The Complete Idaho Car Accident Guide

Idaho car accident

Modern cars are safer than ever, but there are still millions of Americans injured in accidents every year.¹

Accidents don’t just happen to “the other guy.” One minute you’re driving along, going about your business, and the next minute you’re just another crash statistic, waiting for help on the roadside. Most drivers can expect to be in 3-4 accidents during their lifetime. ²

In Idaho, there are more than 24,000 car crashes each year, with someone injured in a car accident every 39.8 minutes.³

You can’t prevent 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 an Idaho Car Accident

Here are 11 steps to help you make a successful car accident claim. By following these steps, you’ll be on your way to building a strong insurance claim, and avoid mistakes that might reduce your claim’s value. We’ve also answered the most frequently asked questions about accident claims.

Step 1 – Stop. Call 911 and Help the Injured

 

Idaho stop help call

If you’ve been in a car accident in the State of Idaho, stop immediately at the accident scene, or as close to the scene as you can. See if anyone is hurt and call 911.

What information will the 911 dispatcher need?

The dispatcher needs to know where you are, who might be hurt, and what is going on around you to determine what kind of emergency services to send.

Tell the 911 operator:

Your Location: Be specific. Look for the closest street signs, highway mile markers, or any other landmarks you can use to describe your location.

Tell the dispatcher what side of the road you’re on, and which way you were heading. Emergency help can get there faster when they know exactly where to find you.

Possible Injuries: Tell the dispatcher if you or anyone else is injured, or if anyone is complaining of pain or feeling sick, even if they don’t look hurt.

Scene Description: Accidents scenes can be dangerous, with people wandering around or traffic passing close by. There could be other hazards near the accident, like spilled fuel or downed power lines. Tell the dispatcher if anyone is in danger, and describe what’s going on around you.

Be sure to stay on the phone until the dispatcher ends the call.

If I had an accident can I tell the other driver I’ll call later to take care of it?

No. You are required by Idaho law to stop at the scene of the accident and exchange the following information with the other driver:

  • Name and address
  • Driver’s license information
  • Proof of registration
  • Proof of liability insurance

What if police responded to the accident?

Police will take charge upon arrival at an accident scene. The officer will call for emergency medical services if an ambulance isn’t already on the way, conduct an investigation of the crash, and verify that the drivers have exchanged contact and insurance information.

Do the police have to respond?

When you call 911 about an accident in Idaho, most dispatchers will send police and rescue to help, especially when there are injuries, disabled cars, or dangerous conditions near the accident scene.

What if people have been injured?

If you’re a driver involved in an accident, Idaho law requires you to give “reasonable assistance” to anyone who is injured.  Assistance can be given by calling an ambulance or finding another way to get the injured person to the nearest medical facility, if that hasn’t already been done.

What if I’m injured?

Your injuries may be obvious like broken bones, or you may be feeling sick or even vomiting. These are all signs of serious injuries. But sometimes serious injuries, like head trauma or internal bleeding, aren’t as easy to see.

After a car crash, your future health, and the success of your insurance claim may depend on getting prompt medical attention.

When the paramedics get there, let them examine you. Tell them how you feel, and describe all your symptoms. If the paramedics want to take you to the hospital, go.

If you aren’t taken directly to the hospital, see a doctor as soon as possible after the accident. Delaying medical attention can hurt your claim, when the insurance company argues that your injury was not caused by the accident.

What if there were no injuries but our cars were damaged?

Even when no one is hurt, drivers involved in an Idaho car accident still have to share:

  • Driver’s license
  • Registration
  • Auto insurance

What if I hit a parked car and the owner isn’t around?

If you’ve hit a parked and unattended vehicle, stop and find the owner.  You’ll need to provide your name, address and the name and address of the car owner, if the car you were driving isn’t yours.

If you can’t find the owner, leave a note in an obvious place on the car. The note should have your name, address, and an explanation of what happened.

What if I hit something other than another vehicle?

