Protect your rights and maximize your payout after a North Carolina car accident. We answer key questions and show you how to build a strong insurance claim.
With cutting edge safety features, today’s cars are safer than ever before. But despite these technological advancements, car accidents keep happening.
Most of us think we’re great drivers and an accident is something that happens to the other guy. The reality is the average person will be in three or four car accidents during their lifetime.¹
More than two million Americans are injured in car accidents annually.²
North Carolina has its fair share of car accidents, too, with over 251,000 reported crashes on North Carolina roadways, resulting in over 123,500 injuries.³
What You Need to Know if You’ve Been in a North Carolina Car Accident
After a car accident, there’s a lot to deal with. Property damage, medical bills, accident reports, insurance companies, and compensation for your losses will soon be all you can think about.
Knowing what to say and do after an accident is critical to a successful auto insurance claim.
Below are 10 steps to help you build a strong car insurance claim. In addition, we’ve provided answers to the most frequently asked questions about car accident in North Carolina.
North Carolina state law requires you to stop immediately at the scene of the accident.
Stop as close to the accident scene as is safe. Once stopped, stay calm and remain focused.
If you’re not seriously injured, get out of your car and begin checking for injuries while calling 911.
The 911 dispatcher needs specific information about the location of the accident, if people have been injured, and if police, paramedics and tow trucks need to be sent. This is not the time to talk about who caused the crash.
Answer the dispatcher’s questions promptly and clearly, giving the following information:
The accident location: Be specific. Look for street signs, highway mile markers, or even landmarks. Giving the dispatcher a specific location will assure that the police and paramedics can get to you quickly.
A description of the scene: Let the 911 dispatcher know what the crash scene looks like, if there are overturned vehicles, leaking fuel or traffic problems. This information will be immediately relayed to emergency personnel.
If anyone is injured: Tell the 911 dispatcher if anyone is obviously injured, asking for help, or complaining of pain or discomfort.
Different law enforcement agencies each have their own policies dictating when officers will be dispatched to an accident scene. In most cases, when the accident is merely a fender-bender and no one is injured, they won’t be dispatched. However, when there are injuries or the accident scene is dangerous, they will likely arrive within minutes.
If you’ve been involved in a North Carolina car accident which resulted in property damage or injuries, you’re required to stop immediately. Once stopped, you must share the following information with the others involved:
- Names and addresses of drivers
- Names and addresses of car owners (if different than drivers)
- License plate number
- Driver’s license information
You’re required to report the accident to police if the accident caused injuries, death, or property damage totaling $1,000 or more. Property damage can include street signs, mailboxes, and even personal items such as computers, or other valuables you may have had in the vehicle.
The notification must occur immediately after the accident and by the quickest means of communication, to the appropriate law enforcement agency. Calling 911 should satisfy this requirement.
If anyone was injured, you must provide them the following information:
- Your name and address
- Your driver’s license number
- License plate number of your car
In addition, you must render ”reasonable assistance” to anyone injured. This includes calling for medical assistance when needed. In most cases, reasonable assistance can simply mean making an injured person as comfortable as possible while waiting for the police and paramedics to arrive.
North Carolina has enacted a “Good Samaritan” statute. Under this statute, any person who gives first aid or emergency assistance to the victim of a car accident will not be liable for help that was given in good faith.
If you hit a parked and unattended car, you must report the collision to the owner. The report may be made orally or in writing, must be made within 48 hours, and must include the following:
- The time, date, and place of the accident
- Your name and address
- Your driver’s license number
- The registration number of the vehicle being drive
If you make a written report to the owner of the vehicle and the report is not given to the owner at the scene of the accident, the report must be sent to the owner by certified mail, with a copy sent to the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles.
If you can’t find the driver or owner of the unattended vehicle, either call the police or leave a note with the required information on the damaged car.
No. A passenger in a car which has just been involved in a North Carolina car accident may not drive the car away from the scene while the driver waits for police.
Wait for police to finish investigating the accident, or gives the person permission to leave with your car.
The police officers that arrive at your accident scene will depend on where the accient happened. These may be local police officers, county sheriff’s deputies, or state troopers.
In some cases, when there is overlapping jurisdiction, more than one agency may be dispatched.
North Carolina law enforcement officers, including city police, county sheriffs and Highway Patrol Troopers receive ongoing training for responding to car accidents.
