The Complete Delaware Car Accident Guide

Delaware car accident

Modern cars are safer than ever, yet even with the latest safety features, the number of auto accidents keeps rising, with more than 4.5 million people injured each year in U.S. car accidents. ¹

Delaware has its share of auto accidents, with over 26,000 crashes resulting in more than 8,500 people injured annually. ²

Car crashes happen when you least expect them.  One minute you’re driving along your usual route. The next minute, you’re part of an accident scene, waiting for help to arrive.

You can’t avoid every accident, but you can be ready to protect yourself when an accident happens. Your successful insurance claim starts at the accident scene, if you know what to say and do, and just as importantly, what not to say or do.

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

If you’ve been the victim of a Delaware auto accident, you will want to be fully compensated for your bodily injuries and property damage. Here are 11 steps to help you build a successful car accident claim. We’ve also answered 30 of the most frequently asked questions about accident claims.

Step 1. Stop. Call 911. Help the Injured

Delaware stop call help

If you’ve been in a Delaware car accident, you must immediately stop as close to the accident scene as possible. Check to see if anyone is injured and call 911.

What do I tell the 911 dispatcher?

Tell the 911 operator:

Your location: Emergency responders can get there faster if they know where to find you, so tell the dispatcher the road you’re on, which direction you were heading, the nearest intersections or mile markers, or any other landmarks to help describe your location.

Possible injuries: Tell the dispatcher if anyone looks injured, sick, or is asking for medical help.

Scene description: Accidents scenes can be unsafe, with loud noises and activity around the crash and from passing traffic. Tell the dispatcher if anyone may be in danger, or if there are hazards like downed power lines or leaking fuel.

Will the police come to the accident scene?

Dispatchers will usually send a police officer to accident scenes with reported dangers, blocked traffic, or where people are injured. Police may not show up for fender-benders, especially during busy periods.

What if someone is injured?

When anyone is injured or killed in a car accident in Delaware, drivers are required to give their name, address, and car registration information, and to show their driver’s license to the other driver and passengers.

Delaware law also requires drivers to render “reasonable assistance” to anyone who was injured in the accident or is asking for medical help. This means making arrangements to transport the injured person to a medical facility, either by driving them yourself or by calling for police or other emergency personnel and waiting at the scene until the emergency help arrives.

What if I’m injured?

Your injuries from a car accident may be immediately obvious, like excessive bleeding or broken bones. The fact is, accident injuries aren’t always easy to see, even critical injuries like closed head injuries or internal damage. Some injury symptoms may not appear for hours or days after the crash.

Never refuse medical treatment at the scene. Be completely open with emergency responders about any symptoms you’re having, even if you think they are mild. Fear or shock can mask symptoms of injuries. If paramedics want to transport you to the hospital, go.

If you are not taken directly to a hospital from the accident scene, make sure you are seen by a medical provider as soon as possible after the accident.

Refusing or delaying medical treatment after an accident can seriously weaken your insurance claim later, when the insurance company declares that your injuries were not caused by the accident.

What if no one is hurt, but the cars are damaged?

If you’re in an accident that only involves property damage, you  still have to  stop to make sure there are no injuries. When you’ve made sure no one is hurt, move your vehicle so it won’t block traffic.

If you collided with another car, or hit other property, you are required to provide your name, address, and vehicle registration information to the property owner or the driver of the other car in the collision. You must also show your driver’s license to the property owner, or occupants of the other vehicle.

If the property damage to vehicles or other property is estimated to be $500 or more, report the accident to local police.

If your car is damaged, but there’s no damage to the environment or to another person’s property, you may leave the scene, but you’re still required to report the accident if the damage to your car is worth $500 or more.

Do I have to report the accident to police?

Under Delaware law, the driver of any vehicle in an accident must immediately report the accident to the police in any of these circumstances:

Report the accident to the police department with jurisdiction over the location of the accident. The police department with jurisdiction may be the local town or city police, the county Sheriffs, or the Delaware State Police.

