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 personal injury cases in the courts today. In most states, motor vehicle accidents are covered by negligence law, although some states have laws (known as "no-fault" laws) that state that the driver that caused the accident is irrelevant to the case. Generally, however, motor vehicle drivers have to use the amount of care that a reasonable person would employ under the circumstances. Negligence is failing to use reasonable care. Drivers who are found to be negligent may be required to pay damages for causing any injury to other people and any vehicle damages. To collect these damages, the injured party (known as the plaintiff) must show some facts about the other driver (known as the defendant) and the accident. The plaintiff must show that he or she was injured, that defendant was negligent, that the defendant's negligence caused the accident, and that the accident caused the plaintiff's injuries. If you were in a motor vehicle accident, 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:
Immediately after the accident:
Stop! In most states, a person involved in a motor vehicle accident is required not to leave the scene, even if the accident is minor. You should stop and check for injuries or vehicle damage. If you do leave the scene, you may be criminally prosecuted.
Check for injuries. Don'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 accident. Even if there are no injuries, you should still call the police to get an accident report.
While you wait for the police, if possible, turn on your hazard lights, raise the hood or trunk of your car, or set out road flares 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 notes about where and how the accident occurred. Include details such as road conditions, speed limits, traffic signals, weather conditions, lighting, and what other cars were doing at the time of the accident. However, if you have to go to court because of your accident, you may have to share these notes with the other driver in the accident.
Even if you think that the accident may be your fault, don't say so. The other driver may have been partially responsible or there may have been other variables involved in the accident. An admission of fault may later be used against you.
When the police get to the accident:
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 any injuries and of any witnesses.
Do not admit that the accident may have been your fault to the police or to any passengers, witnesses, or other drivers. Responsibility for an accident is a matter of the laws of your state and it may not be clear right away.
Soon after the accident:
Go to a doctor 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. The longer you wait to see a doctor, the harder it will be to connect your injuries to the accident, and the lower your chances for compensation for your injuries. Be sure to tell your doctor about 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, giving recorded statements to any insurance company, or meeting with any 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.
Within a few days after the accident, write down all important information about the accident. Include information such as license numbers, the make, model and year of all vehicles involved. Also include details about the accident, such as the date, time, location, road conditions, traffic signals, and weather conditions. You will be surprised how quickly you may forget these details. If you haven't spoken with a lawyer yet, contact a personal injury lawyer with the dedication, experience, and ability to help you maximize the amount of your compensation as well as to minimize the amount of frustration, delay, and confusion involved in your claim.
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.