When dispatched to an accident scene, law enforcement officers are authorized to:
- Secure the scene
- Summon fire and rescue
- Search for causes of the accident
- Question drivers, passengers, pedestrians and witnesses
- Run background checks on those at the scene
- Issue traffic citations
- Administer field sobriety tests
- Make arrests
No. When police officers arrive, they’re there to perform very specific functions. While you have a right to speak with a police officer, the officer is under no legal obligation to listen to what you have to say about the accident and its causes.
During the investigation, the officer will ask you questions. These can include requesting identification, proof of insurance, car registration, driver’s license information, and more.
Cooperate with the investigating officer. Continued arguing or aggressive behavior will not only interfere with the investigation, it can get you arrested.
During the accident investigation, the officer may decide you violated North Carolina traffic laws. If so, you may be issued a traffic citation.
While you can try to talk the officer out of giving you a ticket, once issued, you must accept it, and sign it if asked.
It’s important to remember that a traffic citation, even after signing it, is not an admission of guilt. It’s merely an agreement you will appear at a certain time and date to answer for the ticket.
Traffic court is the place to dispute the ticket, not at the accident scene.
Once you notify local law enforcement of an accident, they have 24 hours to complete a North Carolina DMV crash report.
The report has information such as:
- Cause of the crash
- People and cars involved
- Weather conditions at time of the accident
- Location of accident
- Drivers’ license information
- Notation of alcohol, drugs, etc.
- Names of responding paramedics
- Tow trucks called
- Estimated speed of cars before impact
- Type of road
- Road obstructions
- Crash diagram
- Arrests made
- Traffic citations issued
- Insurance information
- Whether cars were seized
Police crash reports will be usually sent to the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles within 10 days of the accident.
Qualified individuals can obtain a copy of the report by downloading the Motor Vehicle Information (Crash Reports) Request Form from the North Carolina Department of Transportation website.
The cost for a certified Crash Report is $5.00. Make checks payable to NCDMV and mail your request to:
Traffic Records Branch
Crash Reports Unit
3105 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-3105
The minutes following a car accident are critical in the development of a property damage or personal injury claim.
The accident scene has valuable information you can rely upon later to support your claim for damages against the at-fault driver.
Damages are unique to every person and situation. In car accidents, damages can include the following:
- Costs of car repairs
- Medical, dental and therapy bills
- Diagnostic tests such as X-Rays, CT Scans, MRIs
- Out-of-pocket expenses for medications, slings, crutches, etc.
- Costs of travel to and from treatment
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
An accident scene is fluid. Before long, the other drivers and witnesses will be on their way, the tow trucks will be gone, and the police officers will head back to the station to complete the crash report. It’s important not to waste any of this time.
Exchanging contact information and insurance details is important, but there’s more information which will help you build a strong claim.
The information you gather at the scene can also help with your defense if you’re blamed for the accident.
Yes. Additional helpful evidence includes:
- Drivers’ and passengers’ full names
- Home and business addresses
- Telephone numbers
- Email addresses
- Dates of birth
- Driver’s license numbers
If the driver isn’t the owner of the car, you’ll need the owner’s name, home and business address, telephone number, and email address.
- The make, model and year
- Expiration date of registration
- Vehicle Identification Number
The VIN can normally be found on the car’s dashboard in the left corner where the dash and windshield meet, on the driver’s insurance card, or inside the driver’s side door jamb.
- Names and contact information
- Witness statements
Witnesses aren’t legally required to remain at the scene, but convincing them to do so gives you time to speak and see if they have any helpful information.
- A written diagram of the accident scene, showing the cars before and after the collision
- Current weather conditions
- Obstacles, potholes, and other obstructions on the road
- Time of day the accident occurred
- Approximate speed the cars were traveling before the collision
- Direction each of the cars was heading
Keep a Car Accident Information Form in your car along with your proof of insurance and a pen. This will make it simple to get all the information you need at an accident scene.
Yes. Photos and videos of the accident scene can be extremely important to your claim. Use your digital camera, cell phone, iPad or other electronic device to take multiple photos and videos of the accident scene. Be sure to include sound.
Photographs and videos can identify the position of the cars immediately after the collision, weather conditions, potholes, road obstructions, traffic and street signs, and more. They can also reveal the behavior of the drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and others at the time of the accident.
The sounds at an accident scene can be telling. A recording can capture another driver’s slurred speech indicating intoxication, apologies for causing the accident, or other admissions of fault.
Photos and video make it difficult for anyone involved in the accident to later change their story.
Yes. Witness statements can support your claim. Witnesses have no legal obligation to speak with you or give you a written statement. However, if you can find people willing to talk, their opinions of what caused the accident could help prove your claim.
