Jeff Manos is a Personal Injury Attorney with offices in San Francisco and Redwood City

Don’t Be A Crash Dummy! Seven Things You Need To Do If You're In A Car Accident.

1. BE OBSERVANT. Although it may be difficult, observe your surroundings carefully. You may be surprised how many people don't even remember where an accident occurred or the time of day.

Try to remember as much detail as you can, such as what lane you were in, how fast you were going and exactly what happened. As soon as you can, and it is safe to do so, write down what you remember while it is fresh in your mind. Every detail could be important later.

Make a mental note of the physical description of the driver of the other car in case he takes off and you have to describe him to the police.

Be sure to get the make, model and license number of the other car. Check for damage to the other car as well. This can be important later.

2. CALL THE POLICE. Get a police report whenever possible. The police report will often be the single most helpful tool to document the accident and who was at fault.

To make sure a police report is issued, you should call the police when you are at the scene, if you are physically able, or ask someone else to do so, if you are injured.

The other party may try to talk you out of calling the police. Don't let them. It can often take some time for the officer to arrive at the scene. Be willing to wait, even if the other party refuses.

Unfortunately, there are times when the police will not respond to an automobile accident, particularly in big cities. If so, your own observations will be especially important.

3. GATHER YOUR WITNESSES. Do not assume that the police report will be sufficient, or that the police will locate witnesses. Often they will not. And do not depend on the other party's admission of guilt or apology to take the place of a witness. Far too often, the profusely apologetic driver who hits you today and promises to take care of everything, will deny that it was his fault tomorrow.

Call it what you want, but it's a fact! Without a witness, it's your word against his. The best time to find witnesses is immediately following an accident.

If you are able, ask bystanders, or others who may have stopped, if they saw the accident. If so, write down their names and contact information for later.

4. PRESERVE THE EVIDENCE. Take your own photographs of the damage to your car, before you get your car repaired. Don't rely on your insurance company to give you photos of the damage to your car. Take your own!

Your photos should allow someone else to identify your car and clearly see the damage. Take a good overview photo of your car showing your license plate number, as well as close-up photos of the damage.

Also, get your own estimate of the repair cost from a body shop of your choice. These photos and the estimate may be essential later in reconstructing the accident and determining the force of the impact.

5. GO TO A DOCTOR SOON! If you are injured, go to a doctor or the Emergency Room immediately. Many people make the mistake of waiting to go to the doctor, hoping that their pain will go away. This can be a huge mistake.

First, you suffer in pain needlessly; and, second, there is no documentation that you were ever injured in the accident, which can make it difficult to recover money later. So if you are injured, get the treatment that you need -- right away.

6. NOTIFY THE DMV. You must file a Department of Motor Vehicles SR 1 form with the DMV within 10 days of any car accident when anyone is injured, no matter how minor, or when property damage exceeds $750. Many people mistakenly think their insurance company will file this form for them, but the SR 1 form is your responsibility.

This form can be obtained in any DMV office or online at www.dmv.ca.gov.

If you fail to file this form, your license can be suspended -- even if you were not at fault for the accident. So be sure to file the SR-1!

7. DON'T TALK TO THE OTHER SIDE'S INSURANCE COMPANY. The insurance company for the person who hit you is not your friend.

They may try to contact you to talk about the accident, and to take a recorded or written statement from you. You are not required to talk to the other insurance company just because they want you to.

To protect your rights, we suggest you never talk to the other insurance company until you consult with a lawyer.

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