At the scene of the collision many times a person is shook up. They may be injured. They may not think they’re injured. They’ve got the adrenaline going through their system. Normally, everybody’s just thankful that they’re alive and they’re in shock that they can’t believe this happened. Sometimes you’re worried about your car and your vehicle and you’re wondering what you’re going to do. It’s also not uncommon at the scene for the person who caused the wreck to be somewhat apologetic. They ask you how you’re doing. They apologize and say they didn’t mean to hit you. And you’re thinking okay, this is not going to be a problem. Everybody’s accepting responsibility and acting like a grownup. I don’t need to make a big deal about the case. This happens a lot. People have an accident, the person who caused it, seems like a good person. They tell you they know it is their fault and they will call their insurance. Sometimes, you then say you don’t need to call the police. You decide not to make an accident report. Unfortunately, if that person changes their story you have a big problem. Now you don’t have an accident report telling anyone what happened. You also don’t have the persons address. You also don’t know who their insurance carrier is or even if they have insurance. You have basically allowed your compassion to place you in a situation where you could be on the hook for thousands of dollars worth of medical care.
Sometimes you might be tempted not to call the police, not to file an accident report. The other party has asked you not to. They ask if your insurance companies can just settle it, or they can just settle it. They tell you that they will be happy to give you their insurance company’s information so that you can just contact them directly. I would urge you not to do this. I recommend to my clients that they always get a police report. There are many reasons why I would recommend doing this. The first, so you have an independent person describing the accident scene and talking to all parties. An insurance company or a jury, if your case goes that far, expects that a police officer would come out to the scene of any major collision. Merely by the fact that you choose not to do a police report will convince many people that the case is not serious. No matter what the property damage is on the vehicle, if there’s no police report, they’re going to consider it a minor incident. So for that reason alone, it’s good to have a police report done.
Also, the police officer will do an on-the-scene liability investigation where he talks to all parties, figures out what happens, draws a diagram and determines who is at fault. If you were not at fault and a police officer issues a citation to the other party, that makes it much easier to establish liability in a civil case or against that person’s insurance company. If someone receives the ticket, their insurance company will almost always accept responsibility for it. Not every time, but almost always.
At the scene before police officers arrive many times there are witnesses and these are the people who say, "Hey, if you need anything call me. If you need a witness call me. Here’s my name and telephone number." I would tell you to always get that information if you are not at fault, always. Because many times those people will leave when the police don’t arrive promptly or the police officer will talk to everybody, it seems like there’s not an issue, so he doesn’t write down their names and phone numbers. If they are not listed on the police report and you didn’t get their information at the scene, they’re gone and you might as well not have a witness. This is a critical part of any case where the other party could claim something different. A four-way stop sign collision, a collision at a traffic light, a collision where the other party backed into you, all of these are fact-specific situations where a witness is critical and key. If you have one and don’t take their information down and depend on the police officer to do so, you are letting someone else determine whether or not you’re going to be able to win your case. I would always encourage you to get a witness’ name and telephone number. We always try to contact any witnesses listed on the police report or who gave you their name.
With the advent of cell phones, with camera phones, everybody has a little camera at the scene of a collision. I would encourage you to take a picture of your vehicle. You can do this for several reasons. One, you can take a picture of the scene before any vehicles are moved. That will establish where things happened. This is critical on a case where it’s a sideswipe collision where one person may have moved over and hit your vehicle. If you take a picture before moving the vehicles, it shows your vehicle is in your lane and they would be over in yours. You can also take pictures of the other person’s car. This is important in case someone claims that a phantom vehicle hit them and knocked them into you. You can take pictures of the back of their car showing that there is no damage there. This can pretty much end that argument. Take pictures of the damage to your car. That way nobody can later claim that you had another accident and there was extra damage added onto your vehicle because of that second collision.
Also at the scene of the collision, the police officer is going to ask you if you’re hurt. Many times at the scene you have adrenaline flowing through your body. All you can think is, "My, gosh, I’ve been hit" and you don’t really feel like you’re hurt. There’s nothing wrong with telling the officer you’re not sure but you don’t need an ambulance. That’s much better than saying, "No, I’m not hurt."
In summary, at the scene of the collision take down anybody’s name who saw the accident and their telephone number; always call the police and get a police report; take pictures with your camera phone, if you can; and don’t say you’re not hurt if, in fact, you might be.
Georgia law requires that you move your vehicle after a minor accident. Sometimes the officer will tell you to move it quickly so traffic can get back to normal. This isn’t that big a deal when it is a rear-end collision, However, if you were sideswiped the officer needs to see where your car was to determine who was over the line. I would always take a picture before moving the car. Even a bad cell phone picture is better than no picture.