10 Critical Steps After a Louisiana Car Accident

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

Louisiana car accidentCars built today are the safest in history. But despite advanced technology leading to safety improvements, last year there were still over 6 million car accidents in the United States, resulting in over 2 million injuries.¹

If you think, “Accidents only happen to the other guy,” it’s just not true. In fact, the average US driver will be involved in 3 – 4 car accidents in their lifetime.²

The state of Louisiana has its share of injury accidents too. Last year alone, over 18,000 people were injured in car accidents on Louisiana Roadways.³

What you need to know if you’ve been in a Louisiana car accident…

Car accidents happen when you least expect them. Knowing what to say and do afterwards can be crucial in any personal injury or property damage claim. You’ll have to deal with law enforcement, accident reports, insurance companies, and more.

Below we’ve set out the 10 steps every driver should follow after a car crash. By following this guide, you’ll be on your way to a successful claim. We’ve also answered some of the most frequently asked questions arising after an accident.

Step 1 – Stop, Help and Call 911

Louisiana accident stop help callIf you’ve been involved in a car accident resulting in injury or death, Louisiana law requires you to stop immediately at the accident scene or as close as possible.

Once you’ve stopped, you must give your identity to the others involved in the crash, and render reasonable aid to anyone injured. After checking to see if anyone is injured, call 911.

What information does the 911 dispatcher need?
Give the 911 operator the following information:

Location: Look at your surroundings. Check for the nearest street signs, highway mile marker, or landmark.  Avoid vague descriptions. Giving the dispatcher a specific location will assure police and paramedics will arrive quickly. This is especially important if there are injuries requiring immediate medical aid.

Dangers: The accident scene may be filled with shattered glass, mangled steel, leaking oil and gas, and cars pointing in different directions. The 911 operator needs this information as soon as possible to relay it to the police and paramedics.

Injuries: Tell the 911 operator if you or anyone else appears injured or if anyone is complaining of pain or nausea, or presenting other obvious symptoms of injuries.

Will the police respond to the accident?
Every law enforcement agency has its own policies dictating when police and paramedics will be dispatched to an accident scene. Most will not respond to the scene of an accident unless there are injuries, or the scene is presenting a danger to others.

What should I do if there are injuries?
Louisiana law requires drivers involved in car accidents to offer reasonable assistance to the injured. If someone has been hurt, be sure to summon help immediately.

What if I’m injured in the accident?
Some injuries are obvious and will appear right away. However, the symptoms of your injuries may not be readily apparent. The shock of a car accident can result in adrenaline being pumped through your bloodstream. Adrenaline can mask injuries. Symptoms like swelling, bruising, strains and sprains, and the pain and discomfort associated with them, may not appear for several hours or even days after the accident.

Because of this, it’s important to let the paramedics evaluate you. They will decide if your injuries are serious enough to require transportation to a local hospital.

Additionally, if you don’t seek medical treatment as soon as possible after an accident, you could be setting yourself up for problems. Delaying treatment could be an invitation for the insurance company to say your injuries were caused later, from a totally separate incident.

What if I crash into a car that is unattended or hit property other than a car?
If you crash into another car that is unattended or property other than a vehicle and you cause damage, you must stop immediately and try to locate the owner. Once you find them, give them your name, address, and contact information.

If after a diligent attempt you can’t locate the owner, attach a note in a conspicuous place on the damaged property that explains what happened. Also, be sure to leave your name, address and contact information.

When do I have to file an accident report?
Accident reports are an important part of property damage and personal injury claims. They contain a plethora of helpful information, including names and addresses of the other people involved, contact information for insurance companies, citations issued, and a diagram of the accident.

If you’ve been involved in an accident resulting in any injury or property damage in excess of $500, you must notify “by the quickest means of communication” the local law enforcement agency. If the accident occurred on a state highway, you must notify the Louisiana State Police.

Once you’ve contacted emergency personnel, be sure to give the following information to the other people involved:

  • Your name and address
  • Registration number of the car you were driving
  • Your driver’s license

Do I have to report the accident to anyone else?
If you are involved in an accident resulting in injury or total property damage in excess of $100, you must file a written report of the accident to the Department of Public Safety and Corrections. This report must be filed within 24 hours of the accident.

Where can I obtain the form I need to file an accident report?
Form DA 2041 can be accessed on the Louisiana Department of Administration website. You have the option of filling the form out online and submitting it via email, or printing the form out and mailing it in.

How can I obtain a copy of a car accident report?
To get a copy of a car accident report already filed, you can visit the Louisiana State Police website and search for the incident.

