11 Critical Steps After a Georgia Car Accident

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

Georgia car accidentAdvancements in today’s vehicles have made them safer for consumers. However, despite the latest technology, injuries caused by car accidents continue to occur daily throughout the United States.

It’s easy to think accidents only happen to the other guy. But the truth is that the average American driver will be involved in three or four car accidents during their lifetime.¹

In just one year there were over three million non-fatal injuries from car accidents. ²

Georgia has its fair share of injury accidents as well, including more than 1,500 killed annually on Georgia roadways.³

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

Car accidents happen in the blink of an eye, leaving little time to react. In the immediate aftermath, you’ll be dealing with injuries and property damage.

Knowing what to do and say after an accident, and the pitfalls to avoid, will have a huge impact on the amount of compensation you’ll be paid for your property damage, personal injuries and pain and suffering.

Here’s a list of 11 steps to help you successfully navigate your auto insurance claims. We also provide answers to the most frequently asked questions after a car accident in Georgia.

Step 1. Stop, Check for Injuries, Call 911

Georgia stop help callNot only is it the right thing to do, but stopping at the scene of a car accident is the law.

What are my legal duties after a car accident?

Georgia law requires all drivers involved in a car accident to stop immediately at the scene.

Once stopped, everyone involved is required to exchange the following information:

  • Full names and addresses
  • Vehicle registration
  • Driver’s license (if asked by another driver or passenger)

What if someone is injured in a car accident?

If you’ve been involved in a Georgia car accident which resulted in injuries to anyone, you must render ”reasonable assistance.” This includes driving the injured person, or making arrangements to get the injured person, to a hospital for medical treatment.

In addition, if it appears anyone is unconscious, possibly deceased, or otherwise unable to communicate, you must make every reasonable effort to ensure that emergency medical services and local law enforcement are contacted for assistance.

What will the 911 operator need to know about the car accident?

This is not the time to give the 911 operator your opinion of fault in the accident. Instead, remain calm and speak clearly so that proper emergency services can be dispatched.

Be prepared to give the 911 operator the following information:

Location: Be specific. Look for nearby street signs, highway mile markers or exit numbers, landmarks, and other details that will help describe your exact location.

Scene: Car accidents are messy. Vehicles will be pointing in every direction with shattered glass and twisted metal throughout. The people involved may be walking around oblivious to oncoming traffic, while trying to inventory damage to their vehicles. Give the 911 operator a description of the scene, and any concerns you may see when it comes to the safety of those involved.

Injured: Tell the 911 operator if anyone is obviously injured, or if anyone is complaining of pain, nausea or dizziness.

Do I have to report the accident to the police?

It depends. If the accident resulted in an injury, death, or property damage in excess of $500, you must immediately notify the nearest law enforcement agency.

However, if the accident did not result in injuries and there was no damage to anyone else’s property, you do not have to report the accident to law enforcement.

Will police be dispatched to the accident?

Police, sheriffs, and state highway patrol agencies each have their own policy dictating when emergency personnel are dispatched to an accident scene.

Police will typically be dispatched when the accident presents a danger to others, if there are re[ported injuries, or in the event that cars are disabled and need to be towed.

If the police respond to the accident, the investigating officer will complete an accident report.

The State of Georgia requires all law enforcement agencies to submit a Uniform Traffic Accident Report when they respond to an accident. This form is then sent to the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicle Safety.

What if I’m injured in a car accident?

Car crashes can be traumatic. The event can cause your body to produce adrenaline which commonly masks pain and the symptoms of injuries. As a result, it can take hours or even days for symptoms to appear.

It’s extremely important to seek immediate medical treatment following an accident. If the paramedics are dispatched to the scene, let them evaluate you and decide if your injuries are serious enough to transport you to the local emergency room.

By failing to seek immediate medical treatment, you’re inviting the insurance company to take the position you weren’t injured in the accident, and deny your personal injury claim.

What if I hit property other than a car?

If you damage property other than a vehicle, you must take reasonable steps to locate and notify the owner. Once you locate them, give them your name, address and the registration number of the car you were driving at the time of the accident.

What if I hit another car and no one was in it?

If you’ve collided with an unattended vehicle, you must stop immediately and attempt to locate the owner. Once located, you must provide your name and address.

If you’re unable to find the owner of the other vehicle, you must leave a note on the car explaining what happened and include your name and address.