If a car you’re driving causes damage to other property, you must stop and try to find the owner or person in charge of the property. Once you find the right person, be prepared to give your name and address, insurance and registration information, and if they ask, show your driver’s license.

Step 2 – File an Accident Report with Police

Idaho report to police

Anytime a car accident causes injuries, or expensive property damage, Idaho law requires the driver to file an accident report with the police.

The driver’s accident report becomes a written record of the car accident, with details which can help support your insurance claims.

When do I have to file an accident report?

You must notify the police anytime you’re involved in an Idaho car accident where someone was hurt or killed, or there is property damage worth more than $1,500.

Call the local police if the accident happens within city limits. Outside city limits, contact the county sheriff.  If the accident occurred on a state highway contact the Idaho State Police.

Do I have to file an accident report if the police respond to the accident?

Yes. You still must report the accident, even though the officer investigating the accident will also file a report. The police accident report normally includes the statements of drivers, passengers, and other witnesses, the officer’s opinions of fault, who was ticketed, a diagram of the accident, and more.

 Am I entitled to a copy of the police report?

Yes. Idaho law requires crash reports be made available to the people involved, but you will have to ask for a copy.

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

Request a copy of the report from the law enforcement agency which investigated the crash. That could be a city police department, sheriff’s department, or the Idaho State Police.

If your accident was investigated by the Idaho State Police, fill out the online Crash Report Request Form to ask for a copy.

Step 3 – Gather Evidence to Support Your Claim

Idaho accident photo evidence

What you do immediately after a car accident can be crucial to the success of your insurance claim. Gathering evidence at the scene lays the groundwork for building your injury and property claims with the insurance company.

Accident scenes are cleared away quickly, and the drivers and witnesses leave. Use the time right after the accident to get contact information and comments from the other driver, other people involved in the crash, and any witnesses.

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

Write down the date and time, the weather, if it was daylight or getting dark, and anything else you may have seen, heard, or even smelled (like alcohol) during and after the accident.

Make it easier to remember all the information you’ll need to gather by keeping a Car Accident Information Form and a pen in your car. It’s handy to keep the information form in the same place as your proof of insurance.

What are Damages?

Property damages include:

  • Vehicle repair costs
  • Car value, as it was just before the crash if it is “totaled”
  • Rental costs while your car is being repaired

Personal injury damages can include:

  • Medical, chiropractic, and therapy bills
  • Out-of-pocket expenses for medications, crutches, slings, etc.
  • Costs of travel for treatment
  • Mental health services
  • Pain and suffering

Where do I begin?

Start by obeying Idaho car accident law. Exchange with the other driver:

  • Names and addresses
  • Car registration numbers
  • Driver’s license information
  • Insurance information

What else will I need?

Here’s more information you may need to prepare your claim:

Vehicle Information

  • The make, model, year, and license plate number
  • Registration expiration date
  • Vehicle identification number (VIN)

Note: The VIN can be found on the 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.

Information About Drivers, Passengers, and Witnesses

  • Full names and contact information
  • Home and business addresses
  • Telephone number
  • Email addresses
  • Dates of birth
  • Driver’s license numbers
  • Witness statements

Note: Witnesses don’t have to stay on the scene, but try to talk with any witnesses long enough to find out if they saw anything helpful to your claim.

Diagram of the Scene

  • Show where the cars were located before and after the collision
  • Date and time
  • Weather and road conditions
  • Estimated speed of the cars before the crash
  • What direction the cars were headed

Photographic Evidence

Use your cell phone, camera or another device to take pictures and videos of:

  • The accident scene
  • Surrounding road conditions, construction, street signs, etc.

Video with sound can capture behavior (like intoxication) and comments from others, making it harder for them to change their story later.

Step 4 – Report the Accident to Your Insurance Company

Idaho notice occurrence cooperation clause

Almost every auto insurance policy has a Notice of Occurrence and Cooperation clause. The clause means you agree to tell the insurance company when you’re in an accident, and promise to cooperate with the insurance company’s investigation. The clause goes something like this:

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

Why do I have to report to my insurance company if it wasn’t my fault?

