None of us are ever prepared for a car accident. They happen in an instant and leave us shaken at the very least and catastrophically injured at the worst. What happens if you have suffered injuries in an accident that was caused by another driver? When do you decide whether to call an attorney after a car accident? Here is one lawyer’s advice.
A car crash typically happens out of nowhere, no matter how careful we are. We can go over and over the incident in slow motion in our minds afterward, but in the moment, we are blindsided.
Fortunately, of the approximately six million car accidents that happen in the United States each year, the majority are minor fender benders, and many involve damage to the vehicle. Of that total, one in three results in injuries to drivers and passengers, and two out of every result in a fatality. How we react after we have been involved in an accident can make a huge difference in the outcome, both ours and the others involved.
If you have been involved in a car accident in Colorado Springs, there are a few fundamental steps that should be taken to protect your safety, the safety of those around you, and, perhaps, even your legal rights.
Never Leave the Scene of an Accident
Whenever you are involved in a car collision, no matter how minor, you are required to stay at the scene. Leaving the scene of an accident, even if you did not cause it, is considered a hit-and-run offense in the state of Colorado. Hit-and-run charges don’t consider fault. However, if you are at fault for the accident and leave the scene, your penalties may even be more serious.
After an accident, your body will release a sudden surge of adrenaline. While this hormone is designed to protect you from imminent danger with a fight or flight response, you are better served at an accident scene by keeping as calm as possible.
Check For Injuries
One of the first things that should be done after an accident is to check for injuries, both yours and others, and call 911 to get emergency services and police to the scene. If there are injuries, be sure to tell the dispatcher there is a need for medical care. Never move an injured party, but you can cover them and try to keep them calm. Even when an accident looks relatively minor, calling police and having an accident report is always beneficial, especially if a claim needs to be filed with the insurance companies or personal injury claims are made in the aftermath.
Secure the Scene
After you have been involved in a car accident, your safety and those around you is paramount. If you can do it safely, you can prevent further damages by securing the scene, turning on hazard lights, setting out flares, or keeping your emergency flashers on. Vehicles that have been involved in the accident should remain where they are unless they interfere with other traffic. If they are interfering with traffic but the vehicles run and can be safely moved, first snap some quick photographs to document their position and the surrounding roadway then you can move the cars to the side of the road. Make sure you then move yourself to a safe place away from traffic and remain there until help comes.
Getting a Police Report
Once an investigating officer arrives, make sure to convey what happened from your vantage point. You will only be able to tell what you saw. This is not a time for conjecture, speculation, or guesses.
If you can, get the following information from the investigating police officer:
- Badge number
- Phone number
- Police report number
If the officer asks if you are injured, your best recourse is to say you are not sure. Sometimes car accident injuries are only apparent hours or even days after the incident that caused them.
Be Careful of Things You Say and Do Immediately After an Accident
Most of us say “I’m sorry” as a knee-jerk response to unfortunate things happening, or try to blame someone else or something else if they think they themselves were at fault. Although this is human nature, you want to always be mindful of things you say that may be construed as an admission of fault after an accident. Even spur-of-the-moment statements blaming something else can be problematic later.
You also don’t want to get involved in situations where another driver doesn’t want to contact the insurance company and offers to pay for damages outside the claim process. You don’t know the full extent of damages and injuries right after an accident, and you want the right to pursue potential benefits or compensation with the associated insurance companies. Never sign any documents after an accident unless they are police documents or those of your own insurance company (and even then be wary).
Take Photos and Document the Accident
Accidents involve many things happening at once. Things become confused. Memories fade. Documenting the accident is important so you have the correct information you need and don’t forget key details. You should make notes, highlighting:
- The time and date of the accident;
- The location, including the road you are on and a relevant crossroad;
- What direction you were traveling;
- What direction the other cars were traveling;
- The license plate numbers and driver's license numbers of the involved vehicles;
- The other vehicle driver's insurer and policy number;
- Details about what happened from your vantage point;
- What the road conditions were, weather conditions, visibility, and any additional information that may seem pertinent;
- The names and phone numbers of people who witnessed the accident;
- The name and law enforcement agency of the investigating police officer.
If you have your smartphone with you, you should take photos with the camera on your phone of any vehicle damage, both to your car and to others. Take pictures of the surrounding area, of skid marks, of the road conditions. Often, these images can reveal critical evidence that wasn’t recognized at the time of the accident. If you have any visible injuries, it’s important to get photos of those as well.
Some car insurance companies, as well as the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, have phone apps that allow you to document information about an accident on your phone and will even go on to forward it to your insurance company.
Exchange Contact Information With the Other Drivers, Passengers, and Witnesses
Getting critical information from the other drivers involved and their passengers is important after an accident. You should also get insurance information from the other drivers involved. The investigating officer is probably collecting this information as well, so it will be available on the associated police report.
If another driver asks for personal details from you, the only information you should provide is what is required for insurance purposes. This will include your full name, the name of your insurance company, their number, and your policy number.
