So you were involved in a minor car accident… now what?
Not all car accidents require hiring an attorney and filing a lawsuit. Some fender benders aren’t serious and can be resolved outside of the legal system. But there are still steps you are legally required to take after any wreck to avoid liability and ensure all parties involved are compensated fairly.
If you or someone else is hurt in a wreck, your main priority should be to call an ambulance and try to seek out immediate medical attention. But if you’re involved in a minor car accident where nobody was injured, follow this checklist below so you don’t forget any critical steps in the process:
☑ 1. Stop your car
The law requires you to stop your vehicle at the scene of an accident, even if it was a minor fender-bender or just a scrape. Leaving the scene is considered a hit and run accident, which is punishable as a crime.
☑ 2. Stay safe
Check yourself and your passengers for injuries. If anyone requires immediate medical attention, call 911.
☑ 3. Move your car... maybe
Leave the car where it is if it’s too damaged to be driven, too dangerous to move, or if the police have been called to the scene due to serious injuries. If possible, take photos BEFORE you move the car (more on that below).
As long as it’s safe and the accident involved minimal damage and no injuries, move your car to the side of the road (or a nearby location if the shoulder is narrow). Some states have “steer clear” laws that require you to move your vehicle in such instances. Turn on your hazard lights if they’re functioning.
☑ 4. Call the police
You may call the police for any accident, but they’ll probably respond only if there are injuries or serious damage, if one party claims that another party committed a violation (e.g., driving under the influence), or if a driver fled the scene.
If the police are coming to the scene, wait for them to arrive so you can give your version of events for the police report. Write down or take photos of the report number, the names of the police officers, and their badge numbers.
If the police aren’t coming to the scene, you may attempt to get a statement from an at-fault driver if he/she is willing. Record a video of the driver giving the statement or have the driver write and sign a statement. Even if the police don’t come to the scene, your state or your insurer might require you to file a police report anyway.
Read more: Can Someone Sue Me for a Car Accident If There’s No Police Report?
☑ 5. Exchange information
When you begin talking with the other parties involved, do not discuss the accident. Even just saying “I’m sorry” could be misconstrued as an admission of guilt for the accident and hurt your case down the road.
Instead, just focus on getting contact information, including names, addresses, and home/cell phone numbers, and take photos of the drivers’ licenses and insurance cards.
☑ 6. Talk to witnesses
Try to find eyewitnesses as soon as possible, as some people may not want to wait for the police to arrive or for you to finish taking all your photos of the scene. Ask witnesses to describe what they saw and record their statements as a video on your phone or as a written statement. Take photos of the witnesses and get their names, addresses, and home/cell phone numbers.
☑ 7. Take photos and video of the scene
This is CRITICAL! Pictures can show what caused the accident and the extent of damages and injuries that occured. Photographic evidence may be important for insurance claims or any lawsuits that may be filed.
If it’s safe to do so, take pictures of the scene before you move the cars. Otherwise, move the cars to a safe location, then photograph the following:
- Makes, models, license plates, and vehicle identification numbers (VINs) of ALL vehicles involved
- Positions of the cars
- Damage to the interior and exterior of the cars, including parts that fell off the cars and the points of impact
- Damage to any surrounding items
- Visible injuries on the drivers, passengers or pedestrians, including redness or marks across the chest or abdomen indicating the wearing of a seat belt
- Surrounding scene, including road signs, traffic signals, street lights, obstructions of a driver’s view (e.g., hanging tree limbs), lane markings, skid marks and lack of skid marks, potholes, road conditions (e.g., dry, wet, or icy), weather (e.g., sunny or stormy), and the direction of the sun/sun glare
- Videos are also a handy way of showing the flow of traffic and changing traffic lights.
Important tips for taking good accident photos:
- Take photos from multiple angles and distances (wide and close up).
- At night, take photos using a flash and no flash – see which setting shows the true lighting at the scene and whether the damages are visible in the photos.
- If you’re using a camera that’s not part of a smartphone, turn the time/date stamp feature on, if available.
- If you’re using a smartphone, turn on your location services setting.
If you can’t take photos due to an injury or stress, ask a friend, family member, witness or police officer to take photos for you.
☑ 8. Report the accident to your insurance company
Call your insurer as soon as possible to describe your version of the accident. Provide the adjuster with all of your documentation, statements, contact information for involved parties and photos. DO NOT speak to any other party’s insurer unless your insurer indicates you should do so.
