Most people think car accidents happen to “the other guy.” In fact, the average US driver will be involved in 3-4 car accidents during their lifetime.¹ This year alone, over 2 million people will be injured in car accidents.²
When an accident occurs, your life changes instantly. You are suddenly faced with important decisions. The things you say and do at an accident scene have a serious impact on any future property damage or personal injury claim.
What You Need to Know if You’ve Been in an Accident…
Here’s a list of 11 steps to follow after an Alabama car accident to help you build a strong insurance claim. Also included are answers to many frequently asked questions that arise after an accident.
If you’ve been in a car accident, Alabama state law says you must stop at the scene. You also need to see if anybody is injured and call 911.
Location. Be specific. Look for street signs, highway mile markers, traffic signs, and other landmarks. Report the nearest intersection and what side of the road you’re on. The more specific you are, the faster emergency personnel can respond.
Injuries. Tell the 911 dispatcher if there are obvious injuries or if anyone involved is complaining of pain or discomfort.
Accident Scene. Accident scenes are often dangerous. Cars pointing in different directions or sticking out into traffic can make the incident worse. People can go into shock, or wander around looking at damage to their car without being mindful of oncoming traffic. Tell the 911 dispatcher if there are any obvious dangers.
The operator will notify the police and dispatch them to the scene. Police officers will protect the injured, direct traffic, and secure the scene for investigation.
Under what circumstances will the police respond?
Law enforcement agencies have policies dictating when they will be dispatched to an accident scene. Most will send emergency personnel only when there are injuries or the scene is dangerous.
Do I have a legal duty to help anyone who has been injured?
Yes. Once you stop, you are required to help anyone injured. You and the other driver must also share your names, addresses and the registration number of the cars you were driving.
The law also requires that you “render to any person injured in such accident reasonable assistance”. This means if anyone is injured and they require medical assistance, you must help them. This includes providing transportation or making arrangements for them to get medical treatment.
First: Contact your insurance company and report the accident. A claim will be opened and you will be assigned a claim number. Your insurance company will begin an investigation and look into the circumstances of the accident.
Second: Contact the other driver’s insurance company and report the accident. A claim will be opened and you will be assigned a claim number. You will be contacted by a claims adjuster who will investigate the claim. Some insurance companies have one claims adjuster who handles the property damage to your car, and another who deals with your injuries. If this is the case, you will have to deal with multiple agents.
If paramedics arrive on scene, let them evaluate you. Tell them how you feel and what symptoms you experience. If they suggest you be taken to the hospital for treatment, follow their advice.
If the paramedics don’t feel your injuries are serious enough to take you to the hospital, you should make an appointment with your regular doctor as soon as possible.
Note – This is important when dealing with insurance companies. Any delay in medical attention could increase the chance of them claiming your injuries weren’t from the accident. This would certainly affect your claim down the line.
- Exchange your respective names and addresses
- Exchange registration numbers of the cars you were driving
- If requested, show your driver’s license
While not required by law, it is also a good idea to exchange car insurance information at the scene with other drivers involved.
- Immediately stop at the scene.
- Notify the driver or owner of the car you hit and give them your name and address.
- If you cannot find the owner of the car, you must leave a note listing your name and address.
If the car you are driving is not your own, you also need to share the owner’s name and address with the other person. It is also a good idea to leave your insurance information, even if not required by law.
What should I do if I hit a traffic sign, road divider, fence, or other property?
If you cause damage to property other than a car, the law requires you stop immediately at the scene. You must make a reasonable effort to notify the property owner. Once you locate them, give them your name, address, insurance information and the registration number of the car you were driving. You must also show your driver’s license to the owner if they request to see it.
Who else do I have to notify in an accident?
Alabama law requires drivers involved in an accident to notify the local police department if it occurred within city limits. If outside a municipality but within county lines, report it to the local sheriff’s department. If the accident occurred on an Alabama State Highway, you must report it to the Alabama State Highway Patrol.
The minutes after an accident may seem chaotic and confusing, but they are also the most important to your claim. This is when you must gather any evidence you can. It will serve as the foundation on which you build your claim.
Evidence plays a key role when proving your “damages” to the insurance company. As time ticks by, the physical evidence left at the scene will disappear, along with the people who can help you prove your case. You must take advantage of this opportunity.
Try collecting evidence that proves you sustained property damage or injuries caused by the other driver’s negligence.
