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Our Car Accident Lawyer's Guide to Car Accident Injury Cases

If you’re reading this page, then chances are you have recently been in a car accident and you may need car accident lawyers who can help you.

Car accidents are sudden, unanticipated events, but they have the potential to derail your life well into the future, perhaps forever.

You or a passenger may have been injured, perhaps very seriously, or you may have lost a loved one. Your vehicle has almost certainly suffered some damage and has likely been totaled.

You are probably full of questions right now. This is very common for people who have just been in an accident. Despite the frequency of car accidents, many people who get in one do not know what to do.

Unfortunately, in the immediate aftermath of an accident few people will go out of their way to help you.

Over the past century, a vast and complex bureaucracy has grown up around car accidents. There are a lot of players in this bureaucracy, and not all of them will have your best interests at heart.

Insurance representatives, police officers, and medical professionals may be well-intentioned, but they often leave you with more questions than answers. And some other actors, such as the other side’s insurance adjusters, will be openly working against you.

What none of these people will tell you is that after a car accident, you are not as powerless as you may think. There are a lot of things which can be done to improve your situation, and in this guide we will discuss some of them.

Car Accident Lawyer's Guide to Auto Accident Cases - Table of Contents
Common Causes of Motor Vehicle Accidents
Common Causes of Auto Accidents
All About Car Accident Lawsuits
Liability Insurance for Car Wrecks
Determining Fault in an Auto Accident
What to do Following a Car Accident
Answers to Frequently Asked Car Accident Questions

Car Accident Statistics: Understanding the Scope of the Problem

The United States of America has one of the highest rates of car ownership per capita in the world, at 797 cars per 1,000 people. This rate is higher than that of nearly every other developed nation, and is only surpassed by the small urban microstates of Monaco and San Marino.

Cars are a big part of everyday life in America, and this is mostly a good thing. Motor vehicles improve our lives in myriad ways, and can even be said to have been the invention that made the modern world possible (electric light bulbs and penicillin notwithstanding).

But our dependence on cars comes with a big downside. Most Americans will get into a car crash at some point in their lives, and for many, these accidents will be deadly or otherwise life-changing.

Car accident statistics

Every year, there are around 6 million car accidents on American roads. The rate has remained relatively constant with a general downward trend over time, although there appears to have been an uptick in recent years as a result of the current epidemic of distracted driving.

Of course, many of these 6 million accidents are inconsequential. But around 1.5 million Americans are injured to varying degrees in car accidents every year, and around 30-40,000 are killed.

So if you have gotten in a car accident, you are not alone. This, however, is likely small consolation, and does nothing to subtract from the difficulties you currently face.

Causes of motor vehicle accidents

Chapter 1: Causes of Motor Vehicle Accidents

Driver Error

The largest cause of motor vehicle accidents, by far, is driver error.

Causes of car accidents - the 4 Ds

Of the crashes involving driver error, an inordinate number are caused by four factors: drunk, drugged, distracted, and drowsy driving (the “four Ds”).

Other major factors in driver error include speeding (which can involve driving faster than the speed limit OR driving faster than it is safe to do so under current traffic and weather conditions) and disobeying traffic signs and signals, such as red lights.

A few groups, including young men, are known to be particularly risky drivers. However, humans are imperfect, and anyone can make a serious and regrettable mistake on the road.

Roadway Defects

Some car accidents are caused by defects with the roadway on which the accident occurred. In these cases, an accident can occur even if none of the drivers did anything wrong.

Some roadway defects involve the design of the road. These can include missing guardrails, badly designed curves, improper signage, hidden or missing signs or signals, or structural problems (particularly on bridges).

Other roadway defects involve the maintenance of the road. These can include poor pavement, potholes, poorly marked construction zones, excessive foliage, or the presence of debris, oil, water, snow, or any other dangerous substance in the road.

A few problems, such as poor lines of sight or narrow or unclear lane demarcations, may involve either design or maintenance, or some combination of both.

If these factors caused or contributed to your accident, then you may be eligible to sue the government agency (typically a city, state, or county agency) that was responsible for maintaining the roadway. Such agencies have a duty to design roads which are reasonably safe to drive on, and regularly inspect them to ensure that they remain safe.

Roadway defect accidents have some unique complications, because of sovereign immunity, a centuries-old legal doctrine which stipulates that the government (the “sovereign”) cannot be sued. Local governments tend to waive their right to sovereign immunity in roadway defect lawsuits, so you can still sue, but it’s made harder in several ways.

For one, there may be a requirement that the roadway defect involved gross negligence, not just ordinary negligence. For another, there will likely be a very short statute of limitations for such a case, typically six months or less.

This is why, if you have a defective roadway lawsuit, you cannot afford to waste any time!
Motor vehicle defects

Motor Vehicle Defects

Some accidents are caused by a flaw with the vehicles themselves. This is one of the less common types of car accident causes, although as self-driving cars become more common in the future, vehicle defect lawsuits may become more prominent.

Just about any component of a motor vehicle can be defective. Some of the most dangerously defective components in past cases have included the vehicle’s seat belts, airbags, steering wheel, ignition, fuel system, and acceleration and braking system, although dangerous defects are certainly not limited to these components.

Vehicle defects may include design defects, manufacturing defects, or even labeling defects (if the company which made the vehicle did not warn consumers of a particular risk). Car manufacturers are usually held liable for defects, although parts manufacturers, and even shipping companies and car dealerships, can also be included in such a lawsuit.

Defective vehicle liability lawsuits fall into the realm of product liability law, which makes them different from ordinary car accident lawsuits in several ways. For one, they are subject to the tort of strict liability, which means that the plaintiff does not need to prove negligence.

Under the strict liability standard, the plaintiff merely needs to show that the vehicle had an unreasonably dangerous defect, that it occurred in ways that would manifest when the vehicle was being used in its intended way, and that the vehicle had not been substantially changed since it was bought.

For another, it is likely that a defect in a mass produced car will affect many different drivers, which makes it much more likely that a vehicle defect lawsuit will expand into a class action or mass tort action involving many plaintiffs.

