News & opinion A Checklist: What to Do After a Houston Car Accident

A Checklist: What to Do After a Houston Car Accident

A Checklist: What to Do After a Houston Car Accident

You got hit and injured in a car accident in Houston—now what? Here’s a checklist to help you protect your health, wellbeing, and rights, from what you should do in the moments after the crash, to the weeks ahead of bringing a claim for compensation.

Stay at the Scene, Check on Others, Call 911, and Exchange Information

Per Texas law, you have duties the following responsibilities after a Houston car accident that results in injury or death or damage to a vehicle, if you can:

  • Stop at the scene or as close to it as you can do safely without obstructing traffic any more than necessary.
  • Check on persons involved in the accident to determine if they need medical aid, and call first responders if aid is needed.
  • Exchange contact, registration, and insurance information with anyone else involved in the accident.

These are the immediate basic steps you must follow after a Houston car accident, whether your accident happened on the 610 Loop or a downtown street. Failure to take any of these steps (unless you’re injured and taken from the scene for emergency aid) may result in criminal liability and could jeopardize your right to compensation for the injuries you suffered.

You do not necessarily have to do these things in the order listed below. Make safety and emergency aid your top priorities. That may mean, for example, calling 911 before you do anything else, even if you’re not sure if others are injured.

Seek Medical Attention

Do this as soon as you can after addressing the first item on the checklist above. For most accidents, this will mean letting an EMT check you over at the accident scene. Follow an EMT’s advice after that initial check-over. If the EMT wants to put you in a neck brace, wear the neck brace. If the EMT says you should probably take an ambulance ride to the emergency room, take the ambulance ride. Right now, you are a car accident victim, first-and-foremost. Your adrenaline is pumping. You may be in shock. You are in no state to be making consequential decisions about your health against the advice of medical professionals. Period.

Even if the EMT gives you the “all clear”, and even if you feel “ok” after your accident, you should go get a check-up from your regular doctor, at urgent care, or your nearest Houston-area hospital emergency room within 24 hours of the accident (immediately, if possible). Do not assume that you avoided injuries in your car accident just because you don’t feel any pain. Some serious, life-threatening injuries, like brain trauma or organ damage, do not necessarily show symptoms right away but may put you at serious medical risk if not identified and treated immediately.

This is no time to gamble with your health. Getting a check-up and learning you’re not injured is better than not getting a check-up and suffering unexpected severe health outcomes.

In addition, by seeking immediate medical care, you ensure medical records will be preserved, and that those records will tie your injuries directly to the car accident. That information will be invaluable if you decide to seek compensation for your accident injuries.

Preserve Evidence

Some might tell you that you have to act like a CSI detective at the accident scene, taking photos and videos right alongside the police photographer. If you can do that, great. There’s no such thing as too many images of a car accident scene. If it’s safe to do so, you won’t hurt yourself, and you’re not getting in anyone’s way, take pictures of everything you see, including the vehicles, road conditions, surrounding area, and so on.

But, let’s be realistic here. Accident victims often will not be able to do that. Accidents are pretty chaotic, and the items on the checklist above are much more important than you playing amateur investigator.

Still, here’s something far easier you can do that may help just as much in protecting your rights. It’s really simple—keep everything. That’s it. Don’t throw anything related to your accident away, and don’t get anything (like your car) fixed. Wait to do those things until an experienced car accident lawyer (see below) and your insurance company (also see below) tell you it’s ok to do so.

And when we say everything, we mean everything. Save receipts for medication, doctor bills, and insurance statements. Save texts and emails. Keep any damaged personal property. Hold on to the clothes you were wearing. And, as we said, wait to get your car fixed until you know a lawyer, insurance adjuster, or investigator, doesn’t need it. Those items could serve as crucial evidence in determining how your car accident happened and who should pay you damages for your injuries.

Get a Copy of The Written Police Accident Report

The police who responded to your accident will prepare a written accident report. The report will contain basic information about the accident, including where and when it happened, who was involved, the types of vehicles, the type of collision, and the officer’s observations about potential contributing factors.

The written accident report is not the final word on the cause of the accident, but it can be a helpful starting point for lawyers and their investigators in piecing together what happened and who should pay you damages.