- Names and addresses
- The registration number of the cars involved in the accident
- Driver’s license information (if requested by another person involved)
- The make, model, year, and license plate number, expiration date, and vehicle identification number (VIN) of the other vehicles involved. The VIN number can be found on the driver’s side dashboard (near the windshield), on the insurance card, or in the door jam of the driver’s door.
- The full name and contact information for every person involved, and any witnesses. This should include home and business addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, dates of birth, and driver’s license numbers. If the driver isn’t the owner of the car, get the owner’s contact information as well.
- Witness statements about what they saw. Witnesses aren’t legally required to stay at the scene. But asking them to wait will buy you time to speak with them to see what they saw. This could be helpful to your claim.
- A diagram of the accident scene. Note the location of the cars before and after the collision. Estimate the speed each car was going and the direction it was travelling before the accident.
- Note the weather conditions at the time of the accident. Was it snowing, raining or sunny? Were the roads icy? Was it foggy or cloudy?
- The time of day the accident occurred. If it was at night, was it a full or half moon?
- Road conditions at the time of the accident. Were all traffic lights operating properly? Were there potholes or other areas of the road in need of repair?
*** Keep a Car Accident Information Form in your car along with your proof of insurance and a pen. This will make it simple to get all the information you need at an accident scene.
What are Damages?
Accidents involving property damage or injuries will often be followed by a claim for “damages.” Damages include all medical bills, out of pocket expenses(such as medication, cost of travel, medical devices, etc.), lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Car insurance policies usually have a Notice of Occurrence and Cooperation Clause. This requires the insured to contact their insurance company after an accident, and cooperate with their investigation.
Here is a sample Cooperation and Notice of Occurrence clause…
“Insured agrees to notify the underwriter (insurance company) of any accidents and thereafter with all information, assistance and cooperation which the (insurance company) reasonably requests and agrees that in the event of a claim the insurance company and the insured will do nothing that shall prejudice the insurance company’s position….”
How does the Notice of Occurrence and Cooperation Clause affect me?
Your insurance company needs to hear your point of view before speaking with the other driver, their insurance company or attorney. Notifying your agent immediately after an accident allows them enough time to investigate. Hearing your version of events helps them effectively defend you, especially if the other driver insists you were at fault.
I caused the accident. The other driver said he isn’t hurt and the damage to his car is minor. Why not just pay him for the repairs and avoid reporting the accident to my insurance company?
Some injuries may take several hours or even days to manifest. The other driver may have believed he wasn’t injured at the time, but later realized he was.
If this happens, he may pursue a personal injury claim against you. He could also opt to retain an attorney to represent him. If you decided against reporting the accident, your insurance company will be at a significant disadvantage. This is especially true if he already retained an attorney.
Won’t my insurance premiums rise if I report the accident?
Depending on your policy, your premiums may go up following a reported accident. But in most cases, your rate will not be affected if the other driver is at fault.
Should I notify the other driver’s insurance company?
Yes. If you’ve been in an accident and sustained property damage or injuries, contact the other driver’s insurance company immediately. When you call, they will assign you a claim number and have one of their adjusters contact you for further details. If you sustained a serious injury, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and resulting “damages.”
Your damages can include reimbursement for:
- Medical costs: ambulance, emergency room treatment, doctor bills, post-accident care, etc.
- Out of pocket expenses: medications, costs of travel to treatment, slings, crutches, neck collars, etc.
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
What should I do if the other driver says I caused the accident and he wants me to pay for the damages?
Don’t. Paying the driver is an admission of fault. Even if you believe it was 100% your fault, there are many factors you may not be aware of. If you pay him without notifying your insurance company, he could decide that payment wasn’t enough and demand more later. Once you accept liability for the accident, it’s difficult for your insurance company to deny a claim filed by the other party.
Are there mobile applications to report accidents to insurance companies?
Yes. Many insurance companies have mobile applications to report accidents. These apps help your agent identify the parties and initiate the claim procedure.
Many applications also have the ability to:
- Draw 3 dimensional images of the accident scene
- Take photographs and video of damages
- Identify the GPS location of the accident scene
- Gather detailed personal information, including driver’s license, insurance, etc
- Collect witnesses names and contact information
Below are a few of the companies offering mobile accident reporting applications. Check with your insurance company to see if they offer one.
What can my insurance company do if I don’t report the accident?
By not reporting the accident, you may be in violation of your company’s Notice of Occurrence or Cooperation Clause. Your insurance company may cancel your policy, raise your premiums, or fail to renew your policy when it expires.