Finally, plaintiffs in defective vehicle lawsuits are frequently likely to obtain high punitive damages. This is to dissuade car companies from making cynical cost-benefit analyses in which they determine that fixing a particular defect would cost more than it would to pay off the people injured or killed by the defective car.

Because it is difficult to file a lawsuit against a big auto manufacturing company, it is important for this sort of case to get the best car accident lawyer that you possibly can.

Poor Vehicle Maintenance

Some accidents are caused by a poorly maintained car. This is different from a defective vehicle case because the vehicle was safe when sold, but was not maintained properly by its owner.

Drivers are responsible for maintaining their vehicles and making sure that all the basic systems are in good working order. If they fail to do this, and it leads to an accident, then they can be held responsible.

Drivers aren’t responsible for every single vehicle malfunction, but they are if they had adequate warning about a problem with the car, or reasonably should have known, and did nothing to fix it. However, if the driver took the car to a mechanic and they failed to properly repair it, then the mechanic may be held liable.

Medical Emergencies

Sometimes drivers have inopportune medical emergencies which cause them to lose control of their vehicles and crash. Such medical emergencies may include heart attacks, strokes, seizures, fainting spells, or even sudden schizophrenic episodes.

Can drivers be held responsible for medical emergencies? It depends. If it truly was unforeseen, then they may be able to invoke the sudden medical emergency defense. However, if the driver had some prior warning (such as a history of similar episodes or a diagnosis from their doctor) then they can be held liable.

Adverse Weather Conditions

Bad weather can play a major role in car accidents. Fog and precipitation can impair visibility. Rain, snow, and ice can also make roads slippery, which increases the risk that a car will hydroplane or spin out of control. Even high winds can make it harder to control your vehicle.

Drivers have a duty to respond to dangerous weather conditions by driving more slowly and carefully, using headlights, and taking other necessary precautions. If they fail to do so, they are the only ones at fault.

Although it is not strictly weather-related, accidents are more likely to occur at night. Drivers are also responsible for responding to road conditions at night by driving more carefully and using headlights.

Collisions with animals

Animals

Some animals, such as deer or cows, weigh as much as a car. A collision with such a large animal could kill or seriously injure the occupants of a car.

A collision with a wild animal is an “act of nature,” and no one can really be held responsible. But a collision with a large domesticated animal may be a different matter. Farmers and ranchers have a duty to secure their livestock properly, and can be held liable if their livestock cause an accident.

Chapter 2: Types of Car Accidents

Single-Vehicle Accidents

Single-vehicle accidents are one of the most common types of car accident. In fact, they were responsible for around 55% of car accident deaths in the United States in 2016, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Single-vehicle accidents may involve the vehicle rolling over, hitting a pedestrian, falling off a bridge or down an embankment, or colliding with a tree, building, barrier, or other stationary object. They can range in severity from minor to catastrophic.

Almost all single-vehicle accidents are directly attributable to driver error. This means that in most cases the driver in a single-vehicle accident will be completely at fault, and unable to sue anyone for damages. There are only a few exceptions, such as cases involving roadway or vehicle defects.

The only good side to this is that most single-vehicle accidents can be easily prevented by driving attentively, avoiding risk factors like the four Ds, and being extra careful on dangerous roads with lots of curves or uneven pavement.

Passengers and pedestrians injured in single-vehicle accidents, however, will be able to file a claim against the driver.

Multi-Vehicle Accidents

This is where things become more complex. There are several different varieties of multi-vehicle accidents, and the variety of accident is often a good predictor of who will be at fault. At least one driver will almost always be at fault in a multi-vehicle accident.

Rear End Car Accidents

Rear End Accidents

Rear end accidents are the most common type of multi-vehicle accident. They involve the front of one car striking the rear of another car when both are headed in the same direction.

Rear-end accidents are almost always the fault of the rear driver. Drivers are required to maintain a safe following distance from the car ahead of them, so that even if that car slows suddenly, the driver in the rear will have time to stop.

There are a few situations in which the driver in front may be found at fault, including if they switch lanes in front of another car and then brake suddenly. In fact, this is sometimes done as an insurance scam. However, this is a small minority of rear end accidents.

Rear end accidents, while common, are not the most serious type of accident. Unless they occur at very high speeds, or involve large vehicles, the occupants of the vehicles involved usually escape with only minor injuries (although whiplash is common in rear end accidents).

Left Turn and T-Bone Accidents

Left turn accidents are the second most common type of multi-vehicle accident. They occur when a driver makes a left turn and is struck by oncoming traffic.

Fault in left turn accidents is also straightforward: the left turn driver is usually at fault. Cars have a duty to yield to all oncoming traffic when making a left turn.

If the car which hit the left turn vehicle was speeding or driving recklessly, or if the other driver ran a red light or stop sign, then this may diminish or even eliminate the left turn driver’s fault. If two cars turning left collided, then fault is determined by right of way.

Left turn accidents can range in severity. Because occupants of cars have less protection on the sides of the vehicle than in the front or rear, these types of accidents can be extremely serious.

Left-turn accidents which involve the front of one car hitting the side of another are often referred to as t-bone accidents. However, not all t-bone accidents involve a left turn driver. Some may involve two drivers attempting to go straight at an intersection. In these accidents, fault will be determined by right of way.

Head-On Accidents

Head-on accidents are a relatively rare type of accident, but they are among the most serious. They involve the front ends of two cars, coming from opposite directions, colliding directly with each other.

In a head-on accident, the driver who was going against the designated direction of traffic is at fault. However, fault can be difficult to determine, because head-on collisions often involve so much force that both cars spin off in different directions.

In these cases, accident investigators may not know which car was driving the wrong way, so they will have to rely on the impeccable honesty of the at-fault driver.

The at-fault driver in a head-on crash is frequently asleep, drunk, drugged, or suffering a serious medical emergency, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes all it takes is a moment of inattentiveness for one driver to drift into opposing lanes on the highway.

