Look, man, it was bound to happen. You’ve been driving 30-plus hours a week. You tempted fate a few times, escaped a couple of close calls. This time, however, you weren’t so lucky. You’ve been in a crash.

The more time drivers spend on the road, the more likely they are to be in an accident. You simply can’t avoid every iPhone-using, makeup-applying, burrito-eating driver. Accidents happen and they are bound to happen to rideshare drivers.

For that reason, it’s vital that you understand how to protect your interests at the scene of a crash, where your actions and words can literally make or break a lawsuit down the road.

Before we dig in, let’s quickly discuss some basics of traffic and injury law. Every driver has a duty to act cautiously and safely on the road. We all know the rules: stop at red lights; don’t speed; yield to drivers with the right-of-way. That said, most crashes occur when drivers fail to obey these basic maxims. In the law, we call that “breaching one’s duty of care.”

When a person breaches his duty to drive safely and injures someone, the injured person can file a lawsuit. Generally speaking, insurance companies will defend drivers accused of causing crashes. They will pay legal costs, medical bills and any verdicts or settlements. Insurance companies don’t, however, relish in dishing out big checks. They can (and routinely do) fight the claims.

As an aside, if you’re not at fault for the accident, you’ll need to decide whether to hire an attorney. Most injury attorneys work on a contingency basis, meaning you don’t pay anything unless you win your case. We’ll discuss when you need a lawyer in a few seconds.

When we talk about how to handle an accident, fault is really a non-issue. It doesn’t matter who did what, whether the other driver abruptly braked or if you took your eyes off the road. The strategy remains the same.

Without further ado, the rideshare driver’s checklist for handling accidents:

  • Call the police to make an accident report
  • Be polite but never admit fault or apologize to anyone
  • Don’t move the vehicles until told to do so by the police (unless you’re in a dangerous spot on the road)
  • Get the names, addresses and telephone numbers of all drivers, passengers and witnesses
  • Exchange insurance information with the other driver(s)
  • Take pictures of the scene, damage to the vehicles and any markings on the road (i.e., skid marks)
  • Don’t exit your car if you’re in a dangerous or high-traffic area

If you or your passengers are injured:

  • Call an ambulance, if necessary
  • Tell the police you are hurt
  • Seek medical treatment immediately (The longer you wait to see a doctor, the more difficult it will be to prove that the crash caused the injury)
  • Be specific when describing your injury to medical providers, including when the pain started and how the pain feels
  • Tell medical providers the exact mechanism of your injury (i.e., “I was involved in a rear-end collision today that caused my head to strike the steering wheel.”)

Okay. You leave the scene, now what?  As we said above, you need to cooperate with your insurance carrier. Report the incident within a day or two, make yourself available for a statement, send any photos. They’ll have your back if you assist in the investigation.

On the other hand, you generally don’t want to provide much information to the other driver’s insurer. You can discuss the property damage and let an adjuster inspect your car. But do not give a statement about how the accident happened, your injuries or your medical treatment. Here, anything you say can and will be used against you later.

That leads us to hiring a lawyer. The truth is, not all claims require legal help.

Generally speaking, you don’t need an attorney to handle a property damage claim. The two insurance companies (yours and the other driver’s) will open claims and decide who is responsible for fixing/replacing the vehicles. Their decision of fault doesn’t really affect you; it’s all about which corporation cuts the checks. While this might take some time, you can handle the process as well as any attorney.

Injury claims are different. Decisions regarding fault are vital in determining whether a person will be compensated for medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering. (In some instance, an insurance company may admit fault for property damage and then deny fault for the injuries. The claims are different and, for all intents and purposes, unrelated).

Each state has unique injury laws. That said, they are almost always complicated and technical. For example, fault for an accident isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition; it can be apportioned (i.e., Driver 1 is 70% at fault and Driver 2 is 30% at fault). Insurance companies may look a simple rear-end accident and argue, “You’re partially to blame so we’ll only cover a portion of your bills.” A skilled lawyer will ensure that your claim is fairly evaluated based on the law and the facts.

When you’re injured on the road, you may be entitled to past and future damages, such as: costs of past medical treatment (i.e., ambulance and emergency room bills), future medical treatment (i.e., on-going doctors appointments, rehabilitation, surgeries), pain and suffering and future pain and suffering. Insurance companies often offer non-attorneys the costs of their past medical treatment plus a few hundred dollars. If you accept that settlement, the case will close and you won’t see a dime for future damages.

Furthermore, lawyers are skilled in evaluating claims. Injuries often evolve over time. What might first like a back sprain can later be diagnosed as a slipped disk. If you settle the claim under the initial diagnosis, you could be leaving tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars on the table. That means unpaid medical bills and uncompensated lost income and pain and suffering. A lawyer has the experience to know when to settle and for how much.

Lastly, many injury claims do not settle without filing a lawsuit. That means arguing with defense lawyers and judges, filing motions, taking witness, medical and expert statements, and, possibly, going to trial. There are simply too many traps for a non-expert to navigate. An unsuccessful lawsuit means no compensation, unpaid medical bills and financial hardship.

Listen, guys. Accidents happen. It’s up to you to act like the pro.