Accident reports contain vital information which helps prove your insurance claim. They have drawings of the scene, weather conditions at the time of the accident, citations issued to drivers and more. Many insurance companies and personal injury attorneys depend on these reports to determine fault in the accident and fair compensation.
How can I get a copy of an accident report?
To obtain a copy of a “Crash Report,” visit the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency website.
The fee for a copy of an accident report is $17 ($15 plus a $2 processing fee). Reports may be purchased with all major credit cards.
Alabama follows the 3rd party liability rule. It says that drivers who have damages in an accident can pursue a claim for compensation against the negligent driver.
1) File an accident claim with your own insurance company
2) File an accident claim with the other driver’s insurance company
3) Sue the negligent driver
Alabama law requires drivers carry minimum property damage and liability insurance.
- $25,000 per person for one accident
- $50,000 for two or more person’s injured in one accident
- $25,000 for property damage in one accident
Does Alabama require drivers to carry uninsured or under-insured car liability insurance?
No. Alabama does not require drivers to have coverage for the uninsured or under-insured. However, it is always a good idea to carry this coverage on your policy.
Where can I get more information about Alabama’s car insurance requirements?
For more information about Alabama’s legal requirements for car insurance, see Alabama Statute §32-7A-4.
The State of Alabama follows the Pure Contributory Negligence Law. This law says that if the victim of an Alabama car accident is in any way to blame, the victim is barred from receiving any compensation. This rule is very harsh. In fact, only Alabama and five other states still follow it.
Example of Contributory Negligence
Mary Lou was on her way home from work. She was driving northbound in the right lane on Interstate 10. Jimmy was driving right behind her. Jimmy wanted to pass Mary Lou. To do so, Jimmy moved into the center lane and increased his speed.
Once past Mary Lou Jimmy began move back into the right northbound lane. Unfortunately, when moving back into the right lane Jimmy’s car collided with the front fender on Mary Lou’s car, causing her to veer off the interstate into a tree. This resulted in property damage and personal injuries to Mary Lou.
Mary Lou filed an insurance claim with Jimmy’s insurance company. They denied Mary Lou’s claim by saying that she accelerated to keep him from coming back into her lane directly in front of her.
Mary Lou sued Jimmy for $100,000, which represented her property damage, medical bills, out of pocket expenses, lost wages, and and pain and suffering. At trial, witnesses testified they were in a car behind Mary Lou and saw her accelerate when Jimmy was attempting to move back into the right lane.
Based on Alabama’s Pure Contributory Negligence Law, the court assessed Jimmy’s percentage of liability for the collision at 95%. The judge said Jimmy shouldn’t have moved back into the right lane until it was safe to do so. Section 32-5A-82 (1) reads:
“The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left thereof at a safe distance and shall not again drive to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle.”
However based on state law, the court found Mary Lou wrongfully accelerated as Jimmy tried to move back into the right lane, resulting in the collision. The court assessed Mary Lou’s contributory negligence at 5%.
Jimmy’s negligence was the primary cause of the collision. However, since the court found Mary Lou also contributed to the collision, Mary Lou was barred from receiving any compensation for the collision.
Police officers are highly trained in many areas, including accident investigation. When police officers are dispatched to the scene, they are there to do their job. That job includes caring for the injured, securing the scene, and speaking with everyone involved.
Do the police have to listen to my side of what caused the accident?
You have a right to speak with the police officers to explain what you believe was the cause of the collision. However, you are also required to follow the direction of the police at all times. Be sure that you do not get in the way of what they are doing. In extreme cases, interfering with the investigation may result in your arrest and incarceration.
What if the police gave me a citation?
If an officer decides that you violated a traffic law, he may decide to issue you a citation. You have the right to try talking him out of it, but once the citation is issued you must accept it.
The officer may ask for you to sign that citation. It is important to remember that signing the citation does not mean you are admitting guilt. It is simply a promise to appear in court. Refusing to sign the citation gives the officer the right to arrest you and bring you before a judge. It is better to just sign the citation and appear when it indicates.
If your driving record is clean, you can request a probationary sentence. This will likely include taking a defensive driving course. Once the course is successfully completed, the citation will be dismissed as long as you don’t have any new citations.
Many claims can be handled without legal representation. However, others are more complex and should always be done with the help of an attorney.
When should I hire an attorney?
Some injuries are straightforward and usually involve “soft tissue injuries.” These injuries include strains and sprains to muscles, tendons, ligaments, minor bruising, abrasions, or minor burns.
