So, you’ve been in a car accident. What do you do next?

If you’re like most people, you haven’t been in enough accidents to really know what you should do in order to protect your own interests — and that’s something that needs to happen. Even if you think that you’re okay immediately after the accident, you don’t know how you may feel once your adrenaline dies down and soft-tissue injuries have a chance to show. Your body’s response to the stress of the accident could be masking a serious back or neck injury.

This is a checklist of everything you need to keep in mind following a car accident:

  1. Call 911. Be prepared for the other driver to entreat you into not calling the authorities. Don’t give in on this point. You may need that accident report later to even get your car repaired.
  2. Give the officer only factual information. Be as brief as possible and don’t take any guesses about what happened. It’s better to say, “I don’t know,” than state something that isn’t accurate. The officer will facilitate the necessary exchange of information between you and the other driver.
  3. Pull out your cellphone and snap some photos. If it all possible, get photos of the two cars, their position in the road, accident debris, skid marks and traffic conditions. They could provide important evidence later.
  4. Get necessary medical treatment. If you’re the slightest bit concerned about yourself after an accident, let a hospital check you out. An X-ray or MRI may reveal an injury that you’re not really feeling yet because the swelling hasn’t kicked in.
  5. Call your insurance first. Then call the other driver’s insurance company so you can begin a claim. Be prepared for the insurance adjuster’s question and realize that even a simple, “How are you?” can be a loaded question. If you say, “Fine,” the adjuster may later claim you admitted to being uninjured — when you may not really know whether you are injured or not for several days.

These steps can help you preserve your right to file a personal injury claim later if you need to do so. Again, keep in mind that your initial assessment of how you are doing after an accident may not be accurate — it’s not uncommon for pain to settle in even a day or two later.