The U.S. has some of the busiest roads, with more vehicles than licensed drivers. Though this does not justify the high rate of road accidents, crashes frequently happen.
No one gets behind the wheel anticipating an accident, and no matter how careful you are, you cannot regulate the actions of the other motorists. All it takes is a slight mistake, such as a driver getting distracted by a text message, and in a split second, they ram into your vehicle.
If you have a car accident that is not your fault, you must know what to do. Whether it is a severe accident or a fender bender, taking all the necessary steps after the accident can help prevent further injuries and protect your rights during the claim process.
It is always probable the other driver might deny fault, leaving you with the burden of proving their liability. Hence, the moments after the accident and the actions you take are crucial to building evidence to support your claim or get you off the hook if the other driver blames the accident on you.
Not sure what to do and not do after a car accident that is not your fault? Here are the tips.
Ascertain Everyone Is Safe
Immediately after the accident, examine yourself for injuries. Also, check on your passengers and the other driver(s) to ensure they are safe. If anyone is injured, seek medical help immediately by calling for an ambulance.
If the accident has happened in the middle of the road, move your car to a safe spot to avoid causing more crashes. But if the vehicle is not obstructing traffic, leave it untouched. This will aid the police officers in assessing and determining the at-fault party.
Remain on the Scene
Even if the accident is a fender bender, do not leave the scene. Instead, wait for the police to arrive or until you report the accident. If you leave the scene, the at-fault driver might claim the accident was your fault, which can attract a hit-and-run charge.
Hit-and-run is a criminal offense charged as a second-degree misdemeanor if there is only property damage. In case people are injured, you may face second or third-degree felony charges and first-degree felony charges if someone dies.
For this reason, you should remain on the scene until you fulfill all the legal requirements, i.e., removing your vehicle away from the traffic, assisting the injured, providing your insurance details to accident victims, and reporting the accident to the police.
Exemption: If the accident happens in a deserted area, take care before getting out of your car. An ill-intentioned person may intentionally crash into you to rob you after you exit your vehicle. If you are concerned about your safety, you can drive to the nearest police station and report the accident.
Call the Police
Even after a minor accident with no injuries, call the police and report it. Ensure you collect the officer’s badge number, as the information may come in handy when following up.
Once the police make the official report, it will add more leverage to your compensation claim. Remember, you can order a copy of the accident report from your state’s traffic safety department after the police submit the information.
Exchange Contact Information
The law mandates the at-fault driver to provide their information to the passengers and the other drivers in the crash. Ensure you collect details of the driver, including their name, address, vehicle registration number, and license number.
Also, request information about their insurance provider and the policy number. Note that if the other driver or passengers ask for your details, you should give them.
Getting compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurer or contending any false allegations pinning the blame on you relies heavily on the police report and the evidence you collect.
Do not leave the accident scene before documenting the necessary evidence.
- Photograph the scene – Take photos of the cars at different angles and make clear shots of the damages. If you have injuries, photograph them and do the same for the injured passengers. Also, do not forget to record the surroundings, including any skid marks on the road.
- Get eyewitness contacts – Approach the eyewitnesses and request their contact information. If you can, ask them to recount what they have witnessed and record it on your phone. Alternatively, you can have your lawyer contact them later for their report.
- Record the accident details – Do not trust your memory to recall all the accident details later when talking to the lawyer or reporting the accident to your insurer. To be on the safe side, take notes of the accident, detailing the events as they occurred.
Seek Medical Attention
Even when you do not have any visible injuries or pain, make sure you visit a doctor for a thorough examination. The impact of a collision causes your body to release a spike of adrenaline, which masks the pain and might take time to clear from your system.
It is not uncommon for people to experience severe head or back pain days after the accident, which can be life-threatening. To help guarantee your safety, visit a doctor immediately. Also, journal any symptoms or pain you experience, even if they do not last, and share the same with your doctor.
Accurate assessment will ensure you receive the necessary treatment promptly. Moreover, the medical reports will provide vital evidence during settlement or in court if the claim fails to settle.
Contact a Car Accident Lawyer
Even when an accident is not your fault, the at-fault driver’s insurance might take sides with them and deny responsibility. This leaves you with the duty of proving the defendant’s fault, failure to which the liability is turned on your insurance provider.
As much as your insurer will be ready to fight the other insurance company and prove their liability, having an attorney handling your claim can be beneficial in many ways. First, the lawyer will guide you from the onset, especially on evidence documentation and legal pitfalls that might compromise your claim.
For instance, you should not provide a recorded statement to the at-fault driver’s insurance company as they might use some of your comments against you during the settlement. Without legal guidance, you would not know some of these things.