Step 2. Start Gathering Evidence

Georgia accident photo evidenceThe scene of an accident is filled with evidence you can use to support your property damage or personal injury claim. But you must act fast, since that evidence can quickly disappear.

Once the people and vehicles involved in the accident leave the scene, crucial evidence leaves with them.

To support your auto insurance claim, you’ll need to show the other driver was at fault, and because of that negligence you sustained “damages.”

What are auto insurance “Damages”?

Damages are unique to every person involved in a Georgia car accident. They can include any of the following:

  • Medical, dental and therapy bills
  • Diagnostic tests (X-Rays, CT Scans, MRI’s)
  • Out-of-pocket expenses (medications, slings, crutches, etc.)
  • Costs of travel to and from treatment
  • Nursing care
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Car repair costs

What evidence do I need to for my auto insurance claim?

Make sure you exchange the required information with the other driver. Then be sure you have the following:

Contact Information:

  • Full names
  • Home and business addresses
  • Email
  • Telephone numbers
  • Date of birth
  • Driver’s license number

Vehicle Information:

  • The make, model and year
  • License plate number
  • Registration expiration date
  • Vehicle Identification Number (The VIN can normally be found on the car’s dashboard in the left corner where it meets the windshield, on the driver’s insurance card, or inside the door jamb of the driver’s side door.)

Witness Information:

  • Name and address
  • Telephone number
  • Email
  • Witness statements (Ask the witnesses if they will remain at the scene to give their statements to police. While witnesses are not legally required to stay, it would be helpful if they did.)

Diagram of the Scene

  • Location of the cars before and after the collision
  • Approximate speed of each car before the collision
  • Direction each vehicle was traveling in
  • Weather conditions at the time of the incident (Was it cloudy, misting, snowing? Were the roads icy? Was it foggy?)
  • Any road obstructions
  • Time of day the incident occurred

Can I take photographs and video of the accident scene?

Photographs and video are vital. They capture the accident scene authentically as it exists at the time of the collision. Photographs and video can also identify every person involved as well as their demeanor at the time of the incident.

Videos and pictures show the position of the cars, current weather, street and traffic light locations, and other evidence related to the accident. Once evidence is captured on video or through pictures, it’s very difficult for anyone to change their story later.

Can I take witness statements after a car accident?

Witnesses may have information helpful to your claim. You can try to talk with them, but they’re under no obligation to speak with you. If you find one that is willing, ask them to write down what they saw or heard.

Be sure to have the witness sign and date each page of their written statement.

Step 3. Dealing With the Police

Georgia police at accidentWhen arriving at an accident scene, law enforcement officers have several duties to perform. You must allow the officers to do their job without interfering.

What are the responsibilities of law enforcement at the accident scene?

  • Arrange care for the injured
  • Secure the accident scene
  • Investigate the causes of the accident
  • Complete initial accident reports
  • Issue traffic citations
  • Make arrests on outstanding warrants, intoxicated drivers, failure to be insured, and other criminal acts

Do I have to answer the officer’s questions?

Yes. In the course of the investigation, a law enforcement officer may ask you questions. These can include requests for proof of insurance, car registration, and for your driver’s license. You’re required to answer these questions and provide the items requested.

However, if you’re being questioned about matters which may be incriminating, you do not have to answer.  Remember that any statements you make may be held against you later in court.

Police are there to perform certain duties and you should not slow down their investigation or get in their way. Doing so may impede the process, frustrate the officer, and in some cases lead to your arrest for failing to comply with the officer’s orders.

What if I’m issued a traffic citation?

The investigating officer may decide you violated Georgia traffic laws. If so, the officer may issue you a traffic citation. There’s nothing wrong with attempting to persuade the officer not to write you the ticket, however once the citation is issued, you must accept it.

It’s important to remember that a traffic citation is not proof of guilt. By signing the citation you’re merely agreeing to appear in court to answer for the allegations. At that time you have several options including pleading “not guilty” and asking for a trial.

Step 4. The Police Accident Report

Georgia accident police report

Can the police report be helpful to my car insurance claim?

Yes. The accident report completed by the investigating officer contains evidence important to your  claim. The police report may include documentation of injuries, vehicle damage, skids on the roadway, and more.

While the report itself is inadmissible in court, it can be useful as a starting point in determining liability for the crash and to preserve important evidence.

Georgia car accident reports include a description of the accident based on witness statements, the position of the cars, damage to the vehicles and, sometimes even pictures.

