If you are in a motor vehicle collision, it can be a scary and confusing experience. However, the time immediately following a collision is the best time to begin collecting evidence that can help you in building your insurance claim, and, if necessary, a lawsuit.
Many times, police may be unable to come to the scene of the accident if they are otherwise occupied or the incident does not require immediate medical attention or transport. In fact, you may be told to “exchange information and let insurance figure it out.” The problem with that statement is that insurance company representatives are not at the scene and each company will take their insured’s recollection of events as fact, which results in a “you said, they said” situation. In an effort to avoid that situation, our office recommends that you take the following steps to protect yourself:
- If it is safe to do so, take photographs or video of all the vehicles involved in the collision before they are moved. This should only be done if it is absolutely safe, there is no reason for anyone to incur injuries to preserve evidence. However, if this is not possible, take pictures of as much as you can while you remain in the car until it is safe.
- Move to a safe location to exchange information and collect the following:
- Pictures of all license plates
- Pictures of drivers’ licenses of the involved parties
- Pictures of insurance card or write down the other driver’s insurance information
- While at the scene, take pictures of the damage to the vehicles involved. These pictures should include:
- Damage to all vehicles involved in the accident.
- Traffic control devices including stop signs, yield signs, traffic lights, crosswalks, etc.
- Pictures of the intersection, any road markings, and any marking from the vehicles such as skid marks, lost fluids, etc.
- Take the time to look around the general area of the accident and determine if any businesses, homes, or intersections in the area may have cameras that could have captured the collision. Often, businesses will only retain recordings for 24-72 hours and so reaching out to them prior to speaking with an attorney, or getting an attorney involved ASAP is critical if there could be a potential dispute as to the cause of the collision.
- If there are witnesses to the incident, attempt to get their contact information, including their name and phone number, as well as a brief account of what they saw. Independent witnesses can provide additional credibility to your claim and can be used to help your case if necessary.
If police do respond to the scene, many times they may not always collect all the above information to make their determination if a citation will be issued. If a citation is issued to the other driver, then the driver may pay the ticket or attempt to fight it in court. If they dispute the citation, you may be subpoenaed to testify as to the events of the citation. It is important that you appear to testify because if you do not, and if the ticket is dismissed, it may make your insurance claim or civil suit more difficult.
In the event that you are transported from the scene via ambulance, you will have to rely on police accurately documenting all the information and then creating the report. However, to protect yourself you may want to send a friend or family member to document the above information if possible—especially as to the existence of a video of the incident since most businesses only retain footage for a short period of time.
Unfortunately, many times people do not do the right thing, and although collecting all of the information listed above may seem like overkill, it is absolutely essential that you gather as much evidence as possible in order to protect yourself and your interests.