The Complete North Carolina Car Accident Guide

North Carolina car accidentWith cutting edge safety features, today’s cars are safer than ever before. But despite these technological advancements, car accidents continue to occur regularly. Many of these incidents result in physical injuries.

Most of us think we’re great drivers and an accident is something that happens to the other guy. The reality is that the average person will be in 3 to 4 car accidents during their lifetime.¹

Last year, over 2 million people were injured in car accidents in the United States.² The State of North Carolina has it’s fair share of car accidents too. Last year there were 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…

In the aftermath of a car accident, there’s a lot to deal with. Property damage, medical bills, accident reports, insurance companies, and applicable state laws will soon be all you can think about. Knowing what to say and do during this critical phase is vital.

Below are 11 steps we’ve created to help guide you through the process after a car accident in North Carolina. In addition, we’ve provided answers to the most frequently asked questions that arise at an accident scene.

Step 1 – Stop, Check for Injuries, Dial 911

North Carolina stop call helpNorth 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.

What information does the 911 dispatcher need?
Avoid offering your opinion of who was at fault. The 911 dispatcher is not interested in your opinion of who caused the accident and why. Fault will be assigned later, after an investigation by the police and insurance companies.

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. 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 arrive without delay.

A description of the scene: Accident scenes are often messy. There are usually parts of cars, broken glass, and vehicles pointing awkwardly in different directions. Oncoming traffic may be dangerously close to drivers who are too distracted to notice. Let the 911 dispatcher know what the crash scene looks like. This information will be immediately relayed to emergency personnel.

If anyone is injured: While many car accidents are minor “fender-benders,” some accidents result in serious injuries. Tell the 911 dispatcher if anyone is obviously injured or complaining of pain or discomfort.

Will police respond to the accident scene?
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.

What are my legal duties after an accident?
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

It is not a legal requirement to report the accident to the police if the accident resulted only in property damage, and the apparent amount of property damage is less than $1,000. This normally applies to “fender-benders” where cars may be scratched, bumpers bent, or car doors dinged.

Under what conditions must I notify law enforcement and report the accident?
You’re required to report the accident to local law enforcement if it qualifies as a “Reportable Accident.”  The notification must occur immediately after the accident and by the quickest means of communication, to the appropriate law enforcement agency.

*Note – While North Carolina law does not specify the way in which notification to law enforcement must be made, it’s a fair presumption that calling 911 will satisfy this requirement.

What constitutes a reportable accident?
A reportable accident is one in which their was either the death or injury of a human being or total property damage of $1,000 or more.

While the law remains silent on the definition of “property damage,”  it’s a fair assumption that the $1,000 limit also applies to other property damaged in the accident. This may include street signs, mailboxes, and even personal items such as computers, or other valuables you may have had in the vehicle. Use your best judgment to determine if you think it will cost $1,000 or more to repair or replace the damaged property.

What if people are injured in the accident?
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.

Can I be sued if I assist someone who has been injured in the accident?
The State of North Carolina has enacted a “Good Samaritan” statute. Under this statute, any person who renders first aid or emergency assistance to the victim of a car accident will not be liable for any acts or omissions relating to the assistance (unless the assistance is later determined to have constituted intentional wrongdoing).

What if I collide with a parked car?
If you collide with an 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:

  1. The time, date, and place of the accident
  2. Your name and address
  3. Your driver’s license number
  4. The registration number of the vehicle being driven
  5. 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, and a copy of the report must be sent to the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles.

In the event you’re unable to locate the driver or owner of the unattended vehicle, you must contact the nearest police officer or leave a note containing the information in a conspicuous place either on or inside the damaged car.

Can one of my passengers drive my car home while I wait for the police to arrive?
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. A law enforcement officer must first complete an investigation of the accident or authorize the passenger to leave.

Step 2 – Accident Reports in North Carolina

North Carolina accident reportsPolice officers receive training in auto accident assessment. Once they secure the scene, officers will investigate the accident and its causes.

Do I have to file a written accident report?
No. Drivers involved in an accident are not required to file a written accident or “crash” report with the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles. A driver’s legal duty to report the accident ends once the driver contacts the appropriate law enforcement agency.

What happens after I report the accident to local law enforcement?
Once you notify local law enforcement of an accident, they have 24 hours to complete a crash report. The crash report is known as Form DMV-349. The report will contain 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

If the investigating officer is:

A North Carolina Highway State Trooper: the officer must send the Crash Report directly to North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles.

