11 Critical Steps After a Connecticut Car Accident

Protect your rights and maximize your payout after a Connecticut car accident. We answer key questions and show you how to build a strong insurance claim.

Connecticut car accidentOver 40,000 people were injured last year on Connecticut roadways.¹ This year alone, over 2 million people will be injured in car accidents across the US. In addition, a recent report stated the average US driver will be involved in 3-4 car accidents in their lifetime.²

What You Need to Know if You’ve Been in a Connecticut Car Accident…

The quick decisions you make at an accident scene can affect the success of your insurance claim. You must know what to say and do when faced with these important choices.

Below are 11 steps to follow after an accident to protect your rights and ensure the success of an auto injury claim. Also included are answers to the most frequently asked questions that arise following an accident.

Step 1 – Stop at the Scene, Call 911 and Help Any Injured Parties

Connecticut stop help callThe first steps taken following an accident will have a profound effect on the success of any insurance claim. If you’ve been in a Connecticut car accident, pull over to a safe place and call 911. Check to see if anyone  was injured, then check for property damage.

What should I say to the 911 operator?
Reporting accurate information to the 911 operator is critical. This ensures that proper emergency services are dispatched and can get there as quickly as possible.

Give the 911 operator the following information:

Accident location. Be specific. Report the nearest intersection, mile marker or exit. The more specific you are, the faster emergency personnel can respond.

Injuries. If you’re not injured, talk to the other driver and any passengers or witnesses. Ask if everyone is okay. Tell the 911 operator if anyone is bleeding, complaining of pain or discomfort, or if there are any other injuries.

Accident scene details. Car accidents can be messy. Broken glass, fluid leaking from cars, and twisted metal could be scattered throughout the scene. Some victims go into shock and can wander dangerously close to traffic.

Describe the scene in detail to the 911 operator so police can be dispatched if necessary. Once they arrive, they’ll secure the scene and protect those involved in the accident.

Are police legally required to respond to the accident?
Law enforcement agencies have rules dictating when police officers are dispatched to an accident scene. Most will send police and emergency personnel when there are injuries or if the scene presents a danger to others.

What are my legal responsibilities to the injured?
If you’ve been in an accident involving injuries (including death), Connecticut law requires you to stop and remain at the scene.  You must “render such assistance as may be needed” to anyone who is hurt, and provide your name, address, driver’s license number, and registration number.

You’re also required to notify the local police or highway patrol and report any injuries that occurred.

What should I do if I am injured?
Some injuries are obviously serious. These include broken bones, deep gashes, head trauma, and so on. Some injuries are less serious. But keep in mind, symptoms don’t always appear right away. It could take hours or even days before a victim realizes they’re hurt.

If emergency personnel arrive on scene, let them evaluate you and anyone else involved.  Be honest about symptoms you’re experiencing. If they want to transport you to a local hospital, let them. Remember, they are trained professionals and will notice something you do not.

If paramedics don’t think your injuries are serious enough to take you to an emergency room, it’s still best to see your doctor as soon as possible. Establishing your treatment record becomes important later on when dealing with the insurance company. The longer you wait to seek medical attention, the easier it becomes for them to say your injuries were caused by something other than the accident.

What’s the difference between minor and serious injuries?
Minor injuries are referred to as “soft tissue” injuries. These include minor bumps and bruises, scrapes, strains and sprains to muscles and ligaments, and whiplash.

More serious “hard injuries” include fractures, disfigurement, loss of body parts, serious head trauma, disk herniations, deep cuts and gashes, and 3rd degree burns.

What are my legal responsibilities if no one was injured, but our cars were damaged?
Connecticut law states that if you’ve been involved in a car accident, you must stop at the scene. This is true even if nobody was injured and there’s only property damage. Property could be another car, fences, mailboxes, trash cans, and more. Once stopped, you must give the property owner your name, address, driver’s license number and registration information.

If you can’t find the property owner, you must notify a police officer and report details of the accident as soon as possible.

Step 2 – Collect Evidence for Your Claim

Connecticut gather evidenceMost car accidents occur because of driver negligence. Figuring out who is at fault can be challenging. Every person involved has a unique opinion about what happened. That’s why collecting evidence is so important. The more reliable the evidence, the better chance you will succeed with your claim.

What evidence should I collect?
Connecticut law requires drivers at accident scenes to exchange basic information. This includes names, addresses, driver’s license numbers, and car registration information. But building a strong property damage or personal injury claim means you should get more.

What other evidence is important?

