Car accidents are stressful and difficult. Dealing with the police can be stressful and difficult. Combining the two can place any reasonable person in a situation that is virtually impossible to manage properly without competent advice.
- If you are in an accident, what is the best way to go about reporting it?
- Should you call the police?
- If so, what do you say and how do you say it?
- Should you answer questions?
- What if you might be at fault?
The answers to these questions can be of paramount importance, because a car accident can have wide-ranging implications, including both civil and criminal liability. It is crucial that you do it right the first time because in all likelihood you won’t get a second chance.
At the Scene
In all but the most minor circumstances, you are likely required by law to report a car accident to the police. If there are injuries, you may be required to render first aid to the extent that you are able to do so. In the meantime, make every effort to remove yourself from danger and contact emergency services immediately.
Even though you may be required to call the police to report the accident, that doesn’t necessarily mean you must offer more than a simple statement for the police report. Because you could be facing considerable liability, changing your answers to questions or offering too much information could implicate you. This is true even if you are completely innocent of any wrongdoing.
Be Careful of What You Say
Even if you are innocent and you prove as much, there is absolutely nothing you can say to the police, or demonstrate to them, that can help you in any way. The reason for this is that exculpatory evidence presented by a police officer to a jury is hearsay and is ultimately inadmissible.
You should rigorously exercise your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. When you offer a statement to the officer on scene about the accident be as brief as possible.
- Do not admit wrongdoing
- Do not offer your theory of what happened
- Stick to the facts
- Keep your information as brief as possible
While you are remaining silent, you should be vigorously exercising your Fourth Amendment rights as well. Make it clear you do not consent to:
- Any searches of your person or property
- Seizures of your property, including your vehicle, unless compelled by law
This is vitally important because it not only protects you against legal entanglements unrelated to the accident, but it also dovetails with your exercise of your Fifth Amendment rights. In addition, it requires that the police meet a high legal standard, follow a very specific procedure, and obtain a judge’s permission before they gather evidence of a crime that may never have taken place.
Get an Attorney at Once
This advice applies even if you are just making a quick call to your insurance company to report the accident. Let a skilled car accident lawyer relies on do it. The reason for this is the same as the reason for avoiding conversations with the police.
Your insurance company may seek ways to avoid paying your claim. Your attorney will be far more conversant with the Insurance Code as it applies to your policy than you will ever be. Let them do the talking.
An attorney can determine your legal liabilities, both criminal and civil. She or he can advise you whether or not you can answer questions without giving up your rights or potential protections against unfair legal entanglements.