A member of local law enforcement: the officer must submit their reports to their own respective agencies. The agency must then forward the Crash Report to the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles within 10 days after receiving it.

How can I obtain a copy of the Crash Report?
You 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.

* Note – Crash Reports will only be made available to qualified individuals, businesses, or organizations. If you were involved in a car accident you likely qualify as a person who has a right to request a Certified Copy of the Crash report.

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

Will I need an attorney to understand the Crash Report?
Probably not. Within the Crash Report are a number of Key Codes. These key codes reference information in each section of the report. The North Carolina Department of Transportation published an instruction manual for use in conjunction with the DMV-3249 Crash Report. The manual will help you understand the key codes and other information contained in the report.

Step 3 – Preserve the Evidence

North Carolina car accident photosThe 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.

What are “Damages”?
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

Why is it important to begin gathering evidence so soon after the accident?
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 your pursuit of a claim. The information you gather at the scene can also serve as a defense in the event that you’re blamed for the accident.

Is there any other information that can help my claim?
Yes. Additional helpful evidence includes:

Contact Information:

  • Drivers’ and passengers’ full names
  • Home and business addresses
  • Telephone numbers
  • Email addresses
  • Dates of birth
  • Driver’s license numbers

Note: 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.

Vehicle Information:

  • 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.)

Witness Information:

  • Names and contact information
  • Witness statements

Note: 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.

Scene Information:

  • A written diagram of the accident scene, noting the location of the cars immediately 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 immediately 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.

Are photographs and video important?
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 reflect the demeanor 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.

Are witness statements important?  
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.

Find some paper and ask the witness to write down what they saw and heard, especially if they’re willing to state the other driver was at fault. Be sure they also include why they believe the other driver was negligent.

Don’t worry about the legalities of a witness statement. To be effective, a witness signature does not have to be notarized.  Just be sure the witnesses sign and date each page of their statement. Also make sure you write down their names, addresses, and contact information.

Step 4 – North Carolina’s Pure Contributory Negligence Rule

North Carolina pure contributory negligenceWhen it comes to assessing fault and awarding compensation in car accidents, the State of North Carolina relies on the Pure Contributory Negligence Rule.

Under pure contributory negligence, if the victim in a car accident is determined to have contributed to the accident by even 1%, that victim is wholly barred from recovering any compensation from the other driver.

Example of Pure Contributory Negligence:

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. As a result, as Jimmy moved back in front of Amy, he made contact with the front left quarter panel of her car.

The impact caused Amy to crash into the guardrail. She sustained property damage to her car and was injured. Amy’s medical bills amounted to $40,000. Jimmy was not hurt.

Amy retained an attorney and filed a claim with Jimmy’s insurance company. Both sides were unable to reach a settlement, so Amy’s attorney filed a lawsuit. During trial, witnesses testified they saw Jimmy move back in front of Amy before he sufficiently cleared Amy’s car. However, other witnesses testified Jimmy had already cleared Amy’s car, but Amy sped up, making it impossible for Jimmy to safely move back in front of her.

Following the Court’s instructions regarding the application of Contributory Negligence, the jury rendered its verdict. They found Jimmy was primarily at fault in causing the accident. In making its determination, the jury relied on Section 20-149 (a) of the North Carolina General Statutes, which is summarized as follows:

“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…”

While the jury believed it was Jimmy’s legal duty to be sure he was clear of Amy’s car before returning to the right lane, the jury also believed Amy shared a small degree of fault for the accident since she increased her speed, making it difficult for Jimmy to re-enter the right lane in front of her. In making its determination, the jury relied on Section 20-149 (b) of the North Carolina General Statutes, which reads in part:

“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 apportioned Jimmy’s fault for the accident at 95%. The jury also determined Amy’s action of slightly increasing her speed contributed to the accident. As a result, they apportioned Amy’s fault at 5%.

Under North Carolina’s Contributory Negligence rule, Amy’s small percentage of fault (negligence) wholly barred 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.

While this may sound harsh, unfortunately North Carolina is one of only 4 states which continue to rely on this type of law.

To learn more about North Carolina’s Pure Contributory Negligence rule, read “Contributory Negligence, Comparative Negligence, and Stare Decisis in North Carolina” by Steven Gardner, Campbell Law Review.

Step 5 – North Carolina is a Third Party Liability State

North Carolina 3rd party liabilityThe State of North Carolina follows a 3rd Party Liability Rule. This means that a victim of a car accident may pursue the at-fault driver and their insurance company for any property damage or personal injuries.