  • Drivers full name, home and business addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, date of birth, and driver’s license number. If the driver isn’t the owner of the car, you’ll need the owner’s information as well.
  • The make, model, year, license plate number, expiration date, and vehicle identification number (VIN) for all vehicles involved. The VIN number is found on the car’s dashboard on the driver’s side where the dash meets the windshield. It can also be found on the driver’s insurance card or inside the door jam of the driver’s side door.
  • Passengers’ names, dates of birth, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and any other contact information.
  • Witnesses names and contact information. Ask bystanders to remain at the scene until police arrive. They aren’t legally required to stay, but they could provide information that helps your claim. It also gives law enforcement the opportunity to speak with everyone involved.
  • Draw a detailed diagram of the scene. Note the location of each vehicle immediately before and after the collision.
  • Note the current weather conditions. Is it raining, snowing, icy, foggy, or cloudy?
  • Note the exact time of day the accident occurred. If the incident occurred at night, was it a full moon or half moon?
  • Also estimate the speed of the cars immediately before the collision and what direction each was traveling in.

Step 3 – Report the Accident to Your Insurance Company

Connecticut call insuranceMost car insurance policies have a section containing a “Notice of Occurrence and Cooperation Clause.” This clause requires you to report an accident and cooperate throughout the investigation.

This clause will read something like this…

“The insured agrees to notify the underwriter (insurance company) of any accidents and thereafter with all information, assistance and cooperation which (the company) reasonably requests and agrees that in the event of a claim (the company) and the insured will do nothing that shall prejudice the insurance company’s position….”

Why do I have to notify my insurance if the other driver is to blame?
Complying with your policy protects your best interests in the long run. Your insurance company will have enough time to investigate the circumstances and provide the coverage you need. It also protects you from unwarranted claims of property damage or personal injury.

It looks like I caused the accident but the other driver said he isn’t hurt. We agreed not to report the accident. Why should I contact my insurance company?
You could chose not to report a minor fender-bender if nobody was injured and there is no damage to property. But this can be a serious mistake.

Delayed Symptoms: Accident scenes are chaotic, with lots of activity going on all around you.  In that hectic time, those involved may feel they were not injured in the incident. But some symptoms take several hours to appear.

If an accident goes unreported but injury symptoms appear later, a victim can still seek medical treatment and file a claim against you. If this happens, you’ll be forced to contact your insurance company long after the incident. This puts both you and your insurance representative at a disadvantage.

Important time is lost where the adjuster could be investigating the circumstances of the accident. The chance of collecting evidence from the scene significantly decreases as time goes by.

No Insurance: The other driver probably doesn’t want you to know if he doesn’t have insurance coverage. Maybe he is afraid of receiving a ticket if the police are notified. Don’t let this stop you from doing the right thing and protecting yourself.

Fraud: Sadly, there are people who intentionally commit fraud by “cashing in” on car accidents. The other driver and his passengers could say that they weren’t injured at the time. However, nothing stops them from filing a claim against you later when you least expect it.

Will my insurance rates go up?
Insurance companies have different policies with regards to increasing rates after an accident. Usually your rates will not increase after a single incident, especially if it was not your fault.

A 2009 press release discussed how insurance companies now offer policies with “accident forgiveness.” Most allow one minor accident without any increase in your premium. Other companies allow multiple accidents before a rate increase, but that comes with a higher base premium.

Contact your insurance company to learn more about rate increases, accident forgiveness and other fees.

Should I contact the other driver’s insurance company?
Yes. If you’ve been in a Connecticut car accident and have an injury or property damage, contact the other driver’s insurance company and report the accident. You will be assigned a claim number and will be contacted by a claims adjuster.

Some insurance companies have representatives who only handle property damage and others who only handle personal injuries. In this case, you will have multiple representatives to deal with.

If you sustained an injury, you may be entitled to compensation for your “damages.”  This can include reimbursement for:

  • Medical bills: This includes costs associated with the ambulance ride, all medical care provided and any therapy.
  • Out-of-pocket expenses: This includes costs for medication, travel to and from treatment, slings, crutches, neck collars, and other medical devices.
  • Lost wages: This is the amount of money lost while not being able to work.
  • Pain and suffering: This includes additional compensation not listed above.

What should I do if the other driver blames me for the accident and wants me to pay him directly without getting the insurance companies involved?
Don’t do it! You pay insurance premiums so they can protect you during accident claims. If you pay the driver without contacting your insurance company, the driver could decide later to demand more money.

Paying the other driver directly could also be looked at as an implied admission of fault. If the driver decides he is still in pain later on, he could demand even more money. Paying the other driver initially makes it more difficult for your insurance company to dispute future claims for additional damages.

What will my insurance company do if I don’t report the accident?
If you don’t report an accident to your insurance company, they could cancel your policy, raise your premiums, or opt not to renew your policy. You need to report any accident to them as soon as possible.

