Emotions are running high in a car wreck, panic sets in, there may be injuries, and your car is likely messed up. And that’s exactly when people say lots of things they shouldn’t. If there is another driver involved in the accident, you’ll obviously have to speak to them and exchange important info. Plus, you’ll probably need to talk to the police and your insurance company in short order. But what you say in those moments post-crash, can (and likely will) be held against you. So, it’s important to choose your words carefully.
What You Should Say After a Car Wreck
To begin with, we don’t want to scare you into thinking you shouldn’t speak at all after an accident. You absolutely need to communicate.
One thing you should definitely say after a car wreck is that you’re calling 911. Ask if anyone needs medical attention right away. Call even if the damage looks minor or you don’t think there are injuries. Further damages might show over time, so it’s important to get a traffic collision report to document those changes.
It’s also vital you wait for the police to arrive. That’s because if you depart too soon, it’s possible they could charge you with leaving the scene of an accident.
Other topics of discussion on your post-crash checklist should include asking any officials who come to the scene for credentials. Only speak to officers who can offer a card or their badge number. While you may be grateful for any help that arrives, you also want to make sure it’s legit.
If there are any witnesses around, ask them for their name and phone number. They may be important contacts after the fact for offering details or insights when determining who is liable.
It is okay to talk to the other driver, but only to exchange information. In other words, you can ask them for their name, phone number, auto insurance, and driver’s license info. And you may offer them the same. But beyond that, it’s best to keep it cordial but vague.
Why You Shouldn’t Say Too Much After a Car Wreck
Remember that after an accident, everyone involved is likely a little bit shook. But there will also be people around assessing what happened. Authorities will investigate the wreck and try to determine who is responsible.
This is where what you say — or don’t say — gets very important.
Try not to make assumptions or offer opinions about what went down leading to the crash. You should aim to phrase all your comments in a factual manner. Easier said than done when emotion is in the mix, we know. But if you try to get compensation or sue later, anything you say at the scene will come up again.
What NOT to Say at the Scene of a Car Wreck
Calling 911 is cool, giving facts to the police is okay, and exchanging info with the other driver is smart. But remember that anything else you say at the scene may ultimately affect your ability to seek compensation later.
What follows are 10 things you should definitely try not say after a car wreck!
1. “I’m Sorry”
It’s a natural human response to want to apologize after a crash. Or to use that phrase as a way to diffuse a tense situation. Some people might even to offer it as an expression of sympathy, especially if the other driver is hurt. However, it’s possible for someone to misconstrue “I’m sorry” as an admission of guilt. “How can I help?” would be a better response if you’re looking to show empathy.
2. “It Was My Fault”
Even if you think you were likely responsible, don’t say it at the car wreck scene (or ever). There may have been other factors like faulty vehicle parts or a missing traffic sign. Or if you are eventually found at-fault, the other driver may still have had a contribution to the accident. But admitting it out loud will take away those other possibilities and tank any claim you have for damages.
3. “It’s Not Your Fault”
This may seem like the statement above, but it’s slightly different. In this case, telling someone it’s not their fault is frequently a platitude to make the other person feel better. But by saying that, then you’re accidentally implying it was your own fault. Or, even if you’re not admitting guilt, the other party could manipulate those words to work against you in court.
4. “Wow, I Didn’t Even See You”
This is a common phrase people may utter while trying to piece together what happened to cause the crash. Like apologies, however, it may be a statement that someone interprets as the driver accepting blame. You may have actually not seen the other driver after a sideswipe accident or if they just came out of nowhere. Just because you didn’t see the other vehicle doesn’t mean you were responsible. It’s best if you can avoid discussing what you saw — or didn’t see — in the moments prior to the car wreck.
5. “I Think That…”
It may be tempting to try to avoid involving insurance completely. Especially if a person fears their premiums going up because of a claim. But this is a mistake.
After an accident you’ll probably have to give many statements about the car wreck. That includes to the police and paramedics, but also insurance companies (yours and the other driver’s policy provider).
If you are not 100% sure of details, do not give speculations or guess what you “think” was the cause. False or inconsistent information may actually hinder your claim. Especially if you tell one person one thing, and someone else a different story. Avoid assumptions and approximations. “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer.
6. “I’m Okay”
Are you though? You might not be okay. Frequently injuries from an accident — like whiplash — don’t show up until the next day. Adrenaline at the scene of a car wreck can also mask any pain you might feel. Other versions of this response may be “I’m not hurt” or “I’m not injured.” But if you say you’re fine and then later try to claim an injury, it may be harder to prove.
A better response in the moment if someone asks if you’re hurt might be, “I’m honestly not sure right now.”
7. “I’ll Warn People to Avoid this Car Wreck Mess on Social Media”
We know everyone posts everything about their lives on social media these days. But just don’t. If the car wreck is bad enough to cause a traffic jam, let the news cover it. Posting photos of the damage to your car or your injuries could actually work against your claim. You can let people you love know you’re okay — just don’t do it on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or Twitter!
8. “Let’s Settle This Ourselves”
To begin with, what looks minor on the surface could turn out to be more costly than expected. And that is something you probably won’t find out until the car is in the shop for repairs. Plus, in many states you must file any accident resulting in more than $1,000 of apparent damage with the DMV. Not doing so could actually be a crime.
Also, asking if you can just handle it without involving the authorities may suggest evidence of guilt. Meaning, the other party could say you knew you were at fault and were trying to avoid more serious consequences.
9. “Sure, You Can Record This Conversation”
At the scene, you may not be thinking straight. So, if you’re recorded by a dashcam or if someone asks to record your statement, it could work against you. Say you’d rather not consent to video.
But this also goes if you get a call from your insurance or the other person’s insurance. They will ask if they can record the conversation. Then they may try to feed you leading questions such that they’ll have your answers on tape. Answers they may then try to use to say they’re not responsible for any financial losses resulting from the car wreck.
It is within your rights to decline having a conversation put on any kind of digital record.
10. “This is My Official Statement”
As mentioned above, you’ll probably have to field many questions after an accident. Driver and witness reports are a large part of how authorities will piece together the crash sequence. And it’s also how they establish liability if it’s possible.
Offering an “official statement” is not something you should ever do while on-site at the accident. That’s because “official statement” means those words are now on record and will appear in all future proceedings. It’s very difficult to rewrite history or revise an official , especially if it’s part of a police report.
A better bet is consulting with an attorney who has experience settling car accident claims before offering any official statements.
What if I Said the Wrong Thing After My Car Wreck?
Don’t blame yourself if you didn’t respond perfectly during the time of duress following a car wreck. However, if you think you said something that might affect your claim later, it’s wise to lawyer up.
These are just reminders of how to come out of a crash with the best-case scenario for an equitable settlement. But having a no-fee consultation with an auto accident lawyer after a car wreck may help you avoid additional trauma.
Want an experienced lawyer near you to review your car wreck claim for free? Get your free auto accident evaluation to see if you may qualify for a cash settlement.
Kimberly Dawn Neumann
Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a multi-published NYC-based magazine and book writer whose work has appeared in a wide variety of publications ranging from Forbes to Cosmopolitan. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Maryland, College of Journalism. For more, visit: www.KDNeumann.com, Instagram @dancerscribe, and Twitter @KimberlyNeumann