Due to the high number of accidents, motor vehicle accidents compromise the most significant proportion of personal injury cases.
Knowing what to do immediately after an accident can make a significant impact in a case and help individuals protect their legal rights. Use this car accident law handbook to understand your legal rights and strengthen your claim.
What to Do After a Car Accident
The moments after a car accident are frightening. Use this checklist to help guide your actions after the accident:
Check on All Occupants
Check if any of the occupants of your vehicle and the other vehicle need immediate medical attention. Observe the accident scene to observe if there are any risk factors that could cause further harm, such as leaking gas or electric sparks. Call for help immediately if there are any injuries.
Report the Accident
Most jurisdictions require that you make a report of car accidents involving injuries or property damage over a certain amount. In any event, you will likely want the accident to be documented to assist later with the insurance process. If you were not at fault for the accident, getting a police report can help substantiate your case and may also provide useful
information down the line, such as that the other driver was cited for a
Talk to the Other Driver
Exchange information with the other driver. Get his or her name, address, driver’s license number and license plate number. Also, write down a description of the vehicle and ask to see his or her insurance card so that you can copy down this information. Do not discuss the cause of the accident or apologize as these statements can possibly be used against you.
Take pictures of the scene of the accident. Be sure to capture the following:
·The original location of the accident and position of the vehicles at the point of impact
·The damage to your vehicle
·The damage to the other vehicle
·Damage to anything else at the scene, such as a stoplight, curb or other damage
·Evidence of debris on the roadway
·Weather, such as slick roadways, overcast day or the sun
·Traffic signs and signals in the nearby vicinity
·Brake marks on the roadway
Keep a disposable camera in your glove box in case you do not have a phone or it is damaged in the accident. Also, keep an extra emergency battery or charger in your vehicle in case you can use your camera phone.
Check for Witnesses
Evaluate the scene and determine if there are any witnesses. Ask for the witness’ contact information and for them to stay at the scene to provide a statement for the accident report. Check if you observe any surveillance cameras nearby that may have captured the accident, such as a traffic camera or surveillance camera from a nearby business. Note this
Write a Description
While the events are fresh in your mind, write a description of how the accident occurred. Note the date, time and location of the accident. Also note any weather conditions or environmental factors that may have contributed to the accident. In some cases, governmental or third-party contractors may bear a portion of the liability if road debris, malfunctioning traffic lights or some other aspect that affects the roadway that is the responsibility of such party.
Seek Medical Treatment
Many injuries are not evident immediately after a traumatizing event. Seek medical treatment after an injury just to make sure that you are fine. If there is a problem, early diagnosis is always best. Additionally, if you later encounter pain or other symptoms, seeking medical treatment immediately after an accident can help establish a link between the injury and the accident. Keep a copy of all medical expenses and records stemming from the accident.
Contact a Lawyer
Contact an attorney as early in the process as possible. He or she can help explain your rights and can also handle communication between you and the insurance company. He or she may also have additional suggestions regarding the type of evidence that you should collect or when to provide a statement to the insurance company.
Each jurisdiction has a specific time limit in which you can file a personal injury lawsuit stemming from motor vehicle accidents. This is referred to as the statute of limitations. If this timeline passes before you file a lawsuit, your case can be barred. While this may be years in some locations, the statute of limitations can be as little as 30 days if it involves a governmental entity. Be sure that you contact a personal injury lawyer quickly and inquire about the applicable statute of limitations.
When You Are at Fault
If you believe that you might be at fault for the accident, you will still follow the steps mentioned in the previous section. However, you should also review this list of things to do and not to do.
Do Contact Your Insurance Provider
Report the accident to your insurance company so that it is aware that a claim will be coming through on the policy.
Do Review Your Policy
Read over your policy so that you understand the claims process, as well as your rights and duties under the claim. Specific time deadlines may be included in the policy that you must adhere to.
Do File a Claim
File your own claim regarding your property damage and injuries. This will help provide the notice that the insurance company needs to begin processing the claim. If you do not comply with deadlines, your insurance company may be freed from its obligation to defend you in lawsuits or reimburse you for a judgment imposed against you.
Do Contact an Attorney
If you have an attorney, you may want to contact him or her to better understand your rights. If you are sued, the insurance company will typically appoint an attorney on your behalf. However, you usually have the right to have your own attorney since the insurance company’s attorney is appointed to represent the insurance company’s interests.
