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10 steps to take to preserve your rights after a car accident

After a car accident, emotions run high. You may be injured or in pain, or you may hardly notice your injuries due to all the adrenaline in your system. With everything seeming to happen so fast, it's useful to have a good idea in advance of what to do immediately after an accident.

Here are 10 important steps to take:

1. Remain at the scene. You could face criminal penalties for leaving an accident with injuries or major damage. If possible, move your car to a safe, non-obstructing location. If you can't do so, call a tow truck.

2. Check everyone for injuries and call 911. Make sure every driver and passenger is checked. Don't move people unless they are in immediate danger. It's best to call 911 unless the injuries are obviously minor because people often don't realize how injured they actually are.

911 will probably send police, but make sure. In Wisconsin, if an accident involves injuries, death or more than $1,000 in property damage (or $200 in non-vehicle governmental property damage), you need to report it to the police immediately. Minor accidents can be reported online later. 

3. Don't discuss the accident with anyone but your lawyer, the police and the insurance company. Many people feel guilty and blurt out confessions of fault that aren't objectively true. Stick to objective facts when describing the events.

4. Exchange information with the other driver. In a cooperative manner, get the contact information and driver's license numbers for everyone involved, including passengers. Obtain insurance information for the driver.

5. Get information from any witnesses. If anyone witnessed the accident, get their contact information and a preliminary statement.

6. Take pictures. Try to get pictures of the accident scene and any damage to the vehicles.

7. Contact your insurance company. Cooperate with their process honestly but stick to the facts. You may want to talk to an attorney before making a statement.

8. Document your medical treatment. Keep track of every doctor and medical professional who treats you, along with a detailed list of your treatments and medications and copies of any medical reports and bills. Try to document how your injuries are impacting your daily life and your family.

9. Don't agree to a quick insurance settlement. You may not know the full extent of your injuries and what medical treatment will be needed until weeks or months have passed. You want your insurance settlement or award to cover everything you will need.

10. If you're injured, hire an attorney. An experienced personal injury lawyer can often maximize any financial recovery because they know what should be included in the final award. Most require no up-front fee.

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