Today’s cars are safer than ever. But despite the advanced technology, car accidents still happen every day. The average driver will be involved in 3-4 car accidents during their lifetime.¹ Last year there were over 2 million people injured in car accidents in the US.²
Car accidents happen in a matter of seconds. This leaves you little time to react. Knowing what to do and say will significantly impact a property or injury claim. Making the right decisions at the scene and in the days that follow will minimize frustration and maximize compensation.
What You Need to Know if You’ve Been in an Accident…
Here are 11 steps to follow after an Alaska car accident and answers to many of the most frequently asked questions. Following these steps will help you build a viable claim. They will also help avoid many roadblocks and the frustration often associated with accidents.
If you’ve been in a car accident, you must stop at the accident scene. Next, check to see if anyone is injured and call 911.
What information am I required to share?
If you are in an accident that results in property damage or injuries, you are required to exchange the following information with anyone else involved:
– Full Names
– License Plate Numbers (Drivers Only)
What if someone has been injured?
If anyone is injured, the law requires you to render “reasonable assistance.” This includes making arrangements to get the injured to a hospital for medical treatment. Make sure you do this while being careful not to cause further injury. This could mean that emergency personnel need to be dispatched to the scene.
What if I’ve been injured?
Some injuries are obvious right away. However, some injuries have symptoms that may not appear for hours or even days after an accident. Adrenaline is produced immediately following a collision. This can mask pain and underlying injuries.
It’s always a good idea to allow paramedics to evaluate you at the scene. Tell them what symptoms you’re experiencing. If they recommend transporting you to the local hospital for treatment, follow their advice.
If the paramedics don’t think your injuries are serious enough to take you to the emergency room, be sure to follow up with your regular doctor as soon as possible.
This is especially important if you file a personal injury claim with an insurance company. Insurance companies often deny claims when there is too much time between the accident and receiving medical attention. As time goes by, chances improve that the insurance company will say your injuries were sustained at a later time, in a separate incident.
If I try to help someone who’s been injured, will I be held responsible for causing the accident?
No. Helping an injured person at an Alaska car accident scene is under no circumstances proof of fault or liability.
Are there any penalties if someone is involved in an accident and refuses to help someone who has been injured?
Yes! Failing to render “reasonable assistance” to an injured person is a serious crime. If convicted, it is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a fine up to $10,000, or both. This law does not apply to someone who is physically incapable of helping because of the accident.
What if I hit a parked car and no one is in it?
Once stopped, you need to make a reasonable attempt to locate the owner of the car and tell them about the collision. You also need to give them your name and address at that time. If you can’t find the owner of the other car, leave a note with your name and address so they can contact you. You should also leave an explanation of what happened. Be sure to leave the note in an obvious place where the owner can find it.
- Location. Look for street names, mile markers, or other landmarks. Tell the dispatcher what direction you are traveling and which side of the road you are on. This will ensure emergency personnel can be quickly dispatched.
- Injuries. Tell the 911 dispatcher if there are any obvious injuries or if anyone is complaining of nausea, vomiting, pain or discomfort.
- Scene. Accidents scenes are dangerous. Victims who want to see the damage to their vehicle often walk around the scene carelessly. After being stunned by the incident, they can be oblivious to passing cars or oncoming traffic.
Let the 911 dispatcher know what the scene looks like. This will help determine which emergency personnel need to be called out, and if tow trucks or other assistance is needed. When dispatched, the police can secure the scene and begin their investigation.
Do the police have to respond to the accident?
Local law enforcement agencies have their own rules dictating when police and paramedics are dispatched to an incident. Most will not dispatch police or paramedics unless there are reported injuries or the accident scene presents a danger to others.
Your property damage and personal injury claim can rely heavily on what you say and do in the few minutes immediately following a collision. Evidence collected at the accident scene will serve as the foundation of your claim and will support your claim for “Damages.”
Because the accident scene is constantly changing, it is important not to waste time. Before long, cars will be driven or towed away, drivers and witnesses will leave, and the police officers will return to the station to finish their accident reports.
In order for you to claim damages against the other driver, you will need to find evidence that shows the other driver’s fault, or “negligence.” You will need to prove that as a direct result of the driver’s negligence you sustained property damage and/or personal injuries.
What are Damages?
