Cars manufactured today offer many state-of-the-art features to keep people safe. This has helped reduce the number of car accidents resulting in serious injuries. But even with these technological advances, there were still over 6 million car accidents in the US last year alone.¹
While we like to think we are immune to these statistics, the reality is the average driver will be involved in at least 3-4 car accidents during their lifetime.²
The State of Indiana has its fair share of car accidents too. Last year alone there were over 180,000 car accidents on Indiana roadways.³
What you need to know if you’re in an Indiana car accident…
Car accidents happen in the blink of an eye. Suddenly you’re faced with issues regarding Indiana laws, police, insurance companies, car repairs, medical bills, attorneys, and more. The decisions you make after an accident will have a big impact on any future property damage or personal injury claims.
Below are ten steps to guide you through the chaotic time following a car accident. We’ve also provided answers to some of the most frequently asked questions, including links to applicable Indiana state laws, reference articles, and other relevant information.
If you’ve been in an accident, stop immediately at the scene, or as close to the scene as is safe. Stay calm. Remain focused. Keep your wits about you. Check for injuries and then call 911.
What information will the 911 operator need?
The 911 operator needs specific information about the scene to determine whether police, paramedics, and tow trucks will be required. The operator doesn’t want to hear your opinion of who caused the accident and why. Assigning fault comes later.
Give the 911 operator the following information:
Accident location: Be specific. Look for street signs, highway mile markers, and landmarks. Giving the operator a specific location helps ensure that police and paramedics arrive without delay.
Description of the accident scene: Car accidents are messy, with bumpers mangled, glass shattered, fluids leaking, and cars pointed in different directions. Drivers and passengers may be walking around the crash scene oblivious to oncoming traffic. Let the 911 operator know what the crash scene looks like. This is especially important if the scene is dangerous.
If anyone is injured: Even minor accidents can cause injuries. If anyone involved is unconscious or otherwise showing signs of injury, let the dispatcher know. Also report if anyone reports feeling ill, or complaining of nausea, pain or discomfort.
Will the police be dispatched to the accident?
City police, county sheriffs and Indiana State Patrol each have their own policies dictating when investigating officers and paramedics will be dispatched to an accident scene. In most cases, they will only send someone if there are obvious injuries, or the accident presents a danger to others.
Do I have to report the accident?
It depends. If the accident resulted in injuries or death, and you were one of the drivers involved in the accident, you must “by the quickest means of communication” notify at least one of the following agencies:
- The local police department (if the accident occurs within a municipality), or
- The office of the county sheriff, or
- The nearest state police post (if the accident occurs outside a municipality)
The requirement to report the accident is fulfilled by calling 911.
The State of Indiana does not require drivers to file accident reports with the Department of Motor Vehicles or any other state agency.
What are my legal duties after a car accident?
If you’ve been involved in an Indiana car accident, you must stop immediately as close to the scene as possible. Once stopped, you are required to give the other driver(s) involved the following information:
- Your name and current address
- Registration number of the car you were driving
- Your driver’s license information
If anyone has been injured in the accident, you must render “reasonable assistance” as directed by a law enforcement officer, medical personnel, or a 911 telephone operator.
Can I be sued if I help someone?
No. The State of Indiana’s Good Samaritan law gives civil liability protection to those who assist others in an emergency, so long as their assistance doesn’t constitute gross negligence or willful misconduct.
Certified Emergency Medical Technicians who render medical assistance to those injured in a car accident are immune from liability. If you assist a certified medical technician at the scene, you will have the same civil liability protection as they do.
What if I’m injured?
Some injuries are immediately noticeable, such as bleeding, fractures, burns, and similar visible injuries. But yours may not be so obvious, at least not right away. Depending on the severity of the crash, adrenaline may be pumping through your body, masking symptoms of injuries.
Whether you have visible injuries or not, it’s always a good idea to be evaluated by paramedics if they arrive on scene. If they’re not dispatched, make arrangements to see your regular physician as soon as possible after the crash.
