Who is Liable if I Sustain an Injury or Property Damage in a Car Accident?
February 8, 2019
If you were in a car accident, the negligent driver who crashes into your car is usually liable for your injury-related damages. However, you must first prove that he or she caused the accident. This challenge begins at the accident scene, where post-accident emotions may cause you to lose focus. Following your accident, you should avoid doing or saying anything that may negatively affect your personal injury claim.
Instead of rehashing the accident details with the other driver, admitting fault, or apologizing, you should remain calm and concentrate on what’s important—caring for your injuries and preserving any relevant evidence.
Preserve the Evidence
Following an accident, you should preserve any relevant evidence—but don’t worry, you’ll have help accomplishing this daunting task. The police will conduct an investigation when they arrive. In the meantime, you can preserve important evidence by documenting the facts independently. An accident scene isn’t a static situation: people come and go, witnesses walk away, drivers move their cars to avoid blocking traffic, and some negligent drivers leave the accident scene without identifying themselves. Before any of this happens, you should take care to document as much evidence as possible.
Preserving the evidence is important for several reasons. First, this information will help you establish liability and be useful if you end up filing a personal injury lawsuit. If the other driver attempts to shift liability, you can use this information to fight back. If a defendant successfully establishes your own liability, your insurance company could raise your premiums or non-renew your policy, and if another party suffered serious injuries, you could be responsible for any judgments that exceed your policy limits.
Following your accident, if your injuries don’t limit your mobility and you feel comfortable in your surroundings, grab your cell phone, step out of your car, and document the accident scene. You should:
- Take a picture of the other car’s license plate. If the driver leaves the scene, your documentation will help track down the vehicle.
- Get a photo of the other driver’s license. You need to know his or her identity, especially if you end up needing to file a police report at your local police station.
- Document the other driver’s current address and insurance information.
- Before the other driver moves his or her vehicle, take a photo of the cars’ stopping positions and the points of impact.
- Take a photo of the accident scene, including traffic signs and lights.
- Ask bystanders if they saw the accident. If they did, get their names for future reference. Some witnesses won’t talk to the police, but they may talk to you.
The Police Investigation
When a police officer investigates your accident, he or she will write a report and request an ambulance, if necessary. The officers will talk with both drivers as well as any witnesses who come forward. They may also take photos or draw a diagram depicting the accident scene. Your insurance company will review the police report as an important record of fact while acknowledging a few other realities, including:
- Unless a police officer witnessed the accident, his or her report is merely an opinion of what happened.
- Police reports are great for documenting details, such as vehicle types, driver’s identification, driver’s versions, scene details, intoxication, etc.
- Police officers are human, so sometimes they get the facts wrong.
- Unless it’s a serious accident, officers probably won’t canvas an accident scene looking for witnesses.
- You, the other driver, and any bystanders are the most important witnesses.
- Police officers can’t investigate every accident in person, so they often rely on drivers’ in-station reports.
Should You Talk to the Insurance Companies?
Before you make decisions about whether to speak with your insurance company or the other driver’s carrier, consider consulting an experienced personal injury attorney. Your attorney will manage your communications with insurance companies, control your release of information, and protect your rights.
You should generally notify your insurer of an accident as soon as possible following the accident. You must provide accident details, witnesses names, injured people’s names, and any other information that the insurance company requests. If you don’t comply with your policy duties, your insurance company may deny your claim or decline coverage for the accident. The details you gather at the scene will help you navigate this complicated process. Your insurance company will use your evidence as a starting point for its liability investigation. Again, your attorney can help handle these communications.
You’ll likely hear from the other driver’s insurance company as well. As this company has no contract with you, it can’t force you to cooperate. Still, it will want your statement to assess liability issues, and it will want your medical bills to evaluate your injuries and damages. It will also obtain its insured driver’s version of the accident, which may reference statements you made at the accident scene. If the other driver’s company decides its insured driver is liable for your injuries, it should make a settlement offer. Whether to accept the offer will be up to you. Let your attorney take care of all communications with the other driver’s carrier.
The Other Driver’s Insurance Company Should Settle Your Injury Claim
Once you leave the accident scene, the waiting game begins. You wait to heal, you wait for car repairs and medical bill payments, and you must wait for the other insurance company’s liability decision. If that company’s investigation proves that its insured driver’s negligence caused your injuries, it should initiate negotiations and offer you a fair settlement. We say should because it doesn’t always work out that way.
California’s pure comparative fault negligence standard recognizes that more than one person can share responsibility for an accident. This legal doctrine provides defendants with a legitimate way to reduce liability insurance claim payouts. Generally, the liable insurance company will allege that an injured victim acted negligently and caused his or her own injuries. Claim settlements and judgments reflect a reduction in damages based on the injured person’s percentage of fault. For instance, if a court determines that a victim was 10 percent liable for the accident, the court would reduce any damages award to that victim by 10 percent.
When a liable insurance company doesn’t negotiate fairly, you may feel the need to choose between accepting a low settlement offer or filing a lawsuit. Insurance companies sometimes use litigation as a negotiation technique, as personal injury lawsuits can drag on for months or years. Filing fees, depositions, expert testimony, and other legal costs make them expensive as well. In this circumstance, injured plaintiffs must choose between lowering their settlement expectations or enduring a lengthy, costly litigation process.
Do You Need a Personal Injury Attorney?
You may be able to prove that the other driver is liable for your injuries and settle your claim on your own, but a personal injury attorney will make the process smoother and likely more successful. Experienced personal injury lawyers understand complex liability and damage issues. They’ve dealt with insurance company claim departments and understand how they function. They also prepare cases for litigation in the event that a lawsuit becomes the only viable option.
While an attorney can’t promise a specific outcome, he or she will fight to protect his clients’ legal rights. Your attorney will work hard to make the liable party and insurance company compensate you for your losses.
Contact Aitken * Aitken * Cohn
If you or a loved one has sustained an injury in an auto accident, you need to retain a lawyer who will protect your legal rights. At Aitken * Aitken * Cohn, our personal injury attorneys have represented injury victims in Orange County and throughout the Inland Empire. In the past, we’ve recovered millions in damages for our clients, and we want to help you. Call Aitken * Aitken * Cohn today at (714)-434-1424, or contact us online, to schedule a free consultation with a member of our experienced legal team.