Because both cars are typically traveling at full speeds, and because the drivers are in the front of the vehicle, head-on collisions cause a large share of the traffic deaths and catastrophic injuries which occur on the road.

Other Types of Multi-Vehicle Accidents

Although the above mentioned types of accidents are among the most straightforward, there are a practically endless number of ways in which two or more cars can collide.

Another common type of accident is the lane change accident, which occurs when a driver changes lanes and collides with another car in the new lane. Typically, fault in such an accident lies with the driver making the lane change.

Rear end accidents in heavy traffic may sometimes grow into multi-vehicle pileups. These crashes can involve dozens of vehicles and injured parties, and determining fault in such a large-scale event can be exceedingly difficult.

There are other types of accidents besides these as well. Just because you don’t see your accident mentioned here doesn’t mean you don’t have grounds for a claim!

Chapter 3: Understanding Car Accident Lawsuits

The Civil Court System

If you get in a car accident, then the case will be decided in the civil court system.

The civil court system is different from the criminal court system, although the two are sometimes confused. Criminal courts are designed to punish lawbreakers through some form of state sanction, including fines, community service, and jail or prison time.

Civil courts, on the other hand, mete out justice by making wrongdoers pay monetary damages to their victims. Unlike in a criminal trial, where the prosecutor is the state, civil cases involve individuals (or legally recognized “persons” such as corporations) suing each other.

Some actions which drivers may commit on the road, including hit-and-run, driving under the influence, and vehicular manslaughter, are criminal offenses. However, car accident lawsuits are a civil matter.

Car accident lawsuits fall into the subset of civil law known as personal injury law or tort law. (“Tort” simply means a civil wrong done to one party by another.) They are the most common type of personal injury lawsuit, and the type with which our firm has the most direct experience.

In a personal injury case, the injured victim is known as the plaintiff, and the person against whom they file the lawsuit is known as the defendant. If you use TorkLaw or another firm to represent you in a case against an at-fault driver, then you will be the plaintiff.

When you bring a civil case against another driver, you must prove that they are guilty by a preponderance of the evidence. This means that it must be more likely than not that they were guilty. It is a much lower standard than proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which is used in criminal trials.

Judgments and Settlements

Although car accidents are a legal matter, filing a claim against another driver’s insurance is not the same as suing. Nor is hiring a personal injury attorney.

Most of the time, you and your attorney will be able to come to a resolution with the other party without having to formally file a lawsuit. And even once a lawsuit has been filed, most cases are settled before going to trial. In fact, it is estimated that over 95% of personal injury cases do not go to trial.

However, whether or not your case ends up in court, the standards for demonstrating that the other driver was negligent will be much the same. That is because both parties know that the case could go to court if negotiations break down, and so the final settlement agreement will be determined based on the probable legal outcome.

In international politics, countries have disputes frequently, but they usually settle these disputes before going to war. However, the outcomes of international agreements are usually favorable to the countries which would likely win if war did occur.

Personal injury law functions along similar lines. Most cases do not go to trial, but the side with stronger legal standing will likely get the more favorable outcome in the settlement. In most cases, the threat of a lawsuit is sufficient, but sometimes it is not.
Damages from a car accident

Damages

Damages are the primary objective of any personal injury case. They are compensation for the loss you have suffered, and take the form of a direct monetary award to the plaintiff.

If you win a personal injury lawsuit as a plaintiff, then the court will award you the damages. If you settle with the defendant, then they will pay you an agreed-upon sum.

There are three types of damages which may be awarded in a car accident lawsuit:

  • Economic damages, which cover the direct economic costs of the case, such as medical bills, lost wages, and damaged property;
  • Non-economic damages, which cover less tangible (but no less real) costs of the case, such as pain and suffering; and
  • Punitive damages, which are meant to punish a particularly egregious act on behalf of the plaintiff.

The types of damages which you will be eligible to collect will vary significantly based on the precise nature of your case… and the quality of your legal representation.

Chapter 4: Auto Insurance

How Liability Insurance Works

Liability insurance is the main type of car insurance.

Drivers in every state except for New Hampshire are required to buy liability insurance. In the event of a car accident, the liability insurance of the at-fault driver covers the damages to the other parties who were involved. Liability insurance covers both bodily injury and property damage claims.

Contrary to popular misconception, your liability insurance does not cover your injuries or property damage if you get in an at-fault crash. It is meant, as the name suggests, to protect you from legal liability.

Each state has its own legal requirements for liability insurance. Often, these requirements are formatted as three numbers, separated by forward slashes. For example, California’s minimum mandated insurance is 15/30/5.

What do these numbers mean? It’s actually quite simple.

The first number, 15, is the amount of bodily injury coverage that is required per injured person. In California, drivers must be insured for at least $15,000 for each person injured in the accident.

The second number, 30, refers to bodily injury coverage for the entire accident. In California, drivers must be insured for at least $30,000 for all the people injured in the entire accident.

Your per accident limits are a final cap on your per person limits. If several people were injured in an accident in California, and their collective damages total greater than the per accident limit of $30,000, then they will not be able to collect more than $30,000 between them, even if their separate individual claims did not exceed the per person limit of $15,000.

The third number, 5, refers to property damage coverage. In California, drivers must be insured for at least $5,000 for any property damaged in an accident.

Each state has slightly different numbers, and you should make sure that you are insured to the minimum levels required by your state. If you are caught driving uninsured, then you may face consequences including heavy fines and a suspended license.

If the damages which the injured parties suffered in the accident were higher than the at-fault driver’s insurance limits, the injured parties may sue the at-fault driver directly. This is why many drivers choose to buy higher insurance limits than the law requires.

We at TorkLaw recommend buying the highest protection that you can afford. Paying a little extra in car insurance each month might be annoying, but if you make a mistake and cause a crash, then it will be well worth your while.

Why is Liability Insurance Mandatory?

Why Liability Insurance Is Mandatory

A lot of people wonder why liability insurance is required in almost all states. What about personal freedom?