Step 2. Start Gathering Evidence

Delaware gather evidence

When you’ve been injured or your vehicle is damaged in an accident, you’ll want to be fully compensated for your damages. To get a fair insurance settlement, you’ll need evidence that the at-fault driver was negligent or did something wrong.

Gathering evidence at the accident scene will significantly help your claim with the insurance company, especially if the accident happened because of a negligent driver.

Accident scenes change quickly. Damaged cars are soon towed, and the drivers and witnesses leave. Take advantage of the critical window of time right after the accident to get information  from the other driver, passengers, and any witnesses.

Take pictures or video of the cars, the road conditions and anything in the area that affected what happened.

Write down important facts and observations, like the date and time, the weather, if it was daylight or dark, and anything else you saw, heard or even smelled (like alcohol) before, during and after the accident.

We’ve made it easier for you, with a free Car Accident Information Form. Keep a copy of the form and a pen in your car along with your proof of insurance. You’ll always be ready to collect important information you need from an accident scene.

Where do I start?

Be prepared to exchange the following information with the other driver:

  • Name and address
  • Vehicle owner name and address, if different from driver
  • Vehicle registration information
  • Driver’s license information
  • Insurance information

Passengers: Ask for all passengers’ full names, dates of birth, addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and any other contact information. Passengers are not required to share any information with you, but you can make notes for yourself about how many passengers, their ages, what they looked like, and any passenger statements and behaviors you observed.

Vehicles: Look for the make, model, year, license plate number, expiration date, and vehicle identification number (VIN) for each vehicle involved in the accident. If you have permission to enter the other vehicle, the VIN can normally be found on the car’s dashboard in the left corner at the bottom where the dashboard and windshield meet, on the driver’s insurance card, or inside the door jamb of the driver’s side door.

Witnesses: Witnesses are not obligated to stay and talk to you, but you can try to speak with potential witnesses long enough to find out if they saw anything that might help your claim. If you have a cooperative witness, ask for their name, address, phone numbers, e-mail address, and if they will write down a statement of what they witnessed. Have the witness sign and date any written statement.

Diagrams: Make a drawing of the accident scene showing where each car was before and after the accident. Indicate the direction each car was heading. Include information on road conditions and add notes about the weather, road construction, and anything else that contributed to the collision.

Are photographs important?

Yes. Taking photographs or videos with your cell phone, camera or any other device is tremendously helpful to your claim. Walk around the crash scene, taking as many pictures and videos as you safely can from different angles.

Photos and video footage can show vital details of the vehicles involved, the accident scene and the surrounding area. Sometimes, pictures or video can show how the drivers and passengers were behaving, apparent intoxication, and other important factors that may have been involved.

Photographs and videos often become compelling evidence that makes it harder for those involved to change their story after the accident.

Step 3. Notify Your Insurance Company

Delaware call insurance

Your auto insurance policy is a legal contract between you and the insurance company. You expect your auto insurance to protect you if anything happens while you’re driving. Understanding your obligations will keep those protections in force after an accident.

What is a Cooperation Clause?

Most auto policies have a Notice of Occurrence and Cooperation clause. The clause means you agree to tell your insurance company any time you are in an accident, and you also agree to cooperate with your insurance company’s investigation of the accident.

The clause will have language similar to this:

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

Can I use an app to report the accident?

Yes. There are apps for Apple and Android devices to make reporting a Delaware car accident easy and fast. Many of the apps help you gather key information and get the insurance claims process started.

Apps can help you:

  • Gather driver’s license, registration, and insurance information
  • Collect witness names and contact information
  • Create diagrams of the accident scene
  • Take photographs and video
  • Pinpoint the GPS location of the scene
  • Notify your insurance company

Here are a few of the free accident reporting apps. Check with your insurance company to see if they offer a similar application.

Google Accident Report

Allstate Mobile

State Farm

Progressive

GEICO

Nationwide

Do I have to call my insurance company if it wasn’t my fault?

