Steps to take after a car accident
January 13, 2015
No matter how careful a driver you may be, there is always the threat of an accident on the roadways. With so many drivers occupying the roads, some more cautious than others, an accident can occur at any time, even if you regularly obey every traffic regulation. In 2013 alone, New Jersey drivers were involved in 283,115 reported crashes, with many more likely going unreported. Everyone involved in an accident, including all drivers and potential witnesses, has responsibilities after the accident, and some are mandated by law and punishable by significant consequences. Being prepared and knowing what to do after a car accident can make it much easier to deal with insurance companies or other parties involved, while saving all parties significant time and expenses.
Whether or not the parties dispute responsibility for the accident, both drivers should immediately get themselves to a safe location on the road where they are not at risk of suffering future additional damage. After turning off the respective vehicles, cones or flares should be used to warn oncoming traffic that an accident has occurred. Once all parties are safely away from harm, they should contact the police to ensure that the proper authorities can respond to the situation. The parties should also exchange as much information as possible because this will make any future insurance or legal claims much easier to deal with. Information that should be exchanged includes contact information, license numbers, vehicle plate numbers, vehicle descriptions, and insurance information. Additionally, the contact information of any witnesses should be taken down, as should the names and badge numbers of any responding police officers. While exchanging information, no party should admit liability or refuse medical assistance offered by trained emergency personnel. If no injuries are sustained that require treatment, the parties should remain at the scene to document the accident to the best of their ability, making note of the time, date, weather, and road conditions. Photos should be taken of the scene and vehicles if possible.
Most importantly, no party should leave the scene of the accident, even if it appears minor and no one was injured. Leaving the scene of an accident can lead to significant legal consequences. Recently, a woman in New Jersey was arrested and charged for leaving the scene of an accident even though she claimed to have stopped and checked on the victim before leaving. She did not wait for the police, and though the man may have appeared fine to her, he died from his injuries just two days later. This woman is now facing severe criminal penalties as well as a wrongful death action from the deceased driver’s family. Even if this woman was not located by authorities, the victim’s family could have brought a claim against the victim’s own automobile insurance company under the uninsured motorist coverage. The party making the claim would have to prove that they made reasonable efforts to determine the identity of the vehicle and its owner or driver at the time of the accident.
Finally, the drivers should immediately report the accident to authorities. In New Jersey, any accident that involves injury, death, or property damage greater than $500 must be reported. If the authorities are not called to the scene to complete an accident report then a letter detailing the accident must be sent to the Motor Vehicle Commission Agency within 10 days of the accident. Notice should also be sent to each party’s respective insurance company.
In New Jersey, a witness of an automobile accident has no legal obligation to do anything. As long as it is safe to proceed, the witness does not have to stop to render aid or contact emergency services. An individual may, however, feel morally obliged to render some form of assistance. Any witness or bystander who chooses to provide help must use extreme caution when approaching the scene of the accident, making sure not to block the way of potential emergency vehicles. Even if it appears to be a minor accident, the witness should contact 9-1-1. Most importantly, the witness should never move or touch the victims unless it is absolutely necessary to avoid future danger or they are specifically trained to do so. Touching or moving an injured victim can exacerbate any unseen or unknown injuries, and may even paralyze the victim if done so improperly. Finally, once emergency services arrive at the scene, the witness should offer any pertinent information gathered including their personal contact information to any investigating officers or the drivers involved in the incident.
Under New Jersey’s Good Samaritan law, citizens rendering care to an injured party at the scene of an accident are free from civil liability if they do so in good faith and without the expectation of future consideration, such as monetary payment. The immunity granted under the law will shield a Good Samaritan from most actions, except those involving gross negligence, reckless or willful misconduct.
Any car accident, no matter how minor, can lead to a lengthy and sometimes aggravating recovery process. If you were involved in a car accident you should contact a personal injury attorney to ensure your rights are protected. A knowledgeable attorney can review the details of your accident and help you choose the best route to obtaining any possible recovery you may be entitled to under New Jersey’s laws.