In fact, there is a very good reason to mandate liability insurance: if drivers did not have it, then the only way that an injured party could ever recover any damages after a car accident would be to directly sue the at-fault driver.

In such situations, the at-fault driver would be forced to pay all of the damages out of pocket. If their assets did not cover the full damages of the accident, then the injured driver would simply be unable to recover the rest.

Both parties, in short, would likely be financially ruined.

Liability insurance is meant to prevent this by providing a “cushion” of money around car accidents so that insurers, and not drivers, bear the brunt of paying for the accident. Drivers only stand to be sued in the most serious accidents, when their insurance does not cover everything.

An at-fault driver will typically see their car insurance premiums go up, but their financial burden is much less than it would be without insurance.

This is why even in New Hampshire, where liability insurance is optional, most drivers still choose to buy it, because they recognize the financial risks of driving uninsured. In fact, more drivers buy insurance in New Hampshire than do in many states where it is mandatory!

Filing a Claim: Why You Can’t Trust Insurance Adjusters

If you were injured in an accident with an at-fault driver, then you must file a claim with the other driver’s liability insurance.

Once you file a claim, you will be forced to deal with an insurance claims adjuster for the other driver’s insurance company.

Insurance adjusters may refer to themselves as “claims representatives” or “claims handlers,” or something similar, but their essential function is the same: to negotiate with you and attempt to settle your claim. Typically, they are direct employees of the other driver’s insurance company, although they may be independent contractors.

As you might imagine, these insurance adjusters are not exactly interested in helping you. Insurance adjusters get large numbers of new cases every month, and their job has two basic incentives: to settle a claim as quickly as possible, for as little as possible.

The ideal claim for an insurance adjuster is one which costs nothing and can be settled instantaneously, and insurance adjusters who come the closest to making this a reality tend to receive high performance evaluations and rise in the ranks.

As a result, insurance adjusters will do everything they can to make you and your claim go away. And they are skilled in doing this. It is their job, after all, and they know all the tricks of how to get shaken and injured people to say things which will damage their cases.

Insurance adjusters may be aggressive and bullying, and try to intimidate you… but it is more likely that they will be friendly. They will act as though they are on your side, and try to dissuade you from hiring a lawyer by telling you that it will cost you more money than you will gain from it (which is statistically untrue). Only later in your case will they start throwing you curveballs.

No matter how they may comport themselves, insurance adjusters’ goals are not commensurate with your own.Click To Tweet

No matter how they may comport themselves, insurance adjusters’ goals are not commensurate with your own.

If an accident victim’s claim is particularly complex, it might skip a step from the insurance adjusters and you will end up speaking directly to the lawyers for the other insurance company. This, of course, makes things even more dangerous for you.

Minor insurance claims can sometimes be handled by an accident victim, but in cases where there is a serious injury, you will likely need a lawyer backing you up.

Other Types of Insurance

There are a few other types of car insurance which you may need to know about, aside from liability coverage.

Personal injury protection (PIP), also known as no-fault coverage, is a type of insurance that covers the costs of your injuries regardless of fault. PIP is required in twelve states, including Florida and New York. These states are known as no-fault states, because drivers are expected to file a claim with their PIP before seeking damages from the other party.

Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage is meant to protect you if you get in a crash with an uninsured motorist or a hit-and-run driver who cannot be found. It may cover property damage, bodily injury, or both. Underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage is closely related, but it covers damages in a crash where the other driver was not sufficiently insured to cover your full losses.

UM and UIM coverage are required in some states. Even if they are optional in your state, however, they are still a good idea to buy if you can afford them.

Collision and comprehensive coverage cover the costs of your car if it is damaged or destroyed in a collision or by another factor, regardless of fault. They are optional in every state, but are still useful to buy for most drivers, unless your car is so old that it is not worth much on the market.

Chapter 5: Determining Fault in a Car Accident Lawsuit

Car accident lawsuit - determination of fault

Negligence

Fault in an auto accident is typically determined according to the tort of negligence.

To prove negligence, you must establish four elements:

  • Duty. You must show that the defendant had some duty to you, in this case the duty to drive safely and obey traffic law.
  • Breach. You must show that the defendant breached this duty by breaking traffic law or otherwise driving unsafely.
  • Damages. You must show that you suffered some loss, or damages, as a result of the accident.
  • Cause. You must show that the plaintiff’s breach of duty was the direct and proximate cause of your damages.

In some cases, negligence is easy to prove. The plaintiff must simply show that the defendant violated some traffic law (such as running a red light), and that this violation led to the accident. This is known as negligence per se.

In other cases, negligence is more difficult to prove. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s conduct was not that of a “reasonable person.” However, there is significant legal precedent defining what constitutes “reasonable” driving.

Other Types of Tort Claims

Some actions, such as fleeing police or street racing, are so egregious that they go beyond mere negligence. These actions may be tried under the torts of gross negligence or recklessness.

These cases are typically easier to litigate than ordinary negligence claims. This is because courts will tend to condemn the defendant’s conduct and sympathize with the plaintiff.

A few types of car accidents involve intentional tort claims, but this is rare, since most people (except in extreme circumstances) do not intend for car crashes to happen.

Complications of Negligence Claims

If Multiple Defendants Were at Fault: The defendants can all be sued at once, and if they are found liable, then they will be made to share the damages between them.

The process of arranging for the defendants to share damages can be somewhat complicated, and different jurisdictions have different rules on how this is done.

Some states assign damages according to the doctrine of joint and several liability, under which all parties share the total responsibility for the damages. This is controversial, because it can lead to clearly inequitable situations in which a party which shared only slight responsibility, but had the greatest ability to pay, ends up shouldering most of the burden.

Other states simply assign damages proportionate to the degree to which each defendant was at fault. If one defendant is deemed to be 50% at fault, then they must pay 50% of the damages, and so forth. This avoids the pitfalls of joint and several liability, but it can make it hard for the plaintiff, because if even one defendant lacks the ability to pay their share, then the plaintiff will recover less than the full amount.