Failing to seek immediate medical attention as soon as possible after an accident allows the insurance company to take the position your injuries weren’t from the accident, but instead from an entirely separate event. This could be all they need to deny your claim.
If I’m injured and unable to help others, can my passenger help them?
If you are physically incapable of giving reasonable assistance to those who may be injured, a passenger traveling with you may help them only if they are at least 18 years old (or 15 years old with a learner’s permit).
What if I collide with a parked car?
If the accident involves a collision with an unattended car, or damage to property other than a car, you must take reasonable steps to locate and notify the owner. Once located, you must give them the following:
- Your name and address
- Registration number of the car you were driving
- Your driver’s license information
What if I can’t locate the driver or owner of the property?
If after a reasonable attempt, you’re unable to locate the owner of the property, you must contact a law enforcement officer or local police department and provide them with the information requested.
The actions you take immediately after an Indiana car accident are crucial in developing a successful claim. Before long, the cars and people involved will be gone, along with much of the evidence. This evidence will support your claim for “damages.”
What are “Damages”?
Damages are unique to every car accident and to every person involved. They can include medical and therapy bills, diagnostic tests, and out-of-pocket expenses (such as medications, slings, crutches, and wheelchairs). Damages can also include lost wages, and compensation for pain and suffering.
Where do I begin?
Photos and video of a car accident scene can be vital to your claim. Use your digital camera, cell phone, iPad or other electronic device to take multiple photos and videos of the scene. Be sure to include sound.
Photographs and videos will:
- Identify the position of cars immediately after the collision
- Note weather conditions
- Identify road obstructions, potholes, broken traffic signals, and other physical impediments
- Capture inculpatory statements such as admissions of fault and signs of intoxication
- Make it difficult for anyone to later change their version of events
Witnesses’ statements can be very important, especially if their version of events support your claim. Witnesses are under no legal obligation to speak with you or give a written statement. But if you can find one who is willing, find some paper and ask them to write down what they saw and heard.
Don’t be concerned with legal formalities of a witness statement. Just about any paper will do. After the witness completes their statement, have them sign or initial each page at the bottom, and sign and date the final page.
What additional information will help my claim?
Yes. In addition to the information required by law, try to write down the following:
- The make, model, year, license plate number, and vehicle identification number (VIN) of all cars involved. (The VIN can be found on the car’s dashboard in the left corner, where the dashboard and windshield meet; on the driver’s insurance card; or inside the door jam of the driver’s side door.)
- Drivers’ and passengers’ full names and contact information, including home and business addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, dates of birth, and driver’s license numbers. If the driver isn’t the owner of a car, you’ll need the owner’s information as well.
- Draw a diagram of the accident scene. Note the location of the cars immediately before and after the collision. Also note the current weather conditions and the time of day the accident occurred. Try to approximate the speed of the cars immediately before the collision and note which direction each car was traveling.
Your auto insurance policy is a binding legal agreement between you (the “insured”) and your insurance company (the “insurer”). Within that policy there is language compelling you to comply with the Notice of Occurrence and/or Cooperation clauses.
Your policy requires you to notify your insurance company after an accident regardless of fault, and to cooperate in the accident investigation. Failing to do so can result in non-renewal of the policy, a rise in premiums, or in some cases, cancellation of the policy.
Example of a standard Notice of Occurrence and Cooperation clause:
“The …Insured agrees to notify the insurer of any accidents and thereafter to provide all the information, assistance and cooperation which the insurer reasonably requests. The insured also agrees that in the event of a property damage or personal injury claim the insured will fully cooperate with the insurer and do nothing that shall prejudice the insurer’s position in the property damage or personal injury claim….”
If I didn’t cause the accident, why do I have to notify my insurance? Won’t my premiums rise?
Notifying your insurance company gives them the time and opportunity to thoroughly investigate the accident. Your insurance company needs to know your version of events. This is especially important if the other driver decides the accident was your fault.