If there were witnesses to the accident, you can ask them to wait for the police to arrive to give a statement. If they are willing, you can also ask them for their contact information. If the accident happened on private property, you may also ask the owner, manager, or any security personnel to make a statement to the police. It is helpful to have a neutral party’s account of the incident in the case of an injury claim or potential litigation.
Report the Accident to Your Insurance Company
Report your accident to your insurance company as soon as possible and cooperate with them regarding any information they may need. If you have medical payment coverage (med-pay) with your policy, this will provide coverage for reasonable medical expenses for you and your passengers after an accident regardless of who was at fault for the accident. It’s important to understand that reporting an accident with your insurance company is not the same as filing a claim. But reporting the accident ensures that you will be covered if you need to file a claim.
See a Medical Professional
Because injuries are not always immediately apparent after a car accident, it’s critical to see a doctor as soon as possible after a car accident. Even minor accidents with little impact can cause serious injuries. You can go to an emergency room or make an appointment to see your family doctor. But seeing a medical professional as soon as possible after an accident can diagnose a potential issue or rule injuries out. Many injuries don't show symptoms at the time of the accident due to the adrenaline rush, and many may not appear for even a few days after an accident. Be sure to immediately tell your doctor all symptoms you have after the accident in order to document them. Remember, when dealing with personal injury matters, if it's not reported or written down in medical records, the other party's insurance will argue that it didn't exist. Keep all medical records and expense receipts with your other accident records.
If you end up seeking compensation for your injuries and medical bills (which is always a good idea if you have injuries) the other insurance company's insurance adjuster can use any lack of following your doctor's advice, or foregoing treatment, against you.
Keep Good Records
Keeping a comprehensive file after a car accident is essential so you can have all your documents, records, and contacts in one place for easy access. You should also keep any insurance claim information, the name of your adjuster, and all receipts for any expenses you have incurred, including medical receipts.
Does it Matter Who is At Fault for the Accident?
Yes! The state of Colorado follows a fault-based system for responsibility after a car accident. In Colorado, the at-fault party is financially responsible for damages to your car or injuries you may have sustained. This will first typically be handled through insurance claims, but you also may file a personal injury lawsuit against a liable party if an insurance settlement is insufficient or the at-fault party is uninsured. However, as discussed further below, never agree to anything or give any statement without talking to an experienced personal injury attorney first.
How Will Insurance Work After the Accident?
In Colorado, the protocol for filing an insurance claim after an accident can happen in one of two ways:
- You may file a claim with your own insurance company, and your insurance company will then file a subrogation claim against the at-fault individual’s insurance;
- You can file a claim directly with the at-fault party’s insurance carrier.
Assuming the other driver was at fault for the accident, the other party’s liability coverage will pay for your car repairs up to the limit of the policy. If you have been injured, the other party’s policy will cover those up to the limits of their bodily injury liability coverage.
If the other party was not insured, or their coverage is not sufficient to cover your expenses and injuries, your uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage would kick in to pay your expenses. This coverage takes the place of the other driver’s when you are involved in an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver. But because this coverage is only optional in Colorado, you may not have these benefits. If you don't have them on your policy, you should talk to your insurance agent immediately about changing that. This additional coverage can be invaluable and is worth every penny.
When Should You Call a Colorado Springs Personal Injury Attorney?
After a car accident, in a perfect world, we would see an at-fault driver admit to causing the accident, that driver's insurance company offering a fair settlement for injuries and personal property damages, and all parties would heal and go on with their lives. The reality is often far different.
The insurance industry is a highly profitable industry. It is to their financial advantage to pay the least possible in claim settlements. There are many ways that they do this, from claiming their insured was not at fault to questioning your injuries and damages.
Adjusters for large insurance companies will often look for ways that they can save their employers money in claim settlements and are often financially incentivized themselves. Without active and diligent negotiation, the settlement you are offered will most likely not be the best possible and may be insufficient to cover your costs. Accident benefits are designed to cover the cost of your injuries, personal property damages, and non-economic damages such as pain and suffering. It is even designed to compensate you for any lost wages. Without knowing the full extent of your injuries and the costs involved, the first settlement offer you get can’t possibly be a comprehensive one.
Having an experienced personal injury attorney on your side ensures that the at-fault party and their insurance company are held accountable for compensating you for the amount that you are entitled to under the law. In most cases, a fair settlement can be reached through negotiation. If this isn’t possible, your attorney will then file a personal injury lawsuit against the insurance company or personally against the at-fault party.
It's important not to delay speaking to a car accident lawyer regarding your case. Not only can they advise you on how to proceed with your treatment and claim in a way to best protect your rights and any potential recover, but civil cases of statutes of limitations. A statute of limitation is a time period from the date of the incident in which a lawsuit must be filed or else be forever barred. Meaning, if wait too long, there may be nothing that an attorney can do for you.
Don't delay. Let us help.
If you have been involved in a car wreck in Colorado Springs or the surrounding areas, you should get the advice of a skilled car accident attorney to ensure that you are being fairly compensated. At Patterson Weaver Law, LLC, our team of Colorado Springs personal injury lawyers offers a free consultation so you can understand your rights under the law and have peace of mind knowing that you have a professional in your corner. Contact us to schedule an appointment.