Car Accidents

General Information about Motor Vehicle Accidents

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), someone is involved in a car accident every ten seconds in the United States. This high frequency of car accidents makes motor vehicle accidents the most common type of personal injury case. In most states, motor vehicle accidents are covered by negligence law, although some states have laws (known as “no-fault” laws) that state that certain benefits are available regardless of who caused the collision. Generally however, motor vehicle drivers are required to exercise that degree of care, skill and judgment that would normally be exercised by a reasonably prudent person in the operation of a motor vehicle. Negligence is failing to use reasonable care. Drivers who are found to be negligent may be required to pay damages for causing his vehicle damages and injury to people. To collect these damages, the injured party (known as the plaintiff) must show a factual basis to establish that the other driver (known as the defendant) was negligent and that the defendant’s negligence was a cause of the plaintiff’s damages. If you were in a motor vehicle collision, a personal injury lawyer with experience in motor vehicle accidents can give you legal advice on how to best protect yourself and your interests.

What to do if you are in an accident:

A. Immediately after the accident:

In most states, a person involved in a motor vehicle accident is required to stay at the scene and report the collision to the police. You should stop and check for injuries and vehicle damage. If you leave the scene of an accident, you may be subject to criminal penalties and you may not obtain adequate information to pursue a claim against a negligent driver.

Check for injuries.┬áDon’t move an injured person. Call the police and an ambulance if necessary. If you can’t call, ask someone else to call the police to report the accident. Inform the police of the number of injured people, so that enough emergency personnel report to the scene of the collision. Even if there are no injuries, a report to the police is still necessary if there is a sufficient amount of property damage.

While you wait for the police, turn on your hazard lights, raise the hood or trunk of your car, or set out road flares or signs to alert other vehicles to proceed carefully around the accident.

Exchange information with the other driver. Get his or her name, address, phone number, drivers license number, license plate number, insurance company, insurance policy number, and insurance agent’s name and telephone number. You should give the other driver the same information about yourself.

If there are any witnesses to the accident, get their identifying information. Ask the police officer who is investigating the accident for his or her business card and the “incident number” so that you can obtain an accident report later.

You may also want to take some basic notes about where and how the accident occurred. Including details such as road conditions, speed limits, traffic signals, weather conditions, lighting conditions and what other cars were doing at the time of the accident. However, if you commence a lawsuit against the defendant driver because of your injuries, these notes may have to be disclosed to the other side.

Even if you think that the accident may be your fault, it is usually best to be silent. The other driver may have been partially responsible for causing the collision or there may be other variables involved in causing the accident. An admission of fault made at the scene of a collision may later be used against you as a legally binding admission.

B. When the police arrive at the accident scene:

Cooperate fully with the police when they get to the accident. Stay at the scene of the accident until the police say that you can leave.

When you speak to the police, only tell them the facts of the accident. Don’t draw any conclusions. Inform the police of all of your injuries and the names of any witnesses.

Responsibility for an accident is a matter of the laws of your state and it may not be clear right away was the cause of the crash.

C. After the accident:

Go to a healthcare provider as soon as possible. You may not realize the full extent of your injuries right away. If you don’t see a doctor, your treatment may be delayed and minor injuries could become serious. Even a minor ache can be an indication of a serious problem. If there is any chance that you may have been injured in the accident, see a doctor as soon as possible. An insurance company could argue that not going to see a doctor right away meant that your injury didn’t result from the accident, but from some other event or that you were not injured because you didn’t go to the doctor right away. The longer you wait to see a doctor, the harder it may be to connect your injuries to the accident and the more difficult it may be to obtain fair compensation for your injuries. Be sure to tell your doctor about all of your injuries including any memory loss, confusion, disorientation, headaches, dizziness, blood or fluid in your ear, ringing in your ear or nausea.

Take pictures of your injuries and the damage to your vehicle. Collect all of your motor vehicle insurance policies for your lawyer to look at. Inform your insurance company of the accident. Talk to a lawyer before filling out any insurance forms, before giving any recorded statements to any insurance company, or prior to meeting with a representative of any insurance company. It is very important to get legal advice before giving a statement to the other driver’s insurance company. Consult an experienced personal injury lawyer before signing any checks or documents from any insurance company.

Document all of your injuries and losses. Include medical expenses, transportation costs related to your injuries, expected future medical treatment, lost earnings, future loss of wages, the effect your injury has on your life and the effect that your injury has on your family. Your lawyer will be able to help you identify all losses that may be connected to your accident. (Jake, please add a link to the digital pamphlet entitled “What to do if you are in a traffic accident“.