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A few simple steps can reduce your penalties
Being in a car accident is a horrible experience. It may be even worse if you are the driver who caused the accident. It’s important to know what to do if you’re the likely cause of a car wreck in order to minimize your liability.
What to do immediately after a car accident
The first few moments after an accident are the most important. You need to protect your safety as well as prevent yourself from being charged with a crime. The most important steps to follow are:
1. Evaluate your injuries and those of your passengers
If you have serious injuries, call out for help and try to make yourself as visible as possible. Call 911 and wait for the ambulance and paramedics to treat your wounds before or else you could accidentally make your injuries worse.
Even if you think you feel okay, injuries such as concussions and whiplash may take several days to appear. Visit the ER or at least schedule a post-accident visit with your primary care physician in order to better protect your health, as well as document your injuries.
2. Move your vehicle to the side of the road or any area that reduces your risk of being hit by oncoming traffic
Maintaining visibility is important following an accident. Put your hazards on and make sure that your vehicle isn’t in an area where other drivers may not be able to see.
3. Call the police
Believe it or not, calling the police after an accident you caused is actually legal protection for yourself. The police record is the best way to provide official documentation as to the extent of the injuries and damage to the vehicles. If the police choose to not file a report, this is helpful evidence that the accident was a minor one.
4. Exchange information
If you caused a car accident, it’s important to provide your insurance information to the other party. However, NEVER admit fault for the accident.
Collect the insurance information from the other driver, even if you think you were to blame for the accident. If a personal injury lawsuit takes place, you may learn that the other driver committed a wrongdoing, too.
5. Document the scene of the accident
Even if you’re in a minor accident or the police completed a report, it never hurts to treat your accident as a potential legal claim. With that mindset, you need to collect evidence to minimize your potential liability should you be sued for the accident.
When documenting an accident, try to collect witness statements. If any drivers pulled over or pedestrians witnessed the accident, ask for their names and contact information. Their testimony may be needed later if the accident turns into a personal injury case.
You also should take photographs of the accident. Use your phone to take pictures of the damage to your car and injury. Take pictures of the surrounding area as the location of your accident could impact your liability.
Say, for example, you caused an accident by failing to stop at a stop sign. If the sign is overrun with foliage and difficult to see, your liability could be reduced or removed.
6. Contact your insurance company
It’s always best to let your insurance company know your side of the story. Chances are, the other driver will be making a claim, so save time by providing the information yourself. Even if you explain that you think you were at fault, your insurance company may conduct their own investigation of the accident to determine the other driver’s potential fault as well as the extent of their injuries and vehicle damage.
If your car needs to be repaired or replaced, you should let the insurance company know. Some insurance providers require that you receive authorization before repairs, so providing them with a head’s up can’t hurt.
Lastly, don’t provide details of your medical condition until AFTER you’ve seen a doctor or been to the ER. Many accident injuries aren’t noticed until a few days after the collision, and you don’t want to limit your potential coverage by minimizing your injuries. Providing an incorrect assessment could leave you with too little financial assistance.
7. Consider consulting a personal injury attorney
Not all accidents require the expertise of a personal injury attorney. Your insurance company may cover the damage you caused, and a legal claim may never be started. If there were serious injuries or damage, or if you were breaking the law such as speeding excessively or drunk driving, you may want to speak with a lawyer before a lawsuit is even filed. An attorney will let you know what to expect and also remind you which documents to keep.
What if I’m too hurt to follow some or all of these post-accident steps?
The 7 steps listed above only apply to drivers who aren’t seriously injured in an accident. It’s important to note that if you have a life-threatening or serious injury, your only concern should be to receive proper care via the paramedics. Don’t worry about liability until after you’re well enough to have some important conversations.
Because you run the risk of greater consequences if you caused a serious car wreck, be sure to consult with a personal injury lawyer sooner rather than later. Until then, explain to your insurance company and all other parties that you will answer their questions once you’ve had a consultation with your lawyer.
How to avoid liability for a hit and run accident
Getting charged with a hit and run accident has severe criminal law consequences including jail time and heavy fines. You also leave yourself with virtually no defense in a personal injury lawsuit. Because of this you should never leave the scene of an accident without taking steps to minimize your liability.
If you hit an unattended vehicle, such as a parked car, you should follow these steps:
- Wait for the vehicle owner to return.
- Enter surrounding businesses to see who owns the car or other vehicle.
- Take photos of the damage you caused.
- Talk to witnesses and get their contact information.
- Leave a note on the windshield with your contact and insurance information if you can’t locate the vehicle’s owner.
- Call your insurance company immediately.
What to do after a pedestrian or bicycle accident
If you hit a cyclist or pedestrian, most states require that the drivers must stay at the scene of an accident. In order to avoid facing arrest and minimize your liability, you must:
- Give your name, address, and vehicle registration number.
- Provide your insurance information.
- Show your operator’s license (if you are a commercial driver).
- Provide assistance such as calling the police and/or paramedics.
- Remain at the scene.
- Move your vehicle as far away as possible to avoid obstructing traffic.
Depending on who or what caused the accident, you may still be responsible for damages should a lawsuit occur. Nevertheless, by acting responsibility, you may be able to avoid punitive damages and other large penalties.
Understanding the impact of fault on damage calculations
Unfortunately, one small driving mistake can cost you thousands of dollars in a personal injury lawsuit. In short, when you’re responsible for paying damages for a car accident, the amount owed is whatever your insurance company didn’t pay. The judge or jury will determine the appropriate amount of damages the injured driver will receive, and that total is your financial responsibility.
If, for example, the plaintiff is owed $50,000 in damages, but your insurance coverage will only cover $25,000, then the rest of the total will come out of your pocket. This could cause an extreme financial hardship for you, and can even result in burdens such as a lien on your home.
Even if you know you committed a wrongdoing that caused a car accident, your liability may be greatly reduced or removed depending on the actions of the other driver. Liability and calculating damages varies by state, generally falling under one of three categories:
In a contributory negligence state, the plaintiff will be barred from recovering any damages from you if they had a part in causing the accident. This is very strict policy with only a few states enforcing this degree of fault.
Pure comparative fault
In pure comparative fault states, the plaintiff’s damages will be reduced by their percent at fault. If, for example, the plaintiff is ruled by the judge or jury to have been 20% responsible for an accident and their damages were $100,000, you would only be responsible for paying them $80,000.
Modified comparative fault
Modified comparative fault states follow the same rule for damages and pure comparative fault states. The difference is that state will prevent the plaintiff from recovering from you, if they were 50% or 51% to blame.
Fault Systems by State
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If you caused an accident and the incident becomes a personal injury case, it’s in your best interest to consult a personal injury attorney to learn your options and minimize your potential losses. Enjuris’ personal injury lawyer directory can help you find a top attorney near you who can provide your best defense and protect your wallet.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.