Yes. You’re obligated under your insurance policy to report any accident, even if the accident wasn’t your fault or no one seems to be hurt.

Your insurance company wants to hear your side of the story. By promptly notifying your insurer, and cooperating with their investigation, you give the insurance company the best chance to help defend your position.

Reporting the accident, even a fender-bender, will help protect you later if the other driver decides to blame you for the crash, or anyone from the other car starts to complain of injuries.

If the other driver hires an attorney, you can be sure their attorney will notify your insurance company, putting you and the insurance company at a disadvantage if you hadn’t already reported the accident.

Failing to notify your insurance company can cause the company to raise your rates, decline to renew your policy, or even cancel your auto insurance policy.

Here’s a sample Notice of Occurrence Form with examples of accident details to tell your insurance company.

What are Damages?

Property damages include:

  • Vehicle repair costs
  • Rental costs while your car is being repaired
  • Car value, if it is “totaled”

Personal injury damages can include:

  • Medical, chiropractic, and therapy bills
  • Out-of-pocket expenses for medical needs
  • Costs of travel for treatment
  • Mental health services
  • Emotional distress
  • Pain and suffering

Step 4. Request the Police Accident Report

Delaware accident report

Why are police accident reports important?

Delaware police have the option to investigate any accident, no matter how minor. However, Delaware police are mandated to investigate and prepare an official report when an accident involves injury or death, an impaired driver, or property damage of $1,500 or more.

Police reports typically include statements from drivers, passengers, and other witnesses; the officer’s opinions of fault; citations issued; a diagram of the accident; and more.

The police report on your accident is important to your claim. Be sure to get a copy for your records.

How can I request a copy of the Accident Report?

To request a copy of an accident report, contact the local police department where the accident occurred. If the accident happened outside a municipality, contact the Sheriff’s Department. If the accident occurred on a Delaware state highway, contact the Delaware State police at:

Delaware State Police
1441 N. DuPont Highway
P.O. Box 430
Dover, Delaware 19903-0430
(302) 739-5931

Step 5. Learn About Third-Party Liability

Delaware 3rd Party Liability

What is third-party liability?

There are two kinds of claimants when it comes to auto insurance. If you make a claim on your own insurance policy, you’re making a first-party claim. If you make a claim against someone else’s auto policy, it’s a third-party claim.

A third-party liability claim is your claim for damages against the other driver’s insurance, because the other driver is at fault, or “liable” for the accident.

What are my options under Delaware’s third-party liability rules?

To be compensated for bodily injury or property damage from a Delaware auto accident, you have three options:

  • File a claim with your own insurance company
  • File a claim with the negligent driver’s insurance company
  • Sue the negligent driver

Step 6. Understanding Delaware’s Insurance Laws

Delaware car insurance

Delaware law requires drivers to carry minimum levels of liability insurance. The insurance is meant to protect anyone who suffers personal injury or property damages in a car accident caused by a negligent driver.

What are the minimum car insurance limits required?

Liability insurance covers injuries or damage to other people or property if you cause an accident. Vehicles registered in Delaware must be insured for at least the minimum liability coverage for bodily injury in the amounts of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident, as well as $10,000 per accident for property damage.

For more information on Delaware car insurance requirements visit Delaware’s Vehicles Services Insurance Requirements page.

Step 7. How Contributory Negligence Laws Affect You

Delaware contributory negligence

What do I need to know about contributory negligence laws?

Delaware follows the Contributory Negligence rule, meaning you can file an accident claim against the other driver, even if you are partially liable for the accident, so long as you are not more to blame for the accident than the other driver.

If you are 51% or more to blame for the accident, you won’t be able to recover any damages from the other driver. If your liability is 50% or less, you can still receive a settlement, but the amount will be adjusted according to your share of blame for the accident.

Example of how Delaware’s contributory negligence law affects a settlement:

Albert was driving west on Elm Street to pick up his daughter from daycare. He was texting his wife to let her know he was running late.