Your insurance company wants to hear your side of the story as soon as possible. By quickly notifying your insurer, and cooperating with their investigation, you give the insurance company the best opportunity to help protect your interests.

It may seem perfectly clear that the other driver did something that caused the accident. But, even when it seems obvious to you, it’s always possible for the other driver to blame you for the crash, or say you could have avoided the accident.

Don’t wait to see what the other driver will do, before you notify your own insurance company.

Here is a generic Notice of Occurrence Form for examples of the accident details your insurance company may want you to provide.

When do I contact the other driver’s insurance company?

As soon as possible after the accident, and after notifying your own insurance company, contact the at-fault driver’s insurance company to file a claim. When you call, be ready to provide the other driver’s name, contact information and insurance information.

Once you’ve filed your claim, you’ll be dealing with a claims adjuster.  Some companies will have you work with two different claims adjusters, if the property damage and bodily injury parts of your accident claim are handled separately.

Keep good records of any contact you have with the claims adjuster.  Write down the claim numbers for the injury and property damage parts of your claim. It’s very important to make notes each time you talk to an adjuster, or anyone else involved with your claim. Your notes should include the date, time, who you spoke with, and what you talked about.

The accident was my fault. Can I keep my insurance company out of it?

No. Your auto policy is a contract with your insurance company. In your policy, the insurance company agrees to help protect your interest, and you agreed to tell them about any accident and cooperate with their investigation of the accident.

Besides your contractual obligations to notify your insurance company, there are practical reasons to report the accident. What seemed like a simple fender-bender could turn into an expensive injury claim if the other driver starts complaining of symptoms hours or days after the accident.

Also, if the other driver hires an attorney, the attorney will contact your insurance company. If that happens, and you hadn’t notified the insurance company of the accident, you put your insurer at a disadvantage. By failing to report the accident, you could be faced with an increase in premiums, a non-renewal of your policy, or policy cancellation.

Are there cell phone apps for reporting accidents to insurance companies?

Yes. There are plenty of apps available to help you report an accident, gather information, and start the insurance claims process.

The applications can make it easy to gather personal information from the other driver, collect witness names and contact information, draw diagrams and take pictures of the accident scene, use GPS to report the accident scene location, and electronically notify your insurance company.

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

What can my insurance company do if I don’t report the accident?

By failing to report an accident, you may be in violation of the Notice or the Cooperation clauses in your policy. If you violate your auto policy terms, your insurance company can raise your premiums, decline renewal of your policy, or cancel your policy altogether.

Step 5 – Your Options Under Idaho’s Third Party Liability Rule

Idaho No Fault Insurance

Idaho is not a no-fault state, where each driver in a crash relies on his own insurance and pays his own expenses. Under Idaho’s third party liability rule, drivers who are in an accident caused by another driver can file claims against the other driver’s insurance company.

What does third party liability mean?

When it comes to auto insurance, if you make a claim on your own insurance policy, you are a making a first party claim. If you make a claim under someone else’s policy, where you are not covered or listed on the policy,  you are making a third party claim.

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

What are my options in a third party claim against the negligent driver?

In Idaho you have three options if you are the victim of a negligent driver:

  • File a claim with the negligent driver’s insurance company
  • File a claim with your own insurance company (if the negligent driver is uninsured or underinsured)
  • Sue the negligent driver

To learn more about third party claims in Idaho go to the Idaho Department of Insurance third party information page.

Step 6 – Understanding Idaho’s Auto Insurance Laws

Idaho insurance

Idaho law requires drivers to carry a minimum amount of property damage and liability auto insurance.

What are the minimum insurance limits required under Idaho law?

  • $25,000 per person for one accident
  • $50,000 for two or more persons injured in one accident
  • $15,000 for property damage in one accident

Idaho law also requires every car insurance policy to include uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage for bodily injury unless the insured rejects the coverage in writing.

Insurance companies selling policies in Idaho are not obligated to offer UM/UIM coverage for property damage.

