what to do after car accident that's not your fault

What To Do After A Car Accident That’s Not Your Fault

Tarun Sridharan Legal Editor & Attorney Contributor Read Time: 9 minutes

What To Do After A Car Accident That’s Not Your Fault

If you’ve been injured in a car accident that’s not your fault, don’t worry! Under the law, you could be entitled to sue and be compensated. When somebody else is at fault for your injuries, it’s important to explore the possibility of a lawsuit, as it is a tool for you to secure damages to cover your losses.

As an aside, local laws and regulations can affect your case quite substantially. Depending on the state law that applies to your case, you could have an entirely different outcome. That’s why it’s critical to speak to an experienced attorney who can guide you through and help you understand what sort of case outcomes you might reasonably expect.

But even if it’s obvious that you should do “something,” it’s not always clear what exactly you’re supposed to do in the wake of a car accident. Well, we’re here to help clarify that for you.

Steps to take after a car accident

After a car accident, there are a number of steps you can take to preserve your rights and maximize the likelihood of success when pursuing your eventual claims. At a glance, here are some important steps that you should keep in mind:

  • Seek emergency medical assistance if necessary
    • If you do not obtain emergency medical assistance, and your injuries worsen, then the defendant might argue that you are responsible for the severity of your injuries.
  • If possible, stay at the scene of the accident
    • Don’t stay if you need to obtain emergency medical assistance.
  • Follow through on treatment plans given by medical providers
    • Failing to follow-through could exacerbate your injuries, and could make you responsible for the deterioration in your health.
  • Don’t make any undermining statements to third parties, such as drivers, bystanders, law enforcement, etc.
    • There are many disclosures that can hurt your case. Be careful about revealing anything or communicating anything without an attorney by your side. Even innocuous statements can seriously undermine your legal claims.
  • Avoid speaking to insurers until you have secured legal assistance
    • Insurers are not your allies. They are hoping that you will reveal information that allows them to underpay you (or even reject your claim altogether). Use an attorney to speak to insurers on your behalf.
  • If possible, take photographs and videos of the accident scene (as well as your injuries)
    • Photographic and video evidence can be exceptionally useful for supporting your factual narrative of the accident. Without it, your story can be difficult to prove, as it might be he-said-she-said.
  • If possible, obtain the contact information of any eyewitnesses at the accident scene
    • Eyewitnesses are valuable for helping to establish the truth about how an accident really occurred.
  • Secure legal assistance as soon as possible
    • Attorney guidance is critical at an early stage, and can make all the difference between a win and a loss.

In a car accident, how does “fault” impact my damages claim?

In the United States, there are three different types of “fault” systems implemented at the state level: 1) pure comparative fault; 2) modified comparative fault; and 3) contributory fault.

If in a pure comparative fault state, you are entitled to sue and recover damages even if you are 99 percent at-fault for the injuries. So, for example, if you weren’t wearing a seatbelt and were speeding, and a court finds you 70 percent at-fault for your own injuries, then you could still sue for compensation on the other 30 percent. You’d potentially be able to access at least “some” amount of compensation.

In a modified comparative fault state, it works the same way, except that the cutoff is 50 percent fault. Essentially, if you are more than 50 percent at-fault, then you cannot sue for damages. You have to be less at-fault for your injuries than the defendant — otherwise, you’re not entitled to compensation.

Finally, in a contributory fault state, you are not entitled to compensation if you are even 1 percent at-fault. This can restrict plaintiffs quite a bit. But don’t fret! Skilled attorneys can try to persuade the court that your “fault” isn’t directly linked to your injuries, so it shouldn’t prevent you from suing for damages. There are legal strategies that can be implemented to try and circumvent the restriction, so you’ll want to discuss these with an attorney.

Damages can vary from case to case

Damages in a car accident dispute can vary substantially from case to case. Ultimately, the compensation you receive will be based on the losses you suffered. So, to simplify: the more losses you suffer, the more damages you can claim.