Step 2 – Gathering Evidence

Louisiana accident take photosCar accidents often result in property damage and injuries to those involved. In the aftermath of a Louisiana car crash, the evidence you gather will provide the foundation for your property damage and personal injury claim.

If you’ve been injured or sustained damage to your car, you will need evidence to support your demand for compensation from the other driver and their insurance company.

The time immediately following a car accident can be crucial. Before long, the cars involved will be driven or towed away, and the people involved will be back on their way. Important evidence will likely disappear with them.

What are “damages”?
In property damage and personal injury claims, damages can include the following:

  • Medical, chiropractic, dental, and therapy bills
  • Out-of-pocket expenses (medications, costs of travel to treatment, crutches, slings, etc.)
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering (emotional distress)

Where do I begin gathering evidence?
Start by exchanging the following information with the other people involved:

  • Names and address
  • Registration numbers of the cars involved in the accident
  • Driver’s license information
  • Insurance information

What other information is important?
Some additional information that will help your claim includes:

Vehicle Information:

  • The make, model and year
  • License plate number
  • Registration expiration date
  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)

Note: The VIN number can be found on the car’s dashboard in the left corner where it meets the windshield. It can also be found on the driver’s insurance card or inside the driver’s side door jam.

Drivers/Passengers/Witness Information:

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

Diagram of the Scene:

  • Location of the cars immediately before and after the collision
  • Current weather conditions
  • Time of day the accident occurred
  • Approximate speed of the cars immediately before the collision
  • Direction each vehicle was travelling

Are photographs and video important?
Yes. Photographs and video are excellent ways to capture the position of the cars, weather conditions, as well as the type and severity of damage. Photographs and videos can also record the demeanor of the other drivers. This is especially important to insurance companies when they are investigating fault.

Can I ask witnesses for their written statements?
Yes. Witness statements can be very helpful in supporting your property damage and personal injury claims. If you can find a witness who is willing to give you a written statement, grab a piece of paper and a pen. Ask the witnesses to write down what they saw and heard, including anything they remember about the vehicles immediately before the crash.

Witness statements do not need to be notarized, just be sure that they sign and date each page of their statement. Also, be sure to get their full name and contact information so you can reach them later if necessary.

Step 3 – Report the Accident to Your Insurance

Louisiana accident notify insuranceWhen you purchase a car insurance policy, you enter into a binding contract with the insurance company. The contract requires the company to protect you in case of an accident. Protection can include investigating the accident, paying a claim, as well as providing legal representation at no additional cost when necessary.

Pursuant to the Notice of Occurrence and Cooperation Clause in your auto policy, you are required to work with your insurance company in the investigation of the accident, including appearing in court if required.

How does a Notice of Occurrence and Cooperation Clause affect me?
Regardless of who was at fault in the accident, this clause requires you to immediately report the accident to your insurance company. By promptly informing them, you are giving them plenty of time to investigate the accident. This is good for several reasons:

  • Protects you against unwarranted or fraudulent claims by others
  • Expedites any assistance you need (money for car repairs, medical bills, etc)
  • May provide rental car options if your vehicle is being repaired
  • Allows your insurance company to fully protect you, including providing legal representation when needed

What does the Notice of Occurrence and Cooperation Clause look like?
The clause can normally be found in the “Conditions” section of your policy. While each insurance provider has their own terms and practices, this specific notice should look something like the following:

“The insured shall cooperate with the company by reporting the accident promptly after it occurs, assist in making settlements, help in the conduct of lawsuits, as well as in enforcing any rights of contribution or indemnity. The insured shall also attend all hearings, trials, and depositions, assist in securing and giving evidence, and with obtaining the attendance of witnesses.”

Are there mobile apps available to report accidents to insurance companies?
Yes. Today there are a good number of mobile applications available that can be used in conjunction with your own gathering of evidence. The apps help your insurance company quickly evaluate the accident in an effort to defend you against any unwarranted claims of negligence, and to assist you in a claim against the negligent driver.

These mobile apps have the ability to:

  • Draw a 3-D sketch of the accident scene
  • Take pictures and video
  • Get an exact GPS location of the accident
  • Detail personal information (driver’s license, insurance information, and more)
  • Gather witness details
  • Create and send  the respective state-required auto accident report

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

Do I have to report the accident to my insurance even if it wasn’t my fault?
Yes. If you don’t report the accident, you give the other driver or their attorney an advantage. This is especially true when both drivers leave the scene feeling uninjured, each agreeing no damage was done to either vehicle.