The attorney also helps you build evidence, e.g., interviewing eyewitnesses, compiling doctor reports, requesting at-scene CCTV recordings, if there are any, etc. Moreover, if there are substantial damages, the attorney will compute a fair claim and help with the negotiations.
Finally, if the at-fault driver’s insurer fails to honor your claim, the attorney may consider taking your case to court. In the same way, in the event the at-fault driver turns the blame on you and files a personal injury lawsuit, your lawyer can defend you.
Report the Accident to Your Insurance Company
As much as the accident is not your fault, you need to notify your insurer as soon as possible. This way, you establish a good-faith reporting effort, which may work to your advantage, especially if the at-fault driver lodges a claim against you. In that case, your insurer will pursue the other insurance company to prove their liability and secure your settlement.
However, ensure you consult your lawyer before talking to your insurer to guide you in preparing your statement. Generally, other than your doctor, you should consult your lawyer before giving statements to any other party.
Contact the At-Fault Driver’s Insurer
To initiate the compensation process, you need to contact the at-fault driver’s insurer and inform them their policyholder has crashed into your car. This should be as soon as you talk with an attorney.
Note that if they admit fault, they might reach out to you soonest and offer to settle your damages. However, do not be quick to accept the offer as, in most cases, the compensation might be too little to cater to all your damages.
Once they make the offer, talk to your lawyer and let them evaluate it on your behalf. Usually, the lawyer will make a counteroffer, factoring in all the damages (current and future), and take over further negotiations.
In case the insurer denies fault, the attorney will prepare evidence to demonstrate the other driver’s responsibility. They will also prepare a demand letter detailing your damages to get you fair compensation.
File a Lawsuit If Necessary
Most claims settle, but some cases go to trial. If the at-fault driver’s insurer is adamantly against making a fair compensation, or if they deny the claim altogether, you may need to take the case to trial.
Your attorney should advise you on when it is appropriate to escalate the case to court. If a trial is necessary, they will file the lawsuit and prepare to represent you.
A lawsuit may also be necessary if your damages are beyond the scope of the at-fault driver’s policy. For instance, if you sustain non-economic damages such as pain and suffering or cannot resume work, you may need to lodge a personal injury lawsuit.
Statute of Limitations
While pursuing your settlement with the insurance company, you should be aware of the statute of limitations. This is the deadline within which you can file a lawsuit against the defendant.
The statute of limitations varies from state to state. It can be anywhere between one and six years, although it is two years in most states. The limit for personal injury may also differ from a property damage claim. Hence, consult with your lawyer to know the specific limitations in your state.
Essentially, if you file a lawsuit past the deadline, the court may nullify it. However, there are a few exceptions, such as a plaintiff below 18 years. In this case, the statute of limitations comes into effect once they attain the majority age.
Generally, engaging an attorney throughout the settlement process enables you to navigate these and other legal requirements that might derail your compensation.
What Must You Not Do After an Accident?
So far, we hope you have gained insights to help you navigate your car accident aftermath more wisely. As we wrap up, let us recap some of the “Do Nots” and a few others we have not mentioned yet.
Keep these in mind so that you do not compromise your claim in any way.
- Do not give recorded statements to insurance companies
- Do not be quick to accept an early settlement offer from the insurer
- Do not forget your policy’s claim time limit
- Do not sign releases before consulting an attorney
- Do not accept final payment unless your attorney approves
What if I Cannot Recover Damages From the At-Fault Driver?
If you cannot recover damages from the at-fault driver, you may file a claim with your insurer. Some reasons that may cause this situation include the other driver being uninsured or your damages exceeding their cover limit.
In this case, you may file a claim with your insurer if you have the appropriate coverage. For instance, your uninsured motorist coverage can cater to your damages where the other driver is uninsured. In situations where your damages exceed the other driver’s cover limit, your collision coverage can cater to the deficit for vehicle repairs or replacement. On the other hand, your personal injury protection (PIP) can cover the medical expenses and lost wages.
However, the implication of using your policies varies, depending on the cover. For example, for uninsured motorist coverage, you may not pay a deductible, which is not the case for PIP.
You Need a Car Accident Lawyer When a Crash Isn’t Your Fault
Knowing what to do after a vehicle accident that is not your fault is essential as it prepares you to navigate the accident aftermath. Whether the accident is serious or minor, taking the necessary steps ensures you are prepared to hold your case against the at-fault driver.
We hope these tips will help you handle your situation in a more informed fashion. Meanwhile, if you have not consulted a lawyer yet, ensure you find an experienced car accident attorney for legal counsel and better representation.