Damages are unique to every accident and every person involved. Personal injury and property damages are often made up of medical, dental and therapy bills. These include, but are not limited to:
- Diagnostic tests such as X-rays, CT Scans, & MRIs
- Out of pocket expenses for such items as prescription and over the counter medications
- Slings, crutches, wheelchairs, and other medical devices
- Costs of travel to and from to treatment
- Doctor’s visits and nursing care
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- The make, model, year, and license plate number of all other vehicles involved. Noting the registration expiration date and vehicle identification number (VIN) is also helpful. The VIN number can be found on the dashboard where it meets the windshield on the driver side door. You can also find the VIN on the driver’s insurance card or inside the door jam of the driver’s side door
- Full names and contact information for every individual involved in the accident. This includes drivers, passengers, pedestrians and by-standers. Write down home and business addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, dates of birth, and driver’s license numbers. Be sure to ask each of the drivers if they own the vehicle involved. If not, get the owner’s contact information as well.
- Witness statements describing what they saw. While witnesses aren’t legally required to stay until police arrive, it is helpful if they do. Convincing them to wait will give you time to determine if what they saw will be helpful to your claim.
- Draw a diagram of the accident scene. Note the location of the cars immediately before and after the collision.
- Note the current weather conditions and the time of day the accident occurred.
- Approximate speed the cars were travelling at before the collision, and what direction each was travelling in.
Note: Keeping an accident information form in your vehicle with your insurance information can be helpful if an accident occurs.
Are photographs and video important?
Yes. Take multiple photos and videos of the accident scene from all angles. Be sure to include sound. This helps identify the position of the cars immediately after the collision, the weather, potholes, traffic lights, street signs, and more. It can also show the demeanor of the drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists.
Sound is important because it can capture things like admissions of fault, intoxication, statements about insurance, and other important statements. By taking photographs and video, it makes it difficult later for anyone involved in the accident to change what they said or did.
How about witness statements?
While witnesses aren’t under any obligation to speak with you or give you a written statement, it is always good to try. Give the witness paper and a pen and ask them to write down what they saw and heard.
When it comes to car accidents there isn’t a “legal” right or wrong way to take a witness statement. Just be sure they sign and date each page. Don’t forget to also include their names and addresses on the paper. Notarizing their signatures isn’t required. If you can’t find any paper record their statements on your cell phone or other electronic device if they agree to it.
Alaska law requires you to report a car accident to law enforcement under certain circumstances.
When do I have to report the accident to the police?
You must immediately contact law enforcement when you’re in a car accident that results in injuries to any person, or if there is property damage that appears to be in excess of $2,000.00. If the accident happened within city limits, call that City’s local police department. If the accident occurred outside of City limits, contact the Alaska Department of Public Safety.
If I report the accident to law enforcement, do I still have to file a police report?
It depends. A report must be filed if there are any injuries or damage to property that exceeds $2,000.00. Each driver is required to send their report to the Department of Administration and the local police department within ten days. However, if law enforcement arrives on scene to investigate the accident, the officer will file the report and you no longer need to.
Where can I obtain the accident report I have to file?
The required Alaska car accident report form can be obtained from the local police department, either online or in person, or from the Department of Public Safety.
If I don’t own the car, am I still required to report the accident to the police?
Yes. The driver is the person responsible for notifying the police. The one exception is if you are injured and are physically unable to contact law enforcement, then the owner of the car needs to file a report within 5 days.
If the other driver files an accident report, can they use it against me with the insurance company, or in court?
No! Any required accident report as listed above may not be used as evidence in a criminal or civil action arising out of the accident.
Do I still have to file a Crash Report if there were no injuries and the damage was less than $2000.00?
Yes. Every car accident must be reported. You will need to complete Form 12-209, which can be accessed from the Alaska Transportation Information Group website.
When you buy car insurance, you’re entering into a contract with the insurance company. These policies will likely contain a section that has a Notice of Occurrence and Cooperation Clause. This requires you to notify your insurance company when you are involved in a car accident.
Once you report the accident, you must cooperate with your insurance company throughout the investigation of the accident.
The Cooperation and Notice of Occurrence Clause will read something like this…
“The …Insured agrees to notify the underwriter (insurance company) of any accidents and thereafter to provide all information, assistance and cooperation which the (insurance company) reasonably requests. Further, the insured agrees the in the event of a property damage or personal injury claim the insurance company and the insured will do nothing that shall prejudice the insurance company’s position….”