If the Plaintiff Shared Fault: You can still receive damages, but they will be diminished according to the rule of comparative negligence.

Comparative negligence functions a little differently in every state, but the basic principle is always the same: if a plaintiff was partly at fault then their damages will be awarded at a reduced rate, proportionate to the degree to which they were at fault.

For instance, let’s say that a court decides that the defendant in a particular case was 80% at fault, but the plaintiff shared 20% of the fault. In this situation, the defendant will only be required to pay 80% of the damages. If the plaintiff would have received $1 million, they will instead receive $800,000.

This may sound harsh, but it’s actually a lot easier than the older legal standard of pure contributory negligence. Under this standard (which was once widespread in the tort law system but which is only used today in Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia), any plaintiff who was even slightly at fault would have their case dismissed entirely.

Comparative negligence allows clients to receive damages even if they were partly at fault. Many verdicts and settlements which have been diminished by comparative negligence are still quite large. Don’t assume that you don’t have a case, just because you might have done something wrong!

Chapter 6: What to Do After a Car Accident

In the immediate aftermath of a car accident, you are typically shaken up, and your system will be flooded with adrenaline. This will make it hard for you to think clearly.

Nonetheless, it is imperative for your health and legal well-being that you take the following steps after an accident. The best way to remember to do these steps is to memorize them beforehand.

At the Scene of the Accident

Step 1: Get Out of the Road

The first and most urgent thing which you should do after an accident is to get out of the way of traffic, especially if you are on the highway or a busy street. Some accidents which start out badly end up becoming even worse, as more and more vehicles pile up.

If your car is still driveable, then get over to the side of the road and turn the engine off. Don’t drive any further than you have to in order to find a safe place to stop, or you might be accused of hit-and-run. If you can’t drive your car, then turn on your emergency blinkers.

If it is safe to do so, then set up flares, cones, or emergency reflective triangles a distance behind your car, to let other drivers know that there has been an accident. However, don’t do this if you can’t safely get out of your car! You should be very careful about walking in or near the road after an accident.

At the scene of the accident

Step 2: Help Any Injured People

Check on the people in your vehicle as well as outside or in another vehicle. If someone is dead or injured, then call the police immediately, even if the injuries are minor. Check yourself too; sometimes adrenaline can mask injuries.

Let the paramedics handle the injuries. Don’t attempt to move any severely injured or unconscious people, unless they are in danger of being hit by traffic. If there is a serious medical emergency, then you should perform first aid, but only if you are certified and you know what you are doing.

If necessary, you should also transport any injured parties to the hospital.

Step 3: Stay at the Scene

Always stay at the scene of an accident until you are legally authorized to leave. If you do not do this, then you may be found guilty of hit-and-run, even if you were not at fault in the initial accident. Hit-and-run is a serious crime in every state, and typically a felony if someone was injured or killed.

The precise requirements vary from state to state, but typically, you must exchange your contact information with any other parties involved, including name and residence address, driver’s license, and proof of insurance. If you collided with a parked vehicle or another object, then you must leave a conspicuous note with this information.

If anyone was injured or killed in the accident, then you must call the police. You should also call the police if there was significant property damage, although if there was only minor property damage and no injuries you may be able to report the accident to police later.

Finally, you must provide emergency medical aid and arrange for transportation for any injured people. If an ambulance does not come to the scene, and you are able to drive, then you must drive any injured people to the hospital yourself.

Step 4: Be Careful What You Say

When you are exchanging license and insurance information with the other driver, say as little as you possibly can, and stick to the formalities! There is absolutely nothing to be gained from discussing the accident at the scene, and a lot to lose. Do what you’re legally required to do, and no more.

Most importantly, do not apologize to anyone. It’s natural to say “I’m sorry” as a matter of simple politeness when you collide with someone, but in the legal world, this can be interpreted as an admission of fault on your part.

At the same time, don’t get angry, even if you have legitimate reason to be angry at the other driver. Just keep quiet for the moment and let your insurance company and your attorneys give them their due later.

If the police come, however, you should talk to the officer, and make sure you get your version of events included in the police report.

Gathering car accident evidence

Step 5: Gather Evidence

One of the best things you can do for your case, if you are able to do so, is gather evidence at the scene of the accident. If you’re severely injured, then don’t push yourself unnecessarily, but you may ask someone you trust to gather evidence for you.

Take pictures of the scene of the accident, including shots of your car, the other driver’s car (and license plate), the damage to both cars, and your injuries. Talk to any witnesses who are still present at the scene of the accident, and get their contact information.

If a police officer comes, then get the name, badge number, and business card. After the accident, it may also help to write down a few notes about exactly what happened, while the details are still fresh in your mind.

Getting your car towed

Step 6: Get Your Car Towed

Your car will likely have suffered some damage. If you cannot drive your car after the accident, then it will have to be towed.

If your vehicle is in the middle of traffic, the police will call a towing company. But towing can be expensive, and some scam towing services jack up the prices. If your insurance (or AAA membership) covers towing, then it is best to call them first and have a trusted towing company move your car.

No matter who called the tow truck, you should get the driver’s business card once they get there. And if you have a trusted mechanic nearby, then you can request at the scene that your car be taken to them.

Overnight storage fees add up quickly, so don’t leave your car in the tow yard for too long after the accident (although you should leave it long enough for the insurance companies to assess the damage). The final towing bill will be assigned based on the determination of fault.

After the Accident

Step 1: See a Doctor

Your health always come first. If you were not hospitalized immediately after the accident, then it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible, preferably the same day, and get a thorough assessment of your injuries. You should do this no matter how trivial your injuries may seem.

There are two reasons for this. The first, and most important, is medical. Some seemingly minor accident injuries turn out to be more serious than you may initially believe, while many others have delayed symptoms.

The second reason is legal. Medical expenses are one of the most important components of a personal injury case, and to prove these damages in court, you must provide medical records which show that you were injured. The best time to get these is the day of the accident.

If you do not see a doctor the same day, then the defense will try to say that you must not have been that badly injured. Don’t give them that opportunity!