Don’t Admit Fault
Even if you believe that the accident was at least partially your fault, do not admit fault to the driver of the other vehicle, the police, your own passengers or anyone else. Other factors may have contributed to the accident of which you are not even aware. While individuals are not usually permitted to talk about what other people said in court because of the hearsay rule, one distinct exception to this is to introduce statements that serve as an admission or to include statements by the other party.
Don’t Discuss the Cause of the Accident
Do not ask the other driver about why he or she thought the accident occurred or volunteer such information yourself. Do not make accusatory statements, such as stating that the other driver was speeding or was not looking out for you.
Contributory Negligence and Comparative Negligence
In many accident cases, the accident cannot be attributed to only one of the drivers. Many accidents involve fault by multiple parties. State law determines whether contributory negligence, comparative negligence or a modified system applies.
Contributory negligence stands for the notion that if a person does not act in a reasonable manner, he or she imposes an unreasonable risk to himself or herself. If the defendant establishes that the plaintiff’s accident was caused in full or in part by his or her own negligent actions, the plaintiff can be barred from recovery, or his or her damages may be reduced. The traditional view of this system was to bar recovery completely if the plaintiff contributed to the accident in any manner.
The majority of states use a comparative negligence approach that assesses each party’s negligence and weighs it against the resulting injuries. Pure comparative negligence reduces a plaintiff’s award of damages by the proportion that he or she was responsible for. For example, if the plaintiff recovers $100,000 but is responsible for 25 percent of the injury, he or she receives $75,000.
The most common approach to comparative negligence is to award a plaintiff damages only if he or she was less than 50 percent at fault for the injury.
Sometimes alcohol is a contributing factor in an accident. If you are the victim of an accident involving alcohol, be certain that you mention this suspicion to the police and to your personal injury lawyer. If a family member is killed due to an intoxicated driver, you may be able to receive compensation pursuant to a wrongful death lawsuit.
Winning a wrongful death case may rely on you successfully establishing the intoxication level of the defendant and that it surpassed the level at which the driver could safely operate the vehicle. This is known as establishing the driver’s breach of duty of care to act as a reasonably prudent driver would act in similar circumstances.
Defending Against DUI Charges
If an individual is involved in an accident and alcohol contributed to the accident, he or she may face criminal DUI charges. The level of the crime is based on state law, which usually provides a harsher charge forsomeone who caused another person to be killed or injured. This is usually a felony offense. In some jurisdictions, if the property damage is over a certain amount, this may also be a felony.
In some jurisdictions, law enforcement officers are required to administer tests to determine if one or both of the drivers was intoxicated at the time of the crash if the accident resulted in serious injuries or death. In other cases, a law enforcement officer has the discretion to order such tests if he or she reasonably suspects that alcohol was involved.
During this time, the law enforcement officer may ask routine questions and look for evidence in plain view, such as empty alcohol containers. He or she may also conduct field sobriety tests. If these follow up questions and assessments lead the officer to conclude that the driver is likely under the influence of drugs or alcohol, he or she may arrest the driver.
While criminal suspects are usually required to provide law enforcement officers with their names and to exit a vehicle upon request, the other rights that the suspect has varies on state law. Some states require drivers to submit to breath or blood tests to determine if they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs as a condition of receiving a driver’s license in the state. A refusal to submit to such a test can be treated as an admission of guilt in some states or as grounds to automatically suspend a driver’s license. Some states do not require drivers to submit to field sobriety tests. Check with a lawyer in your jurisdiction to determine what the relevant state laws are.
If a person is convicted of DUI, he or she faces serious consequences, including possible jail time, fines, the need to enroll in an alcohol treatment program, community service, revocation or suspension of a driver’s license and potential impacts on his or her career. Penalties are more severe if the defendant has a history of such offenses.
Individuals who are facing DUI charges should immediately consult with a lawyer to determine the best legal strategy in defending against these criminal charges. If the defendant submitted to field sobriety tests and performed poorly on them, the criminal defense lawyer may explore other explanations other than intoxication for why this test may not have yielded accurate results. A criminal defense lawyer can also investigate whether police followed the proper procedures before ordering such tests and in administering such tests.