At the same time, Sara was driving northbound on Nittany Street, heading home from school. As she approached the intersection of Nittany and Elm, she sped up to make it through the intersection before the yellow traffic light turned red.

Unfortunately, the light turned red as Sara entered the intersection. She T-boned Albert’s car, causing serious injuries to Albert.

Albert was seeking $60,000 for his personal injury claim to cover his medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Sara’s insurance company refused to pay more than $30,000, so Albert sued Sara.

During trial, the evidence showed Sara failed to stop at the red light, so she was legally responsible for causing the accident. However, the jury also saw evidence that showed Albert was texting at the time of the accident.

While the jury agreed that Albert’s personal injury claim was worth $60,000, they determined that he was 50% at fault because he was texting while driving. Sara was also 50% at fault for the crash, for failing to stop at the red light.

Since Sara and Albert were equally to blame for the auto accident, under Delaware’s contributory negligence rules, Albert was only awarded $30,000 (50%) of his damage claim.

If the jury had determined that Albert was 51% or more at fault, he wouldn’t have recovered any money for his personal injury claim.

Should I admit the accident was my fault?

No. Because of Delaware’s contributory negligence law, it is never appropriate to discuss fault at an accident scene. Don’t say anything that can be used against you. Every accident is unique, and you simply don’t have enough information to admit fault.

Until the accident has been thoroughly investigated, you may not be aware of actions or omissions by the other driver that contributed to the accident.

Remember, Delaware’s contributory negligence law means that if the other driver is partially to blame for the accident or more to blame than you, they may only be entitled to a partial settlement or nothing at all from you or your insurance company.

Step 8. Cooperate with Law Enforcement

Delaware accident police

Police are usually sent to accidents when there are injuries, cars are blocking traffic, or the accident scene is dangerous. After securing the scene, the officer will investigate to determine what caused the accident and who was at fault.

Do the police have to listen to my side of the story?

No. While you have the right to try to tell the police your side of the story, they are not obligated to listen to you. The police have a job to do. When a police officer asks you to wait or otherwise gives you directions, you must do as you’re told.

Don’t argue with the police. Confrontational remarks like “I know my rights. Give me your badge number!” not only interfere with the accident investigation, they can lead to a traffic citation, or possibly your arrest.

Can I refuse a traffic citation?

If the investigating officer decides you violated Delaware traffic laws, you may be ticketed. You can try persuading the officer not to give you a ticket, but once the citation is issued, you must accept it.

Accepting a traffic ticket is not an admission of guilt. If you want to dispute the citation, do it in court, not at the accident scene.

Step 9. When to Hire an Attorney

Delaware hire attorney self represent

Some insurance claims can be effectively settled without an attorney. Other claims need an experienced personal injury attorney to persuade the insurance company to pay what you deserve for your damages.

Can I represent myself?

Before deciding to represent yourself in a personal injury claim, think about the type of injuries you suffered in the accident:

“Soft tissue” injuries include bumps and bruises, strains and sprains, and similarly minor injuries. Soft tissue injury claims are straightforward and typically consist of medical, chiropractic, or physical therapy bills, some lost wages, and a limited amount of pain and suffering.

Soft tissue injuries don’t usually need a lot of expensive medical tests, and can often be settled without expert medical testimony, pretrial legal procedures, or litigation.

“Hard” injuries are much more serious and can include multiple fractures, deep lacerations requiring stitches, head trauma, amputations, and similar severe or permanent injuries. Hard injury claims are complicated, requiring the insurance company to pay out significantly more money for a fair settlement.

There’s just too much at risk for you to represent yourself in a severe injury claim.

Convincing the insurance company to pay what your claim is worth when you’ve suffered hard injuries usually involves expert medical testimony, pretrial discovery, subpoenas for records, depositions, the threat of litigation, and more.