Step 2: Report the Accident

You are required to call your insurance company as soon as reasonably possible and inform them that an accident has taken place.

In the event of a minor accident, some drivers are tempted to work out an informal deal with the other driver, to avoid getting their insurance involved and risk their premiums going up. This is usually a bad idea. Even seemingly minor car accidents can cost thousands of dollars in damage.

You should also report the accident to the police if they did not respond to the accident, and depending on your state, you may have to report it to the DMV or other agencies as well.

Read Police Report

Step 3: Get a Copy of the Police Report

If the police responded to the scene, they will have filed a police report on the accident. This report will include a determination of fault which can have a major impact on the insurance companies and their own, separate determination of fault.

This is why you should order a copy of your police report once the final draft has been filed (which may take a few days). The police report might cost a nominal fee to order, although you can order a free copy through our website.

The police are not perfect, and they usually have a lot of reports to fill out, so sometimes they make mistakes. If there is a mistake in your police report, then you may be able to petition to have it corrected.

Step 4: Be Careful What You Say

Even after leaving the scene of an accident, you should be careful what you say in public until your case is resolved.

Don’t talk to people about the accident, even your friends, and don’t post anything on social media! It can be tempting to make a post letting your friends know that you are okay, but Facebook and other social media are public forums, and insurance companies will take “I’m doing okay” in a very different way from your intended meaning.

Even posts which have nothing to do with your accident (such as outdoors or vacation pictures) can be used as evidence that you were not seriously injured.

Finally, don’t talk to the other side’s insurance company. You can talk to your own insurance company, but do not speak to the other side’s adjusters without an attorney present.

Chapter 7: Frequently Asked Questions

Different Types of Accidents

The different types of car accidents

What If I Was a Passenger?

It is very common for passengers to be injured in an accident, and if this happened to you, then you have the right to file a claim with the at-fault driver and seek damages for your injuries.

Legally, you cannot be at fault as a passenger, unless you did something to actively stop the driver from controlling the vehicle (like grabbing the wheel). This, however, is rare.

You may file a third-party claim with the insurance company of the driver who was at fault, whether that was your driver or the driver of another car.

If you feel awkward about filing a claim against your driver, because they are a friend of yours, don’t worry: you’re actually going after their insurance company. The driver won’t have to pay your damages out of pocket. Their insurance rates may go up, but if they were at fault this would have happened anyway.

If your driver and the other driver shared fault, then you may file separate claims with both insurance companies. You will be able to collect damages from each driver proportionate to the percentage which they were at fault (for instance, 60% from one driver and 40% from another), although your total amount from both drivers cannot exceed the cost of your damages.

If your driver was an immediate family member, and they were at fault, then it may be harder to file a claim against them, but the law in this area is complex and you may still be able to.

If Someone Borrowed My Car and Got in an Accident, Who Is at Fault?

People share cars all the time, and if you’re too drunk, high, busy, or drowsy to drive, then handing over the wheel to a friend is the responsible thing to do. But what does this mean legally?

If someone borrows your car, then they are also borrowing your insurance coverage. Insurance follows the car, not the driver. When you lend your car you implicitly consent to assume the risk, because your insurance did not consent to take on a new driver’s risk. If they get in an at-fault collision, then your premiums will go up.

In some cases, the insurance of the driver who borrowed the car may still be helpful. If the damage from the accident exceeds your policy limits, then the other driver’s insurance may kick in as secondary coverage once your coverage has been exhausted.

However, although insurance follows the other car, traffic citations follow the driver. If your friend borrows your car and gets a ticket, they will have to pay, not you. So don’t worry about tickets or points on your license if someone borrowed your car and broke the law with it.

And of course, if someone steals your car or takes it against your permission, then you will not be held responsible, because you will not have consented to assume that risk.

What If Someone Died? (Wrongful Death and Survival Actions)

In cases where a car accident has led to the death of a loved one, you may be eligible to file a wrongful death claim or a survival action on behalf of your loved one.

Wrongful death claims aim to recover various types of compensatory damages caused by the death of the decedent, including medical and funeral expenses, loss of earnings, loss of inheritance, and loss of society, love, companionship, or consortium.

 

Wrongful death claims must be filed by the personal representative of the decedent’s estate. Typically, this means an immediate family member, such as a parent, child, or spouse, although this varies from state to state, and some jurisdictions allow a broader range of people to sue.

Survival actions are similar, but they involve damages which the decedent suffered in the time between their injury and death, and would have been eligible to recover directly if they had survived. Damages in survival actions are paid to the victim’s estate.

Aside from this, wrongful death and survival action cases are not all that different from ordinary personal injury claims. The case process is the same, as are the standards for proving negligence.

What if a child was injured in a car accident?

What If a Child Was Injured?

For a parent, there is nothing worse than seeing your child in pain.

Children cannot file lawsuits in their own name, but if you are the parent of an injured child, then you can file a lawsuit on behalf of your child.

If a child wins a personal injury lawsuit, then they will be the one to receive the judgment or settlement money, except for costs such as medical bills which were directly incurred by the parents. Typically, this money will remain in a trust until the child becomes an adult.

Young children (especially those under the age of 7) have a few more protections in the personal injury law system than adults do, as they are not generally assumed to be capable of negligence. Drivers are expected to show a higher than normal duty of care around children who are playing in the streets.

Children over 14, however, are usually assumed to be capable of negligence, and minors with driver’s licenses are held to the same standard of responsibility as other drivers.

What If I Had the Same Insurance Company as the Other Driver?

There are a lot of accidents out on the road, and only a limited number of insurance companies, so this situation is bound to happen sometimes.

This creates an obvious conflict of interest: if your insurer also represents the driver who hit you, then doesn’t this give them an incentive to work against your claim?

Theoretically, insurance companies are supposed to separate the insurance adjusters of both parties in such a situation and ensure that they do not coordinate with each other. In practice, of course, some companies do cheat.

If you find yourself in this situation, you need a personal injury attorney more than ever. When you can’t count 100% on your own insurance to be your advocate, that is the time when you can benefit the most from an attorney whose interest is aligned with your own.