What does the “Notice of Occurrence and Cooperation Clause” mean to me?
Your insurance company needs to hear from you immediately following an accident. Your agent should always get the first report from you before any other person involved in the incident calls. The information you provide your insurer helps them protect you from frivolous claims of property damage or personal injuries which may be filed by others.
Do I have to report the accident to my insurance company if no one was injured?
Many car accidents are simply “fender-benders,” where no one is injured and only the cars are damaged. It may be tempting to skip reporting the incident to the insurance company. You may fear that if you told them about what happened, they could raise your premiums, decide against renewing your policy or maybe even cancel it.
Don’t fall into that trap! Your incident may seem like a minor fender bender without any injuries, but not reporting the accident to your insurance company could be a very serious mistake. Here’s why….
Delayed Symptoms. The other people involved may not think they were injured, but some injuries may not be obvious immediately. Many can take hours or even days to appear.
No Insurance. The other driver may not have the proper coverage. If that is the case, they most likely do not want you to know. They might fear getting in trouble if law enforcement finds out and face being issued a citation.
Fraud. While at the scene, the other people involved may say they weren’t injured. Nothing stops them from changing their mind later and try “cashing in” on the accident by filing fraudulent claims.
Can I use my cell phone to file a claim with my insurance company?
Yes. Today, many insurance companies have mobile applications that make it easy to report accidents, file claims and send important information. They can also help you collect evidence. They are designed to help your insurance company investigate as well as protecting you from unwarranted claims made by others.
The applications may be able to:
- Fulfill your reporting requirement with the insurance company
- Create and send the respective state required auto accident report
- Initiate a claim
- Take photographs
- Draw a 3 dimensional sketch of the accident scene
- Give a GPS location of the accident scene
- Detail personal information, driver’s license information, insurance information and more
The State of Alaska follows a 3rd Party Liability Rule. In “No-Fault” insurance states, both parties involved in an accident turn to their own insurance companies for compensation. However, in Alaska a negligent driver may be liable for the property damage and personal injuries he or she causes to a third party.
What are my options if another driver crashes into me?
If you’re in a car accident and you’ve been injured or sustained property damage due to the other driver’s negligence, you can do one or more of the following:
- File a property damage and/or personal injury claim with your own insurance company (referred to as a 1st party claim)
- File a property damage and/or personal injury claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company (referred to as a 3rd party claim)
- File a lawsuit against the at-fault driver
To protect everyone on its roadways, the State of Alaska requires drivers to carry specific minimum amounts of property damage and personal injury insurance.
What are the minimum amounts of car insurance required for drivers in Alaska?
– $ 50,000 for injuries to 1 person in 1 accident
– $100,000 for injuries to 2 or more person in 1 accident
– $25,000 for property damage in 1 accident
What is Pure Comparative Negligence?
In car accidents, pure comparative negligence refers to comparing how negligent each driver was in the accident and then distributing compensation accordingly.
This means the victim in a car accident can seek compensation from the other driver even if the victim shared some responsibility. This is true whether the victim was 1% to 99% at-fault for the accident. However, the amount of compensation the victim will receive will be diminished by the percentage of the victim’s own negligence for the accident.
Amber was driving to work. She was driving northbound in the far right lane on the Dalton Highway heading to Prudhoe Bay. Tom was also in the right lane, driving right behind her. He wanted to pass Amber so he slowly moved into the center lane and increased his speed. Once he thought he passed Amber, Tom moved back into the right lane in front of Amber. However, when Tom moved back into the right lane, his car collided with the drivers side front quarter panel of Amber’s car, causing both cars to travel off the road.
The crash caused Amber’s left wrist to hit the steering wheel, fracturing it. Both driver’s called 911. Two other drivers pulled off the road to see if anyone was injured. When the police and paramedics arrived, they treated Amber and transported her to the local hospital. Both witnesses spoke with the officer and gave their accounts of what they believed caused the crash.
The police issued a traffic citation to Tom under Section 13 02.065 (a) – Overtaking a Vehicle in the Left. This section reads in part…
“… the driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left of the overtaken vehicle at a safe distance and may not return to its right lane until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle.”
