The 7 Most Important Things to Do in the First Week After a Vehicle Accident

You’ve been involved in a vehicle accident. You and your passengers weren’t injured seriously enough to require hospitalization. You’re home and safe. But your car and your body have been affected. Not all damage is obvious. Here are 7 things you should do in the next few days to protect you and your passengers

1. Gather Information Compile any notes and information that you gathered at the time of the accident. Make prints of any pictures you took of the scene. Write down everything you remember of the series of events leading to the accident as soon as you can while it is fresh in your mind. Contact witnesses to get their written statements while they still remember details. If you were examined in an emergency room, get copies of your treatment records, including x-rays, MRIs, CAT scans, and all doctor’s reports and notes.

2. Contact the Automobile Insurance Company/Companies
After you’ve gathered your information and organized your thoughts, contact your insurance company to open a claim. You should do this within a few days of the accident.

If you have Medical Payments Coverage, or Med pay, they will pay your vehicle accident injury medical bills as they are incurred up to the limits of the policy, and apply to both your injuries and the injuries of any injured passenger in your vehicle.

If another driver is at fault, also contact their insurance company to open a claim. Even if the other driver has already reported the accident to their insurance company, you will need to communicate with them.

Both companies should give you a claim number and an adjuster’s name and direct phone number or extension. This will be the person you will communicate with regarding your accident claim.

If there is an at-fault company, you should send them a letter notifying them in writing that you are opening a claim. This should be a simple, computer written letter that includes the following:

  1. Current date

  2. Your name and address

  3. At-Fault Driver’s Name & Policy Number & Claim Number (if you have one)

  4. At-Fault Driver’s Insurance Company’s name and address

  5. Date, time, and location of the accident

  6. The body of the letter should state that you are pursuing a claim for damages and injuries sustained as a result of the vehicle accident that occurred on (insert date) at (insert location) due to your insured’s negligence. Request written confirmation that the driver is their insured, notification of the policy limits of the driver’s policy, and whether they are aware of any other person or company who might share responsibility for this accident.

  7. Sign the letter and send it to the company certified mail, signature required, so that you will have proof of delivery.

  8. Send a copy of this letter to the at-fault driver.

Don’t discuss the collision or your injuries with the at-fault driver. If they contact you, tell them that you will only speak with the insurance adjuster assigned to the claim and suggest they do the same.

3. Seek Proper Medical Attention
If you were taken to the emergency room after the accident, follow your doctor’s recommendations.

Emergency room doctors are trained to detect and treat broken bones and internal injuries. They are very good at this. However, these are not the only types of injuries you may have received in your accident.

The most common injuries resulting from auto accidents are sprains and strains of the spinal muscles and ligaments. (The injury known commonly as whiplash is a hyperextension and flexion injury to the neck). This is often the result of being in a vehicle that is struck from behind, as being rear ended by another vehicle in an auto accident. It can also be caused by a sudden jolt that “whips” the neck or body.

When you are involved in an accident, or any kind of trauma, your body releases adrenaline to help you manage the situation. This adrenaline rush can mask these sprains and strains. As this adrenaline wanes over the days following the accident, you may start to feel sore, have headaches, or experience other indicators of injuries that you may not associate with the accident. These might include some of the following:

  • Headaches

  • Neck Pain

  • Back Pain

  • Sore Muscles

  • Numbness and Tingling

  • Blurry Vision

  • Muscle Stiffness or Spasms

  • Fatigue

  • Difficulty Sleeping

  • Irritability

  • Memory Loss

  • Difficulty Concentrating

  • Difficulty Breathing

  • Aching Joints

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should have a thorough examination by a chiropractic physician.

A good chiropractor will carefully document your pain, physical and mental difficulties, and other injuries that have resulted from your accident. He will take x-rays (if the emergency room hasn’t), and read them to document any spinal injuries, and explain these to you.

Chiropractors are trained specifically to treat soft tissue injuries and injuries to the spine. Symptoms ranging from headaches to neck pain, back pain, shoulder pain, and extremity pain all respond well to quality chiropractic care.

