Car accidents are traumatic experiences that may leave you injured, confused, and wondering what to do. Nobody expects to be involved in a car accident, so you may find yourself unprepared to act in your best interests after a car crash, especially one that’s not your fault. If you find yourself asking what to do after a car accident, here’s a legal guide for some suggestions to point you in the right direction.
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How To Preserve Your Claim After A Car Accident
You will want to take several essential steps immediately after a car accident–assuming you don’t need immediate medical attention. Once anyone needing emergency medical care at the scene gets it, then you’ll want to make sure to:
- Contact the police
- Gather evidence
- Seek ongoing medical care as needed
- Contact your insurance company
- Seek legal advice
It may not be possible to achieve all of these goals immediately. However, the critical thing to remember is that the more of these steps you accomplish soon after your accident, the better situated you’ll be to protect your legal and other interests down the road. If you can show that the car accident wasn’t your fault, you will be in a good position to be fully compensated for what you have lost. Here’s a more in-depth look at each step:
1. Contact The Police
Contacting the police is often the best thing you can do immediately after a car accident. If the police send an officer to the site, you’ll benefit from obtaining the officer’s report, which you can use as evidence, and the officer could be a potential witness.
Contacting the police may also be required by law. For example, in Nevada, any driver that crashes into unattended property, including an automobile, has a duty to notify police immediately. In Florida, you’re required to immediately, and by the quickest method, notify the police if a crash results in injury, death, or damage of at least $500.
If the police aren’t available, don’t worry. In the remaining steps, you’ll be engaging in your form of evidence gathering that can still benefit you down the road. After completing the remaining steps, you can follow up with the local police department to file a report.
2. Gather Evidence
A key step in the list of what to do after a car accident that’s not your fault is to document and preserve evidence. You should try to gather all the available evidence from the scene of your accident. This will be helpful for your insurance company and any legal review of your case. If you’re not injured and it’s safe, take the following steps:
- Photograph the location of the accident from the front, back, and both sides
- Photograph license plates and all road signs
- Photograph the damage on every automobile involved
- If there are any witnesses, speak to them and ask them for a statement and their contact information
There can be substantial financial implications from car accidents, and evidence matters. If you can’t prove facts like the speed limit, the position of a red light, or other similar things that can show fault, you could be left financially responsible for an accident that wasn’t your fault. After a car accident, it’s not the right time to trust a handshake; it’s belt-and-suspenders time.
3. Seek Ongoing Medical Care As Needed
Everyone knows it’s best to seek medical attention when they’re injured. Only with a complete examination by a licensed medical professional can you be aware of the extent of your injuries. However, you should also seek a medical examination after a car accident even if you think you’re fine, as you may have injuries that you’re not aware of.
For example, the symptoms of a concussion can be mild and not appear immediately. The long-term effects of a concussion, while rare, can be severe. The effects of long-term concussion syndrome can include problems with:
These symptoms can detract from the quality of your life, relationships, and future earning potential. In short, even though you may feel normal after a car accident, you may have suffered an injury for which you should be compensated.
This raises additional problems after a car accident–you may lose the right to recover damages for these injuries in one of the following three ways:
- If you resolve your claim with the opposing insurance company, they’ll require you to sign a form releasing them from future claims related to that car accident.
- If you resolve your case in court, the court will prevent you from relitigating that same case under the doctrine of res judicata. In the simplest of terms, this doctrine means that a case cannot be re-litigated after it has been decided on the merits.
- If you haven’t resolved your claim through either settlement or court action, you face a third hurdle: the statute of limitations. These statutes limit the amount of time you have to file a claim. The time available to file your claim depends on state law and ranges from 1 year to 6 years. Bottom line: Even if you’re not aware of your injuries, the clock may still be ticking on your right to recover.
4. Contact Your Insurance Company
Naturally, you’ll want to exchange contact and insurance information with the other driver. A good practice is to request the other driver’s license and insurance card, and photograph both documents, front and back. If the other driver can’t provide this information, ask for their name, address, telephone number, and date of birth. Then be sure to photograph the other driver’s license plate. These actions will ensure you have a point of contact if needed down the road.
At this point, you’ll probably want to contact your insurance company. Here are a few common questions you might be thinking about at this point:
If A Car Accident Is Not Your Fault, Does Your Insurance Go Up?
There’s no federal regulatory body that administers the automobile insurance industry. Each state creates rules and requirements for a license to issue automobile insurance. Consequently, the answer to this question may vary depending upon the state in which you are insured. You can contact your state’s insurance regulator for a specific answer. As a general matter, car accidents increase everyone’s rates. However, your rates will likely rise less if you were not at fault.
How Long Does A Not-At-Fault Accident Stay On Your Record?
Again, this depends on your state and insurance, and state regulations may vary widely. In California, for example, collisions remain on your driving record for three years. Contact your state’s DMV for a definitive answer, but the accident will stay on your driving record for about three to five years.
How Does Car Insurance Work When You’re Not At Fault?
When you contact your insurance company, they will start the claim process for you. Depending on your insurance and the damage resulting from the accident, this may involve getting your car towed to a repair shop and providing you with a rental car. Your insurance company will also contact the opposing insurance company and begin negotiating on your behalf. It’s always important to receive a full medical evaluation after a car accident.
5. Seek Legal Advice
It’s common to ask yourself, “Should I get a lawyer for a car accident that wasn’t my fault?” The answer is often yes if you’re looking for a fair resolution. It’s important to seek professional legal advice because your financial damages may surpass the insurance company’s willingness to pay.
You may be entitled to several types of financial compensation after a car accident, such as:
- Economic damages: These include all of your out-of-pocket costs relating to the accident, such as property damage, medical bills, lost wages, and lost economic opportunities.
- Non-economic damages: These include less-quantifiable harm you’ve suffered, such as financial compensation for your pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of consortium.
- Punitive damages: Unlike economic and non-economic damages, punitive damages don’t seek to compensate you for a financial loss. Instead, they seek to punish the behavior of the person at fault for particularly egregious behavior and to deter others from acting similarly. Although rare, if available, they can be quite large.
Of course, not all damages will be applicable to every case. However, the only way to know for certain if they are available in your case is to seek the advice of a legal expert. Please remember that these damages are subject to statutes of limitation, which limit the time you have to bring your case to court. You need to act promptly to preserve your rights.
What To Do After A Car Accident That’s Not Your Fault? Consult An Attorney
Now that you know what to do after a car accident that’s not your fault, it’s time to take action and protect your interests. Time is of the essence, so consider requesting a free legal review today.
Legal Disclaimer: This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation and should not be interpreted as creating an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions, you should seek the advice of an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.