The investigating officer determined Tom moved back into the right lane in front of Amber before it was safe to do so, causing the crash.
However, Amber admitted to the paramedics she was not wearing her seat belt at the time of the crash. As a result, the investigating officer issued a traffic citation to Amber under Section 28.05.095 – Use of Seat Belts. This section reads in part…
“(1) A person…16 years of age or older may not occupy a motor vehicle while being driven on a highway unless restrained by a safety belt.”
Amber filed a personal injury claim with Tom’s insurance company, demanding $50,000 for her medical bills and related damages. Both sides could not agree on a settlement amount and the case went to trial. During trial Amber, Tom, the investigating police officer, paramedics, and both witnesses testified.
In its deliberations the jury determined Tom’s negligence was the primary cause of the crash. However, the jury also determined Amber’s injuries would not have been as severe if she had wearing her seat belt.
Basing its verdict on Alaska’s Pure Comparative Fault Statute, the jury apportioned Tom’s percentage of negligence at 75%, and Amber’s at 25%. That percentage translates into a jury verdict in Amber’s favor. However, the amount of $50,000 demanded by Amber was reduced by 25%, the same amount that the jury found her to be responsible for the accident. Subtracting $12,500 from the original $50,000 claim left Amber with a net jury award of $37,500.
*Under Alaska’s Pure Comparative Fault Statute, even if the jury had determined Amber was 99% at fault, she still would have been able to recover $50, representing Amber’s 99% of fault, and Tom’s 1%.
Most law enforcement officers are trained in accident scene investigation. When they are dispatched to an Alaska car accident scene, they have several functions to perform. Their first job is to see if anyone is injured and, if necessary, summon paramedics to transport the injured for medical care.
In a serious accident, more than one law enforcement officer will likely respond and secure the area by placing flares, directing traffic, and more. They will also begin an investigation of the accident.
Do the police officers have to listen to my side of the story?
While you have every right to speak with the investigating officers to explain who you believe was at fault, you are still required to follow the officer’s directions at all times. Be patient while they investigate the accident. They will talk to you when they are able.
Ignoring law enforcement is not a good idea either. Try to give a simple explanation of what occurred so that they can do their job. If you persist in ignoring the officers or do not obey their commands, you may be cited for interfering with the police. In extreme cases, you may even be arrested.
- Call for fire and rescue when necessary
- Secure the accident scene to make it safe for drivers, passengers, cyclists, and pedestrians
- Search for physical evidence, including skid marks, obstructions, and weather conditions
- Question everyone involved in order to gather information about the collision
- Run warrant checks
- Issue traffic citations if necessary
- Give drivers a “Case Number” or “Service Number” so they can later obtain the police officer’s crash report
Do I have to answer questions from the police?
It depends. If the officers ask you to identify yourself, you must provide them your full name and address, proof of registration, and proof of insurance.
However, if you are being questioned about driving under the influence, driving while intoxicated, possession of drugs, or for any other action which might result in criminal charges, you have the right not to answer.
What if the police gave me a ticket?
If the police officer decides you were in violation of one or more of Alaska’s traffic laws, you may be issued one or more traffic citations. You certainly have the right to attempt to dissuade the officers from writing you a citation. However, if a citation is issued to you, you must accept it.
Furthermore, if the officer requests that you sign the citation,you must obey his order. It is important to know that signing the citation is not an admission of guilt. Rather, your signature is only an agreement that you will appear in court to face the charge. At your court date, you may enter a plea of not guilty and contest the citation if you choose. Traffic citations are only circumstantial evidence of guilt.
Each state has statutory time periods for cases to be resolved. A claim needs to either be settled with the insurance company or a lawsuit is filed before that time is up. This is referred to as the Statute of Limitations.
In most cases the statute of limitations period commences on the day of the accident. If you are unable to settle your claim with the insurance representative and decide to proceed with a court case, you must file the lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires.
If you fail to file a lawsuit within that time, your lose your legal right to further pursue the other driver for any damages resulting from the accident.
What can I do if the insurance company is stalling and won’t return my calls?
The claims adjuster is under no legal obligation to settle your claim. Nor is the adjuster required to remind you of the statute of limitations. That’s your obligation. Be sure you have entered the expiration date on your calendar and into your computer’s reminder system.