You may be convinced the other driver was at fault. They may have been speeding, ran a red light, or perhaps they were texting. But even if fault appears obvious, the other driver may later decide you caused the accident, or that you somehow contributed to it.
Do I have to report the accident if no one was injured and the damage was minimal?
Often referred to as “fender-benders,” these seemingly minor accidents can include damage to bumpers, door dings, broken taillights, and other seemingly insignificant damage. As a result, you may be tempted not to report the accident to your insurance company. That’s wrong! Here’s why…
Delayed Symptoms: People involved in the accident may believe at the time they weren’t injured. But the onset of symptoms may be delayed, making the injuries you thought didn’t exist suddenly become very real.
Expired or Fake Insurance Cards: The driver may have a fake or altered insurance card. Or they may have been recently dropped by their insurance provider for non-payment, accidents, or other reasons.
Fraud: While at the scene, the driver and their passengers may say they weren’t injured, but later decide to “cash-in” on the accident by filing false claims of whiplash, or other fake injuries.
Are there mobile apps to report accidents to insurance companies?
Yes. Many insurance companies have made mobile apps available directly or through authorized third parties. These apps are designed to help you report an accident. Check with your insurance company to see if they have one available for you to download.
Mobile reporting apps can:
- Take pictures and videos
- Store personal information, including driver’s licenses, proof of insurance, and more
- Notify Indiana police, county sheriffs or Indiana State Patrol
- Help you draw a diagram of the accident scene
- Access GPS location of the accident scene
- Store witness statements and contact information
Here are some of the apps presently available:
When do I notify the other driver’s insurance company?
Presuming the other driver was at-fault, you’ll want to notify their insurance company right away. By doing so, a claim will be initiated and you will be assigned a claim number. In most cases, there will be two adjusters assigned to your claim. One will deal with property damage and the other with injuries.
Be sure to note the claim numbers. These will be necessary when discussing the accident with claims adjusters.
Should I agree to pay the other driver without involving our insurance companies?
No! First, you have a contractual obligation with your insurance company to promptly report the accident. Failing to do so puts you in breach of contract.
Second, some symptoms of injuries can be delayed for hours or even days after the accident. The other people involved may have told you they were “fine” at the accident scene, but later began to experience symptoms of injuries. This is a common occurrence.
The injured person could go on to retain legal counsel. By failing to promptly report the accident to your insurance company, you have denied them the time and opportunity they need to protect you, leaving them at a disadvantage in the claim. Witnesses and others involved may have already been interviewed, statements taken, and a lawsuit may have been filed and pending.
Angelina and Brad were involved in a minor “fender-bender.” They exchanged insurance information. Brad’s car sustained only a scratch to the rear bumper. Brad told Angelina he didn’t mind not getting the insurance companies involved as long as Angelina agreed to pay him directly for the repairs to the bumper. He told her the repairs probably wouldn’t be more than $100. Angelina happily agreed to pay and they left the scene.
Because of the agreement with Brad, Angelina chose not to report the accident to her insurance company. Now that she had a private agreement to pay Brad no more than $100, she saw no reason to report the accident. If she did, she was convinced her insurance would raise her premiums.
The next day, Brad began to experience pain in his shoulders and neck. After searching online, Brad came across a website that directed him to several experienced personal injury attorneys in his area.
The attorneys all told Brad to seek immediate medical treatment. After an MRI and CT Scan, Brad was diagnosed with a soft tissue whiplash injury. Brad retained one of the attorneys to pursue a claim against Angelina. Over the next month Brad received medical and chiropractic treatment. Brad’s wife also gave a statement to Brad’s attorney confirming the pain her husband was suffering, and stating she’d been assisting him with bathing, sitting, and driving.
