What Should I Do After a Car Accident That Wasn’t My Fault?

Before we get to the substance of this post, we should talk about the difference between fault and liability in a car wreck, which is a little like the difference between a halftime score and a final score. Fault is a preliminary determination based solely on the evidence immediately available at the scene. Liability is a final determination based on all evidence, not just the facts at the scene, as well as any applicable legal doctrines.

Just like only the final score matters in a football game, the liability determination is the only one that matters in a car wreck claim.

Usually, a fault determination triggers an insurance company’s legal obligation to defend a policyholder in court. This obligation includes hiring a lawyer and paying all other litigation costs. Policyholders have legal obligations as well. Some of the major obligations, which vary slightly in different states, are outlined below.

Stop and Render Aid

Typically, it’s a misdemeanor to leave the scene of a non-injury accident and a felony to leave the scene of an injury accident. Both drivers have this legal obligation. It doesn’t matter whose fault the accident was.

Usually, both drivers must stop at the scene, or as near to the scene as possible, call for help if someone is hurt, help victims if possible, wait for emergency responders to arrive, and cooperate with them.

A brief word about helping victims. Most states have Good Samaritan laws, but they only go so far. Assume Amy t-bones Lisa, whose vehicle catches fire. If Amy tries to pull Lisa out of the car and fails, Amy usually isn’t legally responsible. However, if Amy starts to help Lisa and quits, Amy could be on the hook.

Contact Your Insurance Company

Most insurance companies require most policyholders to immediately report possible losses, including car crashes.

Watch what you say during these conversations. TV commercials imply that adjusters are affable types, like Flo from Progressive and her various sidekicks. However, companies train telephone adjusters to extract damaging information from policyholders. Other adjusters later use this information to deny claims.

Seek Medical Treatment

For medical and legal reasons, all crash victims should always see doctors as quickly as possible, and they should never refuse EMS treatment or hospitalization at the scene.

In the wake of a crash, adrenaline masks pain. Therefore, many people “feel” okay. Don’t let feelings fool you. Only a fully-qualified doctor can tell how badly a person is hurt. Furthermore, if drivers refuse treatment, a lawyer may later argue that the driver’s injuries weren’t very severe. Injury severity could affect the aforementioned fault vs. liability determination.

Have an Independent Lawyer Evaluate Your Case

As mentioned, reporting a claim usually triggers a duty to defend the policyholder in court. Also as mentioned, insurance companies always deny claims if possible. Quite simply, insurance companies lose money when they pay claims. If the company denied coverage, a driver could be financially responsible for attorneys’ fees, damages, and a host of other expenses.

Therefore, to be on the safe side, always ask a private lawyer to look at your case. In most cases, these initial consultations are free. A lawyer reviews not only the facts of the crash, but also your policy details. So, drivers are prepared for what comes next, even if they weren’t technically at fault for the wreck.

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