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Protect your rights after a car accident with these essential steps: part one

If you are involved in a car accident, it is easy to panic and forget some crucial steps that can preserve important evidence and any legal claims you may have. Amidst the chaos of calling 911, exchanging insurance information and checking on your passengers, it helps to keep in mind a few essentials to make the subsequent investigation and claims go smoothly.

Most importantly, stay at the scene. Remaining at the scene of the accident is not only essential for information gathering and communicating with the other driver, it's the law. Leaving the scene of an accident, especially if someone was injured or killed, can leave you vulnerable to criminal liability for being a "hit and run" driver.

One exception to this rule is if you are hit by another car in a deserted area. Exiting your vehicle can be dangerous if you are alone with the other driver; unfortunately, there have been reported incidents of people being robbed or attacked after an accident. If this is the case, stay in your vehicle and drive to the nearest police station to report the accident. It is better to be safe than sorry on empty stretches of road.

First, ensure that everyone involved is safe. Just like on an airplane, ensure your own safety before trying to help others. Check on your passengers and, if possible, the other drivers and their passengers. Seek immediate medical attention for any passengers who need it and try not to move anyone who is unconscious or complaining of neck or back pain. If you must move someone to keep them safe, support their neck and back while moving them slowly and disturbing them as little as possible.

This brings us to step two: call law enforcement. This is especially important if the accident involves injury, death or significant property damage. A police report can be a valuable tool in backing up any future claims for liability. If officers do arrive at the scene, note their names and badge numbers for your records and ask that they file a police report.

Once police have arrived and everyone is safe and accounted for you can begin to gather information for your insurance company and your own records. Later this week we'll talk about other important steps you can take to ensure the best possible outcome after an accident.

Source: FindLaw.com, "After a Car Accident: First Steps"

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