The Most Important Steps to Take Following a Car Accident

Doug Mann

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Table of Contents
  1. Before a Crash: Be Prepared, Wear a Seatbelt
  2. At the Scene of an Accident: What to Do
  3. After a Car Accident: Insurance, Medical Care, Attorney Help
  4. Ohio Car Accident Checklist
  5. The Bottom Line

Put simply, car crashes are scary. It’s tough to keep a level head when accidents happen, but keeping calm can make a huge difference. So, what steps should you take after a wreck in Ohio?

Below, we’ll go over information on the following:

  • What to do after a car accident
  • How long you have to report an accident in Ohio
  • Leaving the scene of an accident: Ohio penalties
  • How to file a police report after an accident
  • When to get an attorney after a car accident

Before a Crash: Be Prepared, Wear a Seatbelt

If you’re going to drive a car, you should be prepared for an accident. Make a habit of always wearing your seatbelt and ensuring that your passengers do the same. In Ohio, about 40% of fatalities in crashes are ones in which the persons killed — more than 400 each year — were not wearing their seatbelts.

You should also always have a copy of your insurance information along with a pen and a pad of paper to take down the information of other drivers. You should also keep a fold-up emergency reflective triangle in your trunk or your glove box; you can use it to alert other drivers to the wreck so they’re careful when passing. A marker also can make it easier for emergency personnel to find you in poor-visibility conditions.

Finally, keep a space blanket and some bottled water in the car at all times. You’ll want to be able to keep injured people, children, and yourself warm and hydrated while police and paramedics are on their way. You also may want to keep a generic first-aid kit in the car for minor injuries.

At the Scene of an Accident: What to Do

There are several things you should remember at the scene of an accident, from staying put and staying calm, to making sure no one is injured and calling for help. Here are the steps you should take if you’re in a car accident:

1. Remain at the Scene

First, stay put. Never leave the scene of an accident right away. If someone is hurt and you leave the scene, you could face criminal hit-and-run charges. The crime is called “failure to stop.” At best, it’s a misdemeanor under Ohio law. If the injuries are serious or fatal, it’s a felony and you face jail time and loss of your license.

Additionally, even if there aren’t any injuries or other vehicles involved and you damage any property at the scene of an accident and leave, you’re breaking the law. Per Ohio Revised Code 4549.03:

If the owner or person in charge of the property cannot be located after reasonable search, the driver of the vehicle involved in the accident resulting in damage to the property, within twenty-four hours after the accident, shall forward to the police department of the city or village in which the accident or collision occurred, or if it occurred outside the corporate limits of a city or village to the sheriff of the county in which the accident or collision occurred, the same information required to be given to the owner or person in control of the property and give the location of the accident and a description of the damage insofar as it is known.

Above all, remember to stay calm and be polite; tensions are high after a car crash but you need a cool head to handle the situation.

2. Check for Injuries

Check to make sure everyone involved is OK. If anyone needs medical attention, call for it immediately. If you believe someone may have injured their head, neck, or back in the crash, wait for medical personnel before trying to move that person. This is important for people of any age, but especially children, as they are still developing and they may be more susceptible to serious injuries.

Don’t forget to give yourself a once-over, too. When we’re stressed, our bodies release a lot of adrenaline. That acts as a natural painkiller, so you may not notice right away if you’ve been injured.

3. Get out of the Way of Danger

The next step is to get everyone off the road. Leave the cars where they are — you’ll need to take photos later and the police will want to see them in their original position. Just get all the people involved in the crash off to the side of the road so they’re not at risk of getting hit by a passing car. If you have an emergency reflective triangle in your car, set it out so that passing cars know you’re there.

Remember not to move any people who may have head, neck, or back injuries; moving them may cause more damage than it prevents.