Most accident reports completed by law enforcement include “contributing factors” which, in the officer’s opinion, caused or led to the accident. If a personal injury claim can’t be settled and ends up going to trial, the officer may refer to these contributing factors during testimony.

How can I obtain a copy of the police accident report?

Under Georgia’s Open Records policy, you can request a copy of the accident report. You will need to download and complete the Accident Report Release Form. To submit the request, fax the form to (404) 624-7529 or mail it to:

Georgia Department of Public Safety
Attn: Open Records Unit
P.O. Box 1456
Atlanta, GA 30371

Visit the Georgia Department of Safety website for more information on available records.

Step 5. Call Your Insurance Company

Georgia accident call insuranceYour car insurance policy is a binding legal contract between you (the insured), and your insurance company (the insurer). The policy binds them to provide property damage and personal liability coverage in the event of a car accident.

In return, you’re required to cooperate in the investigation and processing of your accident. This cooperation requirement is normally fulfilled when you file a Notice of Occurrence.

What is a “Notice of Occurrence”?

The portion of your policy that requires you to cooperate with the investigation is contained in the Notice of Occurrence clause. It requires you to promptly notify your insurance company in the event of a car accident, and to cooperate throughout their investigation of the accident. This is true whether you caused the accident or not.

Failing to cooperate is a breach of the contract between you and your insurance company. That breach may result in your premiums being raised, your policy not being renewed, or possibly even the cancellation of your policy.

How can I obtain the Notice of Occurrence form?

Contact your insurance company and report the accident immediately. Ask them to send you the Notice of Occurrence form they use.

Why do I have to notify my insurance company if I didn’t cause the accident?

By cooperating with your insurance company and providing them with immediate notification, you give them the time they need to investigate the accident. While you may be sure the other driver was the one at fault, they may not agree.

When you report the accident to your insurance company, you’re neither admitting fault nor filing a claim for compensation.

Failing to promptly report the accident not only makes you in breach of the contract, but may give the other driver or their attorney a substantial time advantage.

Here’s why:

Delayed Symptoms: At the accident scene, the other people involved may have told you they were uninjured. But the onset of symptoms for some injuries can take hours or even days to appear. The people involved may not begin to experience pain or discomfort until later.

No Insurance: The other driver may have been uninsured. If so, they certainly don’t want you to know it. This is especially true if the police were going to be dispatched to the scene. The uninsured driver may be ticketed, or depending on their record, even arrested.

Fraud: You would be surprised at how many people involved in car accidents fake injuries at the accident scene, and long after. For these people, a car accident can mean “pay day” when your insurance company decides to compensate them, even if only in a “nuisance claim.”

What is a Nuisance Claim?

In a nuisance claim, even if there is little medical evidence of any injury even existing, the insurance company settles with the other driver and ends up compensating them.

This decision is based on the fact that it’s sometimes better for the insurance company to pay a little bit of money to settle a claim, than it would be to have to deal with the nuisance of a claim that will not go away. This is especially true if your insurance company believes the “injured” person may hire an attorney.

Even with a nuisance claim, your insurance company will protect your interests by requiring the claimant to sigh a release of any future claims against you before any compensation is paid.

Are there mobile apps to give notice of an accident?

Yes. Many insurance companies today have apps that enable you to report an accident online, thereby fulfilling the notice of occurrence requirement.

The applications can:

  • Send state required auto accident reports
  • Create 3-D sketches of accident scenes
  • Take, store, and send photographs of the scene
  • Access GPS locations of the scene
  • Store and send witness contact information and their statements

Below are just a few of the companies offering accident reporting apps:

Allstate Mobile
State Farm

Should I ever admit the accident was my fault?

No! While honesty is the best policy, when it comes to car accidents there is no legal or practical reason to admit or accept fault.

Never admit fault at the accident scene.

While you may believe the accident was entirely your fault, you don’t know if the other driver shares some responsibility for the accident, leaving you only partially at fault. If that’s the case, your insurance company may only pay the other driver a lesser settlement amount, reducing it by their percentage of negligence.

Step 6. Georgia Modified Comparative Fault 

Georgia modified comparative faultWhen it comes to Georgia car accidents, finding fault isn’t always clearly against one driver or the other. In many accidents, one driver will be fully responsible (negligent) for causing the accident. In other cases, the drivers share some fault.

When both drivers contributed to causing an accident, Georgia’s Modified Comparative Fault law applies. This law allows people to recover compensation for their damages even if they were partially to blame for the accident.