One upside to getting in a crash with a driver from the same insurance company is that your insurer will typically waive your deductible.

What If the Accident Occurred on Private Property (Including a Parking Lot)?

Accidents on private property, such as driveways, private roads, and parking lots, are more common than you may think.

Cases involving parking lots, in particular, are both extremely common and extremely difficult to resolve, because cars in a parking lot are typically moving in all directions and the right of way is not always clear.

Most elements of a case involving an accident on private property will be the same as in any other type of accident. Drivers have the same duty of care on private roads that they do on public ones, and the rules of liability still apply.

After an accident on private property, you must take all the same steps that you should take after any other accident. The process of filing a claim with the other driver’s insurance will be much the same, and the determination of fault will be decided according to the same standards.

There are a few elements which are different, however. For one, the police frequently do not respond to accidents on private property. If they do, they usually do not file a report.

As we’ve discussed, police reports are very important, so you should make an attempt to get the police to come to the scene and take a report. If they refuse, then it is more important than ever to gather your own evidence at the scene.

For another, the owner of the property is more likely to get involved. After an accident on private property, you should inform the property owner that the accident happened. They may be able to help your case, especially if they had a security camera which captured the incident.

Conversely, if the private property owner did not maintain their property, and this caused or contributed to the accident, then you might need to file suit against them.

What If I Suffered Psychological Injuries? (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is very common after a car accident. Even though it is a psychological injury, it is still just as real as a physical injury, and its debilitating effects should not be taken lightly.

Symptoms of PTSD can take a long time to manifest after a crash, and can include flashbacks, hyperarousal, mood changes, nightmares or difficulty sleeping, and avoiding situations which may serve as triggers.

If you have PTSD, don’t lose hope: there are a variety of psychotherapeutic methods that can be used to effectively treat it. And courts today are generally willing to recognize the legitimacy of damages related to PTSD, including both economic damages (such as psychiatric bills) and non-economic damages (such as pain and suffering).

What If the Driver Fled the Scene, or Didn’t Have Insurance?

These situations, unfortunately, are all too common. Around 1 in 8 drivers on the road are uninsured, and a similar proportion of accidents involve a hit-and-run driver. In some big cities, the rate of hit-and-run accidents can be as high as 50%.

If the other driver fled the scene, then don’t chase after them. This could get you accused of hit-and-run too, and may lead to further accidents or a dangerous confrontation. Instead, stay at the scene and notify the police and your insurance that an accident has happened.

You should try to get a thorough description of the hit-and-run driver and their car, including make, model, color, license plate number, and damage done to the vehicle, as well as the physical appearance of the driver and passengers. Write this all down immediately, while it is fresh in your mind.

Hopefully, the hit-and-run driver will be caught, but sometimes they do escape. If you were in an accident with a hit-and-run driver who was never found, you will be in the same position as if you were in an accident with an uninsured driver. Either way, your best option is to file a claim with your uninsured motorist (UM) coverage.

When you file a UM claim against your own insurance company, they will work against you, just like the other party’s insurance would if you were filing a claim against them. In this situation, it is also important to have an attorney backing you up.

Car Accident Law

Do I Need a Car Accident Lawyer

Do I Really Need a Car Accident Lawyer?

Most serious accidents require the services of a personal injury attorney, but in some minor cases, you might be able to handle the accident on your own.

How do you know whether you need a lawyer? Well, we can’t say for sure without knowing the details, but as a general rule of thumb, if you were not injured in a car accident, or if you suffered only minor injuries that do not require medical attention, then you will probably be able to handle the case on your own.

Your own insurance will help you a bit with any property loss claims, and the other side’s insurance adjusters won’t push back too hard if you do your homework and present your case in a strong manner.

Besides, most attorneys just won’t take a small case.

You should, however, hire a car accident lawyer:

  • If you suffered a moderate to severe injury of any kind;
  • If your medical bills were $1,000 dollars or greater;
  • If you missed work for any length of time;
  • If anyone was killed in the accident; or
  • If there was a large property loss and the other party’s insurance company is refusing to work with you.

Unfortunately, it is the nature of the insurance business that companies will push you the hardest after you have suffered the most severe injuries, which just so happens to be the time when you are most psychologically vulnerable and least capable of mounting an effective fight.

A personal injury attorney can do a lot to even the scales. Just remember that if you have been genuinely wronged, the law is on your side.

Not every prospective client has a case. However, we’ve found that many clients have a stronger case than they may initially think. Unfortunately, many of them never learn this and as a result miss out on damages they deserve.

So when in doubt, talk to a car accident lawyer! You have little to lose and you may have a lot to gain.

Even if you decide to handle the claim on your own, you shouldn’t feel shy about getting a free consultation with an attorney if you run into a spot of trouble or you get a bad feeling from an adjuster.

How Much Is My Case Worth?

We can’t tell you a precise amount without knowing the specifics of your situation… and even then, we would only be able to make a rough estimate. Every accident is a little different and all sorts of factors can affect the final verdict or settlement.

In general, the more serious your accident injuries were, the higher the final award will be. Personal injury damages, after all, are a direct function of your losses.

However, there is always a certain amount of variance. You might imagine a “range” of possible verdicts and settlements for your case. Where you will end up falling in this range is largely up to your lawyer; if you have a good lawyer, then your final result will fall near the top of this range.

Verdicts and settlements in car accident cases can range from a few thousand dollars (below which you are unlikely to find a reputable auto accident lawyer willing to represent you) to well into the multi millions.

The largest award that we at TorkLaw have ever obtained for a client was a $26 million verdict for an injured pedestrian, which set a record in the state of California for 2014, and we have obtained several other similarly large judgments and settlements. Of course, most cases, whether they are taken by TorkLaw or another firm, do not result in such a large award.

There is one thing to keep in mind, if you are worried about the size of your judgment or settlement: most clients who end up receiving multimillion dollar sums are not in an enviable position. They have paid a terrible price to get there, either through a serious (possibly lifelong) injury or the death of a loved one, and most of them would happily accept a smaller cash award if only they could regain their health or have their deceased loved one back.