If you find a helpful witness, get their names, addresses, and contact information.
Find some paper and ask the witness to write down what they saw and heard, especially if they’re willing to say the other driver was at fault. Be sure they also include why they believe the other driver caused the crash. Ask the witnesses sign and date each page of the statement.
An insurance policy is a binding legal contract between you (the insured) and your insurance company (the insurer).
In your policy, there’s something called a “Cooperation Clause.” This clause obligates your insurance company to provide coverage for you up to the limits of your insurance policy, including providing legal representation if you’re sued.
In return, you’re obligated to cooperate with your insurance company in the investigation of the accident. This includes promptly reporting the accident to your insurance company, even if you believe you were not at fault.
The clause requires you to notify your insurance company and cooperate in their investigation of the accident. Typical language contained in a Cooperation Clause looks like this:
“Insured (you) agrees to notify the insurer (your insurance company) of any accidents and thereafter comply with all information, assistance, and cooperation which the insurer reasonably requests, and agrees that in the event of a claim the insurer and the insured will do nothing that shall prejudice the insurer’s position…”
Failing to report an accident to your insurance company can lead the company to raise your premiums, decline to renew your policy, or even cancel your insurance policy.
Yes. You may not think the accident was serious. In fact, it might have been a minor fender-bender with no apparent injuries and minimal damage.
As a result, you may decide not to report the accident to your insurance company, especially if you think it will cause your premiums to go up. That could be a serious mistake.
Because symptoms of injuries may not appear for hours or even days after an accident, the other driver could be injured but didn’t know it at the time. The other driver may later decide the accident was your fault and retain an attorney to pursue an injury claim against you.
Other reasons reporting the accident to your insurance company is important:
Violation of the Cooperation Clause in Your Policy: If you don’t notify your insurance company of an accident, you are violating the terms of your policy. Besides that, failing to report the accident to your insurance company gives the other driver and their attorney a huge head start in building a case against you.
Delayed Injury Symptoms: At the time of the accident the other driver or passengers may have sincerely believed they were not injured. However, adrenaline released into the bloodstream following an accident can mask symptoms, which may appear hours or even days afterward.
No Insurance: The other driver may have been uninsured or under-insured at the time of the accident, or may have shown you a fake insurance card. This happens more often than you might think.
Fraudulent Claims: Unfortunately, there are some people who know they weren’t hurt, but suddenly decide they can cash-in on a car accident by pretending to be injured.
Example of why it’s important to notify your insurance company:
Agnes was on her way to work one morning, heading north on US 301 toward Fort Bragg. She intended to take 56, so she pulled into the right hand turn lane. She waited patiently for traffic to clear so she could safely exit the highway.
As Agnes was getting ready to move onto the exit ramp, Mark had entered the lane behind her. Thinking Agnes was going to keep going, Mark moved ahead. What he didn’t realize was that she had slowed to let another driver pass. Mark rear-ended Agnes’s car.
Agnes and Mark pulled over to the side of the road and got out to examine the damage. Mark asked Agnes if she was hurt and Agnes said she was fine. Mark said he was a little shaky, but otherwise he was feeling fine as well.
When the police arrived, Mark said he couldn’t stop in time because Agnes stopped suddenly on the exit ramp. They ticketed Mark for following too closely under North Carolina General Statutes § 20-152 (a) which reads in part:
“The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon and the condition of the highway.”
Agnes and Mark 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 each left the scene relieved not to be hurt and that their cars were intact.
Unfortunately, Mark chose not to report the accident to his insurance company. He didn’t want his insurance company to know he received a traffic citation for following too closely. He was afraid if he reported the accident his insurance premiums would rise.
The next morning Agnes could barely get out of bed. Her back was sore and she couldn’t move her neck without feeling pain and discomfort. Her husband drove her to the local hospital’s emergency room., where Agnes was diagnosed with a whiplash injury and herniated disk.
Agnes was told she would need back surgery, and that the injury would likely end up being permanent, requiring ongoing therapy and medical attention. Several days later, Agnes retained a personal injury attorney.
Two months had passed when Mark opened his mail to find a letter from Agnes’s attorney. It stated she sustained serious injuries in the accident and that Mark was responsible for paying those bills and other related damages.
Mark was being sued.
By failing to promptly report the accident to his insurance company, Mark not only violated the terms of his policy, but he also gave Agnes’s attorney a substantial head start on the claim.
