If you have never experienced a car accident before, you might feel uncertain about what to do in the minutes, hours, days, and weeks after the accident. Houston has notoriously heavy traffic and sees a high number of car crashes each year. If some careless or reckless driver causes an accident, Texas law gives individuals who sustain injuries the right to bring a lawsuit to recover damages for losses incurred because of the accident.
Besides your health and safety, preserving the value of your claim after a Houston car accident must remain your top priority. Insurance companies will use every trick in the book to deny or devalue your claim, so they can avoid financial responsibility, even if they know their policyholder bears liability.
Below, we provide 12 steps that you should take after a Houston car accident to ensure that you get maximum compensation for losses related to your injuries. You might struggle to complete all these things, depending on when your accident occurred and the severity of your injuries. However, do the best you can to protect the value of your claim. You can also enlist the help of family or friends to take care of the things that you cannot do.
1. Make Sure Law Enforcement Comes to the Scene
If your Houston car accident appeared serious, it’s likely an onlooker called 911 to report the accident. Emergency response teams, including ambulances, fire trucks, and Houston Police, will come to the accident scene quickly, providing needed medical treatment to anyone who suffered injuries in the accident. Teams also put out fires and clean up gasoline, engine fluids, and other spills that could pose a danger to other drivers.
If you remain conscious after your accident and can call the police, you should do so, especially if you think no one else has reported the accident. Even if you feel okay, you should always wait for the police to arrive and fill out a report. Sometimes, negligent drivers may leave the scene of the accidents to avoid a ticket or having to turn an accident claim into their insurance provider. Others might not have insurance. The sooner Houston Police come to the accident scene, the less likely you will have to absorb the costs of the accident because the at-fault driver left the scene.
2. Move to Safety
Houston has notoriously bad traffic, especially during rush hour. Residents traveling on I-10 and other busy thoroughfares may find themselves in heavy traffic, increasing the potential for more damage and harm after a car accident. Sometimes accidents may prove so severe that it’s not practical or possible to move vehicles to the side of the road and out of traffic. In this case, law enforcement officers will stop and direct traffic when they arrive.
If you can safely move your vehicle to the side of the road, especially when a lot of traffic exists, you should do so. This lowers the risk of a secondary accident from a passing vehicle if your accident resulted in a slowdown or bottleneck. It’s best to leave your vehicle and preserve evidence for your claim, but this may not always prove the safest choice.
3. Exchange Information With the Other Driver(s)
While waiting for Houston Police to arrive at the scene of the accident, you should exchange information with the other driver or drivers involved in the accident, if possible. Sometimes, you have to wait longer than you would like for law enforcement to arrive. The longer it takes for police to come, the higher chance that the at-fault driver might leave. You can ensure you have what you need for your claim by exchanging your information with the driver. If the other driver becomes angry or belligerent, you should record what you can and wait for others to arrive.
Get as much of the following as you can:
- Vehicle make, model, and license plate number.
- Name, address, phone number, email of other drivers involved.
- Driver(s) insurance policy information.
You can also offer the same information about yourself to other drivers, but do not say anything else. Also, DO NOT ADMIT PARTIAL BLAME! Someone might take your words and twist them, in which case your efforts to recover damages may fail.
While you wait for the police to arrive, take note of other information about the accident scene. Record the:
- Time of the accident;
- Location of the accident;
- Road conditions;
- Weather conditions;
- Traffic conditions;
- Road hazards that might have caused the accident; and
- Any evidence of drunk, drugged, or distracted driving.
You will likely get what you need from the official crash report; however, you can cross-check your information with the official report, ensuring that no discrepancies exist.
4. Get Eyewitness Contact Information
Due to Houston’s large size and population, it’s unlikely that your car accident went unnoticed. In fact, someone likely stopped to offer assistance or provide a statement to the police. While pedestrians or cyclists sometimes witness accidents, drivers and occupants commonly witness such incidents.
Regardless of who might stop, you should always get those individual’s contact information if you can. Witnesses sometimes leave the scene of the accident before Houston Police arrive. Eyewitness statements support your injury claim so that you can share the information with the reporting officer. You will also have the witness information to share with your lawyer, who can follow up with the witness and secure testimony, if necessary.
5. Use Your Cell Phone to Gather Photographic Evidence
If you have a working cell phone and feel physically able, you should take as many photos and/or videos as possible immediately after your crash. Eventually, tow trucks will come to take vehicles away, and street crews will clean up any metal or glass on the road, eliminating valuable evidence. The police officer who fills out the accident report will provide a narrative of what happened, but photographic evidence supports that narrative, strengthening your claim against the at-fault driver.