Sixty days after the accident, Angelina received a certified letter from Brad’s attorney informing her that his client was seriously injured in the car accident caused by Angelina. She was in shock. She hadn’t contacted her insurance company promptly after the accident and the attorney was now demanding $50,000 in compensation for his client’s injuries and related damages.
Angelina was sure if she contacted her insurance company at this point they would refuse to defend her, or if they did, they would later decide to cancel her policy. Angelina now realized her failure to report the accident had real consequences. She’d given Brad’s attorneys a substantial head start in the claim.
By the time Angelina received the letter from Brad’s attorney, the attorney had located witnesses to the accident, obtained copies of Brad’s medical and chiropractic records and corresponding bills, and a statement from Brad’s wife.
If Angelina had contacted her insurance company immediately, they would have opened an investigation into the claim two months ago. The insurance company was now 60 days behind and scrambling to put together a defense.
What are “soft tissue” injuries?
Soft tissue injuries can include whiplash, minor bumps and bruises, abrasions, strains and sprains to muscles, tendons and ligaments, and the like. More serious “hard injuries” include fractures, serious head trauma, disk herniations, deep cuts and gashes often requiring stitches, 3rd degree burns, and other major injuries.
The State of Indiana follows the 3rd Party Liability Rule. In a third party fault state, the victim in a car accident has the right to pursue the at-fault driver for compensation. This includes the cost of repair or replacement of a damaged car or other property, medical and chiropractic bills, out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
What are my legal options after an Indiana car accident?
If you’ve been in a car accident and sustained property damage or personal injuries as a result of another driver’s negligence, you have the following options:
- File a property damage or personal injury claim with your own insurance company (this is called a “first party” claim)
- File a property damage or personal injury claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company (this is called a “third party” claim)
- File a lawsuit against the at-fault driver
To protect everyone on its roadways, the State of Indiana requires drivers to carry specific minimum amounts of property damage and personal injury insurance.
- $25,000 for injuries to one person in one accident
- $50,000 for injuries to two or more people in one accident
- $25,000 for property damage arising out of one accident
- $50,000 for uninsured or under-insured motorists
Indiana relies on the modified comparative negligence system. Under this rule, an injured party can recover compensation from an at-fault driver, even if it’s determined the victim was partially at fault for the accident.
However, if the victim’s percentage of fault for the accident exceeds 50%, they’re barred from receiving any compensation from the other driver.
Angelina was driving to work. She stopped at a stop sign. Ritchie was texting and failed to see Angelina. He crashed into the rear of Angelina’s car, causing her to be seriously injured. Angelina filed an insurance claim for $50,000 with Ritchie’s insurance company, representing her medical bills and related damages, including her pain and suffering.
In this case there was no evidence Angelina was at fault in any way. Ritchie was 100% negligent and Angelina was entitled to 100% of her damages.
Angelina was driving home. Ritchie was driving behind her. He was looking away from the light and didn’t see Angelina had stopped. Ritchie collided with the rear of Angelina’s car, causing her to be seriously injured.
When the police arrived, they issued a traffic citation to Ritchie for following too closely under Indiana Code, which reads in part:
“A person who drives a motor vehicle may not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of both vehicles, the time interval between vehicles, and the condition of the highway.”
Angelina filed an injury claim with Ritchie’s insurance company for $50,000 representing her medical bills and related damages, including her pain and suffering. The claim could not be settled and went to trial.
During the trial witnesses testified they saw the light turn green but Angelina didn’t move. They also saw her texting. The witnesses said the light had been green for several seconds and Angelina was still stopped and texting when Ritchie collided with the rear of her car. Because Indiana does not have a statewide ban on the use of cell phones while driving, Angelina was not issued a traffic citation.
The jury determined Ritchie was at fault for colliding with the rear of Angelina’s car, but also found she contributed to the accident by failing to accelerate when the light turned green. As a result, the jury apportioned Ritchie’s contribution to the accident at 70% and Angelina’s at 30%.