For example, an insurance claims adjuster reviews the police report, witness statements, and the underlying circumstances of a collision and determines the drivers shared fault for an accident.  In this case, the compensation paid in a settlement will be reduced proportionally, according to each driver’s percentage of fault.

Georgia’s comparative negligence statute permits claimants to recover compensation even if it’s determined that they were up to 49% to blame for the accident. Once the share of blame reaches 50% or greater however, the law prohibits the claimant from recovering any compensation.

If you disagree with the insurance company’s allocation of fault for a car accident, you may need an attorney to help you get the appropriate amount of compensation for your injury claim.

Example of how Modified Comparative Negligence works:

Helen approached an intersection in her car. As she arrived, she stopped and then proceeded to turn left, crossing the roadway. At the same time, Judy was coming out of a parking lot. As Judy entered the roadway she was struck by Helen. Both cars were damaged and Helen was seriously injured.

Helen filed a personal injury claim with Judy’s insurance company in the amount of $100,000 for her hard injuries, pain and suffering.  She claimed the accident was Judy’s fault since she entered the roadway from the parking lot, and that Judy should have waited.

Judy’s insurance company denied the claim after deciding Helen was equally to blame for the accident.

Helen retained a personal injury attorney and filed a lawsuit against Judy.

At trial, the jury found in Helen’s favor. They decided Judy violated Georgia Code § 40-6-73 “Entering or crossing roadway” which reads:

“The driver of a vehicle about to enter or cross a roadway from any place other than another roadway shall yield the right of way to all vehicles approaching on the roadway to be entered or crossed.”

The jury decided Judy failed to wait until it was safe to enter the roadway, thus failing to yield the right of way to Helen.

However, the jury also found Helen was partially negligent, as she violated Georgia Code § 40-6-71  “Vehicle turning left” which reads:

“The driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left within an intersection or into an alley, private road, or driveway shall yield the right of way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction which is within the intersection or so close thereto as to constitute an immediate hazard.”

The jury decided Helen should have waited until it was clear to enter the roadway after making her left turn.

The jury determined Judy’s fault at 70% and Helen’s fault at 30%. As a result, the jury awarded Helen $70,000, representing the deduction of $30,000 for her 30% portion of negligence.

Step 7. Georgia is a Third-Party Liability State

Georgia third party liabilityGeorgia is a third-party liability state, not a no-fault insurance state.

Under third-party liability, victims of car accidents have the right to pursue the at-fault driver for damages.

What are my options under Georgia’s 3rd party liability rule?

Under Georgia’s third party liability rule, if you’re a victim in a car accident, you have the right to:

  • File a property damage and/or personal injury claim with your own insurance company  (referred to as a first-party claim)
  • File a property damage and/or personal injury claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company (referred to as a third party claim)
  • File a lawsuit against the at-fault

Step 8. Legal Requirements for Car Insurance

Georgia auto insuranceTo protect everyone on the road, Georgia law requires vehicle owners to carry property damage and personal injury auto liability insurance.

What are the minimum amounts of car insurance required in Georgia?

In Georgia, an auto insurance policy must provide, at a minimum, the following basic types and amounts of liability  coverage:

  • $25,000 for injuries to one person in one accident
  • $50,000 for injuries to two or more persons in one accident
  • $25,000 for property damage in one accident

Step 9. Represent Yourself or Retain an Attorney

Georgia hire attorney self representSome property damage and personal injury claims can be handled without an attorney, while others require an attorney’s extensive legal experience. Knowing the difference is vital.

When do I need an attorney for my injury claim?

Knowing when it’s the right time to hire an attorney requires an understanding of the types of injuries sustained in an accident.

here are two basic types of injuries.  They are “soft tissue,” and “hard injuries.”

Soft tissue injuries can include sprains and strains, minor bruising, minor burns, cuts not requiring stitches, whiplash, and other similarly minor injuries.

Soft tissue injuries are generally not complex. In most cases, they don’t require expensive medical procedures or other high-dollar expenses. Treatment usually lasts anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. These injuries generally require minimal prescribed medications and a relatively small amount of lost wages.

Hard Injuries are far more serious. They can include head trauma, fractures, second and third degree burns, disfigurement, loss of body parts, deep gashes requiring stitches, and other injuries requiring extensive medical treatment.

In hard injury claims, you simply won’t be as effective as an experienced personal injury attorney. Claims adjusters are expert at leading you to believe you’re a terrific negotiator, when in reality that’s not true.  Once the adjuster tells you that’s their final offer, you have no leverage. At that point it’s basically “take it, or leave it.”

