I received a call from a friend last week.  His 23-year-old son had just called him.  He had been in a crash.

Fortunately, no one was seriously injured at the time.  They were waiting for the police to arrive and the son wanted to know what to do.  I called my friend’s son and checked to see how everyone was doing.  Again, although everyone was quite shaken, no one at the time had any life-threatening injuries.

My friend’s son told me he had been waiting at a red light.  The light turned green and he started through the intersection.  As he passed the half-way point of the intersection, a car coming from his right, ran the red light and t-boned my friend’s son’s car.

He also told me, the other driver was an older guy and was “claiming that I ran the red light.  What should I do?”

I gave the young man some advice, and I’ll share it with you.  If you’ve been in a collision, obviously, the first thing to do, is make sure everyone is safe. 

Regardless of who is at fault, making sure that both drivers and any passengers are not immediately and seriously injured is foremost.  If anyone is complaining of back or neck pain, tell them to stay put and call 911.  Tell the operator that someone at the scene is complaining of neck or back pain and that an ambulance is needed.

It may seem like an over-reaction to ask for a paramedic if someone is able to get up, but feels neck or back pain.  It is not.  Injuries to the head, neck and back should always be taken very seriously.  These problems can easily accelerate and become very serious, very quickly.  Play it safe.  Tell anyone complaining of neck or back pain to stay put and wait for medical help.

Do not move the cars until you have taken plenty of photos of the positions of the cars where they came to rest, and where they were in contact, if they still are.  Many municipalities have rules requiring vehicle collisions be moved off the road, to the shoulder.  This is good policy for getting traffic flow back up, but, if at all possible, get pictures of the vehicles before moving them, to document where the cars came in contact with each other, and whether the contact was square-on, offset, or at an angle.

Next, make sure you do everything possible to warn any approaching drivers of the problem.  Get flashers turned on.  If you have safety cones in your trunk or flares, put them out, plenty of distance before the scene to warn drivers. 

When the scene is safe, move everyone away from the cars and off the road.   Do not stand around or between the cars.  If an inattentive driver were to crash into a disabled car, minor injuries could easily become severe injuries.

If you have not called 911, this would be a good time to call.  The operator will need to know where you are, your name, and whether anyone is injured.  The operator may ask you to stay on the line.  Most times, they will inform you that help has been dispatched.

While waiting for the police or rescue squad to arrive here are some things that you can do to expedite the process and to collect evidence quickly.  Our cell phones make information collection easy, quick and efficient.  Use them.

  • Take photos of the damage to the vehicles.  These photos should include pictures from a distance to show relative positions and important landmarks around the scene.  They should be from different points of view – from the north, south, east and west.  Closer photos showing damage to the vehicles is also good. 
  • If possible, check the other car for any indications that the driver was distracted:  Fast food in the car; a cell phone plugged into an auxiliary cord; are there open containers of alcohol? Can you see anything else in the car that would suggest that the driver was distracted or worse?  If so, take a picture of it.
  • If there are witnesses at the scene, in our age of multimedia smartphones, ask the witness if they will give you a brief video recorded statement of what they witnessed.  Record it with their phone.  Ask them to answer the following questions:
    • What is your name?
    • What is your address?
    • What is your phone number?
    • Did you see what happened?
    • Where were you, before the collision?
    • What did you see or hear?
    • Why do you think this crash occurred?
    • Was there anything else important about the collision, that you can share?
  • Be sure to thank any witnesses for their time.
  • If the other driver is willing to talk to you, ask the other driver to give a video statement.
    • Ask the same questions
  • Many times, a driver at the scene knows what her or she did wrong and will admit it.  However, after they call their insurance company, the insurance adjuster tells them they didn’t do anything wrong and soon the driver is blaming you!
  • If the other driver asks you to give a statement.  You can do so.  Keep it simple.  Do not explain any of your answers.  Point out the rules you were following and that the collision was not your fault.
  • Often at the scene, the adrenalin is flowing and a driver or her passengers have no idea if they are injured.  Hours later they calm down and begin to feel pain all over.  To be safe, if anyone asks at the scene if you are injured, at the very least tell them “I don’t know.  I’m pretty shaken up right now.”  You may be asked if you want an ambulance.  You certainly don’t need to ask for one if you don’t feel like you need one.  However, it is important to tell whomever you are speaking to that you just don’t want a ride to the hospital.  In all cases, tell the first-responders that you plan to see your own doctor (or if necessary, you will go to the ER yourself.)  Insurance companies love to deny claims, because people said at the scene: “I’m fine.”  Then the next morning, they can’t get out of bed.
  • Take photos of the other driver’s license, registration, and insurance, while you are waiting for law enforcement.  If the other driver can not produce his license or insurance card, do not agree to “just exchange information and leave.”  Make sure law enforcement checks out the other driver to be sure he or she isn’t just lying to you.
  • Survey all of the nearby business and homes.  Do any of them appear to have cameras or surveillance equipment that may have captured the collision?  If so, try to contact them before leaving the scene.  Ask if they could pull the video and see if the collision was captured.  (In the case of my friend’s son, he found a nearby car repair shop, that had a security camera that captured the important events before the collision.  This prevented the other driver from plausibly blaming my friend’s son.)
  • Finally, after you leave the scene, do make an appointment to get checked out.  Whether it is the ER, or an Urgent Care clinic or a scheduled follow up with your regular doctor.  You want to be looked over and be sure you are ok.  When you do go, tell the provider everything you are feeling.  You may think you are being a whiner, but trust me, you are not.  Sometimes, small problems the day after the collision can become big problems, and even chronic injuries.  Don’t be a “John Wayne” and tough it out.  Tell you doctor about it all.

Often, people call me and are worried that the other driver didn’t get a ticket. Don’t worry.  Law enforcement are authorized to make judgement calls on whether any tickets should be issued.  Often they don’t want to ticket someone for a crash, figuring that the insurance companies will sort it out, and nobody needs an extra trip to the court house, on top of all of the other hassles that come after such a crash.  In addition, the tickets can not be used as evidence in your claim against the other driver.

If you got a ticket, fight it.  Go to court and tell the judge your story.  If it isn’t your fault, the judge will throw that ticket out. 

If you have been involved in a car collision that wasn’t your fault, please feel free to contact the Law Office of Matthew A. Lathrop.  We offer free consultations by phone or in person, and we have numerous free consumer guides that may be able to help you with your situation.
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