Damages may include:

  • Wage loss
  • Loss of earning capacity
  • Medical expenses
  • Property loss
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of quality of life
  • And more

Let’s take two scenarios: A and B. In both scenarios, you suffer serious whiplash injuries in a car accident due to a drunk driver. Imagine that in scenario A, you’re unemployed and have no income. Meanwhile, in scenario B, you’re employed and earn $100,000 annually. The injuries prevent you from working for one year.

In scenario B, your wage loss claim would be $100,000. In scenario A, however, your wage loss claim would be $0, since you’re unemployed. As such, assuming all else is equal, the damages are going to be different. These variations apply to many cases, so just bear that in mind!

Do you need insurance if you aren’t at fault?

No, you don’t “need” insurance to recover damages in a car accident that’s not your fault, so long as another party was at-fault. This is a misperception that many people have. Let’s use a brief example to clarify how this all works.

Suppose that you are injured in a car accident by another driver, who was speeding and distracted at the time of the accident. You do not have insurance coverage of your own, but the driver who hit you does. Given that they’re at-fault, you’d be entitled to sue them for damages, and their insurer would step in and pay out the amount owed. It would be irrelevant that you lack insurance coverage, as it’s not your responsibility to submit a claim to your own insurance provider.

Of course, there are many scenarios where having insurance coverage of your own is useful. For example, if the defendant doesn’t have insurance, then you could be left without a means of securing compensation without your own coverage.

Can you ask for more money when your car is totaled?

With regard to your insurance plan — possibly. It depends on whether your claim already maxes out your coverage. Generally speaking, however, if you haven’t already hit the cap for your coverage, then the fact that your car is totaled will give you an opportunity to raise your damages claim.

Settlement is common — how does it work?

Though TV and movie depictions of the law often make it seem like most legal disputes go to trial, that’s not actually true — the vast majority of cases are resolved through a negotiated settlement. In fact, legal industry experts estimate that more than 95 percent of disputes (including personal injury disputes) conclude with a settlement.

Why is settlement so common?

Simply put, legal disputes involve a level of uncertainty. There’s not only the uncertainty that you will win/lose, but there’s also uncertainty — even if you win — around how much compensation the court will actually choose to award you.

Of course, a skilled attorney (and a solid case) increase your likelihood of winning the dispute and securing substantial compensation, but uncertainty is always there. Given that trial litigation can be exhausting, resource-heavy, and uncertain for both parties, a negotiated settlement is almost always the preferred outcome.

Settlement amounts can vary wildly, however. Whether you’ll receive a favorable settlement depends on your ability to persuade the opposition that your case is likely to win (if it were to go to trial), and whether you can persuade the opposition that your damages are provable and significant. The more bulletproof your evidence and arguments, the better your settlement is likely to be.

Statute of limitations in a car accident — why is it important?

In a car accident case — as with any legal dispute — there are “statutes of limitations” that can impact your ability to pursue compensation under the law. “Statutes of limitations” are simply deadlines that apply to your claims. If you do not file a legal action before the deadline passes, then you could lose out on the ability to sue for damages in a court of law. In other words: you could lose out on compensation entirely!

Given the severe consequences of waiting too long and letting the deadline pass, it’s critical that you work with an attorney as soon as possible. Attorneys have a professional duty to handle your claims in a timely manner. As such, they have to take the necessary steps to file your claims before the deadlines pass.

We understand that being in a car accident can make you feel weak and vulnerable. But if you want to secure the compensation you deserve, it’s worth getting in touch with an attorney who can begin to process your claims in a timely manner.

Contact 1-800-THE-LAW2 for a Free Consultation

If you’ve been injured in a car accident that’s not your fault, then you may be entitled to sue for damages. It can feel overwhelming and confusing to pursue a legal claim. That’s why it’s important to speak to an attorney who can discuss the particularities of your case and help you identify next steps.

Contact us at 1-800-THE-LAW2 to get connected to an experienced car accident attorney in our network. First, our team will ask a few questions — you’ll be talking to a qualified attorney in 10 minutes or less! Consultation is free and confidential, so there’s no reason to delay.

We look forward to assisting you.

Our offices are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so we can assist you no matter when your accident occurs.

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