Instead of awarding Angelina the $50,000 she sued for, the jury awarded her $35,000 representing her 30% fault for the accident.
Angelina was driving in the right lane of a 4 lane highway. Ritchie was driving behind her. Thinking Angelina was driving too slowly, he decided to pass her to the left. Once he passed her, Ritchie signaled his intention to move back into the right lane in front of Angelina.
As he re-entered the right lane, he struck the front drivers-side panel of Angelina’s car, causing a crash. When the police arrived they issued a traffic citation to Ritchie under Indiana Code, which states in part:
“A vehicle may not be driven to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction unless the left side of the roadway is clearly visible and is free of oncoming traffic for a sufficient distance ahead to permit the overtaking and passing to be completely made without interfering with the safe operation of a vehicle approaching from the opposite direction or a vehicle overtaken. The overtaking vehicle must return to the right-hand side of the roadway before coming within one hundred (100) feet of a vehicle approaching from the opposite direction.”
However, a witness told the police they saw Angelina accelerate when Ritchie was trying to re-enter the lane in front of her, causing him to strike her car. The police issued a traffic citation to Angelina under Indiana Code, which reads in part:
“Except when overtaking and passing on the right is permitted, a person who drives an overtaken vehicle shall give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle on audible signal and may not increase the speed of the overtaken vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle.”
Angelina was injured. She filed a claim with Ritchie’s insurance company for $50,000 representing her medical bills and related damages. At trial witnesses testified that instead of permitting Ritchie to re-enter the right lane, Angelina accelerated, making it all but impossible for him to re-enter the lane without colliding with her car.
The jury found both drivers to be at fault in the accident. The jury believed Ritchie should have made sure he was clear of Angelina’s car before reentering the right lane. However, the jury also believed the accident might have been averted if she had not accelerated. As a result, the jury apportioned Angelina’s fault at 60% and Ritchie’s at 40%.
Under Indiana Code, because Angelina was found to be over 51% at fault, she was barred from receiving any compensation from Ritchie.
Depending on the location of the accident, law enforcement officers may be dispatched to the scene. These may be city police officers, sheriff’s deputies, or Indiana State Patrol. In some cases, when there is overlapping jurisdiction, more than one agency will be dispatched.
- Secure the scene so it’s safe for drivers, passengers, bicyclists, and passing motorists
- Summon fire and rescue when necessary
- Search for causes of the accident, including skid marks, driver demeanor, road obstructions, and weather conditions
- Question drivers, passengers, pedestrians and bicyclists
- Run background checks on those at the scene
- Issue traffic citations where appropriate
- Administer field sobriety tests (if necessary)
- Make arrests when appropriate
Do the police have to listen to my version of the story?
No. The police officer is under no legal obligation to speak with you. However, in the course of their investigation, it is likely the officer will ask you questions. These can include requesting identification, proof of insurance, car registration, driver’s license information, and more.
What if I’m issued a traffic citation?
During the on-scene investigation, the officer may decide you violated one of Indiana’s traffic laws. If so, you may be issued a traffic citation. You can attempt to dissuade the officer from issuing the citation, however, once issued you must accept it, and if asked, sign it as well.
A traffic citation is not proof of guilt. It is an agreement you will appear in court at a certain time and date to answer for the ticket. At that time you may choose to contest the citation and ask for a trial, or negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor. The plea may require you pay a fine, and depending upon your driving record, possibly attend a defensive driving course in order to have the ticket dismissed.
Some minor personal injury claims can be handled handled without legal representation. Others involving serious injuries and questionable liability always require an experienced personal injury attorney.
How do I know if I need an attorney?
You can usually represent yourself without problems in a property damage claim. In some cases, you can also adequately represent yourself if you’re dealing with minor soft tissue injuries.
Soft tissue injury claims are normally settled within a short time and rarely end up in court. Because the settlements for soft tissue injuries are often modest, retaining an attorney could result in a net settlement less than the amount you could have negotiated on your own.