Step 4 – File an Accident Report With the Police

Connecticut call policeAccident reports contain information that helps prove property damage or personal injuries. They have drawings of the scene, details about weather conditions, and they list citations issued. These reports are critical to insurance companies and attorneys when determining fault and fair compensation.

Do I have to file an accident report if the police respond to the accident?
Connecticut law requires the police to file an accident report if there are injuries or damage to property exceeding $1,000. The report is turned in to the Connecticut Department of Transportation within five days.

How do I file an accident report with the police?
If police are not required to file a report, you still need to file one so the information is on file. This will give insurance companies the information they need to properly investigate and protect you from future claims.

To file an accident report, you need to submit a Connecticut Uniform Police Accident Report (Form PR-1) to your nearest station. You can either download one online or request one in person at the station.

How can I access an accident report which was filed by another driver?
To find an accident report already on file, go to the State of Connecticut website and download a Request for Copy of Report (Form DPS-96-C). After completing the request, mail it with the $16 fee to:

Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection
Division of State Police
Reports and Records
1111 Country Club Road
Middletown, CT 06457

Step 5 – Understanding Connecticut’s 3rd Party Liability Insurance Law

Connecticut 3rd party liabilityYou need to understand the laws regarding liability in your state to have a successful injury or property damage claim.

What is 3rd party liability?
Connecticut follows the 3rd party liability doctrine. Under this law, when one driver is at fault in an accident, he is held responsible for any damages caused.

This includes the cost of repairs to the other driver’s car and any personal property damaged in the accident. It also includes reimbursement for medical bills, out of pocket expenses, cost of travel, medical devices and pain and suffering.

What are my rights under Connecticut’s 3rd party liability doctrine?
As a victim of an at-fault driver’s negligence, you have three options. You can:

  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

Step 6 – Understanding Connecticut’s Auto Insurance Laws

Connecticut car insuranceConnecticut law requires drivers to carry minimum property damage and liability insurance and coverage for uninsured and under-insured motorists.

What are the minimum statutory limits required under Connecticut law?
– $20,000 per person per accident
– $40,000 for two or more persons injured per accident
– $10,000 for property damage per accident
– $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident in uninsured and under-insured motorist coverage

Step 7 – Information About Connecticut’s Contributory Negligence Law

Connecticut contributory negligenceThe majority of Connecticut car accidents occur because of driver negligence. In many cases, both drivers may have contributed to the accident. When that occurs, Connecticut’s Contributory Negligence Law takes effect.

This law follows the “51% rule.” When the victim in a Connecticut car accident also shares part of the blame, the percentage of their fault will lower what the other driver is required to pay. If the victim’s negligence is determined to be 51% or more, they cannot recover any compensation from the other driver.

Example of Contributory Negligence

Harry was driving west on Maple Street while on his way to pick up his girlfriend. He was running late and decided to text her. Meanwhile, Lupita was on her way home from the gym, driving northbound on Elm Street. As she approached the traffic light at the intersection of Maple and Elm it turned yellow. She decided to increase her speed to try and make it through the intersection before the light turned red.

Unfortunately, the light turned red as she was passing through the intersection. As a result, Lupita collided with Harry, seriously injuring him. Harry’s medical bills amounted to $20,000.

Harry filed an insurance claim with Lupita’s insurance company, asking for $60,000, representing his damages. This included his medical bills, out of pocket expenses, lost wages, and his pain and suffering. The insurance company offered Harry a settlement in the amount of $30,000 to settle his entire claim.

Rather than accept the settlement offer, Harry decided to sue Lupita to try recovering more money. During the trial, evidence showed that Lupita failed to stop at the red light, and as a result she was legally responsible for causing the accident. However, there was also evidence that showed Harry was texting at the time of the accident.

The jury found that Lupita failed to stop at a stop sign as prohibited by Connecticut Statutes §14-301(c). They also found Harry was using his cell phone while driving as prohibited by Connecticut Statutes §14-296aa(b)(1).

Under Connecticut’s Contributory Negligence law, the jury determined Lupita’s percentage of negligence was 50% and Harry’s was 50%. As a result, the jury decided that Lupita had to pay Harry $10,000 representing his $20,000 in medical bills after taking his 50% negligence into account..

It’s important to note however, that if the jury had found Harry’s negligence to be at 51% or more, he would legally not have been able to recover any compensation from Lupita.

In making their decisions, the jury relied on witness testimony and the applicable Motor Vehicle laws.

Should I admit the accident was my fault?
While honesty is admirable, it’s never a good idea to discuss fault at an accident scene. There are many factors unknown to you that could have contributed to the accident. These may decrease the percentage of your negligence or prove the accident wasn’t your fault at all.

