical care after a car accident. There are several potential injuries caused by car crashes that may not become obvious until later. For example, whiplash, spinal cord damage, and traumatic brain injuries often take hours to days to become noticeable. Receiving an immediate medical screening ensures that these injuries are identified and treated quickly, which can prevent them from getting significantly worse.

Medical screenings also generate a paper trail that you may need to take legal action after the crash. Getting screened as soon as possible after the accident reduces the risk that your injuries are dismissed as unrelated to the crash.

3. Document the Accident

After you have notified the authorities and requested any necessary emergency medical help, you should document the incident. Exchange insurance and contact information with the other driver or any pedestrians involved if necessary. In addition, if you can, get pictures and videos of details such as:

  • The crash site
  • Surrounding conditions, including weather, traffic, infrastructure, and hazards
  • Tire marks leading to the accident
  • Damage to the vehicles or nearby property caused by the crash
  • Any obvious injuries you or others have suffered

This documentation will supplement the police officer’s report and provide invaluable evidence if you pursue legal action. It will provide context for the accident and support your narrative regarding what happened. Since most cellphone cameras automatically add time and location data to these images, rapid documentation will support the timeline of events as well. 

4. Report the Accident

Now it’s time to report the accident to your insurance company and other critical organizations. Your car insurance provider most likely requires you to report any crashes that cause injuries or property damage within a “reasonable time.” This is purposefully vague to give drivers leeway if they have been in serious accidents that require hospitalization. 

It’s considered best practice to notify your insurer of the accident with 24 hours if at all possible. Inform the insurance company of any other involved drivers as well.

Next, report your accident to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) by filing an SR-1 form. You are required to inform the state about accidents that lead to bodily injury, death, or significant property damage within 10 days. 

Failing to report accidents to insurers or the DMV can seriously impact any insurance claims or legal action you may pursue. Making these reports in a timely fashion ensures that you have the best possible case for any future claims you need to make.

5. Ensure Your Case Is Properly Investigated

After you’ve filed reports and insurance claims, you will likely hear back from insurers in just a few days. They may make immediate settlement offers or attempt to deny your claim outright. Either way, you are not obliged to respond immediately to the insurer. In fact, talking to the insurance company on your own can actually hurt your chance to receive full compensation for a car accident.

In many cases, the first offer or denial made by an insurer is made with little information. The company is likely to offer you a significantly reduced settlement or attempt to deny your claim without fully investigating the situation. If you communicate with the insurer about this first offer without qualified legal representation, your words and actions may be used against you in court. 

Instead, file your claim, then wait to respond to the insurance company until you have an experienced personal injury and insurance attorney on your side. This prevents you from accidentally ceding your right to full compensation and ensures you have the best possible chance of receiving the insurance funds and damages for which you’re eligible.

6. Consult With an Experienced Car Accident Attorney

If you’ve been injured in a car accident in San Diego, Temecula, or El Centro, California, you will benefit from consulting with the experienced personal injury attorneys at the Ellis Helm, APC. Our knowledgeable lawyers have years of experience pursuing personal injury and insurance claims on behalf of clients like you. Get in touch to schedule your consultation and learn more about how we can help you seek just compensation for your injuries.