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Ten Things To Do In the Case of a Car Accident

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Photo Credit: Robbie Howell via Compfight cc

It happens so fast you likely don’t even see it coming.

A quick stop for a dog in the street, the person behind you is texting and slams in to the back of your car.

Now what do you do?

More than likely your adrenaline will be racing, there is a bit of panic and some important steps needed to protect yourself can be lost and forgotten. The real first step seems obvious and that is to try and avoid the accident. With traffic seemingly at its worst right now, a driver has to be even more aware.

Don’t text and drive and pay attention to the other drivers on the road who don’t pay attention to that first rule. Even with that, at some point, almost all drivers find themselves in some type of traffic accident.

Here are some simple steps to follow before and after an accident:

1. Prepare BEFORE the accident. Put a “what-to-do” list in the glove box along with a pen or pencil. That way when the confusion sets in at the time of the wreck, it’s very easy to follow the list of what to do and the information you need. Most phones have cameras but if yours doesn't include one, put a disposable camera in. There is nothing as convincing as a picture when the other person who seemed so sincere at the scene changes his or her story. 

2. Review your own insurance to make sure you are covered properly. Oregon law requires that the owner of a motor vehicle maintain a certain amount of liability insurance in order to use the vehicle. This insurance protects both the driver and others in case of an accident, by covering medical treatment or property damage. Oregon’s required minimum coverage is:

  • $25,000 for the injury or death of a single person
  • $50,000 for total for the injury or death of multiple people in a single accident
  • $10,000 for property damage
  • $15,000 for personal injury PIP


These are just the minimum requirements and you may want to consider higher limits. If the damages in an injury accident exceed these limits, you can be sued personally. It doesn’t take a very serious injury to blow past the $50,000 total, so it's best to be over insured than to find out the hard way later. 

3. Ensure that everyone is unhurt in both your car and in the other vehicle. If there are any injuries, call 911 immediately. Cars can be repaired but delays in personal care can be fatal, so worry about people first. 

If all are safe, pull off to the side of the road or, even better, a parking lot that is off the main road. Do not get out of the vehicle until all the traffic has stopped. 

4. Immediately write down the details of the accident. Often, a person’s hands will be shaking so badly that it’s impossible to read the handwriting later in the day. If possible, record all the information on the phone to refer to later. 

5. Exchange information - listen more, talk less. Be sure to write down all the information. This is where the list prepared beforehand is helpful. It’s very easy in the confusion to forget some details and not every driver is as honest as they should be concerning their insurance and ownership.

Be sure to get:

  • Driver Name and number
  • Car insurance information, including policy number and expiration date
  • Vehicle owner off the registration
  • License plate number/vehicle identification number off the registration, too
  • Make, model, description of the vehicle
  • Write down or record the other driver’s description of the accident
  • Witness information with phone numbers and their description of the accident

6. Be sure to take pictures of not only the damage to both vehicles but long shots of the street, traffic signals if applicable, or anything that will be useful as stories and descriptions change. 

7. Inform the insurance companies. Even if the accident was caused by the other driver, it’s important to at least inform your company and let them know you will be presenting it to the other company. This gives your company a heads-up in case the other drive attempts to change the facts and file a claim against you. 

8. Now that all the information is gathered, the real fun begins: managing the car insurance/car repair process. The first thing to know is that the owner of the car can take his or her car to ANY body shop and not one the car insurance company suggests. In a number of cases, those shops with affiliations with the insurance companies aren’t working in the best interest of the owner.

Photo Credit: Uberto via Compfight cc

The law requires insurance companies return the vehicle to pre-loss condition. In most cases that should not include aftermarket parts. Aftermarket parts are provided by suppliers that are not original equipment manufacturers (OEM).  According to the Automotive Service Association, there are certain disclosure laws for the use of non-OEM crash parts.

In Oregon, if crash parts are to be used in repair work that is not OEM, it must have a specific disclosure on the estimate. No repair shop may supply or install, without that owner's consent, any aftermarket crash part unless it has been certified by an independent test facility to be at least equivalent to the part being replaced.

Not all shops provide the same level of service and it is important to do some research. Also, a body shop does not have to take the car completely to determine all of the damage. That is a common ploy to get the work. A body shop will take the car apart and say they can’t reassemble it, forcing the driver to have the work done there. It’s common to get the original estimate authorized and then have some supplemental damage found once they get in to the work.

Also, ask friends or people in the industry for recommendations. Not all online searches yield accurate reviews, as many shops have image-repair specialists that manufacture content. 

9. Oregon law requires that an accident report be filed within 72 hours of the accident. A report is required if damage to one of the vehicles is more than $1,500, if there are any injuries or if there is property damage in excess of $1,500. This is a critical step, as a violation could result in losing driving privileges.

If the police come to the scene, that doesn’t relieve the drive of the reporting responsibility. Report the accident to the Department of Motor Vehicles, which can be done on line.

10. At the time of the accident, you may feel fine but even a day or two later, symptoms of the accident can manifest themselves. If you seek medical treatment, make sure to keep track of all expenses, including time off work. In most cases, your own insurance company will pay your medical expenses through your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. The company will be reimbursed from the other driver’s company when a settlement has been finalized.

If you are injured, don’t be in a rush to settle immediately. Just as you have the right to have your vehicle returned to pre loss condition, the goal is to get you to pre-loss condition, too.

Brad Boyer is owner of Carcierge, a car concierge company providing expert assistance on anything car-related. He also co-hosts Test Miles on 101.1 FM KXL on Sundays, and is a founding member of the Northwest Auto Press Association. You can email him your car-related questions at [email protected] 

Home Page Photo Credit: iStock 


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