How to Document a Traffic Accident
The moments immediately after a traffic accident can be scary and stressful. Even so, what information you collect after a car accident, especially at the scene, can make a big difference in how successful you are in getting a timely and fair insurance settlement.
Read on to get tips for documenting car accidents, how to take accident scene photos, how to obtain a witness statement after an auto accident, and keeping car accident records. Proper documentation improves your chances of successfully settling with insurance or, if necessary, winning a lawsuit.
Why it’s important to document an accident scene and your injuries
Who got hurt in the car wreck, and how badly? What kind of damage was done to your vehicle? Who was responsible for the collision? The official answers to these questions — and others — affect much of what happens after a traffic accident.
In at-fault states, like Oklahoma, the at-fault driver (and their insurance company) is responsible for paying damages. If who’s at fault is in dispute, an insurance company can deny your claim. The facts of the car accident are also often recorded in a police report, and the situation gets even more serious if the authorities think a law was broken during or leading up to the collision, such as driving under the influence.
Some car accidents are clear-cut and can’t be disputed — but many aren’t. You may have to prove what happened to the police, to an insurance company, or in a court of law. To do that, you’ll need evidence for your car accident claim. And the best time to collect it is at the accident scene.
Your duty to mitigate damages after a car accident: Safety first!
The safety and health of you and the other people involved in the traffic accident are most important. The first thing you should do is check to see if anyone needs immediate medical help and get to a safe place.
It’s important for your health — and it’s just as important for your insurance claim. Even if you’re not at fault in a traffic accident, you have a “duty to mitigate damages.” In other words, you have to take reasonable steps to make sure your situation doesn’t get any worse.
If health and safety are no longer concerns, you can start taking accident scene photos and collecting other evidence for your auto insurance case.
How to collect evidence after an accident
The following are helpful tips for documenting car accidents. It’s not in a suggested order because every accident scene is different. Use your best judgment. For instance, if you see a witness who could support your case while you’re taking pictures, you may want to talk to that person right away and continue snapping photos later. Or if the police want to ask you questions or tell you to move, you should do as they say.
Do what you can when you can. And if you’re physically unable to collect evidence for your car accident, try to have one of your passengers do it for you.
Take photos of the accident scene and car crash
You’re allowed to take pictures of everything at the accident scene. You can’t snap too many photos. It’s difficult to know for sure what information to collect after a car accident, so if in doubt, photograph it. Something that doesn’t seem important now could be the key to your case later.
Just make sure the date and time stamp on your camera are correct. If you use the camera on your smartphone, the accident images and information about the date and time they were taken will be stored automatically.
Try to get pictures of the following things as evidence for your car accident:
- Damage to your car. Take pictures of the front, back, and sides. Get photos from different angles. Don’t forget to photograph the interior of the vehicle.
- Damage to the other vehicle(s). Same as with your car, get several images of all sides and from different angles.
- Damage to buildings or objects. If one of the vehicles smashed into a building, hit a sign, or damaged any other property, get pictures of it.
- Other evidence of the car accident. Look for skid marks, broken glass, or any auto parts or debris from the collision. If cargo fell or spilled out of a tractor-trailer, for instance, get a picture of it.
- Nearby traffic lights or signs. This is important if you’re trying to reconstruct how a traffic accident happened. If something is obstructing a sign, like an overgrown bush or tree, or if a traffic signal or sign is not working or oddly positioned, document it.
- The other driver, passengers, witnesses, police officers, and other emergency responders. Memories fail even under the best conditions. And after an accident, you may well be in shock. Documenting the other people at the scene can help jog your memory of what happened or identify a witness that you or your car accident lawyer need to contact to support your case.
- Area around the accident scene. Sometimes the immediate area can provide critical information — and writing down the details after an accident can take too long. It’s hard to know what you’ll find useful, so record it all. For instance, the positioning of buildings or landscaping may have had an effect on sight lines. A home or business may have security cameras that could have recorded the traffic accident.
- License plates, car information, and documentation. It may be difficult to write down all the details you need for your case in the time you have. Take pictures of license plate numbers, the make and model of vehicles, and even driver’s licenses, registrations, and auto insurance documentation if you can.
Do police take photos of vehicle accidents?
After especially bad auto collisions, the police or other authorities may take pictures of the accident scene. You won’t have any control over what they photograph, though. It’s in your best interest to take your own accident scene photos as well so you can thoroughly document the damage done to the vehicles involved, personal injuries, the road conditions, nearby traffic signs, the weather, etc. You may have to prove what happened to the insurance company, or even fight for your rights in court, like in a wrongful death lawsuit.
The more evidence you have to support your case, the better.
Collect statements from witnesses and record contact info
Depending on the situation, you may want to try to gather statements from witnesses first, especially if you think they’re the kind of people (say, passersby) who’ll leave the accident scene if you don’t approach them right away.
It’s not hard to learn how to obtain witness statements after an auto accident — but you do need to be careful how you go about it. Witnesses aren’t legally obligated to stay and talk to you, so how you carry yourself makes a difference. Identify yourself and politely ask whether they saw the traffic accident and, if so, what they saw. If they appear credible and you think their testimony could support your case, you should try to get a recorded statement from them.
Witnesses are credible if they:
- Don’t know the people who got into the accident and have nothing to gain or lose by establishing who is at fault.
- Observed the whole traffic accident.
- Couldn’t have been distracted by something like a phone at the time.
- Don’t appear to have vision or hearing problems.
- Do appear trustworthy and believable.
You can document witness statements after a car accident a few ways:
- Witnesses could write out their statements, adding as many details of what they saw and heard as they can remember, and then sign and date each page. Any paper will do.