By the time he received the letter, the attorney had already located witnesses to the accident, secured copies of Agnes’s medical records and bills, a medical narrative from her physician confirming her injuries were a direct result of the accident, obtained her MRI and CT Scan results, and more.
Mark was shaken. He wondered if his insurance company would defend him in the claim, or if he was going to be on his own.
If Mark had simply complied with the terms of his auto insurance policy by contacting his insurance company right away, he might not be in this position. The company would have opened an investigation into the claim two months ago.
Now Mark had to wait to see if his insurance company would defend him in the lawsuit, raise his premiums, or even cancel his policy.
After notifying your insurance company, contact the at-fault driver’s insurance company to report the accident. Make sure you have the driver’s name and contact information, the registration number of the car, and the driver’s insurance policy number.
No. Never admit fault at the accident scene, or make payment arrangements with the other driver. It’s in your best interest to notify your insurance company. That’s what you pay premiums for.
There may be factors that caused the crash that you don’t know about.
Even if the accident was your fault, your insurance company will settle any claims in a way that protects you from future actions by the others involved in the crash.
Yes. Today, many insurance companies have mobile apps which facilitate reporting car accidents. The apps have the ability to:
- Take photographs
- Initiate claims
- Fulfill the reporting requirement with the insurance company
- Create and send state-required auto crash reports
- Draw 3-dimensional sketches of the accident scene
- Collect personal information, driver’s license information, insurance information, etc.
- Give a GPS location of the accident scene
Below are just a few of the companies offering car accident reporting applications:
North Carolina relies on the Pure Contributory Negligence Rule to determine fault and award compensation for car accident claims.
Under pure contributory negligence, if the victim in a car accident has in any way contributed to causing the accident, even 1%, that victim is not eligible to receive compensation from the other driver or the other driver’s insurance company.
Amy was driving to work. Jimmy was driving to the local pool for a morning workout in the same lane behind her. There were 2 lanes heading in the same direction, but both cars were in the far right lane.
Jimmy was late for his workout and decided to pass Amy. He signaled his intention to pass and moved from his place behind Amy’s car into the left lane. As he accelerated to clear Amy’s car, Amy increased her speed.
When Jimmy started moving back in front of Amy, he hit the front side of her car, forcing Amy to crash into the guardrail. Amy was seriously injured. Jimmy wasn’t hurt.
Amy filed an a claim for $100,000 with Jimmy’s insurance company for her property damage and personal injuries. The claim didn’t settle, so Amy filed a lawsuit against Jimmy.
At trial, the jury heard testimony that Jimmy move back in front of Amy before he sufficiently cleared Amy’s car. However, other witnesses testified that Amy sped up, making it impossible for Jimmy to safely move back in front of her.
The jury decided Jimmy was primarily at fault in causing the accident for trying to move back into Amy’s lane before it was clear. The jury relied on Section 20-149 (a) of the North Carolina General Statutes, that reads:
“The driver of a car passing another car proceeding in the same direction must pass at least two feet to the left of the car being passed and must not again move back into the right lane until safely clear of the car being passed…”
But Jimmy wasn’t the only one at fault for the accident. While the jury believed it was Jimmy’s duty to be sure he was clear of Amy’s car before returning to the right lane, the jury also believed Amy shared some of the fault for the accident since she increased her speed, making it difficult for Jimmy to re-enter the right lane in front of her. The jury relied on Section 20-149 (b) of the North Carolina General Statutes, that says:
“The driver of a car being passed must give way to the driver of the car who is passing and must not increase the speed of his or her car until completely passed by the overtaking car.”
The jury decided Jimmy’s share of blame for the accident was 95%. The jury also decided that since Amy’s action of increasing her speed contributed to the accident, her share of fault for the accident was 5%.
Under North Carolina’s Contributory Negligence rule, Amy’s small percentage of fault (negligence) prevented her from receiving any compensation from Jimmy or his insurance company.
The only way for Amy to have been legally entitled to compensation would have been if the jury placed 100% of the blame on Jimmy.
North Carolina follows a 3rd Party Liability Rule. This means that a car accident victim may pursue the at-fault driver and their insurance company for any property damage or personal injuries.
If you’ve been in a North Carolina car accident and sustained property damage or personal injuries as the result of another driver’s negligence, you have the following options:
- File a claim with your own insurance company (referred to as a “first-party claim”)
- File a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company (referred to as a “third-party claim”)
- File a lawsuit against the at-fault driver
To protect people on its roadways, the State of North Carolina requires drivers to carry minimum amounts of property damage and personal injury insurance.