When you’ve been seriously injured in an accident, you have limited power to handle insurance negotiations and legal issues on your own. Without legal representation, once the insurance company makes their “final” offer, you probably won’t have the knowledge or energy to fight them. Insurance companies count on that and regularly offer far less settlement money to claimants without an attorney.

Experienced personal injury attorneys have the skills, knowledge and legal tools needed to compel the insurance company to pay the settlement amount you deserve, to fairly compensate you for your injuries and suffering.

How much do attorneys charge?

Your initial consultation with a personal injury attorney is usually free. You can choose to meet with more than one attorney before selecting the attorney who will fight for you.

If you’ve been seriously injured, gather your important papers like medical records, accident reports, witness statements and other documents related to the accident. Bring your documents to the first consultation with each attorney you meet.

After reviewing your documents, the attorney will discuss your claim’s value, how long it might take to settle, and if you’ll need to file a lawsuit.

Personal injury attorneys normally charge a contingency fee, meaning that your attorney’s fees will be paid out of your insurance settlement or court award. Contingency fees can range from around 25% up to a maximum of about 40% of the gross settlement amount or court verdict.

If your attorney doesn’t settle your claim or loses your case in court, you won’t owe any fees.

Step 10. Deciding to File in Small Claims Court

Delaware small claims court

When should I file a small claims court lawsuit?

Delaware small claim cases are heard in Justice of the Peace Courts. However, unlike other states which permit small claims lawsuits for personal injuries, Delaware Justice of the Peace Courts do not accept cases for personal injuries or pain and suffering.

You can have an attorney in Justice of the Peace Court, or you may represent yourself.

Filing a lawsuit in Delaware’s Justice of the Peace Court can be a good way to settle your property damage claim if:

  • The insurance company won’t offer a fair settlement
  • The insurance company denied your claim
  • The at-fault driver was uninsured
  • An attorney won’t take your case on a contingency basis

Property damage claims are not limited to the cost of your car repairs. Your claim can include the cost of personal property damaged in the accident like eye glasses, computers, jewelry, cell phones, and more.

How much can I sue for in Delaware Justice of the Peace Courts?

Justice of the Peace courts allows car accident claims for property damage valued up to $15,000.

How can I learn more about Delaware Justice of the Peace Courts?

For more information about filing a small claims lawsuit, go to Delaware Justice of the Peace Courts.

How can I find the Justice of the Peace Court closest to me?

To find your nearest Justice of the Peace Court, visit Delaware State Courts Justice of the Peace Locations.

Step 11. Beware of Delaware’s Statute of Limitations

Delaware statute limitations

A statute of limitations is the legal time period for an accident victim to either settle their insurance claim or file a lawsuit.

If you miss the statute of limitations deadline, you will lose your legal right to pursue your claim with the negligent driver or the driver’s insurance company.

What is the Statute of Limitations period in Delaware?

The State of Delaware has a two-year statute of limitations for property damage and personal injury claims. The statute starts to “run” on the accident date.

This means you have two years from the date of the accident to settle your property damage or personal injury claim or file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.

What if the insurance company isn’t cooperating?

Keep a sharp eye on the statute of limitations deadline if your negotiations with the claims adjuster are going slowly. No matter what the adjuster says, the insurance company is under no legal obligation to settle your claim in time.

They know that if you don’t stop the deadline from running out by filing a lawsuit against the negligent driver, there’s nothing you can do to make the insurance company pay, no matter how badly you’re hurt.

What if time is running out and my claim hasn’t settled?

Don’t risk forfeiting your claim. If you don’t have a final settlement agreement, don’t wait until the last day to preserve your claim by filing a lawsuit. Remember, the insurance company doesn’t have the legal authority to promise you an “extension” on the statute of limitations.

If you fail to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver within two years of the car accident date, you can’t do it later by blaming the insurance company.

Make sure you know the statute of limitations deadline for your accident. Schedule reminder alerts on your phone, and mark the date on your calendar, or anywhere else that will remind you. Don’t wait until the last day to act on protecting your claim.

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