- You could write out what they saw and heard and then have them sign and date each page.
- You could ask witnesses if it’s okay to record their statements with your phone (audio or video).
Don’t forget to record the witnesses’ names and contact information, including phone number, mailing address, and email address. If you can’t get anything else from them, try to at least get that. You or your lawyer could contact them later and ask for a statement then.
If you have trouble finding a suitable witness at the accident scene, look for residences or businesses that are close enough that someone living or working there might have observed what happened. Also, witness statements are often included in the police report of your accident. Offer the statements you documented to them to include in the official report.
Note: You’re probably not the only person recording testimony at the scene, so be careful what you say. Your words can be used against you.
Write down the contact information of the drivers involved
It’s important to be aware of what information to collect after an accident. Take down the information of the other driver(s) involved in the traffic accident so you can get started on your insurance claim. If the other driver was at fault in states like Oklahoma, their insurance is responsible for covering your damages. You will want to collect the following information:
- Full name
- Contact information
- Make and model of the driver’s car
- License plate number and state
- Their insurance company name and auto policy number
As noted above, you may be able to snap a picture of some of these documents.
Take photos of the injuries sustained in an accident
Once you and your passengers are safe, you should take pictures of any injuries. You don’t have to take them at the accident scene (the light may be better elsewhere anyway), but you should take them soon so you have a record for the insurance claim or even a personal injury lawsuit.
Also, injuries can develop over days and weeks after a car accident. Remember to take pictures of any new physical conditions that you discover, such as bruises. Bruising is easy to spot, but there are several subtle symptoms that can’t be photographed — such as trouble sleeping, feeling tired, or altered taste and smell — that could point to serious medical conditions like traumatic brain injuries. These signs should be treated just as seriously as visible symptoms, and you should see a doctor as soon as possible.
You could still be in pain well after an auto collision. And your care may be costly, which is all the more reason to make sure you receive an insurance settlement that covers all your healthcare needs after your car accident.
Hold on to accident-related expense receipts, medical bills, and records
If you’re asking to be reimbursed for thousands of dollars, insurance companies will want to know where every penny went. That’s why one of the biggest tips for documenting car accidents is keeping and filing any receipt or document related to your accident.
You can file an auto insurance claim for many expenses that were caused by your traffic accident, from personal and property damages to lost work and wages to towing and rental expenses. What’s covered depends on where the accident took place, what type of coverage you have, what type of insurance the other driver has (or if they have any at all), who was at fault in the auto collision, and your ability to prove your case. If you’re not sure, talk to a lawyer about your rights. And in the meantime, save all paperwork related to your traffic accident.
Examples of receipts, documents, and records you should save after a car accident:
- Medical bills/receipts related to the accident
- Insurance company letters
- Official documents and car accident records (such as the police report)
- Paystubs for calculating missed work and lost wages
- Receipts for property that needed to be replaced after the accident, like cell phones or computers
- Estimates for car repairs from garages
- Towing expenses
- Rental car/taxi fees
- Childcare expenses if you’re unable to care for your children
- House cleaning service if you’re unable to keep up your home
- Hotel receipts if you had to travel for medical treatment
- Restaurant checks or quick-meal receipts if you had an all-day doctor’s appointment
Keep the official Oklahoma records of the accident
If you’re not sure what information to collect after a car accident, a good place to start is with official records of the traffic collision. Keeping car accident records can help with your insurance claim in Oklahoma by adding authority to your case.
One type of official car accident record is a police report. Because the police don’t have anything invested in who’s at fault in the traffic accident, the police report is an unbiased account of what happened — and makes for strong evidence in an insurance claim or personal injury case. These official reports contain useful information for your case:
- Exact location of the traffic accident
- Time and date of the incident
- Witness identification and statements
- Statements from the drivers
- Insurance information
- Identification of passengers involved in the accident
- Damage to the vehicles and other property
- Injuries to the people involved in the accident
- Weather, lighting, and road conditions
- Citations given, if any
- Sometimes a diagram of the collision
The officer at the accident scene will often give you the report identification number before leaving. It helps to get the officer’s name and badge number as well. Your police report may take a few weeks to become available and may cost a small administrative fee. If your insurance company already has it, you may be able to get it from them instead for free.
Keep a journal to remember important details
Memories fade. The more time that passes after your traffic accident, the harder it can be to recall specific details of what happened, who was there, and how it affected you immediately afterward. That’s why you should start a car accident journal.
A car accident journal is nothing more than a way for you to record your own observations and thoughts about the traffic collision you had. Writing down details after an accident or injury will help you more accurately and concretely tell your story, which will help your lawyer fill out and strengthen your insurance claim. But it doesn’t even have to be written out in a paper notebook — you could write it on your computer or even record yourself using your phone.
What goes in a car accident journal? Think of it as your version of the police report. To the best of your ability, include:
- Facts like the date, time, and location
- Your version of how the accident happened
- What the other driver said happened
- Any accident witness statements you gathered
- Weather and road conditions
- Property damage and personal injuries
- Names, contact information, and insurance information from the other driver(s)
- Any other details you can remember, no matter how small
Note: Accident journals can be used in court, by either side. Assume what you write will be read publicly.
Your journal can serve as a reminder for evidence that you still need to collect. It’s important to start it soon after the accident while your memory of the event is still fresh. And try to make journal entries daily, at least at first. Track how your injuries change and whether new injuries arise. Include how the accident has affected your health, work, and home life.
Whether you were in a car wreck, a motorcycle collision, or an accident with a tractor-trailer, a good lawyer can use the information you collect to make sure you get an insurance settlement that’s fair and comprehensive. You’re not alone. We can help. Call McIntyre Law today to talk about your case for free.