Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid After a Car Wreck
South Carolina may be the buckle of the NASCAR belt, but apparently not everyone has the same skills as Jimmy Johnson or Kyle Busch. Unfortunately South Carolina’s drivers have consistently ranked in the bottom 5 for careless driving and fatalities. In fact in 2013, South Carolina ranked last in careless driving and pedestrians and cyclists killed per 100,000 people, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Car accidents can cause serious personal injury and even death. If a third party negligently causes a car accident and you are injured as a result, you may be entitled to compensation. If you were hurt in a car wreck (truly injured), consulting an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible after the collision is essential to making sure your rights are protected. Avoiding common mistakes can strengthen your claim and keep the insurance company from setting you up for failure, so read on for the top 10 mistakes to avoid after a car accident injury.
- Failing to call the police or file an accident report: If you are involved in a motor vehicle collision, you should call the police immediately to file a report. This is especially true if you or your passengers suffered a potential injury. An accident report from the investigating officer can provide an objective, independent explanation for what occurred. An at-fault party may ask that you don’t report the accident-DON’T LISTEN TO THEM. The police report may be the only proof you have that the accident was not your fault if you later have to prove your case in court. Sure – waiting on the officer to arrive for an hour may not be fun, but it may save your case.If for some reason you have cannot have the accident investigated by law enforcement, South Carolina residents are required report the accident within 15 days to the DMV under certain circumstances as follows:
You are required to complete and submit a Traffic Collision Report within 15 days of an accident, if the accident was not investigated by law enforcement and any of the following apply:
- The accident caused injury or death.
- The accident resulted in total property damages of $1,000 or more.
If you fail to report an accident to the South Carolina DMV, you may have your license suspended. In the event that another driver offers to pay for damages and asks you not to report an accident, you are still required to file the report in any of the situations outlined above.
Your report must include detailed and current information regarding your insurance coverage. The DMV will cross-check this information with the insurance company shown on the report. If the accident was investigated by the police, the investigating officer will provide you with an Insurance Verification Form (FR-10) which has to be duly completed and mailed to the DMV within 15 days of the accident. The form is currently not available online but it can be obtained from your local DMV office.
If you did not have liability insurance when the accident occurred, your driving privileges and vehicle registration will be suspended. You will be required to file proof of future financial responsibility (SR-22) in order to have your driving privileges reinstated.
Make a copy of the accident report form for your personal records. You can mail the original report directly to:
South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles
P.O. Box 1498
Blythewood, SC 29016-0040
- Failing to collect evidence: It may be embarrassing to take pictures of the debris, the damages to both vehicles involved, and the scene of the collision, but failing to do so may impair your ability to protect your rights and get a fair settlement down the road. If there were any witnesses at the scene, you should make sure to get their contact information (or at least take a photo of their license plate) in case the facts of the accident are disputed. I always recommend that my clients take photos of the “four corners” of the vehicles and the accident scene, tow truck drivers, ambulance or other emergency responders so they are preserved for later use as evidence. Spending 5 minutes documenting the scene or taking photos at the tow yard may make the difference between an unfair settlement and getting the compensation you deserve.
- Not getting timely medical care: The first thing you should do after an auto accident is check on yourself and your passengers to see if they are okay. If you or your passengers are injured, you should seek medical care as soon as possible. Refusing medical treatment from the EMS personnel will be documented and will likely be used against you if you file a claim. Even if you just “feel a little sore” you should go get checked out to make sure that there is not something more serious in play. If you get a clean bill of health, at least you have the peace of mind of knowing that you do not have internal injuries. At your first doctor or hospital visit, be sure to tell them about any and all complaints of pain, numbness or tingling, as the failure to specify an injury can lead to a denial of a claim for your injuries by the insurer. Further, any delay in treatment will lead to the insurer taking the position that you were not really injured. I don’t like going to the doctor, but I know that doing so immediately following an accident will give me peace of mind and protect any claim I may present in the future. Your doctor can diagnose any injuries and also establish that the injuries actually were caused by the car accident.
