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What do I do if… I get in a car accident?

Selina Iglesias

Greene Publishing, Inc.

Car accidents, whether major or minor, can cause a great deal of stress to all of the parties involved. While the adrenaline will be pumping, and you will experience some fear, it is important to remain calm after an accident occurs and observe your surroundings. Make sure you and your passengers are okay before exiting the vehicle. If anyone is injured, call 911.

Once you determine that everyone is unharmed, exchange information with all of the other drivers involved and stick around the scene of the accident for a reasonable time.

This includes:

Driver's License: Write down the other driver's first and last name, home address, driver's license number, phone number and email address.

Insurance: Be sure to get the other driver's insurance company, policy number and Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).

Photos: Take photos of your car, their car, their license plate and the accident scene.

The other driver(s) may not stay around to exchange information, especially if the accident is their fault or if they do not have insurance, so be sure to write down their license plate number and state. If you don't capture the license plate number, you will have difficulty identifying the other vehicle and getting reimbursed by your insurance company.

While many people think you have to get the police involved after an accident, that isn't always the case, though it can often help. Sometimes a police officer may not be able to respond to the scene in a timely manner in minor accidents where no one is injured, but it is a good idea to go to the police station and file an accident report after everything settles. It can help validate your insurance claim, and there will  be an official record of what happened.

If the accident was severe enough, towing may be necessary. The police at the scene will help by calling a tow truck, however, you may want to use your own towing company, one that is compatible with your insurance company. Discuss this with the officer on scene. Going with a towing company that works with your insurance policy may cost less, and the location of the tow place may be more convenient for you to pick up your car the next day.

When filing an insurance claim, never say that you're at fault in the accident. Instead, just state the facts and let your insurance company handle it. Consider your approach before filing a claim.

If your car was the only vehicle involved in the accident, like if your car struck a curb or scraped a parking garage wall, you can submit your claim to your insurance company. However, if your car was damaged but no other property requires repair, you may choose not to submit a claim at all.

You can pay out of pocket for minor repairs so that your insurance rates are not affected, or you can submit a claim, pay your deductible, and get your car repaired. The decision is up to you.

If two or more vehicles are involved in a collision, and you believe you’re at fault, you can choose to wait and see if the other party decides to file a claim. If it's minor damage, the other driver may not choose to take action, but if they do file a claim, it could take a few weeks for you to hear anything, so don't assume you are off the hook.

You can always contact your own insurance company and describe what occurred during the accident. If it ends up being your fault in the accident, you will have to pay your deductible and then your insurance company will help you deal with the situation from there.

If the other person is at fault, you can file your claim with their insurance company. The upside here is that you shouldn’t have to pay anything out of pocket for things like repairs or rental car costs. The downside is that it may take a while to get your car accident settlement.

Alternatively, you can file the claim with your own insurance company. After paying your deductible, your insurance company will provide you with full support and coverage while the other person’s insurance company works to process the claim.

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