A car accident can be a disorienting experience for the average person. The loss of a vehicle, the potential for injury and the thicket of legal and financial problems that must be navigated can be overwhelming, especially for someone who is inexperienced and doesn’t have the right kind of counsel.

Despite these potential problems, anyone involved in a serious accident should perform a few basic tasks as quickly as possible so as to do two things. First, they must protect themselves legally by preserving their rights and the facts at the scene. Second, they must protect themselves financially by not unnecessarily confusing the situation with innuendo and speculation.

If you are involved in a car accident, here are some things to consider.

Safety First

Naturally, if there are injuries or if any of the victims of the accident are in danger, they should be cared for first. Vehicles should be moved out of traffic, any hazards at the scene should be dealt with and those with appropriate training and supplies should render first aid where necessary.

Remain Silent

If you are involved in a car accident, and especially if it is one where the police respond to the scene, you should under no circumstances discuss the accident or answer any questions. Your only legal duties at the scene are to provide the appropriate paperwork to police and the other drivers. Getting into a freewheeling discussion of fault, who saw what and when, and so forth is something your attorney and your insurance company would likely rather you avoided.

Drivers should be aware that any car accident carries with it the potential for both civil and criminal liability. This is chief among many reasons it is vital that you remain silent until you can consult with your attorney.

Lock Your Car

If there is anything in your car, put it in the trunk. Lock the doors and roll up the windows. There is no reason to allow an ad hoc search of your vehicle by forgetting to secure it. While you are locking your car, remember your answer to every question from police about what may or may not be inside. “I consent to no search of my person or property.” If the police persist, ask for a lawyer.

Gather Evidence

One of the greatest events to ever take place as far as car accident victims are concerned was the invention of the portable television station, also known as the digital-camera-equipped mobile phone you are carrying around in your pocket. There can be no greater tool for someone gathering evidence than a camera with virtually unlimited film.

Your data-gathering expedition should start with everyone’s documentation, including the license plates of every vehicle at the scene including tow trucks, ambulances and police cars. Get pictures of all the damage to all vehicles from as many angles as possible. Take pictures of the insides of all vehicles if you can. Include the front and back seats. You never know what those pictures might reveal at some later date.

Once you have the principal information saved, move on to the surrounding area. If there are witnesses, get their statements on live video, and make absolutely sure to get names and home addresses if you can. Look for any surveillance cameras in the vicinity and take pictures of them. Note and photograph any nearby street addresses.

Then make certain to get photos of the road and weather conditions. Get shots of any street signs, lights, road damage or street markings within 200 feet of the accident. Photograph the sky. If there are skid marks or any other artifacts left behind by the vehicles like damaged light lenses or other wreckage, take pictures of them and make sure the shots provide relative distances to the accident scene itself.

Your attorney will be delighted to learn you will be providing a thick sheaf of papers he or she can wave in the air in the event you go to trial. The litigant who can reconstruct the accident scene four months later is far more likely to prevail in the event of a dispute.

Insurance Company

Let your attorney notify your insurance company about the accident. You stand a far better chance of preserving your coverage and your rights if someone familiar with the insurance code engages in a discussion of the particulars with a company highly motivated to deny your claim. Once you retain counsel, let them do the talking.

Your top priority after an accident is to protect yourself, mainly because the one certainty in the whole situation is nobody else but your attorney will. Find highly qualified counsel and let them do their thing. You’ll be far better off in the long run.