However, because some symptoms of injuries don’t appear for hours or even days after the accident, it is altogether possible the other driver was injured. When that happens, there is no telling what might happen next. The other driver may pursue a claim against you, and if you never notified your insurance company, this puts you at a major disadvantage.

At that point, your insurance company may decide you violated the cooperation clause of your policy and decide not to represent you in the claim. If they do agree to defend you, they may later cancel your policy, fail to renew it, or increase your premiums.

Example of why it’s important to immediately notify your insurance of an accident

Cynthia was on her way to work one morning, heading north on the Pontchartrain Expressway. She intended to turn left onto Palmetto Drive, so she pulled into the left hand turn lane. She waited patiently for eastbound traffic to clear so she could turn safely.

As Cynthia began to turn, she hesitated briefly as another driver was speeding down Palmetto in the path of her turn. Harry had entered the left turn lane right behind Cynthia. He was somewhat distracted since he was also texting his boss to let him know that he was running late. Thinking Cynthia was going to complete her turn he moved ahead, colliding with the rear of her car.

Cynthia and Harry pulled over to the side of the road and got out to examine the damage. Harry asked Cynthia if she was hurt and she said she was fine. Harry said he was a little shaky, but otherwise he was feeling fine. A police officer arrived on the scene and ticketed Harry for texting while driving under Louisiana Code, which reads in part:

“No person shall operate any motor vehicle upon any public road or highway of this state while using a wireless telecommunications device to write, send, or read a text–based communication. It is a moving violation and a primary offense.”

Cynthia and Harry exchanged insurance and contact information. Because the accident appeared to be minor with no damage to either car and no apparent injuries to either driver, they left and continued on their way. Each was relieved not to be hurt and that their cars were intact.

Unfortunately, Harry chose to ignore the cooperation clause in his insurance policy, which required him to promptly report an accident. Moreover, because he received a traffic citation for texting while driving, he was afraid if he reported the accident his insurance premiums would rise.

The next morning Cynthia could barely get out of bed. Her back was sore and she couldn’t move her neck without feeling pain and discomfort. Her husband Joe drove her to the local emergency room, where the doctor scheduled her for an MRI. Cynthia was diagnosed as having sustained a whiplash injury and disk herniation to the C5 level of her spine. She was prescribed Vicodin for the pain and Flexeril for the muscle strain.

Several days later, Cynthia retained a personal injury attorney.

Two months had passed when Harry opened his mail one day to find a letter from Cynthia’s attorney. The letter informed him that she sustained serious injuries in the accident and that her medical and chiropractic bills amounted to $30,000 to date.

By failing to immediately report the accident to his insurance company, Harry not only violated the terms of the cooperation clause, but he also gave Cynthia’s attorney a substantial head start on the claim.

By the time Harry received the letter, the attorney had already located witnesses to the accident, secured copies of Cynthia’s medical records and bills, a medical narrative from the physician confirming her injuries were a direct result of the accident, her MRI results, and more.  Harry was understandably shaken. He wondered if his insurance company would defend him in the claim, or if he was going to be on his own.

If Harry had simply complied with the terms of his automobile insurance policy, he might not be in this position. They would have already opened an investigation into the claim two months ago. Now he had to wait to see if his insurance company would defend him, raise his premiums, or even cancel his policy altogether.

Step 4 – 3rd Party Liability Rule

Louisiana 3rd party liabilityThe State of Louisiana follows the 3rd Party Liability Doctrine. Under 3rd party liability, when one driver is determined to be at-fault, and that negligence resulted in property damage or personal injuries to others, the victim is entitled to damages.

What does 3rd Party Liability mean?
For purposes of car accidents, a 3rd party liability claim is a claim for property damage and/or personal injuries against a negligent driver. The negligent driver then turns the claim over to their insurance company.

As a third-party claimant, you can recover medical expenses, lost wages, out-of-pocket expenses related to the accident, and additional monies for your pain and suffering.

What are my options in a 3rd party claim against the negligent driver?
As the victim of a negligent driver’s acts in the State of Louisiana, you have 3 options:

  1. File an accident claim with the negligent driver’s insurance company
  2. File an accident claim with your own insurance company (if the at-fault driver is uninsured or under-insured)
  3. File a lawsuit against the negligent driver

Step 5 – Pure Comparative Negligence Law

Louisiana pure comparative negligenceLouisiana follows a pure comparative negligence system. With this system, a judge or jury assigns a percentage of fault to each responsible party and then distributes the award accordingly.