UM/UIM coverage on your policy can be used if you’re in an accident with an at-fault driver who has no car insurance or whose coverage is not enough to cover the cost of your damages from the accident.

This Idaho Department of Insurance webpage explains basic types and amounts of required auto coverage.

Step 7 -The Importance of Idaho’s Comparative Negligence Law

What does the Modified Comparative Negligence Rule mean for me?

Idaho comparative negligence

The State of Idaho follows the Modified Comparative Negligence Rule, meaning you can file a car accident claim against the other driver, even if you are partially to blame (liable) for the accident, so long as the other driver was more at fault than you.

If you are equally to blame, you will not be entitled to compensation from the other driver. If you are partially to blame, you can still be paid for your damages, but the amount will be adjusted according to your share of liability.

Example of how the Modified Comparative Negligence Rule can affect an insurance settlement. 

Ginny was driving home from work in the right lane of the Interstate. Larry was driving his car behind her. Larry wanted to pass Ginny, so he moved into the center lane and increased his speed. Once past her car, Larry started to move back into the lane in front of Ginny.

Unfortunately, when moving back into the right lane, Larry’s car hit the front fender on Ginny’s car, causing her to run off the road into a tree, injuring Ginny and wrecking her car.

Ginny filed a claim with Larry’s insurance company. His insurance company denied the claim, arguing that Ginny caused the accident by speeding up when Larry was trying to pass her.

Ginny sued Larry for $100,000. At trial, witnesses testified they saw Ginny speed up when Larry was trying to move back into the right lane.

In court, the jury decided that Larry was the person most at fault (80%) for the accident because he violated Idaho Statute  § 49-632 (1)  by moving back into Ginny’s lane before it was clear.

But Larry wasn’t the only one who caused the wreck.

The jury found that Ginny was also at fault because she sped up when Larry was trying to pass her. They decided that if Ginny had not increased her speed, Larry might not have hit her car. Ginny was found to be 20% at fault for the accident because she violated Idaho Statute § 49-632 (2) by speeding up and not giving way to Larry’s car when he was passing her.

In this case, the jury decided Larry was 80% at fault, and Ginny was 20% at fault for the accident. Since Larry was more at fault than Ginny, she won her case. But, while the jury agreed that Ginny had $100,000 in damages, the jury awarded Ginny $80,000, adjusting the amount for Larry’s 80% negligence and Ginny’s 20% negligence.

Note: If the jury had decided Ginny’s part in causing the accident was 50% or higher, under Idaho’s Comparative Negligence Law, Ginny would have been entitled to nothing.

Step 8 – Law Enforcement Has a Job to Do

Idaho accident law enforcement

Law enforcement officers are highly trained in accident investigation. When the city police, sheriff’s department, or Idaho State Police respond to a car crash, they will take charge of the scene:

  • Making arrangements for the care and transportation of the injured
  • Securing the scene to make it safe
  • Speaking with drivers, passengers,  and other witnesses
  • Creating a Police Crash Report

Do the police have to listen to what I have to say about the accident?

No. You have a right to speak with the police, but you must follow the officer’s directions. When a police officer gives you an order, you are required to follow it.

Don’t argue with the police. Aggressive statements like “I know my legal rights” or, “I’m going to report you to your superiors!” may interfere with the investigation of the accident, and in extreme cases, can get you arrested and taken to jail.

What if a police officer gives me a traffic citation?

If the investigating officer decides you violated any Idaho traffic laws, the officer may issue you one or more traffic citations. You can try to change the officer’s mind about writing you a ticket, but once the citation is issued, you must accept it.

By signing the citation, you are not admitting guilt. A traffic citation is your promise to appear in court to deal with the ticket. Court is the place for you to take a position on the traffic citation, not the accident scene.

Step 9 – When to Hire an Attorney

Idaho hire attorney self represent

Some insurance claims can be successfully handled without an attorney. Other claims need an experienced personal injury attorney to get the insurance company to pay you a fair amount for your damages.

When can I represent myself without an attorney?