Left untreated, some injuries sustained in vehicle accidents may result in permanent damage and lifelong problems.

Dr. Hunter Greenwood, DC ND, has been trained as a chiropractor and has over 300 hours of advanced orthopedic training. He has over 31 years of experience diagnosing and treating vehicle accident injuries. He knows what to record clinically so that the insurance companies will understand your injuries thoroughly.

If you have been involved in a vehicle accident, he may be able to bill your automobile insurance directly for your treatment.

4. Get an estimate of the property damage to your vehicle.
Just as your body may have sustained hidden injuries, there may be damage you cannot see that affects the safety of your vehicle. Most newer cars have flexible external bumpers that don’t reveal hidden damage. Take your vehicle to a body shop that you trust for a thorough examination.

In the state of Missouri, you can take your vehicle to any body shop that you choose. A good body shop will be able to find the hidden damage and give you an accurate estimate of the cost of repairs.

If you have been involved in a vehicle accident in Missouri, go to the Missouri Consumer Guide to Auto Insurance for more information.

5. File Follow-Up Reports
If a police report was filed, get a copy soon. Oftentimes, if you wait too long, the report may no longer be available.

If a report was not filed, you may still go to the police department in the locale where the accident occurred and file a walk-in report.

If your vehicle was hit by an uninsured motorist in Missouri, in addition to notifying your insurance company, you should make a report to the Missouri Department of Revenue if: 1. The accident occurred less than a year ago. 2. Someone involved in the accident did not have liability insurance coverage and 3. There was personal injury or death, or damage exceeding $500 to one or more person’s property

You may obtain a state “Uninsured Accident Report” form online at or from branches of the Missouri Department of Revenue or the State Highway Patrol (Headquarters, (573) 751-3313).

6. Follow-up with the Claims Adjuster(s)
You should hear from the claims adjuster soon after filing your claim. Although the adjuster may ask for a recorded statement, it is not necessary for you to give one and would probably be best not to do so. As you may say something that could weaken your claim. You may not understand the full scope of your injuries or how to explain them accurately. It is best not to give such a statement without first consulting with an attorney.

Don’t sign a settlement with any company until you are confident that you understand the extent of damage sustained to your vehicle and your body. Some injuries don’t present symptoms or reach their greatest level of discomfort until days, weeks, or months later.

There is no reason to rush into a settlement deal. Don’t settle a claim until you know you’ll be compensated for all damages and injuries. If you feel any insurance company is pressuring you and/or feel the amount they wish to settle for is unreasonable, you may need the advice or a personal injury attorney.

7. Be Prepared Before An Accident Occurs
No one wants or expects to be involved in a vehicle accident. But if you’re prepared, it will be a better experience if it does happen.

To help you better prepare, we have published this "What To Do in a Vehicle Accident" brochure. Click the picture to the left to download a printable version and keep a copyalong with a pen the glove compartments of each of your vehicles.

In the unfortunate event you're in an accident, it will guide you through the information-gathering process and help make sure that you record all the facts that you'll need later.

Make sure that you have the following items in your wallet, phone, or your vehicle in case of a future accident:

  • Your vehicle insurance ID card

  • Your vehicle registration

  • A list of emergency contacts

  • A medical card listing allergies to any medication, or special conditions

  • A note pad and pen

  • A flashlight

  • Flares

  • Blanket

  • Jumper cables

  • Rags or paper towels

  • Trash bags

  • Disposable camera (if your cell phone doesn’t have one)

  • By being prepared for an accident, you can remain calmer and collect the information you need if a accident does occur.

Dr. Hunter Greenwood DC ND is a chiropractor, naturopathic physician, and acupuncturist practicing at 1361 West Mount Vernon Street in Nixa, Missouri. If you have been involved in an automobile accident, call Dr. Greenwood at 417-725-6655 and schedule a free consultation.

*Dr. Greenwood is not an attorney. Please do not consider anything in this article to be legal advice. If you feel you need legal advice, please contact a licensed attorney.

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