With over 100 thousand car accidents in Massachusetts every year and an average of 4,500 serious injuries in motor vehicle accidents in the Commonwealth annually, knowing what to do after a car accident will help crash victims deal with the stress and confusion after an accident.
1. Pull Over
Massachusetts roads and drivers carry a reputation. That’s why it’s critical to pull off the road as far as possible. Get your vehicle out of traffic and off to the side of the roadway if at all possible. This reduces the likelihood of a second crash by someone not paying attention. Police tell us this happens frequently.
2. Call Police
Immediately contact 911. Provide accident location information as quickly as possible so police can protect the people and vehicles, and also document the accident. This vital step protects you physically and otherwise. Those who urge you to “take care of it” without police or insurance have been known to have reason to avoid authorities. There are insurance scenarios where not having reported the accident to police causes problems, for example where the other driver is uninsured.
3. Medical Attention after a Car Accident
If injured, accept an offer of emergency transport to the hospital. With skyrocketing medical bills some injury victims fear the ambulance bill and decline. If not treated properly an injury can actually worsen. Also, Massachusetts no-fault PIP, more about that below pays medical bills related to the accident.
4. Take Photos of Accident Scene
Nearly everyone carries a simple but decent camera on a cell phone. Photograph the cars and the scene. Look for skid marks, the lack of skid marks, or accident damage such as a broken fence or sign. Take a picture before weather or repairs erase the evidence after a car accident. Here’s why not to ignore this step.
5. Look for Witnesses
If at all possible, find witnesses other than yourself, passengers or the driver of the other car. If anyone stops at the scene, ask if they saw what happened. If they can help, obtain names, addresses and other contact information. If they have a business card, request one. These people will disappear fairly quickly and chances of ever locating them again if not identified on the spot are close to zero.
6. When To File An Accident Report
After a car accident in Massachusetts accident reports must be filed if a person is injured in any way or killed, of if damage to any one of the vehicles is $1,000 or more. Massachusetts law does not specify how serious the injury must be, so if anyone is injured in any manner, play it safe and file an accident report.
The form operators must file is called a Motor Vehicle Crash Operator Report. Click the link to complete the report.
The law requires filing the report within 5 days after an accident. In 25 plus years as a personal injury attorney in Massachusetts I’ve never seen anyone prosecuted for filing a late report. So, it’s better to file a complete report rather than a fast report with errors you’ll regret later.
Regulations require sending copies of the report to three places: 1. the Registry of Motor Vehicles, 2. the local police department in the city or town where the accident took place and 3. your own insurance company. My office is happy to help with this task, paying close attention to required details including the diagram.
7. File a Personal Injury Protection Application
Massachusetts has a “No Fault” law. This means your medical bills are paid by your own insurance company if you were operating your own car, regardless of who was at fault in the accident. This is called “Personal Injury Protection” or PIP. The form must be filed reasonably promptly after an accident.
PIP Applications look simple, but check the wrong box and your case can be sidelined. Lawmakers passed PIP attempting to simplify things after a car accident, but PIP actually complicated things as described in this link. It is highly recommended that you retain an attorney.
8. What to do if Other Car is Uninsured
Despite mandatory auto insurance laws in Massachusetts and elsewhere, it’s estimated that 29 million uninsured cars travel the roads nationwide. Despite compulsory car insurance laws the Insurance Research Council reports over 12% of all vehicles do not carry insurance.
If you are injured and would have had an injury claim against the uninsured vehicle, your claim is covered by the uninsured provision of your own insurance company. While many safe drivers hesitate to make a claim against their own insurance company, fearing higher insurance premiums, your insurance company cannot raise rates for putting in a legitimate claim. They may only increase rates where you have engaged in a moving violation.
9. What if I’m in a Hit and Run Accident?
The uninsured provision of your car insurance covers hit and run accident claims. If police did not do an accident report, you must report the accident to local police within 24 hours and be sure they take a report. Otherwise the insurance company can deny uninsured coverage in a hit and run accident for failure to comply with required police reporting of such accidents.
10. Be Careful With Statements to Insurance Company
You have a duty to cooperate fully with your own insurance company. If you refuse to cooperate they can deny insurance coverage. But, before giving statements be smart. Review the facts first and have any reports and photos in front of you. You do not have an obligation to give a statement to the other insurance company. Before giving any statement be fully prepared as described in this link.
The statement is recorded. While insurance adjusters may conduct the telephone in an informal even friendly manner, this statement is part of the permanent record of your claim file. This means any missteps or inadvertent misstatements can cause long term issues.
Final Word on Accidents
I know it is easy for me to say, but keep your cool at the accident scene. Do your best to get the car out of traffic. Keep any conversations to the facts and not accusations or admissions. Be polite. If you’ve been injured the best advice is to contact my office for help.
Source for Massachusetts Auto Accident Statistics: here.
Insurance Research Council, Uninsured Motorists Report, August 5, 2014.