If you get into a serious car accident, as common as this is in New York City, odds are that it’s your first one. If you’ve never been in this position before, it can be surprising, chaotic, painful and stressful. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the whole thing.

At the same time, it’s important to know exactly what steps you should take. Since you can’t rely on experience, you need to make wise decisions under stress. It’s a good idea to consider what you should do before there is ever a need. To help you, here are the three main steps:

1. Get medical treatment

Nothing is more important than getting proper medical care. Seek a thorough medical evaluation after an auto accident. Even if you think you did not suffer serious injuries, go get checked out to make sure.

Remember, many injuries have delayed symptoms. Brain injuries are notorious for this, and internal injuries may remain hidden as well. An accident sends adrenaline coursing through your body, which can help you react and stay alive, but it also masks pain. Sometimes, people don’t even know how badly they have gotten hurt until the next day. That’s why it’s important to get checked out no matter how you feel.

Plus, someone else may have caused that accident. They may be responsible for your medical costs. You want to create a clear paper trail showing that you were injured in the crash and the treatment you received (and its cost) were directly linked to the wreck.

2. Consult an attorney

Your next step is to talk to an attorney to review your case. That legal perspective can show you where you legally stand. The attorney will ask you questions about the events right before, during and just after the crash. They will obtain the police report and review any medical records you have from your post-accident treatment.

Once retained, an attorney can also help you gather evidence, including:

  • Police documents
  • Witness statements
  • Dashcam footage
  • Statements from the other driver(s)

3. Evaluating your legal options

Finally, you need to consider all your legal options. Will you accept a settlement if offered? Would you prefer to litigate the matter in court? What types of damages should you pursue? These are all good questions to ask.

One important thing to keep in mind is the nature of the crash can determine the focus of the case. If you got hit by a semitruck driver, you might be able to pursue compensation from the trucking company rather than just the driver. The company has far more assets and likely much better coverage for these situations. If you get hit by a teen driver who is texting and driving in their parents’ car, it’s a very different situation. Your personal injury attorney can sort through the specifics of your case to determine your best course of action.