However, it’s always a good idea to speak with a personal injury attorney after an accident. Most initial consultations are free of charge.
What if my injuries are serious?
More serious “hard Injuries” like fractures, disk herniations, deep gashes, 3rd degree burns, head trauma, and the like, require the experience of a skilled personal injury attorney.
In serious injury claims, lawsuits are often required. Lawsuits permit your attorney to issue subpoenas for information such as policy limits, prior accidents, financial status, and more. Your attorney can also take depositions of the driver, witnesses, and others with knowledge of the accident. These are all actions you can’t take on your own.
There is just too much to lose by representing yourself in a serious injury claim. By representing yourself you forfeit your leverage with the insurance company. The claims adjuster may lead you to believe you are a great negotiator, but in the end, without an attorney, you really are at the mercy of the insurance company.
Also, serious injury claims often require substantial up-front costs, including hiring medical experts, independent testing, accident reconstruction, court reporters, interrogatories, requests for production, and other legal procedures required to successfully resolve the case. These costs can be substantial.
How much will an attorney charge?
Most personal injury attorneys don’t charge any legal fees for an initial office consultation. It’s in the attorney’s best interest to offer a free consultation to determine if a personal injury claim is warranted.
Once they review your medical records and bills, police reports, witness statements and other relevant information, they will be able to tell you quite a bit about your claim. They should know the strength of your case, the approximate time frame it will take to settle, the probability of the claim having to go to trial, and the general amount of settlement or court award you can expect.
In almost all cases, personal injury attorneys will not charge any legal fees unless they are able to settle the claim or win the case at trial. At that time, you will owe the attorney a percentage of your claim or court award, usually between 25% to 40% of the gross amount.
The State of Indiana has small claims courts to offer citizens a low-cost process for resolving civil disputes without having to hire attorneys. These courts are relatively informal. Parties are not required to comply with the strict rules of evidence and other procedures required of attorneys in higher courts.
How much can I sue for in Indiana Small Claims Court?
Indiana Small Claims Courts have jurisdiction to hear lawsuits up to $6,000. (Marion County Small Claims Courts have jurisdiction to hear lawsuits up to $8,000.)
Do I sue the at-fault driver or his insurance company?
The insurance company didn’t cause the accident, nor did they have any legal liability for your property damage or injuries. The company is only obligated to provide coverage to their insured. However, if you file a lawsuit against the other driver and win in court, their insurance company will likely pay the amount of the judgement, up to the insured’s policy limits.
All 50 states have statutory time periods in which victims have to settle their personal injury claim. These periods of time are called statutes of limitations. If the claim can’t be settled within that time period, a lawsuit must be filed before the time expires.
Failure to settle an injury claim or file a lawsuit within the statute of limitations period results in the victim losing their legal right to pursue compensation from the at-fault party.
With few exceptions, the statute of limitations starts on the date of the accident.
Keeping track of the statute of limitations is crucial. If you miss the deadline and the statute of limitations period expires, the insurance company won’t pay your claim. Moreover, if the limitations period expires, a court will refuse to hear your case at all, depriving you of the opportunity to be fairly compensated for all your damages.
What if the insurance company won’t return my calls or settle my claim, and the statute of limitations is about to expire?
The insurance company has no legal obligation to settle your claim within the statute of limitations period. It’s up to you not to allow the limitations period to expire. If you do, it will be the end of your claim and you’ll lose any chance of being compensated from the at-fault driver for your damages.
If the statutory period is ending soon and you haven’t settled your claim with the driver or their insurance company, filing a lawsuit is the only way to keep your claim going. By filing a lawsuit, the statute of limitations is “tolled”, meaning the expiration of that period does not apply.
If the statute of limitations period is about to expire, file a lawsuit yourself in small claims court or retain an attorney and allow them to file on your behalf. This will protect you from any expiration date and allow you to continue to pursue injury compensation.
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Visitor Questions on Car Accidents
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