What to Do After a Car Accident

Claims adjusters ask a lot of questions after an accident. Find out what you need to do to be prepared if you want to file an insurance claim.

Car accidents are a regrettable, but commonplace occurrence in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says there are nearly seven million car accidents a year, or roughly 19,000 a day.

That means at some point today, roughly 19,000 people must answer a question no driver wants to be asked: What do I do after a car accident?

Whether you had a little fender-bender in the grocery store parking lot or were part of a nasty T-bone collision at a busy intersection, there are going to be several issues you must settle after a car accident.

What traffic laws were broken? Who does the insurance adjuster say is at blame for the accident? Where do you go for medical treatment? Who’s going to pay the medical bills and car repairs?

Can you stay calm while dealing with these matters?

It will help considerably if you know to do after a car accident, so the path to recovery – for you and everyone involved – is easier to negotiate.

Here are 10 things you should know before you become one of the 19,000 car accident victims today.

1. Check for Injuries

Some car accident injuries are obvious, many are not. The most common car accident injuries are whiplash, fractured or broken bones and lacerations that cause bleeding. Do a self-examination first and, if possible, check on passengers in your car and the other vehicle. If you are seriously hurt, don’t move. Wait for emergency medical service workers to arrive on the scene. If you are able, move your vehicle off the road and into a safe area, while you wait for police and emergency medical service providers.

2. Call 911

This is extremely important for two reasons: It alerts emergency medical service providers to come and treat injury victims; and it brings police to the scene to file an accident report. A police report is a must if you plan to file an insurance claim. Even if no one is seriously injured and there is only minor damage to either car, you should call 911 and get that police report on file.

3. Exchange Information

At the minimum, you need the other driver’s full name and phone number. It is extremely helpful to get their insurance company’s name and policy number as well as the license plate and driver’s license number. Those are necessary steps in filing a claim. It shows your willingness to do the responsible thing following an accident.

4. Document the Accident

Your cell phone is a godsend at the scene of an accident. Get as much photographic evidence as possible. Take pictures of damage to your car; bodily injuries such as cuts and bruises; how the cars were positioned at impact; any skid marks on the road. Get the names and contact information for passengers in both cars and any witnesses still at the scene. That information can go a long way toward proving who was at fault in the collision. Take close-up pictures and wider pictures of the crash scene.

5. Avoid Discussions about Fault

You must realize that a car accident quickly becomes a legal matter. What you say to the other driver or police at the scene can be used to imply negligence on your part and possibly blame for causing the accident. Cooperate with police. Share your insurance information with the other driver. But keep the details of how the accident happened to yourself – unless you’re speaking with an experienced accident attorney. Surprisingly, it is not police, but rather the insurance claims adjuster who ultimately decides who is at fault in a car accident. However, there are 12 states with “No Fault” insurance, which means the driver’s own insurance company is responsible for covering medical expenses and loss of income, regardless of who was at fault in an accident.

6. Call a Tow Truck If Needed

Police do not call for towing service. You must do that yourself and be prepared to pay for it. Most insurance companies offer towing as part of your car insurance policy, but you must opt in and pay for that coverage to be reimbursed. If the other driver is found to be at fault for the accident, you should be able to present a receipt for towing and get reimbursed from their insurance company.

7. Contact Your Insurance Company

It goes without saying that you should contact your insurance company as soon as possible after an accident, while the details are fresh in your mind. Call them from the accident scene, if possible. If not, call them as soon as you are physically able. Time matters, even in small insurance claim situations.

8. File a Claim with Your Insurance

Filing an insurance claim after a car accident should be as easy as picking up the phone and calling your insurance company. When you call, you should have your insurance policy number; date, time and location of the accident; police report number; your version of how the accident occurred; name and contact number for other driver(s) involved and their insurance company.

Also, make your insurance company aware if you have photos or any other type of evidence from the accident scene.

All states have a deadline for filing an insurance claim, but it is never a good idea to challenge those deadlines. The laws for filing a claim for either bodily injury or property damage, vary from state-to-state. Most states have a 2-4 year time limit, but it’s 10 years in Rhode Island, six years in Maine and Minnesota and five years in Missouri.