- Failing to contact a personal injury attorney: This may sound like self-pandering coming from a personal injury attorney, but the reality is that insurance companies have one goal-to save money and reduce the value of your claim. If you are injured, an auto accident attorney will help you protect your rights. Most personal injury attorneys offer a free consultation to help you understand your rights and decide whether you need to hire an attorney. Many individuals do not know that there is additional insurance available to cover medical expenses and pain and suffering. Most people do not understand their own Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist coverage. Speaking with an attorney with years of insurance experience can help guide you through this process.
- Giving a recorded statement: NEVER GIVE A RECORDED STATEMENT to your insurer or the insurer for the at-fault party. It can only be used against you by the insurance company. Even if you feel comfortable speaking with your own insurer, adjusters routinely share information with other insurance companies without your permission, so be careful not to provide them with a sword to use against you. If anything, you can agree to give an unrecorded statement with your attorney present to make sure you don’t give incomplete or inaccurate information.
- Providing a medical authorization: As with the recorded statement, NEVER SIGN A MEDICAL AUTHORIZATION TO ANY INSURER. Signing an authorization gives the insurance company unfettered access to your medical history and records from the beginning of time. There is no valid reason to provide this information immediately following an accident. Your car accident attorney or you personally should obtain all medical records and bills related to your treatment for injuries following a car wreck.
- Failing to exchange insurance information: Immediately following an accident is a stressful time. Now is not the time to make decisions that could negatively impact you down the road. While it may seem obvious that the accident was not your fault, you never know what someone will say once you leave the scene. Don’t be swayed by someone saying that they will take care of you or your property damage. You may think that you and your car are fine, and it is okay not to exchange insurance information. However, state laws require you to exchange driver license, car registration, and insurance information, and failure to do so may hurt your claim if you develop problems down the road. At a minimum, snap photos of the driver’s license, cars and insurance card for later use if necessary.
- Failing to call your insurer: You should contact your own insurance company as soon as possible following the accident. Your insurance company may be paying your damages if the at-fault party is uninsured or underinsured. If for some reason you are sued, your insurer may pay your legal bills. You want to let them know what is going on as soon as possible, so they can let you know how to proceed with filing a claim. Additionally, you are required to cooperate with your insurer concerning their investigation of the claim, and a failure to report the accident may result in a denial or partial denial of coverage under your policy
- Keeping insufficient records: You will want to keep careful records of all medical diagnoses, billing and doctor’s notes. You should also keep records of all lost wages as a result of missing time due to the accident. A diary of the hours, days and weeks following the accident chronicling your injuries, pain and suffering, doctor’s visits and therapy will go a long way in obtaining the best result in your claim or case.
- Not understanding your rights: As a plaintiff in a car accident claim, your rights and whether you can recover damages may depend on the particular facts and circumstances surrounding the accident. There may be a dispute on liability. You or your passengers may be covered for medical expenses even if you were partially at fault. You may have the right to sue, but you need to do so within a given period before the statute of limitations expires or your claim will be barred. In South Carolina the statute of limitations is generally three years unless a government entity is involved. If a minor is involved, someone must be appointed Guardian Ad Litem to look after the interests of the child. Even in cases where liability is clear and the at-fault party’s insurance is paying all of the limits, an attorney can often negotiate the medical bills to put additional money in your pocket. If you leave it up to the other side’s insurer, they will likely just pay the medical bills at full value and leave you hanging. Speaking with an attorney before you sign any paperwork is critical to protecting your rights.
- Bonus Mistake to Avoid – Assuming you cannot recover damages: There are many scenarios where you may think you or your passengers cannot recover damages following a car wreck. Even if you are partially responsible, under South Carolina and Georgia law you can still recover damages as long as your negligence does not exceed 50%. You may also believe that you cannot recover damages because you were in a car that was uninsured. Many times you may be able to recover from your at-home policy or a policy of a relative residing in your household. If you have a question regarding your ability to recover damages, call an experienced car accident attorney or insurance attorney to get a definite answer.
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a due to another driver’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact an experienced car accident lawyer at Hammack Law Firm today for a free consultation.