Being in a car accident is a terrifying, stressful experience. Unfortunately, car accidents are an incredibly common experience in Virginia.
In fact, a recent report by the Virginia Highway Safety Office shows that Virginia drivers have a 2.2% chance of getting into an accident on any given year, around half of which result in injuries.
In this guide, we’ll broadly cover some essential steps you should take in the moments, hours, and days after a car accident.
We’ll also talk about a few general tips for how you should discuss the accident with the police, insurance companies, and your lawyer.
6 Steps to Take After a Car Accident in Virginia
Step 1: Call Emergency Services, if Necessary
After any car accident, the first thing you should do is find out if anyone was injured.
If anyone in either car was significantly injured, you should call emergency services immediately.
You should also encourage any injured individuals to move as little as possible, and wait for emergency services to arrive.
Step 2: Contact the Police
After moving to a safe location (i.e. out of the road), you should call the police.
Remember to use the non-emergency number if nobody has been hurt in the accident.
During your conversation, simply report that an accident has occurred and whether anyone was injured.
You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) say anything about whose fault the accident was at this point.
Note that, while not statutorily required, you should generally call the police if anyone was injured or any property was damaged in the accident.
While recent case law has noted that the Virginia Code “provides multiple people to whom a driver may report the specified information and thus satisfy the statutory obligation [after an accident],” it’s still generally a good idea to involve the police so that they can draft an accident report for the incident.
Step 3: Avoid Talking with the Other Driver
In general, you should avoid speaking with the other driver except to ask whether they are injured.
If they approach you and continue to speak to you, do not hesitate to record them.
If they ask you to just ignore the accident, calmly let them know that the police are already on their way.
The reason that you should avoid talking to the other driver is because the things you say might be construed as guilt.
For example, many people make the mistake of apologizing profusely following an accident, even though they may not have caused it.
Unfortunately, even polite apologies might be seen as proof of your liability.
Step 4: Take Pictures and Document Evidence
Once you’ve called the police, it’s time to document essential evidence about the accident.
If you end up in a dispute regarding your accident, having photographs of the following will prove extremely helpful:
- The back of the other vehicle, especially the license plate and any other identifying information.
- Your own injuries, if any, as well as any injured passengers.
- Any damage on either vehicle, even minor damage. In fact, you should even take pictures if either vehicle is largely undamaged. Documenting the lack of damage can be just as important.
- Skid marks, damage to the environment, and debris caused by the accident. When photographing debris, try to include the vehicles in the frame. This will help show exactly where the accident took place.
- Any relevant weather conditions, such as icy roads or large amounts of water.
- You should also take pictures of the other driver, so that you can identify them to the police if they flee the scene of the accident. However, you should use common sense here. Don’t go around photographing injured people.
Any one of these pieces of evidence could prove important during an insurance dispute.
Step 5: Give Your Statement to the Police
Next, you should also gather your license, registration, and insurance information for when the police arrive.
Once they do, they will ask you for a statement about the accident.
When giving your statement, tell them exactly what you saw happen.
Don’t try to speculate about what the other driver may have been thinking, or what could have caused them to behave as they did.
Similarly, you shouldn’t go into excessive detail about what you were thinking or feeling at the time.
Doing so only increases the probability that the things you say will be misunderstood.
In most cases, the police officer will give you a copy of the accident report. If they do not, make sure you ask for one.
Your insurance company may require access to the report, and your lawyer will almost always want to see it.
For this reason, you should always make copies of your report while keeping an extra on hand.
Step 6: Contact Your Insurance Company (and Maybe a Lawyer)
After you’ve talked to the police, you can safely return home. At this point, you should report the accident to your insurance company.
Your insurance company will then launch an investigation into the accident to determine who was at fault, and they may return to you with a settlement.
If you accept this settlement, you typically waive your right to sue.
Further, the matter will effectively be resolved, since your insurance company will simply mail you a check to pay for the damages.
However, if you feel that the settlement is unfair, or if the settlement fails to fully cover the damages you incurred from the accident, you may want to seek out a personal injury attorney for guidance.
Because the interests of insurance companies are opposed to yours after an accident, it might even be a good idea to discuss your case with an attorney before speaking with the insurance company.
With an attorney, you can negotiate with the insurance company for a better offer, or attempt to recoup damages from the other driver directly if neither insurance policy fully covers the cost of the incident.
Whether or not an attorney can help in your particular situation depends largely on the specifics of your accident.
However, most personal injury attorneys offer free consultations, so there’s no harm in asking whether or not your case is worth pursuing.
Bonus Step: Never Talk to the Other Driver’s Insurance
As one final note, the other driver’s insurance company may try to contact you in the days and weeks following the accident.
If they do, simply refer them to your own insurance company or your lawyer.
Under no circumstances should you directly speak to the other driver’s insurance company. In particular, you should never provide a statement to an insurance company that is not your own.
Doing so will only hurt your own case.
The hours following a car accident are confusing and stressful, but they’re also central to determining the accident’s legal outcomes.
If you’ve been involved in a serious car accident and don’t know what to do, you should schedule a consultation with a personal injury lawyer.
An attorney can help you understand your legal options after an accident, and to choose the best strategy for your individual case.