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Fairbanks, Alaska

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James Cool
James Cool
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What to Say…and Not Say…After an Accident

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An accident, even one in which you aren’t severely injured, can be a shocking experience. Accidents can leave your heart racing and your hands shaking. And often, while you are in this state, you’ll start to receive questions. What happened? Was it your fault? How fast were you going? Just after an accident, and as the insurance claims process progresses, many questions will come your way. It’s important to know what to say and what not to say. First off, it is common before drivers check their cars to check on the welfare of passengers and drivers of both vehicles. If someone asks you “Are you okay?” it may be best to say “I seem to be okay” if you feel alright or “I may need some medical attention, but not right now.” Overall, you want to avoid saying that you are perfectly fine. The reason for that is that many injuries sustained in an accident are masked by the shock and adrenaline that an accident can cause. Often, back and neck injuries, headaches, or numbness related to a car accident do not present themselves immediately.

Perhaps most importantly, do not apologize for anything or claim fault at the scene. Even if you are at fault, you’ll have the opportunity to apologize or explain later. However, just following the accident it is important not to expose yourself to unnecessary or undeserved liability. You may say “I’m glad that everyone is okay” or “I hope that everyone will be okay” but it is not appropriate to say “I’m sorry for not looking to my left…I could have avoided this accident.” While you may feel that you are responsible for an accident, you may be assigning fault to yourself prematurely. There are many things that you simply cannot know at that early stage – has the other driver properly cared for the car and its brakes? Were the lights functioning properly? Until you know more about the accident and have spoken with someone that can advise you in a calmer environment, you should not make statements about fault.

Just after the accident there are things that you should do and say. If you do not need medical attention, share your contact and insurance information with the other driver (or drivers). Make sure to take down the plate numbers of the other drivers, and if all will agree, you may want to get drivers’ license numbers as well. Finally, if there are witnesses on the scene, ask for their names and phone numbers. Get a brief description of what they saw. Although the police will do the same, it may be easier for you to do this than rely on the content of the police report. You also stand in a position to quickly get that information from witnesses, when their memories are still fresh. Sometimes it can take time for police to respond to an accident, especially in cases where the accidents do not involve injuries. However, you may want to obtain and review a copy of the police report before talking to your insurance company.

When you speak to your insurance company, be truthful even if you believe that you are at fault. To do otherwise could result in denial of coverage. Lying to the insurance company can constitute fraud, and often will result in more severe consequences than an accident itself. If you think you may be at fault, but you are not sure, you may say “I think I may be partially responsible” and explain. Make sure to use the police report and your recollections of the accident to help the insurance company understand the role that each driver played. Oftentimes, both legal fault and fault as assigned by the insurance company will be shared by the parties. You do not have to suggest a percentage of fault to the insurance company, but you should make sure to include facts that support your case and make sure to present a clear picture of what happened.

Finally, what you say is important – but so is who you make statements to. It is important that you only discuss the accident with your attorney, insurance company, or the police. You may also discuss the accident with a counselor if needed. However, if you choose to speak with anyone else about the accident, you should speak to your insurance company or an attorney first. (***YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY WILL TRY TO SCREW YOU BLIND IN YOUR STATEMENT IF THE OTHER DRIVER HAS NO INSURANCE … AND THIS BECOME A U/UIM CLAIM … BE CAREFUL***) Be especially careful of making statements to the representative of the other driver’s insurance company. If you receive a call or questions from the other driver’s insurance company, direct them to speak with either your attorney or your own insurance company. The person handling your claim for your insurance company can set up an interview and advise you about how to conduct yourself.