☑ 9. Contact the DMV (in certain situations)
If the accident was minor and no one called the police, you typically don’t need to contact the DMV. Typically, you only have to report the accident to the DMV if:
- there were bodily injuries;
- the property damage meets a certain monetary threshold, which varies by state; or
- the police were called to the accident scene and issued you a citation for driving without a license or insurance. (In this case, you will likely have to provide the DMV with proof of a license or insurance once you obtain the proper paperwork.)
In any scenarios requiring you to report the accident, check with your state’s DMV to find out the deadline for filing a report.
If the police issued you a citation for a violation related to the accident, such as speeding or running a red light, the police will notify the DMV of the accident and the violation. This could lead to points on your driving record that could cause your license to be suspended or revoked.
☑ 10. Track your injuries
Take photos of any visible injuries as they develop (swelling and bruising may take a few days to appear), and keep detailed notes if you experience non-visible injuries like whiplash. Also, keep all records of visits to medical providers, including doctors and physical therapists. Document your pain and suffering and how it affects your life. Keep track of any missed days from work due to your injuries.
This checklist is primarily intended for minor accidents involving two or more vehicles, but you can also use it for single-vehicle accidents (e.g., you veer off the road and strike a mailbox) or unattended-vehicle accidents (e.g., you back up into a parked car in a parking lot).
You may want to find a personal injury lawyer near you in situations where you are seeking recovery from an at-fault driver or an uninsured driver, or if you need to defend yourself in a party’s lawsuit against you. Be aware that there are strict time limits on filing a car accident lawsuit which vary depending on which state you’re in, so be sure to contact an attorney as soon as possible.
Zoe Campos says
Thank you for telling me that I should prioritize checking the people I’m in the car with if they have any injuries just in case we get involved in a car accident. We’ll be moving next week and we’ll only be using our personal vehicle to move our stuff, so we want to be extra careful on the road. It might also be a good idea to look for a personal injury lawyer that we can talk to just in case something happens.
Melissa Gold says
Hi, Zoe. Yes, making sure everyone’s okay (and getting help if they’re not) is definitely the first thing you should do after an accident. I think most people will find a lawyer if and when they get into an accident (unlike a doctor, who’s available whenever you need one), but it can’t be a bad idea to do some research ahead of time and see who is available where you live. You’re always welcome to check out the Enjuris law firm directory to find a lawyer near you. Best of luck with your move!
WILLIAM K. JOHNSON says
i was backing out of my driveway in south carolina and hit a car coming down the road . she stop and i did too half of car in the road .she got out of her car and i ask her did she want to called the police , and she said nothing and got back in the car and when home . she lived 2 house down from me .so i was just a little dent in my bumper . she then called the police 2 1/2 hours later and file a report . can she do that and i got a 155 dollars fine and 2 points.
Ian Pisarcik says
She is certainly allowed to call the police a couple of hours after the accident. There are a number of reason she may have done this. Perhaps she didn’t realize there was any damage to her car until afterwards, or perhaps someone at her home recommended that she call the police. If the accident was minor, I would recommend taking photographs of your vehicle so she can’t later claim that the accident was more severe than it really was. You can also get a copy of the police report.
My neighbor came to my door and told me someone hit my car and the make and model of the vehicle. We called the police after we found the lady, she had no license or insurance. My vehicle cost a little over $3000 to get fixed. will that be a misdemeanor or a felony?
Ian Pisarcik says
In Texas, a hit and run that results in damage to a vehicle (but no physical injuries) is a Class C misdemeanor. You can learn more about Texas hit and run issues here. Because the woman is uninsured, you’ll have to use your uninsured motorist policy (if you have one) or sue the woman to recover damages. You can learn more about what happens when you’re involved in an accident with an uninsured driver in Texas here.
Bertha Smith says
September 20, 2020 my neighbor said I banged her car while parallel parking. I don’t think I did it cause she as parked out there on the street all day. I parked at 8pm that night. Told her send me a picture and she did. A picture of a crack plastic. She said give her $1000 dollars and she would do the rest. 10 days later she said her whole bumper had shifted. I asked for estimates but I still haven’t seen it. I don’t think I did it. She is gonna have to prove that I banged her. I think it’s a scam after driving her car for 10 days.
Ian Pisarcik says
It’s generally a bad idea to “settle” a claim like this without the involvement of an insurance company, particularly if you don’t believe you did anything wrong. I would tell your neighbor to go ahead and file a claim with your insurance company. Your insurance company will contact you and you can explain that you didn’t hit the woman’s car. The insurance claim will then, most likely, deny your neighbor’s claim.
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Ian Pisarcik says
Thank you for the comment. I’m glad you found the information helpful.