Advancements 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 US driver will be involved in 3 – 4 car accidents during their lifetime.¹ Last year alone there were over 6 million car accidents nationwide, half of which resulted in injuries.²
Georgia has its fair share of injury accidents as well. Last year over 114,000 people were injured 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, there may be injuries and property damage. Knowing what to do and say at this point can have a substantial impact on any future property damage or personal injury claim.
Here’s a list of 11 steps to help you navigate your property damage and personal injury claim. We also provide answers to the most frequently asked questions at an accident scene.
Not only is it the right thing to do, but stopping at the scene of a car accident is the law.
Once stopped, everyone involved is required to exchange the following information:
- Full Names and Addresses
- Registration numbers of the cars involved
- Drivers license (if asked by another driver or passenger)
What if someone is injured?
If you’ve been involved in a Georgia car accident which resulted in injuries to anyone, you must render ”reasonable assistance.” This includes driving 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 information will the 911 operator need?
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: Some injuries are obvious, such as cuts, bruises, bleeding, and broken bones. However, other injuries may not be as apparent. Some symptoms may be delayed, taking hours, even days to manifest. 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 scene?
Police, sheriffs, and state highway patrol agencies each have their own policy dictating when emergency personnel are dispatched to an accident scene. Most law enforcement agencies will not send a representative unless the accident presents a danger to others, if there are obvious 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?
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, but rather in a completely separate event.
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.
The 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 claim for property damage or personal injury, you will need to show that the other driver was at fault, and because of that negligence you sustained “damages.”
- 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
- Full names
- Home and business addresses
- Telephone numbers
- Date of birth
- Driver’s license number
- 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 jam of the driver’s side door.)
- Name and address
- Telephone number
- 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 immediately before and after the collision
- Approximate speed of each car immediately 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 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.
This evidence also shows 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?
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 them sign and date each page.
Can the accident report be helpful to my property damage or personal injury claim?
Yes. The accident report completed by the investigating officer contains evidence important to your claim. The evidence can include 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, body 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 his testimony.
How can I obtain a copy of the Accident Report?
Under Georgia’s Open Records policy, you can get a copy of the accident report from them. You will need to download and complete the Accident Report Release Form. In order to submit the request, you can either fax them the form (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 open records available.
Your 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 Claim.
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 Claims Clause. It requires you to promptly notify your insurance company in the event of a car accident, and to then cooperate with them 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 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 email or mail you the Notice of Occurrence form they use.
Why do I have to notify my own 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 contract, but may give the other driver or their attorney a substantial time advantage.
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 down the line.
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.”
This decision is based on the fact that it’s sometimes better 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.
Are there mobile applications which can be used to give Notice of Occurrence?
Yes. Many insurance companies today have electronic apps that allow you to report an accident, 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 currently offering mobile accident reporting applications:
- Help, I Crashed My Car
- Allstate Insurance Company
- Google Accident Report
- iTunes Auto Accident Report
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 is the case, your insurance company may only pay the other driver a percentage of their claim amount, reducing it by their percentage of negligence.
When it comes to Georgia car accidents, finding fault isn’t always black and white. In many accidents, one driver may be fully responsible (negligent) for causing the accident. In other cases however, the drivers may share some fault.
When this is the case, 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.
Helen approached an intersection in her car. As she arrived, she stopped and then proceeded to turn left, crossing the roadway. At that same time, Judy was coming out of a parking lot. As she entered the roadway she was struck by Helen. Both cars were damaged and Helen was injured.
Helen filed a personal injury claim with Judy’s insurance company in the amount of $25,000. She claimed the accident was Judy’s fault since she entered the roadway from the parking lot, and that she should have waited. The personal injury claim couldn’t be settled, so Helen retained a personal injury attorney and filed a lawsuit against Judy.
After deliberating, the jury found in Helen’s favor. They decided Judy violated Georgia Code Section 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 Section 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 $17,500, representing the deduction of her portion of negligence.
Georgia 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.
- 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)
- Sue the at-fault driver in court
To protect everyone on the road, Georgia law requires drivers to carry property damage and personal injury insurance.
- $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
When arriving at an accident scene, law enforcement officers have several duties to perform. You must allow the officers to do their job without interfering.
- Seek out the injured and, if necessary, summon paramedics to treat and transport them to the hospital
- Place flares, direct traffic, set out traffic comes, and more
- Investigate the causes of the accident
- Complete initial accident reports
- Issue traffic citations (where required)
- 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.
Remember, 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 were in violation of one or more 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’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.
Depending on your driving record, you may be able to negotiate a plea where you’re placed on probation for a period of time. During that time you will have to agree not to receive any further citations. You may have to pay a fine and possibly attend a defensive driving course, but once you fulfill these obligations the citation may be dismissed.
A statute of limitations is the time period in which you have to settle your personal injury claim or file a lawsuit. This time period begins on the date of the accident.
Failing to resolve your case within this time period will result in a forfeiture of your right to seek compensation from the at-fault driver or their insurance company.
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. The same is true for your property damage claim, however, that action must be taken within four years from the date of the accident.
What if the insurance company is stalling and won’t return my calls or just 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 its impending expiration date.
Some 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?
Knowing when it’s the right time to hire an attorney requires an understanding of the types of injuries sustained in an accident. There 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, poisoning, 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. They are expensive and can cost them tens of thousands of dollars a year 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 do not charge legal fees for initial office consultations. If an attorney accepts your case, they would more than 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 attorneys will be able to generally tell you the strength of your claim, the likelihood of settlement, whether or not a lawsuit may have to be filed, and the approximate amount of a settlement or court award after trial.
In most 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.
There are those 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 one of Georgia’s Small Claims Courts.
- 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 under-insured
- An attorney won’t accept your case
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 their insurance. The insurance company was not a party to the accident, and therefore cannot be a party to your lawsuit. If you prevail in trial, the driver’s insurance company will step in to pay the amount the court awards you up to the driver’s policy limits.
How can I find out more information about filing a lawsuit in one of Georgia’s Magistrate Courts?
To learn more about Georgia’s Small Claims Magistrate Court’s, including procedure, filing fees, rules of the court, and more, visit their website: Georgia Department of Law – Consumer Protection Unit.
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