Cape Town - Nobody thinks straight after they’ve been in a crash, no matter how minor; it’s one of those life experiences that knocks everybody’s thought processes off kilter.
It’s easy to make mistakes and overlook vital information at the scene, which will make claiming from insurance or the Road Accident Fund at a later stage difficult or impossible.
So here’s a list of 10 important things to remember at the scene of an accident, drawn up by Kirstie Haslam, a partner at DSC Attorneys:
Don't admit liability
Think before you say anything at all; for example, just apologising to the other driver - which you might do instinctively, without meaning to accept liability for the crash - could later be interpreted as an admission.
The best plan is to say as little as possible - just give the other driver your name, contact information and the details of the details of your insurance company.
By the same token, get as many details you can of the other driver and car - name and address, identity number, telephone numbers, email address. Ask for a business card, that way you get the spelling right, and ask for the name of their insurance company.
Write down the car’s make and model, registration number and licence disc number
Get witness’ details
Their statements are an independent view of what happened - and they may contain details you didn’t see. But you can’t get witness statements if you can’t find the witnesses, so write down the names and contact details of anybody who says they saw the crash.
If your hands are shaking, ask them to write their details in the notebook you keep in your car’s glove compartment. Tell them why, and they won’t mind.
Make a note of the conditions: Was it raining, misty or very windy? Was the road wet or slippery? Was visibility good or bad? Ambient conditions can help determine the cause of the crash and who’s liable.
Photos and videos
Even if people give you funny looks, get out your phone and take photos; good, clear visual evidence can be vital for a successful road accident claim.
Get pictures of both cars, their number plates, the damage to each car, the licence disc in the windshield of the other car, skid marks, road signs, traffic lights and street lighting.
Then step back and get the whole crash scene in one photo, using video if your phone has a video facility.
If you have a dashcam or GoPro in the car, remove it before they tow the car away, or that footage will be lost.
Stay off social media
Don’t discuss the crash or your insurance claim on social media platforms such as Facebook, Whatsapp or Twitter. Insurance companies, defence lawyers and even the Road Accident Fund can use anything you post online to fight your claim.
Tell the cops
The biggest mistake you can make is failing to report the crash to the South African Police Services; all crashes should reported to the nearest police station within 24 hours, or immediately if somebody’s seriously hurt or killed.
More importantly, without an accident report and case number, you can’t claim from insurance o the Road Accident Fund.
Don’t give false information
Don't lie to the police, your insurance company or your lawyer; it’s a criminal offence and, at the very least, it will torpedo your insurance claim.
See your doctor
Spinal injuries, internal bleeding and head trauma often don’t show symptoms immediately. Get yourself checked out as soon as you can after the crash; if an injury shows up later you may have difficulty proving it was caused by the crash.
Don't make the mistake of thinking you can go it alone. If you’re claiming from insurance, your broker will walk you through the process, but claims against the Road Accident Fund are a legal minefield.
Speak to an attorney that specialises in road accident claims and who can assess your claim, help prepare supporting evidence and represent you in court.