4. Call the Police

If the crash is just a fender-bender, you probably don’t need to call the police. You can just exchange personal and insurance information with the other driver. If there’s extensive damage or if anyone was injured, you do need to call the police. They’ll want to speak to you, the other driver(s) involved, and any witnesses to the accident. You should ask for the names and badge numbers of the police at the scene and you should request a copy of the police report. You’ll need that information for your insurance claim.

5. Document the Damage

You should take a careful look at the damage to your car and any other property. Using your cellphone (or borrow one from a bystander if you don’t have one with you), take detailed pictures of any damage. Don’t just photograph your own car — take pictures of any other cars and property involved as well. That information can help the police reconstruct the circumstances of the accident and determine who is at fault. In addition to photographing the damage, you should get contact information from any witnesses in the area.

After a Car Accident: Insurance, Medical Care, Attorney Help

After a car accident, you’ll have to deal with a handful of things, depending on how severe the crash is. If you were injured, you’ll need at least emergency medical care, if not follow-up with your primary doctor or even a hospital visit. Here are the top three things to do after a car accident.

1. Notify the Insurance Company

Call your insurance company as soon as is practical to let them know you’ve been in an accident. Give them a clear, honest account of the accident and provide them with a copy of the police report. You can also give them the contact information of any witnesses to the wreck. That will help to back up your story and build your case with the insurance company.

Stick to the truth when you’re dealing with the insurance company. If you falsify information to your insurance company, you may forfeit the right to coverage. In extreme cases, you may be committing insurance fraud. Depending on the amount of money involved, you could be convicted of anything from a 1st degree misdemeanor to a 3rd degree felony in Ohio.

2. Track the Damage

If you receive any medical care for injuries sustained in the accident, keep careful records of everything. Keep a file of receipts for doctors’ appointments and follow-ups and any procedures and medications you need. You’ll need that documentation when you’re making your claim to the insurance company.

You also need to have your insurance adjuster assess the cost of the damage to your car and other property. They’re likely to give you a lower number than you want, so you may also choose to seek second and even third opinions on the cost of repairs or replacement. Take those independent opinions back to your adjuster and negotiate for a higher payment.

3. Consult with a Personal Injury Attorney

If you suffered injuries or serious property damage, the insurance company will want to settle the case quickly and finally. However, you shouldn’t accept a quick check before carefully considering your situation. In some cases, the true extent of injuries and the true cost of treatment take weeks or even months to show up. If you settle with the insurance company before your doctor clears you, you’ll have to pay for any subsequent medical expenses on your own.

If you’re uncertain about the insurance company’s offer, make sure to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney. Your attorney can help you go through the terms of the offer and decide whether it’s fair. If not, your attorney can help you negotiate for a bigger settlement.

A Tip: Keep the Details of Your Case Private

Loose lips sink ships — and cost a fortune in insurance settlements. Don’t discuss your accident with anyone but the police, your insurance company, and your attorney, if you retain one. Representatives from other insurance companies may contact you about the accident and a wrong word to them can cost you big money. You never have to speak to a representative from another company; just ask them to contact your attorney or insurance company to discuss the wreck.

Ohio Car Accident Checklist

The best way to deal with a car accident is to be prepared. We’ve created a handy guide to help you put together your Crash Kit and remind you what to do after an accident. Print it out and keep it in your glove box or with your Crash Kit so you’re ready in case of emergency. Click here to download your own copy of the Crash Checklist!

The Bottom Line

Of course, the best way to deal with a car crash is to avoid having one in the first place. That means staying away from the most dangerous roads in Ohio and never driving distracted or drunk. Unfortunately, sometimes accidents happen no matter how hard you work to stay safe. Even a minor car crash is enough to ruin anyone’s day, let alone a bigger crash, which runs the risk of substantial property damage and personal injury. The key to getting through it is to keep cool and go through these steps.

If you’ve been in a car wreck and you’re dealing with the insurance companies, call, email, or come in for a free consultation today. One of our experienced attorneys will go over the accident and subsequent expenses with you and help you decide how to negotiate for your settlement.

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