You got distracted. You snuck a glance at your phone. You were going too fast. However it happened, you got into a car accident. Being in an accident is rattling no matter how it happens. Being the at-fault driver in an accident adds an entirely new level of stress and frustration. Not only are you handling the damages to your own vehicle, but the other driver’s as well.

When you cause an accident, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Here’s what you need to do in the aftermath of a car accident if you’re at fault.

After the accident

Immediately after the accident, you need to take steps to ensure you and the other party are safe. If you’re able, move your car out of the way of traffic. Take a few moments to check yourself and the other driver for serious injuries. If necessary, call an ambulance to the scene of the wreck. Otherwise, spend your time exchanging insurance and contact information as well as taking photographs of both cars and any minor injuries either of you sustained.

Regardless of whether the accident is a minor scrape or a more serious wreck, avoid outright admitting fault. Also avoid phrases that are legally considered admissions of fault such as “I’m sorry” or “I didn’t even see you coming.” This doesn’t mean you should lie while exchanging information, it simply means you’re withholding any admission of wrongdoing until all the facts are in place. For instance, you may think you’ve rear-ended someone when truthfully, they performed an illegal stop in the middle of the traffic. Wait until all the facts are in place before you admit any fault.

Insurance information

If it’s assessed that you were more than 50 percent at fault for the accident, your rates are likely going to increase when your policy renewal occurs. Insurance carriers are the ones who assess fault in an accident, using police reports, witness testimonies, and the drivers’ accounts of the crash. If you receive a traffic violation at the time of the accident, your insurance agency might add a surcharge to your rates. The same can happen if you file a claim and are determined to be at fault. Normally only one of these applies against you, so if you receive a violation and file a claim that determines you’re at fault, you won’t be charged for both.

If you have collision coverage, your insurance covers the damages to your vehicle. However, you’re still responsible for your deductible. In most states, your insurance policy covers the damages to the other vehicle as well. Medical coverage varies state-by-state, though.

Legal representation

For the most part, you don’t need a lawyer if you are the cause of a car accident and you live in a no-fault state. Your insurance company defends you here, which is part of what you pay for with your insurance policy. Most insurance companies don’t want to pay any more than is absolutely necessary for a settlement and the same goes for when you’re the at-fault party.

There are scenarios in which hiring an accident lawyer or criminal lawyer is absolutely necessary. If the accident results in criminal charges like negligence, a lawyer is a must. Otherwise, during trial proceedings, one will be appointed to you. You’re also more than welcome to forgo your insurance company’s defense in favor of an attorney skilled in defending against personal injury claims.

One step at a time

If you’re at fault for an accident, remember that it doesn’t make you a bad person. It simply makes you a person that made a mistake. Take a deep breath, clear your head, and do research to be prepared with what follows in the aftermath of a car crash. Remember that the best way to prevent an accident is to drive defensively. If you never cause an accident, you never need to worry.

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