Using this system, an injured person may recover damages even if they were 99% at fault in causing the accident. Once the percentage of fault is determined, the amount of compensation they should get can also be calculated.

Example of Comparative Negligence

Eli and Samantha were in a car accident. Samantha claimed Eli was at fault because he was speeding, and sued him for $100,000. This amount represented her medical and chiropractic bills, out-of-pocket expenses , her lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Eli argued that while he may have been going slightly over the speed limit, Samantha had been texting at the time of the collision. According to his argument, if she wasn’t on her phone she could have avoided the accident.

The jury relied on Louisiana’s Pure Comparative Fault law, and determined Samantha was 80% at fault. As a result, the jury awarded Samantha $20,000 instead of the $100,000 she sued for in her original claim. This represented her 80% comparative fault in causing the accident and Eli’s 20%.

Should I tell the other driver if I think the accident was my fault?
No. While honesty is often the best policy, a traffic accident isn’t the place to admit fault. While you may truly believe you are to blame, you have no legal or contractual reason to clear your conscience. Moreover, it’s just a bad idea. There are too many variables in a car accident.

Car accidents are rarely cut and dry, and the issue of fault is often subjective. While you may think the accident was clearly your fault, you may not realize the other driver also played some part. As a result, your degree of fault may be considerably less than you initially thought.

Should I contact the other driver’s insurance company?
Yes. Contact the other driver’s insurance company to report the accident as soon as possible. Tell the insurance company about any property damage or injuries you sustained as a result of the accident. You will be assigned a claim number. When you are contacted by the claims adjuster, let them know if you are undergoing medical treatment and/or therapy.

What should I do if the other driver says I’m at-fault and demands I pay them?
Do not pay the driver any amount of money at the scene of the accident or make an agreement to pay them at a later date. Furthermore, you should also not write anything down for the driver other than your name, contact information, car registration, and insurance information.

This is true whether you believe you caused the accident or not. This is exactly why you have car insurance. Let your insurance company investigate the circumstances of the accident. After doing so, they can properly assign fault in the incident.

Step 6 – Louisiana’s Auto Insurance Laws

Louisiana auto insurance lawsLouisiana law requires every driver to have automobile liability insurance while driving on Louisiana public roads and highways. This provides protection for you if you’re injured or sustain property damage as a result of an at-fault driver.

What are the minimum amounts of auto insurance in Louisiana?
The statutory minimum limits of liability insurance in Louisiana are:

  • $15,000 for injuries to one person in one accident
  • $30,000 for injuries to two or more persons in one accident
  • $25,000 for property damage in one accident

Additionally, Louisiana law requires every car insurance policy sold in the state to include uninsured/under-insured motorist coverage (UIM), unless the customer explicitly declines UIM coverage in writing.

Step 7 – The Police Have a Job to Do

Louisiana role of policePolice officers are highly trained in car accident investigation. When a police officer arrives at an accident scene, they have a purpose. Their primary role is to:

  • Secure the accident scene
  • Protect and provide care for the injured
  • Investigate the cause(s) of the accident
  • Issue traffic citations to those at fault
  • Make arrests of people who have committed more serious crimes (driving while intoxicated, outstanding warrants, possession of drugs, etc)

Do the police have a legal duty to listen to what I have to say?
No. While you may speak with the police officers at the scene of a Louisiana car accident, you are required to follow the direction of the officers at all times.

Do not get in the officers’ way or try to speak with them before they’re ready to hear your side of the story. Doing so will only impede the investigation and in extreme circumstances can lead to your arrest.

What if the police gave me a ticket and I didn’t deserve it? What can I do?
If a police officer decides you violated a traffic law, they may decide to issue you a traffic citation. You can try to talk the officer out of issuing the ticket, but once it’s issued you must accept and sign it.

It is important to remember that by signing the citation, you are not admitting guilt. A traffic citation is merely a promise made by you to appear in court at a later date to face the charge. If you fail to sign the ticket, you are effectively telling the officer you will not agree to appear in court. As a result, the police officer has the right to arrest you and bring you before a judge to deal with the issue.

However, a ticket doesn’t necessarily mean you are guilty, or that you will end up with a traffic conviction on your driving record. You have a legal right to contest the ticket by asking for a trial, or negotiating with the prosecutor for a plea bargain.

Plea bargains often include a deal where you may have to do community service, pay a fine, attend traffic school, be on a probationary period, or a combination of these. The best part about a plea bargain is that your ticket is usually dismissed and will not appear on your driving record once you have completed all the requirements.

