After a car accident, the scene can be chaotic, nerves are often jangled, and emotions are running high. It’s not exactly a recipe for restraint and level-headed thinking. But at the scene of your car accident, it’s important to be careful what you say, especially when talking to the other driver and any witnesses about what (or who) might have caused the crash. Read on to learn more.
In a car insurance claim or car accident lawsuit, the "who pays?" question is usually answered by an inquiry into who was most at fault for the accident, and statements made by the drivers at the scene are often powerful evidence on this point (that's true whether or not those statements would actually be admissible in court later on).
When a driver blurts out something like, "I'm sorry. I didn't see you," that's strong evidence that the speaker thinks he or she caused the accident. And of course, there's a chance that the speaker did actually cause the accident, but a closer look at the circumstances might tell a different story.
Maybe the other driver wasn't seen because he or she:
Under any of these circumstances (and countless others), there may be a very good reason why Driver A "didn't see" Driver B -- and meanwhile Driver B may be as much to blame (if not more so) as Driver A in causing the accident.
As demonstrated above, the main reason you should be careful what you say at the accident scene -- and no matter what, never suggest that you caused the accident -- is that you may be wrong. This is especially true in light of the stress and confusion following an accident, the significant pain you might be in, and the heightened anxiety likely pervading the scene.
Bottom line: What you say to other drivers, passengers, and witnesses at the scene of a car accident will almost never help you when it comes to the insurance claim or lawsuit process, but it can certainly hurt your case. So, watch what you say, and who you say it to.
Of course, you're legally obligated to exchange contact, driver's license, and car insurance information with others at the scene. But beyond that, perhaps the best strategy is to talk only to any responding law enforcement officer about how the accident happened. And stick to the facts. There will be time to go into a little more depth when you contact your car insurance company after an accident (its' a different story when it comes to talking to the other driver's car insurance company).
In addition to the risk that statements you make at the accident scene could end up being wrong, there is also a chance that correct statements can be misunderstood or misinterpreted.
Car accident witnesses might misunderstand what you say, and they may later claim that you said something different. Even a simple statement like "I was paying attention" could be heard as "I wasn't paying attention." And statements can be misinterpreted. A simple "I'm sorry" can be interpreted as an admission that the speaker caused the accident, when all she meant was that she was sorry that the accident happened, no matter who caused it, or that she was simply sorry that another person had been hurt.
If it's the right thing to do, you can always accept responsibility for causing the accident later, after you've left the scene and had a chance to calm down and analyze the situation with a clear and level head. Learn more about proving fault for a car accident.