Personal injury attorneys have a plethora of legal tools they use when negotiating with insurance companies. They can learn the other driver’s policy limits, whether the driver had previous traffic accidents, citations, prior arrests, and other important information you could never find yourself.

An experienced personal injury attorney knows that if they can’t negotiate a favorable settlement, they can file a lawsuit. Once filed, the attorney can engage in pretrial discovery, depositions, interrogatories, subpoenas for production of documents, and more.

Insurance companies don’t like lawsuits. Lawsuits are expensive and can cost the company tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. Rather than enduring the costs associated with defending a lawsuit, insurance companies do all they can to settle the claim.

How much do attorneys charge?

Personal injury attorneys normally don’t charge for your initial office consultation.

If an attorney accepts your case, they would likely charge you a contingency fee. This means you will only have to pay if the attorney settles your case or wins it at trial. If the attorney can’t settle your claim, or loses the case in trial, you owe the attorney nothing.

If your attorney is able to get you a favorable result, you will owe them a percentage of the settlement amount or court verdict. 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. Those fees may be negotiable.

Gather all of your accident related documents, including your medical and therapy records, accident reports, photographs, witness statements and anything else you might have. Consult with several personal injury attorneys in your area before settling on the right one for your case.

After reviewing your documents and speaking with you, the attorney will discuss the strength of your claim, the likelihood of settlement, whether or not a lawsuit may have to be filed, and the approximate value of your claim.

In most serious injury cases, even after attorney’s fees are deducted, the settlement or court award you receive will be substantially higher than you could have negotiated on your own.

Step 10. Georgia Small Claims Court

Georgia small claims courtThere are times when you may be unable to settle your property damage or personal injury claim. The insurance adjuster may deny liability on behalf of their insured, or offer an amount which you believe is unfair.

When that happens, you may want to consider filing a lawsuit against the at-fault driver in Georgia Small Claims Court.

What’s the most I can sue for in Georgia Small Claims Court?

The jurisdictional or “maximum” amount a claimant can seek in Georgia small claims court is $15,000.

Why would I file a lawsuit in Small Claims Court?

There are several reasons you might consider filing a lawsuit in small claims court:

  • The at-fault driver’s insurance company denies your claim
  • The at-fault driver’s insurance company refuses to offer a fair settlement amount
  • The at-fault driver was uninsured or underinsured
  • An attorney won’t accept your case for a contingency fee

Do I sue the driver or his insurance company?

You must file your lawsuit against the at-fault driver and not the driver’s insurance company. The at-fault driver caused the accident, not the insurance company.

The insurance company was not a party to the accident, and therefore cannot be a party to your lawsuit, however once you sue the other driver, the other driver’s insurance company may hire an attorney to represent their insured.

If you win your lawsuit, the driver’s insurance company will step in to pay the amount the court awards you.

How can I find out more about Georgia Small Claims Court?

To learn more about Georgia’s Small Claims Court, including procedure, filing fees, rules of the court, and more, visit their website: Georgia Department of Law Consumer Protection Unit.

Step 11. Watch Out For the Statute of Limitations

Georgia statute limitationsA statute of limitations is the time period in which you have to settle your claim or file a lawsuit, or lose your claim.

The statute of limitations period begins on the date of the accident.

Failing to settle your claim or file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver within this time period will result in a forfeiture of your right to seek compensation from the at-fault driver or their insurance company.

What is the Statute of Limitations in Georgia?

Georgia has a two (2) year statute of limitations period for personal injury claims.

This means you must either settle your personal injury claim within two years from the date of the accident or file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver within that same time period, or you’ll lose the right to seek compensation for your injuries.

What if the insurance company won’t cooperate?

There is no law requiring the insurance company to return your calls or settle your claim within the statute of limitations period. Nor does the adjuster have to remind you the limitations period is about to expire.

No matter how amiable the claims adjuster appears to be, remember they are not your friend. They are an employee of the insurance company with an obligation to pay as little as possible to settle your claim.

Enter the statute of limitations expiration date in your calendar, on your computer, your cell phone, and anywhere else to remind you of the deadline.

Don’t wait until the evidence is cold and the deadline is approaching before taking action to protect your right to compensation. It costs you nothing to find out what an experienced personal injury attorney can do for you.

Visitor Questions on Georgia 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 >>