For example, the other driver may have been distracted, on his phone, or talking to his passengers. He may have rolled through a stop sign, entered into an intersection prematurely, or engaged in some other contributory negligence. All of these actions decrease the percentage of your fault.

Step 8 – Speak With the Police

Connecticut talk to policeLaw enforcement officers arrive at the scene of an accident when there are injuries, disabled vehicles, or when the scene is dangerous. After checking for injuries, they begin an investigation where they determine which driver was negligent (at fault) in the accident.

Do I have a legal right to speak with police at the scene, especially if there is a question of negligence?
When a law enforcement officer arrives, he will be conducting a thorough investigation. During that time, he’ll want to speak with everyone involved. But you must follow his orders. When an officer tells you to remain at the scene or that he will be with you momentarily, you need to follow his request.

What if the police issue me a traffic citation?
You have every right to plead with an officer and try convincing him not to write you a ticket. But once that citation has been issued, you’re required to accept it and sign it if asked. Remember, a traffic citation does not prove guilt.

A traffic citation is circumstantial and you have a legal right to fight it in court. If you ask for a trial, you have the right to subpoena the police officer and any other drivers or witnesses. You can also request a suspended sentence, which means the ticket would be dismissed after paying a fine and waiting a probationary period.

Step 9 – Getting Proper Legal Representation for Your Case

Connecticut legal representationSome claims can be handled without hiring an attorney. But there are cases where you should always seek legal help.

How do I know when to retain an attorney?
Some injuries are minor and don’t result in substantial medical bills. Claims for these “soft tissue” injuries normally involve physical therapy, medication, lost wages and  some pain and suffering.

These injuries are generally straight forward and don’t require hiring an attorney. Claims are often not worth enough money to pay an attorney’s fees and all your bills, so it doesn’t make sense to bring an attorney on board.

What if my injuries are serious?
Some ”hard injuries” are more serious and can involve substantially higher amounts of compensation. They may require expert medical testimony, pretrial discovery, depositions of witnesses, or filing a lawsuit to get the insurance company to pay fairly.

In these types of cases, there’s too much on the line for a victim to represent themselves. Insurance companies know that when a victim decides to handle the claim themselves, they have limited options. Once the claims adjuster decides what they believe to be a fair pay-out, the victim has to either take it or leave it. This is true even if the claim is actually worth more money.

How much do attorneys charge?
Most personal injury attorneys will not charge any fees to a prospective client for an initial office consultation. They also won’t accept a case unless the underlying facts of the accident show clear negligence by the other driver. And there must be enough money involved for the attorney to make a profit after the victim is fairly compensated.

Attorneys can set their own fees, but there are general guidelines they must follow. Most will charge legal fees only when the claim is settled or won in court.  Once this occurs, they will likely charge between 25% to 33.3% (up to a maximum 40%) of the gross settlement amount or court verdict (depending on the difficulty of your case).

Gather your medical records, police reports, witness statements and other documents related to the accident and present them to your prospective lawyer. They will tell you the strength of your claim, the approximate time it will take to settle, the general amount your claim should get, and the likelihood of having to file a lawsuit.

Step 10 – Filing a Lawsuit in Small Claims Court

Connecticut small claims courtThere are times when filing a lawsuit on your own is your only option. If you have argued with the insurance company over the value of your case or were denied, you’ll need to take an alternate approach to recover compensation.

Insurance companies often deny claims based on medical evidence, questions of liability, and other factors which bring into question the viability of a claim. When they agree to pay a claim, the offer is often well below what is fair.

In situations like this, you may need to file a claim in small claims court.

How much can I sue for in Connecticut Small Claims Court?
In Connecticut Small Claims Courts, a victim can sue a negligent driver for up to $5,000.

Do I sue the at-fault driver or his insurance company?  
File your lawsuit against the at-fault driver and not his insurance company. His insurance company will be available to pay whatever amount the court awards you.

How can I learn more about Connecticut Small Claims Courts?
For more information about court policies, procedures, and forms, visit the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch website.

Step 11 – Statute of Limitations

Connecticut statute limitationsConnecticut law identifies the statute of limitations as two years. This is the time period allowed for a plaintiff to settle their property damage or personal injury claim.

What can I do if the insurance company won’t return my calls or they are stalling on settling my claim?
Remember, the insurance company is not your friend. Even if negotiations go well, you have to be aware of Connecticut’s Statute of Limitations. Their failure to return your calls is not an excuse for missing this deadline. If you miss it, there is nothing you can do to recover any damages from the driver who caused your injuries.

Be vigilant. Record the final date on your calendar, your computer, and your cell phone. Give yourself plenty of reminders and plenty of time. The insurance company’s claims adjuster will not remind you.

Visitor Questions on Connecticut Car Accidents

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>