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Auto accidents and what to do if you're involved in one

No one ever wants to be in an automobile accident. But roughly 18,000 automobile accidents happen every day in the United States. From major, multi-car accidents to fender benders, hit and runs or vehicles hitting parked cars - they're all traumatic in their own way and certainly not what you or anyone else involved had in mind when the day first started.

Your safety and the safety of others involved is always most important. But it's also extremely important to know what to do from an insurance perspective when an accident takes place and that's what we're focusing on with this article.

So, let's look at a variety of accident scenarios and hopefully, the information you read here will help you in case you're ever involved in an auto accident.

Major auto accidents caused by someone else

If you, or anyone else has been injured, call 911 immediately. If the injuries are serious, don't move and wait for emergency personnel to arrive. When you speak to the 911 operator, advise them about the injuries, the accident, and the location. 

The driver who crashed into your car is responsible for reporting the accident to their car insurance company. But don't ever assume that they will! Motorists who cause accidents are often reluctant to report them.

When speaking to the police, it is often your first opportunity to tell your side of the story.  A motor vehicle crash can be a traumatic event, even without injury.  But don't allow your distraction to prevent you from letting the police know what happened. 

When you speak to the police, be as detailed as possible to allow the officer to understand exactly what happened in the crash.  If you think the other driver was speeding or on the phone prior to impact, tell the officer. If the other driver disagrees with your account of the crash, that’s okay.  Don’t defer to the other driver or assume his or her memory is better than yours.

It’s vital to get complete information on the other party at the accident scene. Collect the following:

  • Other driver’s name, address, and phone number
  • Type, model and color of vehicle that hit you
  • The driver’s insurance company name and policy information (check to make sure it's up to date)
  • The license plate number and VIN number of the vehicle that hit you
  • Statements and contact information from witnesses
  • Take pictures of the accident scene — most smartphone cameras are suitable. If you can take pictures of the cars as they sit after the accident that's best. If you had to move due to safety concerns, then take photos of the damage to each vehicle.
  • If you're comfortable taking video of the accident scene, do that as well.
  • Using a Google map showing satellite images of the intersection or accident area may also help explain how the accident happened. And, if you have a dashcam be sure to find and save any footage of the accident so you can share it with the insurance company. That is especially helpful if the other driver doesn’t admit responsibility to their insurer.
  • AND, if the police are not called but the other driver admits fault and wants to pay for your damage, get that driver to sign and date a statement that he/she is at fault.  A video of the person admitting fault also works! 

Once you have the other driver's insurance information, inform their insurer that you have been involved in a crash with one of their policyholders and make sure to relay only the facts of the accident. Even if you believe the other driver to be at fault, it’s not smart to say that. Instead, give the insurer the facts to show their driver is at fault and liable for your damages. You’ll be far more credible that way.

Major auto accidents caused by you

A car accident can disorient you. It can also cause emotions like guilt and anger. But you must remain calm after a car accident. Otherwise, you may say or do things that will complicate your case.

1. Call the police. Under Missouri law, drivers must report accidents to the local police department that involve death, injury, or property damage greater than $500. Calling the police will also help sort out who caused the accident. The responding officers will investigate the accident and prepare an accident report. This report will identify who caused the accident and help insurers and jurors to determine who is liable for the accident.

2. Do not admit you caused the accident. Allow the police to conduct their investigation. Admitting fault will not change their conclusions. An insurance company could use your premature admission to reduce or deny your claim for damages. You should cooperate with the officers investigating the accident but stick to the facts. “I caused the accident” is different from “I did not see the car before I turned.”

For example, the police might determine that the oncoming car was speeding, and the driver was intoxicated during the accident. Your admission could take liability off the drunk driver and place it squarely on your shoulders. You and your insurer could be required to pay for the drunk driver’s injuries rather than sharing fault or forcing the drunk driver to pay for your injuries.

3. Get information from the driver of the vehicle you hit. The same info you'd get if someone hit you.

What to do if you hit a parked car

Leaving the scene of an accident could imply that you caused the accident. In Missouri, fleeing tends to show that you knew you caused the accident. If you hit a parked car and leave, a police officer can use witnesses, surveillance footage, your license plate, and other evidence to identify and arrest you. As a result of a hit-and-run conviction, you will face higher insurance rates and you may even have trouble finding an insurance company to insure you. So follow these steps:

1. Stop your vehicle at the scene of the accident.

2. Try and locate the owner of the vehicle. If you can't find the owner, leave a written note providing the following information: your name, address, phone number and a very brief explanation of what happened.

3. Report the accident to police. In Missouri, the law states you're supposed to contact the police if the damage to a car is deemed to be above $500.

4. Take photos and video. Take as many photos as you can using your phone or a camera. Be sure to take photos of the vehicles involved, the surrounding area, and any damage. If possible, attach a timestamp to the photos. Most smartphones have a timestamp feature.

5. Talk to any witnesses. Take down their contact information immediately (witnesses are difficult to track down after a crash). Identifying witnesses helps show that you didn’t flee the scene and can reinforce your version of events. If you don’t feel comfortable approaching strangers, feel free to wait for the police and let them talk to the witnesses.

6. Call your insurance company. Your insurance company expects to be notified of any accident, even if you couldn’t locate the vehicle owner and left a note. If you fail to notify your insurance company within a certain period, your insurance company may deny coverage.

What to do if someone hits your parked vehicle

The negligent driver in a parked car crash often leaves the scene, which means you’ll only find out about the crash when you head outside and see the damage. That’s why victims of a parked-car collision need to take several important steps in the hours after the crash to preserve their ability to recover financially as well as physically after any Missouri car accident. 1. Alert law enforcement.  Provide a statement to the police who arrive on the scene, so they can investigate who is at fault.

2.Ask for eyewitness Info.  Speak to anyone who saw what occurred and could identify the car or truck that hit your vehicle. Get their contact information, so you can speak to them again later.

3. Gather photographic evidence. Take pictures of your parked car and ask any nearby homes or businesses if they have security cameras that may have captured the collision.

4. Get insurance details. If the other driver has remained at the scene, ask for their insurance provider information. Avoid any discussions of fault or specifics on how the parked car crash occurred. If the driver who collided with your car is obviously intoxicated or behaving aggressively, allow law enforcement to handle those discussions instead.

What to do if you're a victim of a hit-and-run 

1. Call the police. If you have not already called emergency services, your first call should be to the police. An officer might meet you at the scene, ask you to recall any information you can about the vehicle that hit you and may file a police report. Whether or not damages or injuries are involved, police often investigate hit-and-runs, as the incident is a serious offense in Missouri.

2. Survey the damage. If you are stopped in a safe area, you might want to assess the damage to your vehicle and take photos, which could be helpful for your insurance company if you file a claim. If your car is totaled and getting towed, be sure to ask where it will be taken. 

3. Notify your insurance company. The last step is typically to contact your insurance company if you want to file a claim on your policy. An agent should be able to look at your policy to see what coverage types might come into play and will explain the claim process and what information is needed from you.

In Missouri, every driver is required to carry uninsured motorist coverage, which may cover your injuries from a hit-and-run, up to your policy limit, if the offending driver is never found, or if they lack insurance. If you have full coverage, your collision insurance may cover the damages that your vehicle sustained. Keep in mind that a minimum coverage policy will not provide any coverage for your vehicle.