The insurance company is not your friend. The claims adjuster you’re dealing with is an expert when it comes to dealing with property damage and personal injury claims. The last thing the insurance company wants to do is pay you anymore than they have to.
When you are unable to settle your claim with an insurance company, Alaska’s Small Claims Courts may be a good option. If the other driver refuses to compensate you for your property damage or medical bills you may have no choice but to consider filing a lawsuit.
How can I find out more information about filing a lawsuit in an Alaska Small Claims Court?
For more information about Alaska’s Small Claims Courts, visit their website or download this helpful Small Claims Handbook.
You must be 18 years of age or older to file a lawsuit in Alaska’s small claims courts. A person under 18 may file a lawsuit only with the assistance of a parent or guardian.
Are attorneys allowed in small claims court?
Most parties in small claims courts do not need to hire an attorney. Small claims procedures are designed to be used without a lawyer, but you have the right to be represented by one if you wish.
Some lawsuits can be complicated. If you’re not sure whether you should retain an attorney or not, it is a good idea to speak with a few to see what they say. Most personal injury attorneys do not charge for initial office consultations.
If you need help finding an attorney, contact the Lawyer Referral Service at:
Lawyer Referral Service
Alaska Bar Association
P.O. Box 100279
Anchorage, AK 99510-0279
Phone: 272-0352 or 800-770-9999 outside Anchorage (toll free within Alaska)
Some property damage claims and personal injury claims can be handled without an attorney. Others should always have legal representation by an experienced personal injury attorney.
Why should I hire an attorney?
There are 2 basic types of injuries, generally referred to as “soft tissue,” and “hard injuries.” Soft tissue injuries include sprains and strains, minor bruising, minor burns, whiplash, abrasions and cuts not requiring stitches.
Soft tissue injuries are normally simple in nature and require minimal medical treatment. These injuries are treated with chiropractic and physical therapy lasting from a few weeks to a few months, minimal prescribed medications, some lost wages, and a relatively low amount of pain and suffering.
Hard Injuries are much more serious. They can include head trauma, fractures, third degree burns, disfigurement, loss of body parts, or poisoning. These injuries usually involve surgery, diagnostics, X-Rays, MRIs, CT Scans, and more.
When it comes to serious injury claims, you simply won’t be as effective as an experienced personal injury attorney. In hard injury claims, victims don’t have the legal skills required to successfully pursue their injury claims on their own.
As a “pro se” claimant your negotiation skills are limited. Claims adjusters are keen at leading you to believe you are a terrific negotiator, when in reality, that’s not the case. Once the insurance company’s adjuster tells you that’s his or her final offer, your leverage is gone. At that point, it’s basically “take it, or leave it,” whether you like it, or not.
Personal injury attorneys have a plethora of legal tools to rely on. They have the ability to learn what the other driver’s policy limits are, whether the driver has previous traffic accidents, traffic citations, prior arrests, and other important information that you alone could never uncover.
An experienced personal injury attorney can employ tactics such as pretrial discovery, depositions, interrogatories, subpoenas for production of documents, and more.
Insurance companies don’t like lawsuits. They’re expensive and cost millions of dollars a year in legal fees. Rather than pay legal fees to defend a lawsuit, insurance companies do everything within reason to settle the claim.
How much do attorneys really charge?
Most personal injury attorneys don’t charge legal fees for initial office consultations. Instead they will charge a “contingency fee.” A contingency fee means you will not have to pay the attorney any money until they settle your case or win it at trial. If the attorney is unable to settle your claim or they lose at trial, you owe the attorney nothing.
If your attorney settles your claim or wins at trial, you will owe a percentage of the settlement amount or court verdict. Those percentages can range from 25% to 40% depending on the complexity of the case, and the agreement you signed when you initially retained the attorney. In most cases, those fees are negotiable.
Gather all of your documents related to the accident. Consult with several personal injury attorneys in your area. After reviewing your documents and speaking with you, the attorneys will be able to tell you the strength of your claim, if it will likely settle, the likelihood of having to file a lawsuit, and the approximate amount you can expect to win.
In most cases, even after attorney’s fees are deducted, the award amount will be substantially higher than you could hope to receive on your own.
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Visitor Questions on Alaska Car Accidents
Car accident 11/09 – I hired an attorney, who I have never met and only had dealings with the paralegal. The case has been settled….