Written by David Karl Gross

The National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration reports that over 6 million car accidents took place in the United Stated last year, with over 2.5 million involving injuries.  In a recent study, Alaska was listed as one of the most dangerous states for car accidents.  With this, the question is not whether you will be in a car accident, but when.  Considering this reality, it is important to note the following ten things you should do if you are in a car accident:

1.  STOP.  If you made contact with another vehicle or your actions somehow caused an accident, you must stop.  It is a crime if you leave the scene of an accident.

2.  MAKE SURE YOU ARE ALRIGHT.  The first thing you should consider is whether you and your passengers are hurt.  If you are seriously injured, try to stay stationary to prevent additional injury and call 911 immediately in order to obtain medical assistance.  You should also consider the fact that some injuries may not be immediately apparent.  Sometimes shock can mask some of the symptoms of an injury.  If you have any suspicion that you have been injured, consider seeking medical attention.

3.  CALL THE POLICE.  As discussed above, if you are seriously injured, you should call 911 immediately.  In Anchorage, the police do not have to be called if there are no injuries and the property damage is below $500.  However, considering that the property damage in an accident is almost always greater than $500, and considering that sometimes injuries can be masked, it is generally the best policy to call the police.

4.  GET TO SAFETY.  After an accident you should promptly turn on your hazard lights to warn other vehicles.  If your vehicle is operational, pull it to the side of the road.  If not, remain in your vehicle until police arrive.  If your vehicle is in an unsafe location and cannot be moved, carefully exit the vehicle and find a location out of traffic that is safe while you wait for the police.

5.  GATHER INFORMATION.  If you are able to safely move around, you should start to gather information.  Begin by exchanging information with the other driver or drivers.  Make sure to get their driver’s license information, a good telephone number, and an email address.  Also find out the name of their insurance company.  You should also take pictures of the scene and take down the names and contact information of any witnesses.

6.  PROVIDE ACCURATE INFORMATION TO THE POLICE.  When the police arrive, make sure you tell them exactly what happened to the best of your ability.  Do not speculate, guess or misstate any of the facts.  You should not talk about who was at fault and you should certainly not say it was your fault.  Oftentimes fault is a complicated issue dependent on the law; therefore, it is best to let others sort out who is actually at fault.  If you are asked if you are injured and you are not sure, say you are not sure, rather than that you are not injured.  Make sure the officer is aware that you were wearing your seatbelt.

7.  REPORT THE ACCIDENT.  Alaska law requires that you file a crash report with the Department of Motor Vehicles.  You must file this report (Crash Form 12209) if the police were not called or if the police did respond, but instructed you to self-report.  This form must be filed within 10 days of the date of the accident.

8.  NOTIFY YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY.  As soon as possible, provide notice of the accident to your insurance company.  This can be done on the telephone or on-line.  Because most insurance policies have a provision stating that late notice of a claim could result in a denial, it is important to provide prompt notice.

9.  KEEP A FILE.  Keep all of your accident-related documents and information together.  This information should include a claim number, the claims adjuster who is handling the claim, names and telephone numbers of all contacts and witnesses, medical bills and records, receipts for a rental car and other expenses incurred as a result of the accident.

10.  CONTACT A LAWYER.  There are a number of instances when it is best to contact a lawyer to help.  First, if it appears that the injuries you have suffered are permanent or long-lasting, it is best to get the assistance of a lawyer.  Next, if the insurance company denies your claim or is acting in an adversarial nature, such as asking for examinations under oath, it is best to seek out the assistance of a lawyer.  Finally, if you feel like your rights are not being protected, or that the insurance company is not looking out for your best interests, seeking the advice of a lawyer is always a good idea.

If you have been in an accident and have questions or concerns, call Birch Horton Bittner & Cherot at (907) 276-1550.  We will be able to advise you on the best course of action.