Be Careful What You Say at the Scene of Your Car Accident

Statements you make at the car accident scene can be used against you in the car insurance claim process.

By , J.D. University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated 10/12/2023

The aftermath of a car accident can be chaotic. Nerves are often jangled, and emotions are typically running high. It's not exactly a recipe for restraint and level-headed thinking. But at the scene of your crash, it's important to be careful what you say, especially when talking to the other driver and any witnesses about the cause of the car accident.

What You Say at the Car Accident Scene Can Be Used Against You

Let's say you're involved in a car accident and you get out of your car shouting, "I'm sorry, this was all my fault," so that the other driver and three witnesses all hear you. That's not going to help you (or your lawyer) when it's time to negotiate an injury settlement with the other driver's insurance company.

When you file a car insurance claim, statements made by the drivers at the scene are often fair game for the insurance companies to consider when piecing together the fault picture. That's true whether or not those statements would actually be admissible in court later on. Learn more about how a car insurance company investigates a car accident,

Aren't Statements Made At a Car Accident Scene Considered "Hearsay"?

Technically, the answer is usually yes. The complicated legal concept of "hearsay" applies to whether a statement made outside a courtroom should be considered in court (at trial, for example). But remember, we're talking here about statements you made at the car accident scene, and how an insurance company might use what you said to pin fault for the car accident on you. The so-called "hearsay rule" isn't in play at this point.

If you want to dispute what the car insurance company says in terms of how the accident happened, especially if they say you're at fault, you're free to file a car accident lawsuit and take things to court. At that stage, you can argue that your statements at the scene shouldn't be considered at trial, because of the "hearsay" rule. But hearsay is a convoluted topic full of exceptions (meaning out-of-court statements often end up coming under consideration in one way or another), and it's a rare occasion when a car accident case goes to trial.

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.

Your Statement At the Car Accident Scene Could End Up In a Police Report

If a law enforcement officer comes to the scene of your car accident, chances are they'll write up a police report documenting the crash and detailing key aspects of when, where, and how it happened. These reports often include statements from drivers involved in the crash, passengers, and any witnesses.

Here especially, it's important to keep your statements to the responding officer as neutral as possible. Don't admit fault, or say anything that could help the other driver's insurer (or their attorney) pin blame for the accident on you. Learn more about police reports and car accident cases.

Your Initial Sense of How the Car Accident Happened Might Be Wrong

When a driver blurts out something like, "I'm sorry. I didn't see you," that's strong evidence that the speaker thinks they 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 they:

  • ran through a red light
  • didn't have the vehicle's headlights on in the evening or at night, or
  • were driving much too fast for other drivers to react within a reasonable time.

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.

This is all on top of the stress and confusion that often follows a car accident, the significant pain you might be in, and the heightened anxiety likely pervading the scene.

Your Statements At the Car Accident Scene May Be Misconstrued or Misunderstood

In addition to the risk that statements you make at the accident scene could end up being wrong, there's 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:

  • 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 what happens when you're at fault for a car accident.

What Should You Say After a Car Accident?

Of course, you're legally obligated to exchange contact, driver's license, and car insurance information with others at the scene. So you'll need to talk to the other driver after your crash. 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 (it's a different story when it comes to talking to the other driver's car insurance company).

Next Steps After a Car Accident

Beginning at the car accident scene—and in the hours, days and weeks afterward— the actions you take can go a long way to protecting any injury claim you end up making. Learn more about what to do after a car accident. and what evidence to gather after a crash.

If your car accident left you injured, and you're looking for more than just information, it might make sense to discuss your situation with an experienced legal professional. Learn more about how an attorney can help with your car accident case and how car accident lawyers get paid.

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