If you miss a deadline, the insurance company can reject your claim and you would have to go to court to ask a judge to overrule the insurance company, which is very unlikely. Insurance companies may have policy language that suggests a reporting deadline, but legally they must follow the statute of limitation laws in their state.

9. See Your Doctor

It is prudent to see your family doctor for an examination as soon as possible after an accident, even if you aren’t experiencing any pains or obvious injuries. Some injuries aren’t noticed until days, weeks or even months after an accident. These are called latent injuries and refer to the pain or side effects of an injury that are delayed.

A whiplash, damage to an internal organ or even a knee injury may not be obvious to someone immediately after an accident, but can develop and become serious at a later date. If your doctor has documented your condition and things deteriorate, you at least have a baseline for how you tested after the accident.

10. Contact an Attorney

The reason you should contact an attorney after a car accident is simple: If you file a claim, it will be extremely difficult to get a fair result without an attorney.

And on top of that … it won’t cost you a dime, unless you win.

Personal injury attorneys work on a contingency basis, which means they don’t get paid unless you win your case. They know the strengths and weaknesses of most cases and know where to go to bolster your strengths and how how to build a wall of resistance against weakness.

When you file a claim, you are up against an insurance claims adjuster and attorney, whose job is to limit the payment amount. Your attorney’s job is to get the highest payment amount possible.

And he/she doesn’t get paid unless you win. That is good motivation for him/her to perform.

Here are just a few of the things you should expect an attorney to do representing you after a car accident:

  • Provide a free consultation. An attorney will take a look at the facts of your case, hear your side of the story and offer a realistic view of what kind of outcome you can expect.
  • Interview witnesses. That means anyone who saw the accident, including the other driver, asking questions that help build your case toward a positive outcome.
  • Communicate with claims adjuster. Insurance adjusters want to settle car accident claims quickly. You may think you know a fair settlement amount is. Your attorney does know.
  • Prepare documents and meet deadlines. There will be a lot of paperwork involved in your case goes to trial and consequences if you aren’t prepared on time, including having your car accident claim denied or even dismissed.
  • Compile medical records, bills and all healthcare providers. Attorneys want to be sure you’re not only receiving the right kind of care, but the medical people involved are contributing evidence that helps prove your case.
  • Prove that you are the victim of negligence. This is the most important thing an attorney can do for you. To win your case, you must prove that the other driver was negligent; that their negligence caused the accident; and that the negligence resulted in damage to your vehicle or bodily harm to you and a loss of income.

Of those seven million car accidents that happen every year, nearly two million result in injuries to the driver or passenger and nearly five million of them result in damage to the car.

If you want to be compensated fairly for an accident you didn’t cause, the burden of proof is on you to prove negligence. That’s where attorneys make their money – and yours!

It’s not likely you know what it takes to prove negligence. A good car accident attorney does. That’s why you should contact an attorney, if you get in a car accident.

Robert Shaw

Robert Shaw is a writer based in Ohio who brings decades of newspaper experience as a reporter, columnist and editor to his freelance work. Shaw has written on topics as diverse as the city of Atlanta's successful bid to secure the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, to the educational challenges faced by an urban Cleveland school during the Covid-19 pandemic, to federal home buying loan programs designed to help teachers, firefighters, police and emergency personnel get a foothold in the housing market. Whatever the topic, Shaw strives to bring a sharp focus and clear understanding to the issues affecting people's everyday lives.


  1. N.A. (2020) Traffic Safety Facts Annual Report Tables. Retrieved from https://cdan.nhtsa.gov/tsftables/tsfar.htm
  2. Lake, R. (2021, April 14) No Fault Insurance. Retrieved from https://www.investopedia.com/what-is-no-fault-insurance-and-do-you-need-it-5089251
  3. N.A. (2021, May 6) Does Insurance Cover Towing After an Accident? Retrieved from https://www.caranddriver.com/car-insurance/a36355282/does-insurance-cover-towing-after-an-accident/
  4. Leefeldt, E. Danise, A. (2020, October 21). The Tricky Business Of Determining Fault After A Car Accident. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/advisor/car-insurance/determining-fault-after-accident/