Let’s state the obvious: Car accidents are scary. They happen very fast, and a lot of people feel pretty panicked even when the accident is over. Under the circumstances, it’s easy to forget everything you’re supposed to do next.

First, take a deep breath. We’re here to help. This is what you do now:

  1. Don’t drive away. No matter what the other driver does, you have a legal obligation to stop. Call 911 and report the accident. More than likely, a police officer will be sent out to take a report.
  2. Don’t admit responsibility for the wreck, even if you think you are at fault or you’re cited. Let your insurance company take the reins because there can be numerous causes of an accident on the road. You may not really know what happened.
  3. Exchange information with the other driver. You need to get (and give) insurance and contact information so that both parties have what they need to file a claim, if necessary. If your cellphone is intact, take photos of the damage to both vehicles, photos of debris in the road, and photos of anything else that you think may be relevant (like weather conditions).
  4. See a doctor, even if you aren’t sure you’re hurt. There are numerous types of hidden injuries, including internal wounds and soft-tissue injuries that aren’t immediately obvious when you’re still running on adrenaline from the wreck.
  5. Keep track of your expenses. You may be due compensation for your losses from the accident and the amount is heavily based on the extent of your medical bills, lost wages and other related costs. Careful record-keeping now can make figuring out what you’re owed much easier down the line.

Car accident injury claims can be complicated to settle, especially if the insurance company questions the extent of your injuries or says you are partially liable for the wreck. Speaking to an attorney early — before you speak to the insurance company — can protect your legal interests.