You have the right under Texas law to obtain a copy of a Houston car accident report. Typically, you can simply request a copy of the report, with a small fee, online or at the police department that responded to your accident.

Here are the links to police written accident report requests for:

Contact a Houston Car Accident Injury Attorney

You might think of a post-car accident process as having two phases. The first concerns your immediate reaction to crash, and its principal focus should always be health and safety. Take care of yourself and (to the extent you can) others. Let public safety professionals worry about the accident scene and cleanup, and focus on your own wellbeing. Follow your doctor’s orders.

The second phase, which can start as soon as your immediate health and safety needs have been met, concerns your legal and financial rights to compensation for any injuries and losses you suffered in the accident. Obtaining a copy of your police report is one part of that phase. But the real start for most accident victims happens when they contact an experienced Houston car accident injury attorney for a free consultation.

Crash victims should make that initial call or online contact with a lawyer as soon as possible after they have dealt with any pressing health and safety issues. Why so soon? Because a lawyer may need to take immediate action on your behalf to protect your rights.

Those actions may include:

  • Moving quickly to preserve evidence of the crash that’s in other people’s hands, such as security or traffic camera footage, or data from cell phones and vehicle on-board computers, before it gets lost or destroyed.
  • Giving timely notice, when necessary, to individuals, businesses, or entities that may have a legal liability to you for your injuries and losses.
  • Stepping in as your representative in dealings with insurance companies, both your own and issuers of insurance to parties who may owe you damages, to protect you from tactics those companies may use to try to deprive you of your rights to compensation.
  • Advocating for you and protecting your rights in official investigations by law enforcement.
  • In car accidents that get media attention, serving as a go-between to shield you from the press.

These are just the actions an attorney may need to take on your behalf immediately. Over the long-term, an attorney can collect and analyze the evidence to identify all at-fault parties, evaluate the scope of the harm you suffered and determine the appropriate amount of compensation you deserve, initiate the legal process, and pursue payment of compensation from at-fault parties and their insurers.

Oh, and by the way, you do not have to worry about how much a lawyer will cost. Experienced Houston car accident lawyers offer free consultations and represent injured crash victims on a contingency fee basis, which means they don’t get paid a dime unless you get paid for your injuries and losses.

Consider Contacting Your Own Insurance Company (But Not Someone Else’s)

If possible, speak with a lawyer first before contacting your insurer. Despite what their commercials on TV may suggest, insurance companies do not immediately and helpfully pay out claims. They may try to find reasons not to pay you what you deserve, and they may engage in tactics designed to conjure those reasons up from something you say, even an offhand remark.

If you must contact your own insurance company before you’ve talked to an attorney, keep the call short and to the point. Stick to the facts. Do not get drawn into a discussion of who was at fault, and do not make offhand remarks that anyone could interpret as you taking the blame for what happened.

And, just to be clear, this checklist item applies only to your own insurance company. Never try to contact someone else’s insurance company on your own. If a representative from someone else’s insurance company tries to contact you, refer them to your lawyer. Having direct contact with someone else’s insurance company could put you at serious risk of losing your rights.

Make a Budget and Discuss It With Your Lawyer

Houston car accident victims often confront large, unexpected expenses in the weeks and months that follow their injuries. It can help to plan for the financial impact of your accident by making a budget that examines how much money you need to stay afloat, and then to discuss any financial concerns you have with your attorney. A lawyer can often help you negotiate payment plans and other accommodations with your creditors while your legal action for damages proceeds, giving you the breathing room you need to focus on healing from your injuries and rebuilding your life.

Take a Break From Social Media

This might sound like a hard thing for many to do, but take a break from social media. Car accident claims and social media do not mix well.

Stewart-J.-Guss-Attorney
Car Accident Attorney, Stewart J. Guss

What is the big deal with posting to social media after an accident? Remember, insurance companies will try all sorts of tactics to avoid paying you the money you deserve after you get hurt in an accident.

One of those tactics is to monitor your social media feed, follow you and your family or friends, and gather intel on you and your life. In doing so, they aim to find pictures or posts that make it look like you’re not as badly hurt as you claim and to use them against you to reduce or deny your claim.

Posting to social media can hurt your chances of getting the money you need after a Houston car accident. It is best to take a break from social media and make sure you protect your legal interests.

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