North Carolina requires drivers to carry minimum liability coverage of :
- $30,000 for personal injuries to one person in one accident
- $60,000 for personalinjuries to two or more persons in one accident
- $25,000 for property damage in one accident
North Carolina also requires drivers to carry uninsured motorist coverage in the following amounts:
- $25,000 for personal injuries to one person in one accident
- $50,000 for personal injuries to two or more persons in one accident
Some personal injury claims can be handled without legal representation. However, there are others which always require the help of an attorney to get fair compensation.
There are two primary types of injuries. They’re known as “soft tissue” and “hard injuries.”
Soft tissue injuries include strains and sprains to ligaments, tendons, muscles, minor bruising, cuts not requiring stitches, first degree burns, whiplash, and other relatively minor injuries. Because soft tissue injuries generally aren’t complicated, a victim can often negotiate their injury claim directly with the insurance company.
Since soft tissue injuries are typically not high-dollar claims and are not complicated to settle, if might not make financial sense to share the settlement with an attorney.
Hard injuries are much more serious. They can include head trauma, fractures, third degree burns, scarring, and other injuries requiring expensive and extensive medical care.
Compensation for a serious injury claim can be substantial. As a result, there’s just too much to lose by representing yourself.
You may think you can be just as effective as an experienced personal injury attorney. But you’ll likely end up settling for an amount substantially less than an attorney could have obtained for you. In most cases this is true even after attorneys fees are deducted.
Insurance companies know claimants who go it alone can only negotiate so far. At some point in the negotiations the claims adjuster is going to say “That’s our final offer.” Suddenly your leverage is gone, and at that point it’s take it, or leave it.
Hard injury claims often require filing a lawsuit. Insurance companies don’t like lawsuits. They know once a lawsuit is filed they will have to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees to defense attorneys. Lawsuits are complicated , involving depositions, interrogatories, subpoenas for production of documents, and more.
Through a lawsuit, a personal injury attorney can learn the other driver’s policy limits, driving records, traffic tickets, prior arrests, prior lawsuits, and much more.
Most reputable personal injury attorneys do not charge anything for initial office consultations. Personal injury attorneys usually represent accident victims on a “contingency fee” basis.
A contingency fee means you won’t pay the attorney any legal fees until they successfully settle your case or win it at trial. If your attorney fails to settle your injury claim or loses the case at trial, you’re not required to pay any attorneys fees.
Contingency fees can range from 25% to 40% depending on the time it will likely take to resolve the case, the complexity of the case, the attorney’s outlay of costs, and whether or not the case has to be tried in front of a jury.
Most successful personal injury attorneys have websites explaining the types of cases they accept, their experience, and their history of settlements or court awards. You should be able to call their office and chat immediately with an attorney or paralegal.
Make appointments with several personal injury attorneys in your area. Bring along copies of your medical records and bills, a copy of the accident report, photographs, witness statements and other documents related to the accident.
The attorney will review the evidence, discuss the underlying facts, and ask questions. After the review, the attorney may be able to tell you if you have a good claim, the estimated value of your claim, and if your claim may require a lawsuit.
If you can’t settle your property damage or personal injury claim, you may consider filing a lawsuit in North Carolina Small Claims Court.
Small claims court is part of the North Carolina District Court Division.
Small claim courts are designed to give people like you a place have their cases heard before a judge in a more relaxed setting, with simpler rules.
The amount allowed in a small claims action may vary from county to county, depending on local rule, and may range from $5,000 to $10,000.
To learn more about filing a lawsuit in one of North Carolina’s Small Claims Courts, visit the North Carolina Judicial Branch small claims section.
When it comes to personal injury claims, each state has its own law for the amount of time a victim has to resolve their claim. That amount of time is referred to as the “Statute of Limitations.”
If you’re the victim in a car accident and you fail to settle your claim with the at-fault driver or the driver’s insurance company within the statute of limitations period, you lose your legal right to pursue them for any compensation.
North Carolina has a three (3) year statute of limitations for car accident claims.
The insurance company doesn’t have a legal obligation to settle your claim within the statute of limitations period, or to tell you when time is running out.
You won’t get any sympathy from the insurance company or its claims adjuster if you miss the deadline for protecting your claim. Saying that the claims adjuster wouldn’t return your calls is not a legal defense to the expiration of the limitation period.
You can file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver to stop the statute of limitations from running.
Stay vigilant. If the statute of limitations is about to expire, contact a personal injury attorney in your area. Don’t wait to protect your claim. There’s no cost to find out what a good attorney can do for you.
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