I was involved in a car accident…now what?

Article Updated: Original Publish Date - Dec. 29, 2014

Car accident deaths rose in 2015 to 895 for the state of Arizona according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.

This statistic shows 121 more car accident deaths in 2015 then the previous year (a 15.6 percent increase). The total number of car accidents in Arizona also rose to 116,609 from 109,664 the previous year.

ADOT suggests how educating the public on these statistics, and the following factors, will help drivers make better decisions behind the wheel:

  • Seat belts, child safety devices and helmets make a big difference: 313 of the fatal accidents were reported not using these safety devices.
  • Speeding: 300 of the fatal accidents were related to exceeding the speed limit.
  • Alcohol: 295 of the fatal accidents involved alcohol-related-crashes.[/list][space height="20"]

Additional Car Accident Statistics for 2015

  • Motorcycle accident fatalities slightly rose to 134 in 2015 from 128 in 2014.
  • Pedestrian accident fatalities slightly rose to 161 in 2015 from 155 in 2014.
  • Every 9.79 hours takes a life from a car accident in Arizona alone.
  • Urban area car accident fatalities: 471 | Rural area car accident fatalities: 424
  • Daylight hours were when 75 percent of fatal accidents occurred
  • Thanksgiving was the deadliest holiday weekend for 2015 with 16 car crash fatalities
  • $3.82 billion economic loss from motor vehicle accidents in 2015.

What to do at the accident scene

Get medical care immediately or soon after a car wreck if necessary. Even if think you were not injured, remember some types of injuries, such as soft tissues injuries, brain bleeds or back injuries, take a few days to become noticeable. If you tell the police or the other driver that you are not injured, it will make it difficult for you to collect damages after the injuries do become apparent.

Do not tell the police or the other driver you think you were at fault. Give a matter-of-fact report to the police, but do not volunteer any possibly incriminating evience. Call and report the accident to your own insurer. If you can take any photographs of the accident scene and the cars involved, take them.

Shortly after the accident

Expect to receive telephone calls from the insurers of the other drivers who will ask you to give a statement and they may ask your permission to record it. You are not required to speak to them and you should decline. Even though this is a civil case, anything you say to the insurer will be used against you. Keep in mind the insurance adjuster who calls you is trying to save the company money.

No matter how concerned adjusters seems to be, their mission is to try and find a way not to pay you anything no matter how seriously you were injured. Even if you say something that seems innocuous like, “I am so sorry about the accident,” it may later be used against you as an admission that you were at fault. Let your attorney speak to the adjuster for you.

If it seems clear that you were not at fault, the insurer may make you an immediate settlement offer in exchange for you signing a document, called a release, whereby you agree not to sue them for any further damages. The insurer hopes you will take some money and go away before you can really evaluate the extent of your damages. It is never in your best interest to accept the first settlement offer.

Investigation and filing a personal injury lawsuit

Most personal injury attorneys offer free consultations where they evaluate the facts of your case and advise you on how to proceed. If filing a lawsuit is in your best interest, you become the plaintiff and the person or entity you are suing are defendants. Your attorney will then begin the discovery process and gather all the relevant evidence. This assists in the determination of who was at fault and the extent of your damages. Information your attorney will collect includes, but is not limited to:

  • Obtaining the police and investigative reports including any photographs taken and statements of witnesses.
  • Determining who should be named as defendants in the lawsuit. At times, in addition to other drivers, a governmental entity may be at fault for not repairing a known dangerous road condition.
  • Requesting answers from the parties you have named as defendants by sending them, through their attorneys, written questions defendants are required to answer under oath.
  • Taking depositions of witnesses and those involved in the accident. A deposition requires the defendant or witness to show up in person and, under oath, answer questions asked by the attorneys. It may even be video-taped.
  • Reviewing and evaluating your medical records.
  • Hiring a medical expert to determine the extent of your injuries and what the outlook is for you needing any future medical care.
  • Possibly hiring a rehabilitation expert to determine if you will be able to return to your former employment or if you will need job retraining.
  • Hiring an accident reconstruction expert who will help determine who was at fault for the accident. Under Arizona law, if you were partially at fault, it will affect the amount of the damages you can collect.

Damages to which you are legally entitled

When insurance companies make an early settlement offer to you before you have contacted an attorney, they generally ignore the extent of damages to which you are legally entitled. That includes:

  • Current medical expenses.
  • Future medical expenses you anticipate due to your injuries.
  • Current lost wages.
  • Future lost wages you anticipate due to your injuries.
  • Rehabilitation costs including long-term care if required.
  • Job retraining costs if you are unable to return to your former employment.
  • Pain and suffering.

Settlement or trial

After discovery is complete, your attorney will know the extent of your injuries and determine whether it is in your best interest to negotiate a settlement with the insurer or to take your case to trial.

Statute of limitations

The law requires you to file your lawsuit within a certain amount of time after the accident. If you miss the deadline, you lose your right to sue. You need to contact an attorney as soon as possible in order to preserve your rights.

Final Advice

Knowing exactly what to do following an auto accident may seam impossible; especially in such a time of disarray.  Brushing up on just a few tips before taking action can make all the difference in the world when it comes to a successful settlement.