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What to do after a car accident

  • Story Highlights
  • Car accidents can leave the most level-headed motorists stunned
  • No matter how emotional you are, avoid admitting guilt even if you feel it's your fault
  • Proper steps to take in an accident are normally on the back of your insurance card
  • Experts: If an accident is your fault, your premiums may jump 20 to 25 percent
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By Craig Howie
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(AOL Autos) -- "It came out of nowhere."

This is frequently heard from people involved in car accidents. Although it's not true in terms of where a driver came from, car accidents can seemingly come from nowhere and occur when you least expect them.

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You may have a limited time to file with your insurance company after an accident.

Car accidents can leave the most level-headed motorists shocked, stunned and more than a little shaken.

The first few calls that you should make after you've been involved in a car accident should be to the police, your insurance agent or a personal-injury lawyer. Amid the conflicting advice online, we'll take a look at what you should do in the event you're involved in a scrape, smash or other unfortunate car accident.

In General

After car accidents, check that everyone involved is OK. Call 911 immediately if anyone needs assistance. You will probably also have to call the police; it helps to have a police report filed in any accident.

Most insurance policies state that the police must be contacted in a given time frame if a hit-and-run occurs. Try to find a safe place away from traffic to wait for emergency services to arrive.

Most people will have their adrenaline pumping after car accidents and it may be difficult to keep a level head. Simply trying to stay calm can be difficult, particularly if others around you are excitable, too.

No matter how emotional you are, try to avoid admitting guilt even if you feel the accident is your fault. That can make things a lot less complicated further along the line.

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Get the Information

After you've called the police or 911, you should call your insurance agent after car accidents. They can advise you on exchanging insurance details or surveying the scene. It's great if they come to the scene of car accidents as part of your policy.

If not, the proper steps to take in the event of a car accident are usually detailed on the back of your insurance documents, which should reside in your glove box. "Look at the back of the ID card, typically that provides a list of about eight or 10 items," said Steve Frisina, vice president of product management at The General insurance company. "I wouldn't stray very far from that [advice]."

He adds, "When it comes to the motorist, the important thing is to be prepared to share and attain the necessary information with respect to a claim. There should be not admission of fault on either side but just an exchange of details -- it's the adjuster's job to get the information from the individuals.

"It's important that the individuals contact the police, exchange insurance information and provide that to the authorities as requested. Once that's taken care of the process seems to progress quickly and easily."

Record the Scene

Many insurers recommend carrying a disposable camera in your glove box to record the scene of car accidents. A camera can prove more effective than attempting to draw the scene of the car accident on a piece of paper. Always make sure you are standing in a safe place and take pictures of the situation, damage to and the road position of the vehicle or vehicles.

It's easy to forget critical details after car accidents, so take notes of any circumstance you think are unusual or particularly relevant to the claim while at the scene. It can also help to photograph the other driver's details while you're exchanging names, addresses, phone numbers, license plate and driver's license details.

Take down the vehicle's VIN number, which is located on the engine or door jam. It may also help to record the names, addresses and license plate numbers of any witnesses. Also note any weather conditions such as rain that could have contributed to the accident.

The Process

Make sure you stay within any time limits for filing your claim. This will entail reading your policy, which you should have done by now anyway. It'll probably remind you that, in accidents involving damage above $750, you will have to file an accident report known as a SR1 form with your local authorities, which is available online at your state DMV Web site. The small print on your car insurance policy will tell you what you can claim and what you are liable for, as well as your deductible.

After the car insurance companies have done their part, make sure that you're happy with any repair work paid for by an insurer under the terms of your collision insurance. If you're judged not to have been at fault in the accident, the other driver's car insurance company should pay for repairs, and vice-versa.

Also make sure that your car insurance company has not low-balled you on repair work carried out and you have not suffered any loss on the work. If you're feeling achy, go to a doctor and get a checkup, which may also help you if you decide to file a personal injury suit.

It may be wise to ensure that you have "uninsured motorist" coverage in the event that you get in an accident with someone without insurance. In this case, you may also sue the driver to recover any losses.

If the car accident is your fault, Mercury Insurance advises to expect an increase of about 20 to 25 percent on your premiums, especially if you lose a good-driver discount. After several accidents, Mercury advises on its Web site that your insurer may refuse to renew your policy.

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