Take photos of the accident scene and try to get individual photos of:
- Property damage, vehicle damage, and damage to other stationary objects.
- License plates of other cars involved in the accident.
- Visible injuries you suffered.
- Dangerous road conditions that could have led to the accident.
- Evidence of alcohol consumption, such as empty beer cans and other open containers.
Houston Police or Texas Highway Patrol will take pictures when officers arrive, but sometimes, the scene changes before they arrive. You should take as many pictures as possible, so you have the evidence you need for your insurance claim and/or personal injury lawsuit.
6. Let a Doctor Evaluate Your Injuries
If you sustained serious injuries in your Houston car accident, ambulance teams likely transported you to Kindred Hospital or another nearby facility for emergency room treatment. If you walked away from the accident, you might have chosen to deny medical treatment at the scene of the accident because you felt like you didn’t need it. Some accident victims do not feel immediate pain or experience symptoms from their injuries, or only feel a little sore, so those individuals may avoid going to the emergency room. This is a mistake for two reasons.
First, you should prioritize your health and safety following an accident. Car accidents can cause hidden injuries, some of which can prove life-threatening. For example, a headache could indicate a traumatic brain injury, soreness in the abdomen could indicate organ damage, mild bruising could indicate internal bleeding, and soreness in the chest might stem from a broken rib that could puncture lungs or other vital organs. Letting a doctor check you out for car accident injuries will ensure you get the treatment you need for hidden injuries.
Second, prevailing in your Houston car accident claim means you need to prove the car accident led to your injuries. Your medical record serves as valuable documentation for the insurance company and the defense legal team that the accident, in fact, injured you.
7. Contact Your Insurance Company
Regardless of who caused the accident, you should always contact your auto insurance provider after a severe accident, especially one that leads to bodily harm. Most policies require policyholders to report accidents when their coverage might apply. Failure to notify your carrier could result in cancellation or non-renewal. Also, if the at-fault driver left the scene of the accident or didn’t have enough insurance to cover damage, you might have to rely on your own benefits to cover some losses from your accident. Insurance companies do not like to pay uninsured or underinsured motorist claims when policyholders delay reporting an accident.
8. Get a Copy of Your Official Crash Report from TxDOT
Under Texas law, any law enforcement officer who investigates a car accident in Houston or throughout the state has 10 days to submit a written report to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). Once TxDOT loads the report online, you can request a copy for a fee of six dollars. Once you pay the fee, you receive access to your report, and you can immediately download it. You may also request a copy of your official crash report by mail by downloading the form from the TxDOT website and sending payment to the address on the form.
9. Keep Track of Economic Loss Related to Your Houston Car Accident
Car accidents often prove expensive, and their cost increases with severity. You can bring a claim against the at-fault driver, but you must prove your losses to receive compensation from an insurance settlement or jury verdict. Records of your losses support your claim, so you should keep itemized bills and receipts of anything related to your Houston car accident.
Take photos or scan copies of paper documents, and keep a digital file for your reference. Be sure to make multiple copies on flash drives, so you always have what you need for your claim.
If you feel uncertain about whether something qualifies as a loss, always keep a record. You can remove it if you find out it doesn’t qualify.
Documents you most likely need to prove economic loss include:
- Medical bills;
- Payroll documents from work;
- Gas receipts; and
- Receipts for outside services.
10. Consult a Skilled Houston Car Accident Law Firm
Following an accident, you should contact a reputable Houston car accident law firm as soon as possible after your car accident. A skilled law firm can evaluate your case, determine your eligibility for compensation, investigate your accident, obtain a crash report, and help with other aspects of your claim.
The sooner you consult with a skilled attorney, the sooner he or she can begin building a case against the driver who caused the accident. Law firms look at additional information, such as driving history, criminal history, cell phone records, traffic camera footage, and anything else that may help support your claim.
11. Don’t Talk Too Much
Once you file a claim against the driver who caused your Houston car accident, the at-fault auto insurance provider will want to speak to you and get a statement. You must speak to the insurance company representatives and give them your account of what happened, but do not offer more information than necessary. Most carriers ask claimants for permission to record their statements and release medical records.
Do not let insurers record your statement because they will try to use your words against you to devalue your claim. Also, you only have to provide access to your current medical records. Do not give insurance companies access to your medical history, as they will likely try to argue that you had preexisting injuries.
12. Don’t Post on Social Media
The other side will investigate your car accident thoroughly, uncovering any evidence possible that may devalue your claim. Sometimes, insurance companies gain access to social media accounts to look for evidence to devalue or deny a claim. Wait until your claim has concluded before posting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media accounts.