Before deciding if you should represent yourself in a personal injury claim, think about which type of injury you suffered in the accident:

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

Soft tissue injuries don’t typically need expensive diagnostic tests like CT Scans or MRIs, and can often be settled without expert medical testimony, pretrial legal procedures, or filing a lawsuit.

Because claim payments for soft tissue injuries are often not much more than the cost of the medical bills, the injured person may be better off settling the claim without an attorney, who would take a large portion of the settlement amount for attorney fees.

“Hard” injuries are much more serious and can include fractures, serious burns, head trauma, amputations, and similar severe, and sometimes life-threatening 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 to lose for you to represent yourself in a severe injury claim.

Convincing insurance companies to pay what your claim is worth when you’ve suffered hard injuries typically involves expert medical testimony, pretrial discovery, depositions of witnesses, filing a lawsuit, and more.

When it comes to insurance policies and legal issues, you have limited power on your own, especially if you’ve been seriously injured in an accident. 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 know that and routinely offer far less settlement money to claimants without an attorney.

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

An injury lawsuit filed by a good attorney can cost the insurance company lots of money in their own defense fees and expenses. Protecting their bottom line, insurance companies usually offer a much higher settlement if you’ve got an attorney, almost always resulting in more money in your pocket than if you represented yourself.

How much will an attorney charge me?

Your first consultation with a personal injury attorney is usually free. If you want, you can meet with more than one attorney before choosing the attorney who will represent you.

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

After discussing your accident, the attorney will be able to tell you the strength of your claim, how long it might take to settle, an estimated value of your claim, and if a lawsuit may have to be filed.

Personal injury attorneys normally charge a contingency fee, meaning that your attorney’s fees will be paid out of the total amount paid by the insurance company. 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 is unable to settle your claim, or loses your case in court, the attorney will not be paid any contingency fees.

Step 10 – Consider Small Claims Court

Idaho small claims court

If you only have minor injuries and don’t want to pay for an attorney, but the insurance company has denied your claim or made a low-ball offer, consider filing suit against the negligent driver in one of Idaho’s Small Claims Courts.

You can file on your own, and still have the option of hiring an attorney later, if needed.

How much can I sue for in Idaho Small Claims Court?

The Idaho Small Claims Department of the Magistrate Division in each county is limited to cases valued at up to $5,000. The small claims department is not allowed to award punitive damages or compensation for pain and suffering.

Do I sue the driver or the driver’s insurance company?

The negligent driver caused your injuries so you will sue the driver, not the insurance company. But, once sued the other driver’s insurance company will usually hire an attorney to defend their insured.

Where can I get the forms I need to file in small claims court?

For the forms you’ll need to file a small claims lawsuit go to State of Idaho Judicial Branch Forms.

How can I find the Small Claims Court nearest me?

You can find the nearest small claims court by visiting the Idaho Small Claims Courthouse Directory.

Where can I find more information about Small Claims Court?

For more details on filing a small claim action, see Idaho Small Claims Rules.

Step 11 – Be Careful of Idaho’s Statute of Limitations

Idaho statute limitations

A statute of limitations is the legal time limit for settling your insurance claim or filing a  lawsuit.

If you miss the statute of limitations deadline, you will lose your legal right to go after the negligent driver or his insurance company for the compensation you deserve.

What is Idaho’s Statute of Limitations for personal injury claims?

Idaho’s Statute of Limitations for personal injury claims is two years. This means you must either settle your injury claim or file a lawsuit within two years from the date of the car accident. If your claim can’t be settled within two years of the accident date, filing a lawsuit will stop the statute from running.

The insurance company won’t return my calls. What should I do?

If your negotiations with the claims adjuster are going slowly, be mindful of the statute of limitations deadline. The insurance company  is under no legal obligation to settle your claim in time.

They know that if you don’t file a lawsuit against the negligent driver within two years, there is nothing you can do to make the insurance company pay you a fair settlement, no matter how badly you’re hurt.

Mark down that date, with reminders in advance of the deadline, on your phone, calendar, or anywhere that will remind you.

Don’t wait until the last day to act on protecting your claim.

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