Steps to Take After a Car Accident
When a person is involved in a car accident caused by another party’s negligence, that person will need to take steps in order to hold the at-fault party responsible. The laws that govern car accident cases vary depending upon the state in which the accident occurred. States with fault-based auto insurance laws allow an injured claimant to file either a first-party auto insurance claim through his or her own auto insurance company or a third-party claim through the at-fault driver’s auto insurance company. When an auto insurance claim cannot fully compensate an injured motorist in a fault-based state, that motorist usually has the option to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party. In no-fault states, the injured motorist must file an auto insurance claim through his or her own insurance company to obtain compensation through a personal injury protection (PIP) policy. In these states, if the injured party often can only be eligible to file a claim if the injuries are severe.
For purposes of auto insurance claims and car accident lawsuits, injured parties should take certain steps after a car crash to preserve eligibility for financial compensation.
Steps to Take After Being Involved in a Motor Vehicle Crash
After a motor vehicle collision, anyone who has been injured should take steps to gather evidence, prevent comparative fault or contributory negligence allegations, and develop a strategy for obtaining a reasonable settlement or a fair verdict in a lawsuit. Car accident and personal injury laws vary among states, but the general steps a person should take after a collision are relatively uniform. The following measures that an injured person should follow suffering injuries in a vehicle crash:
- Report the accident to law enforcement: Different states have their own rules about when an accident must be reported. If anyone is injured in a collision, it is usually necessary to contact law enforcement. A police officer or sheriff may cite one or more parties for a traffic violation, and the police report can later be used against the at-fault motorist.
- Take photos at the scene of the car accident: While serious injuries may prevent a person from gathering evidence at the scene, if an injured person is able to do so, it is important to obtain material and information that can be used to support an auto insurance claim or a car accident lawsuit. Evidence should include photographs of the scene where the collision occurred, including long-shot photos that depict the entire area, as well as close-up photos that provide details concerning injuries and property damage.
- Obtain contact information for witnesses: Anyone injured in a crash should obtain vehicle information, a driver’s license number, and contact information for the other driver. In addition, an injured person should obtain contact information for witnesses. These witnesses may be others involved in the collision or people who saw it happen. A lawyer can later interview witnesses to assemble evidence against the at-fault driver.
- Report the accident to the insurance company: Most insurance companies require a motorist who has been involved in a collision to report the crash as soon as possible, and often within a specific amount of time depending upon the terms of the policy. An injured person should remember that the insurance company is not an advocate for an insured. Rather, insurance companies are businesses. Accordingly, if an insurance company can avoid paying a claim lawfully, it will likely do so. As such, when reporting an accident, the injured party should provide basic facts and should never offer an opinion that could be construed as an admission of fault.
- Seek medical attention: Whether a person involved in a crash immediately has obvious signs of an injury or appears to be relatively unscathed, it is essential to be assessed by a medical professional. Failing to seek a timely medical assessment and treatment can have significant consequences for a car accident claim. The injured party may not have the necessary evidence to prove that the injuries resulted from the crash. Further, if injuries worsen because of delayed medical treatment, the at-fault party may raise the issue of comparative fault or contributory negligence to limit or bar a plaintiff’s recovery. States have their own laws concerning comparative fault and contributory negligence. Some states are “pure” comparative fault states, allowing an injured party to recover regardless of that party’s fault, but diminishing that party’s recovery proportionally based on that party’s percentage of fault. Other states are “modified” comparative fault states that bar a plaintiff’s recovery once that plaintiff is either 50 percent or 51 percent at fault. Otherwise, the plaintiff’s recovery will be diminished by his or her percentage of fault. A small number of states are “pure” contributory negligence states that bar a plaintiff from recovery as soon as that plaintiff is 1 percent at fault.
- Know the statute of limitations: Every state has a statute of limitations that applies to car accident lawsuits. The statute of limitations is a time window in which a plaintiff can file a lawsuit. If a plaintiff fails to file a lawsuit within that time period, the lawsuit will become time barred. Statutes of limitations on personal injury lawsuits generally range from two years to four years, depending upon the state. When an injured party is filing an auto insurance claim, time can move quickly. Accordingly, that injured party needs to know the statute of limitations to ensure that a lawsuit, if necessary, is filed within a timely manner.
When a motorist, a vehicle passenger, a bicyclist, or a pedestrian sustains injuries in a car accident, that party will need to take steps after the collision to maintain eligibility for compensation. Compensation can come in the form of an auto insurance settlement, a car accident lawsuit settlement, or a verdict. To be eligible for damages, the injured party will need to collect evidence that can be used to support the case. In addition, the injured party will need to seek appropriate medical attention to avoid a claim being barred or reduced as a result of comparative fault or contributory negligence. Whether an injured party is filing an auto insurance claim or a car accident lawsuit, that party should seek advice from an experienced accident lawyer in the state where the collision occurred.