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Six steps to take after a car accident

A car accident can knock the wind out of you, both literally and figuratively. It's no surprise that even the most cautious and responsible people can feel overwhelmed and underprepared.

Here are six steps to take if you do get into a car accident. You may never need them, but at least you'll be prepared - just in case.

1. Take a deep breath.

Inhale deep, and then exhale slowly. It's amazing what taking one deep breath can do. As soon as the collision happens, you'll have decisions to make, information to gather and responsibilities to fulfill. You'll need to stay as calm and level-headed as possible.

2. Check whether medical help is needed.

Your health and the health of others is most important. If you have been injured, make sure to address the problem right away. Get medical care at the scene if matters appear serious. If you think your injuries are minor, it's still a good idea to go get things checked out at a local ER, urgent care or your doctor's office.

Why is this important? People can hit their head and feel fine, only to discover that there was more damage than they thought. If any part of you feels sore, then it's always better to be safe than sorry - especially when it comes to vehicle collisions.

3. Start compiling information.

Get the name, address and phone number of the other driver, their insurance information, their license plate number and their driver's license number. You can also take down the names and contact information of any witnesses.

Use your phone to take photos of everything, and keep it all organized so you have the evidence ready to support any claims made. For example, you may want to note that there was a stop sign at the intersection, that the driving conditions were poor, or that the other car hit yours in a particular way. Photos will help preserve this information.

It's a good idea to call the police for an official police report. Especially if someone is injured or the property damage is substantial, you will want an unbiased professional to do their job in recording the details as well.

4. Contact your insurance company.

Let your insurer know about the accident, but be wary of talking with the other driver's insurance company right away. It's unfortunate, but even reputable insurance companies may take advantage of people in a state of confusion after the accident. They may appear sympathetic, but then turn around and use your words to deny coverage of the claim.

It's often a good idea to wait until after you've calmed down about the incident before talking with the insurance company. Your language should be as neutral as possible, and never admit fault. Better yet, talk with a lawyer before you talk with the insurer.

5. Fix your car.

If your car is damaged after a car accident, your insurance policy and the nature of the accident may factor heavily into where you can have the car repaired. If possible, go to several mechanics in your area who specialize in collision repair and get estimates. Check their reviews and quality ratings as well.

Once you've chosen, you should ask them to document the exact damage caused by the collision. This is exceptionally helpful information if there is some sort of dispute regarding personal injury and the extent of the damages. You can point to the pre-accident condition of your car so there's no ambiguity of what happened during the actual crash.

6. Find help.

Know that you don't have to go through this alone. Dealing with insurance companies and finding the right medical care can seem daunting, but having the right help can be the difference between a battle and a fast resolution. Talk with a compassionate and resourceful attorney when it comes to handling your case.

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