For clients who have suffered such disasters, no money can never truly make up for their loss. However, the value of money to people in this position should not be dismissed. For the permanently disabled, it can mean a much higher quality of life, and for those who have lost a family breadwinner, it can save them from destitution.

Even if your loss was smaller, however, you should still fight for it as hard as you can.
“Smaller” cash awards can still be worth a lot of money, and can have a big impact on your long-term well-being.

How Do I Know If My Attorney Is Right for Me?

Not every attorney is right for every case. Even among competent and well-intentioned attorneys, each one’s specialty and approach will be a little different. Also, every case is different, and the “right” attorney must be right for your particular needs.

There are a variety of factors which you should take into account when making a choice of attorney. We at TorkLaw have our own completely unbiased opinions on which firm is best, but we still encourage you to get as wide a range of opinions as possible and choose the firm that you feel most comfortable with.

Your attorney should be qualified and experienced in the relevant field of law. Perhaps most importantly, however, they should be someone you feel comfortable with on a personal level, and who instills in you a sense of trust.

You will be working with your attorney for months or years to come, and you want to be working with someone with whom you are confident you can maintain a positive working relationship.

To this end, good communication is essential. Your attorney should answer your phone calls and emails in a timely manner, give you regular updates on the status of the case, and in general treat you with common courtesy.

Attorneys are busy people and you can’t expect them to be available every minute of the day. They might be busy working on your case. But you still have a right to be treated like a human being, and not just another file in their desk drawer.

If your attorney is not doing a good job, then you can fire them at any time, and if they do something truly unethical like steal your money, you can file a complaint with your state’s Bar Association or even the police. But it’s best not to get to this point, so vet your attorney very carefully before hiring them.

Should I Trust My Insurance Company’s Initial Offer?

No.

It is typical for insurance companies to make a “lowball offer” early in the process. This offer might not look “lowball” to you, of course. It might seem adequate or even generous. There may be many thousands of dollars on the hook.

Most of us don’t see large sums of money fall into our laps every day, and after a car accident you will likely be drowning in bills and stress. It’s natural in this situation to reason that “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

Your first impulse might be to grab the money and run, rather than embarking on a lawsuit which could take years to resolve with no certain outcome.

But you must not be fooled. Insurance adjusters do nothing out of the goodness of their hearts, and they wouldn’t give you an offer at the beginning if they weren’t afraid that you would be able to get a lot more later.

You don’t know how much your final damages will amount to, but it’s probably bigger than you think. Many clients take the initial offer and soon find out that what they first thought to be a generous offer didn’t even cover the basics.

Of course, once you’ve signed an offer, it’s too late. So do yourself a favor and, at the very least, consult with a lawyer before agreeing to anything.

Can I Afford a Car Accident Lawyer?

Many people assume that they can’t afford to hire a personal injury attorney after an accident, or else they hire a cheap and substandard attorney. They assume that lawyers are for rich people, and that they don’t have the option of getting top rate legal representation.

This isn’t true. No matter your income level, you can be represented by TorkLaw. This is because we operate on a contingency fee basis, which means that you pay nothing to us unless we win. If we do win your case, we will be paid an agreed-upon percentage of your judgment or settlement.

We also provide clients with top-rate medical treatment on lien, and give access to cash advances, so that if you are in a financially strapped position we can give you a breather.

At TorkLaw we believe that everyone deserves to be represented fairly after an accident, no matter how rich or poor they may be. This also allows us to take cases which we might otherwise not be able to take, so we benefit from this arrangement as well as you.

Contingency fee arrangements have one other benefit, too: they give us a direct financial incentive to get you the largest settlement or judgment that we possibly can, because the more you get, the more we get.

Of course, a contingency fee arrangement isn’t truly “free,” and you will have to pay if you win. But even after lawyer’s fees are paid, you are likely to receive a significantly larger amount than you would have if you’d handled the case on your own.

How Long Do Personal Injury Cases Take?

It depends. A personal injury case can be resolved in a matter of days, or else it can drag on for several years. Most cases fall somewhere in between these two extremes, but cases which go all the way to trial tend to take the longest.

When a case takes a very long time, it can be hard for clients. However, sometimes it is necessary to fight for longer to get what you deserve. If we at Torklaw focused on settling cases as quickly as possible, we could do so, but it would mean obtaining mostly substandard settlements for our clients.

We would rather put a lot of time and effort into your case, and end up getting a result that matches your damages… and we think that at the end of the day, you would too.

Why Should I Hire TorkLaw?

Becoming a client of our firm will provide you with a whole host of benefits.

Our firm has represented clients in all different sorts of car accidents. We understand the field of personal injury law in and out, and we will put our legal expertise to your use if you become our client.

Reza and the other attorneys at our firm are extremely well-qualified, and fall in the top tier of personal injury attorneys by just about any measure. Although it is a medium-sized firm, TorkLaw is recognized by many objective observers as one of the best in the business.

You should feel free to read more about our attorneys, as well as some of the recognition that they and the firm have achieved, and the testimonials of many of our clients.

However, there are some other reasons why you should hire TorkLaw which may not be so easily quantifiable but are every bit as important.

We at TorkLaw pride ourselves on going the extra mile for clients. A lot of car accident lawyers take cases and do the minimum of what they need to do, and no more. But at TorkLaw, we make an effort to treat every client like a human being who needs help, and to devote extra attention to our cases whenever possible.

This extra attention makes a quantifiable difference in the sorts of results we get for our clients as well as a less quantifiable difference in the sort of satisfaction that our clients get from working with our firm.

The impersonal, assembly line-type approach to cases taken by many firms leaves clients unsatisfied and frustrated, and often getting less than they deserve. TorkLaw tries to avoid this sort of approach.

Instead, we strive to preserve the human element. That is why so many clients report being satisfied with TorkLaw, and leave as friends of our firm for years to come.

We hope to count you among them.