If you’ve ever been in a car accident, you know how chaotic and confusing the aftermath can be. Your heart is pounding, your head is spinning, there may be serious injuries, there is almost certainly vehicle damage, and you know you’ll have to make stressful phone calls to your insurance company, your employer, your friends and family, and possibly, a tow service.
It’s not always easy to navigate your own rights and responsibilities after a motor vehicle accident, which is precisely why we have compiled this simple step-by-step guide on what to do after a crash or collision occurs. It also covers some basic points about obtaining compensation after a car accident, a process which generally begins with an insurance claim, and sometimes leads to a personal injury lawsuit.
12 Steps to Take After an OKC Car Accident
1. Remain calm
We know how difficult this can be in an emotionally-charged and perhaps physically painful situation like a car accident, but keeping a level head can prevent an already bad situation from getting worse. Even if you want to scream at the other driver, tell yourself to keep your cool. You’ll thank yourself later.
2. Turn off your car’s ignition, and activate your emergency flashers
If you’re able to do so without creating a safety hazard, move your vehicle out of the path of oncoming traffic before you turn the engine off.
3. If you, one of your passengers, or the other driver or passengers have been injured, call an ambulance immediately
Not only is this basic common sense, it’s actually mandated by law. Several of Oklahoma’s motor vehicle statutes contain provisions requiring drivers to notify law enforcement, remain at the scene of the accident, and seek medical attention for injury victims.
4. Call the police, even if you do not think you are injured, so that an accident report will be on file
While accident reports are classified as “hearsay evidence” and therefore generally aren’t admissible in court, they can be powerful sources of leverage during settlement negotiations.
5. Get the contact information of the person who caused the accident
This should include his or her name, phone number, license plate number, and insurance information. We cannot emphasize the following enough: write this information down, or make a text note in your phone.
6. Get the contact information of anyone else who was present when the accident took place
Impartial witnesses often make the difference in a case’s outcome when, for example, two drivers blame each other. Since witnesses observe the accident from the outside, they often have a clearer, less jumbled picture of what actually occurred.
7. Request that the police officer at the accident scene write up an accident report
To reiterate, police accident reports can be tremendously useful tools when you’re attempting to negotiate a settlement. There’s no need to be pushy, but do make sure that a report is written.
8. Take plenty of photos
You should photograph your car, the car that belongs to the person who caused the accident, and, as people too often forget, also the area surrounding the accident scene. In fact, the surrounding area sometimes contains more information than the vehicles themselves, such as tire skid marks. Ideally, you should try to get photographs from as many angles as possible, while of course prioritizing safety first.
9. Create an informational record
A police report is a great start, but it’s not sufficient on its own. You should document as much information as you can about the accident, including how the crash happened, damage to your car, and any injuries sustained. Write down everything, even if you’re confident you’ll remember it accurately. Memories can warp with time, even if we don’t always realize that it’s happening.
10. Seek any necessary medical attention immediately
Remember to explain to your doctor how the injuries occurred. Resist the urge to downplay your pain or discomfort. You’re not inconveniencing anyone – that’s what the doctor is there for. It’s very important to create an accurate medical record which reflects the true extent of your pain, suffering, and injuries.
11. Be extremely careful when talking to insurance companies
Bear in mind that any insurance adjuster who calls you is calling on behalf of both the insurance company and the person who caused the car wreck.
12. Seek legal help
Unfortunately, you cannot trust insurance companies to look out for your best interests. Insurers will do anything they can to minimize their losses, which in some cases, even means resorting to unethical and outright illegal “bad faith” practices, like creating unreasonable delays in claim determinations, or ignoring evidence of what occurred. Contact an attorney who has experience handling automotive accidents as soon as possible if you have been injured or think you might have a case against the person responsible for the accident.
Filing an Insurance Claim After You’re Injured in a Car Accident
According to AAA estimates, the average cost of a car accident resulting in personal injury is roughly $125,000. That’s equivalent to spending about $342 every single day for a year, all in addition to your mortgage, health insurance, groceries, utility bills, and any number of other day-to-day expenses. The average cost of a fatal car accident is 48 times greater: about $6 million, which is roughly equivalent to spending $16,438 per day for one year, or about $3,288 per day over a period of five years.
For the vast majority of hard-working Oklahomans, budgeting for these tremendous costs is simply not feasible. However, you may not need to pay out-of-pocket for your losses. If you were hurt in the accident, there are a few methods by which you may be able to obtain compensation for your current and future medical bills, as well as any earnings or income you have lost or are projected to lose due to your injuries.
For most accident victims, the first action is filing an insurance claim. Because Oklahoma is a fault state as opposed to a no-fault state, the claimant must be able to prove that the other driver was responsible – or, in the case of shared fault, at least primarily responsible – for the accident which occurred. By “primarily” responsible, we mean the claimant must be less than 51% at fault, a doctrine which is aptly referred to as the 51% Bar Rule. This rule comes from Okla. Stat. Ann. Tit. 23 § 13, which provides that “contributory negligence,” or partial fault, “shall not bar a recovery, unless any negligence of the person so injured… is of greater degree than any negligence of the person… causing such damage.”
To start the process of filing a claim, you must call the insurance company to notify them of the crash. State only the bare minimum facts at this stage – do not offer any additional information. Do not play down or even apologize for the accident, as unnatural as it may feel, because an apology can later be used against you as a potential admission of fault. Once you notify the insurance company, a claims adjuster will be assigned to your case.
At this stage, you should make every effort to consult with an attorney immediately. The claims adjuster will take any measures necessary to pay as little as possible – often far less than the true cost of caring for the injury. Your attorney will make sure that your rights are not violated, and that the insurance company does not take advantage of you.
When Settlement Negotiations Fail: Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit
While most claims ultimately resolve with a settlement, there are some instances where settlement negotiations fail. In this scenario, the accident victim may wish to file a civil lawsuit as an alternative method of recovering compensation for their injuries. The driver (or pedestrian, cyclist, etc.) who files a lawsuit is called the “plaintiff,” while the driver being sued is called the “defendant.”
As with insurance claims, the plaintiff must be able to prove that the defendant was primarily at fault in order to be awarded compensation. More specifically, the plaintiff must be able to establish four facts, an obligation known as the “burden of proof.” These facts are that:
- The defendant had a “duty of care” to the plaintiff: All drivers have a duty to obey traffic laws and take reasonable precautions to avoid creating road hazards while driving.
- The defendant breached the duty of care: This means the defendant negligently failed to take reasonable and appropriate actions to reduce the risk of causing death or injury while driving, taking into consideration all pertinent circumstances. This is known as “breach of duty.” There are innumerable ways a defendant can breach their duty as a driver, including but not limited to running a red light, failing to yield right-of-way, following too closely, excessive speeding, driving while intoxicated, distracted driving, and other safety hazards.
- The accident was caused by the defendant’s actions or failure to act: Known as “causation,” this point is further divided into two components: “actual cause,” or “cause in fact,” and “proximate cause.” Actual cause is precisely what it sounds like, while proximate cause is the indirect or legal cause of an accident.
- The plaintiff suffered actual harm as a result of the accident: This element is known as “damages.”
If the plaintiff is able to establish all four of these facts, he or she may be awarded compensation for a number of current and projected costs and losses, including hospital bills, medical devices, lost earnings, and other hardships.