Step 8 – Do I Need Legal Representation?

Louisiana attorney or self representSome personal injury claims require the expertise of a seasoned personal injury attorney, while others can be handled by the victim without the need for an attorney.

When can I handle my own claim?
If your injuries are relatively minor “soft tissue” injuries, such as sprains, strains, contusions, abrasions, minor cuts, or minor whiplash,you can probably handle your own injury claim without an attorney. This is sometimes referred to as going “pro se.”

Soft tissue injury claims are normally straightforward and settled within a short time. They don’t require in-depth expert medical testimony, pretrial legal procedures, expensive diagnostic tests like CT Scans or MRI’s, or filing a lawsuit.

When should I retain an attorney?
If your injuries are the more serious “hard injuries” such as fractures, disk herniations, deep gashes, 3rd degree burns, or head trauma, an attorney should always be retained.

Proving serious injury claims can be complicated. To succeed requires unequivocal medical evidence along with proof directly linking a driver’s negligence to the accident and the victim’s resulting injuries. Proving that point can require accident reconstruction, subpoenaed documentation, witness testimony, depositions, interrogatories, and more. These are actions only a trained Louisiana attorney can take.

There is just too much to lose by representing yourself in a serious injury claim. As a “pro se” claimant, you will have little leverage. If the insurance company says “that’s our final offer,” they know there is little you can do about it. Without an attorney, it comes down to the insurance company saying “take it or leave it.” You don’t want to be in that position.

How much will an attorney charge me?
Personal injury attorneys normally don’t charge any legal fees or costs in advance. Instead, they work on a contingency fee basis. If the attorney agrees to represent you, they will pay in advance all the costs required to prepare your claim. You won’t have to pay them anything until they settle your claim with the insurance company, or win in court.

At that time, you will be obligated to pay the attorney anywhere from 25% to 40% of the gross amount awarded to you. The percentages vary according to the attorney’s experience and the difficulty of proving the claim.

Step 9 – Louisiana Small Claims Courts

Louisiana small claims courtThere are those occasions when an insurance company denies your claim or offers an amount that barely covers your costs.  When this occurs, it may be difficult to find an attorney to accept your case, especially if your injuries were soft tissue.

You may need to consider suing the driver in one of Louisiana’s Small Claims Courts. Small claims cases in Louisiana are heard in the Justice of the Peace or City Courts.

When should I file a lawsuit in small claims court?
There are 4 reasons you might consider filing a lawsuit in small claims court:

  1. The driver did not have property damage insurance at the time of the accident
  2. The insurance company refuses to offer a fair settlement amount
  3. The driver’s insurance company wholly denies your injury claim
  4. A personal injury attorney will not accept your case

How much can I sue for in Louisiana Small Claims Courts?
Louisiana small claims courts have jurisdiction to hear cases up to $5,000.

Do I sue the driver or the driver’s insurance company?
You must file your lawsuit against the negligent driver and not against their insurance company. The insurance company did not cause the crash and therefore can’t be held legally responsible for your property damage or medical bills. The law requires you to sue the negligent driver because the driver is the one who caused the crash.

Are attorneys allowed in Louisiana Small Claims Courts?
Yes. Attorneys are permitted to represent clients in Louisiana Small Claims Courts.

However, the judges in small claims courts do not hold participants to the same legal procedures as are required in higher courts. This is because the Louisiana Legislature’s purpose is to make small claims courts “people’s courts.” This way, participants can present their cases in a more relaxed way without having to be concerned with legal technicalities.

Step 10 – Louisiana’s Statute of Limitations

Louisiana statute limitationsIn the State of Louisiana, the statute of limitations is the legal time period in which you have to either settle your claim or file a lawsuit.

Failing to do so within the statutory period will result in you being prohibited from pursuing the negligent driver for the damages you sustained in the accident.

What is the statute of limitations in the State of Louisiana?
The statute of limitations in the State of Louisiana is one year from the date of the accident.

The insurance company won’t return my calls. What should I do?
The insurance company and the claims adjuster handling your case do not have a legal duty to settle your claim within the statute of limitations period. They are not required to assist you in settling your claim at all.

If your negotiations are moving along slowly, it is ultimately up to you to make sure that you file a lawsuit if the one year period is about to expire. Once you file a lawsuit, the statute of limitations no longer applies.

If you miss the one year deadline, you will be wholly barred from pursuing any property damage or personal injury claim against the at-fault driver. Be sure to enter the statute of limitations date on your wall calendar, cell phone, computer and anywhere else where you will be reminded.

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 >>