Soft tissue claims usually include costs for medical, chiropractic, or therapy bills, lost wages, and relatively limited pain and suffering. These claims rarely need expensive diagnostic tests like CT Scans or MRIs, nor do they require expert medical testimony or filing a lawsuit.
These cases usually have a relatively small dollar amount as well. Any settlement awarded would likely be spent paying attorney costs rather than reimbursing the victim. That is why these case are best settled without the assistance of a lawyer.
What if my injuries are more serious?
More serious injuries are commonly referred to as “hard injuries.” These can include fractures, deep gashes requiring stitches, 2nd and 3rd degree burns, head trauma, and other life-threatening injuries.
These injuries normally involve substantially higher amounts of compensation. Convincing insurance companies to pay fair amounts in these claims often requires advanced techniques. This includes expert medical testimony, pretrial discovery, depositions of witnesses, and potentially filing a lawsuit.
These are all things that a hired attorney should handle for you. With serious injury claims there’s just too much to lose for the victim to represent themselves.
Insurance companies know when a victim decides to represent himself, the victim can only go so far. The insurance company says “That’s our final offer,” and the the victim has little recourse. At that point it’s “Take it or leave it.”
Insurance companies know the limitations when representing yourself. Because of this, it is common for them to offer settlements that are much lower than fair.
Experienced attorneys have many legal tools they can employ to convince the insurance company to pay what is fair. The threat of a lawsuit alone is often enough to convince insurance companies to make a fair offer.
How much do attorneys charge?
Most personal injury attorneys won’t charge legal fees for the initial consultation. Once they visit with you and review the information of your case, they will be able to decide if your claim is worth taking. They will ensure that it has the potential to make a fair profit for them while covering all of your damages.
Gather your medical records, police reports, witness statements and other documents related to the accident. Bring those documents to the initial consultation. It is also best to consult with several attorneys. The attorneys will be able to tell you the strength of your claim, the approximate time the claim will take to settle, the general amount your claim should settle for, and whether or not there is a likelihood of having to file a lawsuit.
Personal injury attorneys normally charge a contingency fee up to 40% of the gross settlement amount or court verdict. However, the attorney will likely not charge any legal fees or costs in advance.
Finally, if the attorney is unable to settle your injury claim or if a lawsuit is filed and the attorney loses the case, you may owe the attorney nothing.
The insurance company may deny your claim or offer you an amount which doesn’t cover your damages. It may be difficult to find an attorney to accept your case, especially if your injuries were soft tissue. When this happens, you may have to sue the driver in one of Alabama’s Small Claims Courts.
How much can I sue for in Small Claims Court?
Alabama’s Small Claims “jurisdiction,” meaning the amount you can sue for is $6,000.
Do I sue the driver or the driver’s insurance company?
So far you have probably been dealing with the other driver’s insurance company trying to come to a fair agreement. But if you decide to file a lawsuit in small claims court, you will need to file it against the driver. The insurance company was only involved to this point to review the claim and decide whether to pay it.
Can the judge make me go to arbitration if I don’t want to?
Yes. It is the duty of small claims court judges to encourage the settlement of lawsuits before they come to trial. In most cases judges will give you and the other driver the names of several arbitrators so you will be able to agree on one to hear the case.
How can I find the Small Claims Court nearest me?
You can find the nearest court by going to the Alabama Small Claims website.
Where can I find more information about the rules and regulations in Alabama’s Small Claims Court?
For more information about the rule and regulations in Alabama’s Small Claims Court’s see Alabama Small Claims Rules.
The statute of limitations is the time period in which you have to settle your claim or file a lawsuit.
What is Alabama’s Statute of Limitations for personal injury claims?
Alabama’s Statute of Limitations for personal injury claims is two years. This means you must either settle your injury claim or file a lawsuit within two years from the date of the accident. If your claim can’t be settled within the two years, filing a lawsuit is your only other option.
What if the insurance company won’t return my calls or they are stalling on settling my claim?
Don’t be led astray. The insurance company is not your friend. No matter how nice the adjuster seems to be or how well you think negotiations are going, you have to be vigilant.
The insurance company is under no legal obligation to settle your claim before the statute of limitations expires. The adjuster’s failure to return your calls does not constitute a legal defense for missing the statute of limitation period. The legal duty is yours alone.
If you miss the two year deadline you will be unable to pursue any claim against the at-fault driver. Enter the statute of limitations date in your cell phone, PDA, computer and anywhere else to remind you when the date is approaching.
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