What are my options if another driver crashes into me?
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

Step 6 – Understanding North Carolina’s Car Insurance Requirements

North Carolina car insurance requirementsTo protect people on its roadways, the State of North Carolina requires drivers to carry minimum amounts of property damage and personal injury insurance.

What are the minimum amounts of car insurance required for drivers in North Carolina?
The State of North Carolina requires drivers to carry:

  • $30,000 in personal liability coverage for injuries to one person in one accident
  • $60,000 in personal liability coverage for injuries 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 (UIM) coverage in the following amounts:

  • $25,000 in UIM for injuries to one person in one accident
  • $50,000 in UIM for injuries to two or more persons in one accident

Step 7  – Report the Crash to Your Insurance Company

North Carolina call insuranceAn 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 in the event 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.

What does the Cooperation Clause mean to me?
The clause requires you to cooperate with your own insurance company in the investigation of the accident. Failing to do so may result in your policy not being renewed, a rise in your premiums, or in some cases, a cancellation of your policy.

Typical language contained in a Cooperation Clause looks like this:

“The insured shall:
– Cooperate with the company by reporting accidents promptly after their occurrence
– Assist in the investigation of accidents and claims
– Attend hearings, trials, and depositions
– Assist in securing and giving evidence and obtaining the attendance of witnesses”

Do I have to report the accident to my insurance company if no one was injured?
Because symptoms of injuries may not appear for hours or even days after an accident, it’s altogether possible the other driver was injured but didn’t know it at the time. If that occurs, the driver may later decide the accident was your fault and retain an attorney to pursue an injury claim against you.

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.

Other reasons reporting the accident to your insurance company is important:

Violation of the Cooperation Clause in Your Policy: You’re under a contractual duty to report the accident to your insurance company. By failing to do so, you’re in violation of the terms of the policy. Failing to report the accident to your insurance company affords the other driver and their attorney a substantial time advantage.

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 report the accident to 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 complete her exit, Mark moved ahead. What he didn’t realize was that she had slowed to let another driver pass.  As she let the car pass, Mark collided with the rear of her 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.  The physician scheduled Agnes for an MRI and CT Scan. She was subsequently diagnosed as having sustained a whiplash injury and disk herniation to the L4 level of her spine.

Agnes was told she would require 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.

By failing to promptly report the accident to his insurance company, Mark not only violated the terms of the cooperation clause, 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 already 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.

When do I contact the at-fault driver’s insurance company?
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.

The accident was my fault. The other driver said he wasn’t injured, and the damage to both cars was minor. He asked me to pay him without getting the insurance companies involved. Is this a good idea?
Besides the contractual obligations in your insurance policy, there is a very practical reason to report the accident to your insurance company immediately. Because some symptoms of injuries won’t manifest for hours, and sometimes even days after an accident, it’s entirely possible the other driver really is injured.

Moreover, the driver may decide to retain an attorney. If that happens and you did not report the accident to your insurance company, they would not have prior knowledge of the accident, forcing them to scramble to protect you.

Are there mobile apps to help file accident claims?
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:

Google Accident Report
Geico Insurance Company
Allstate Mobile
Nationwide Insurance
State Farm

Step 8 – The Role of Police at Accident Scenes

North Carolina police accidentDepending upon the location or “jurisdiction” where the accident occurred, the appropriate law enforcement agency will be dispatched to the scene. These may be city police officers, sheriff’s deputies, or highway state troopers.

In some cases, when there is overlapping jurisdiction, more than one agency may be dispatched.

What is the role of North Carolina law enforcement at an accident scene?
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 will:

  • 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 witnesses
  • Run background checks on those at the scene
  • Issue traffic citations
  • Administer field sobriety tests
  • Make arrests

Does law enforcement have to listen to my side of the story?
No. When police officers arrive, they’re there to perform very specific functions. These are duties they train for and in which they have expertise. While you have a right to speak with a police officer, the officer is under no legal obligation to engage in conversation with you, nor listen to what you have to say about the accident and its causes.

It’s likely in the course of their investigation a law enforcement officer will ask you questions. These can include requesting identification, proof of insurance, car registration, driver’s license information, and more.

It’s best to keep frustration in check. Refrain from making comments or statements about how the officer is doing their job. Doing so may only impede the officer’s investigation. If you persist after the officer has admonished you, you may be arrested.

What if I’m issued a traffic ticket?
During the accident investigation, the officer may decide you were in violation of one or more traffic laws. If so, you may be issued a traffic citation. While you can try to dissuade the officer from issuing the citation, 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 proof of guilt. It’s merely an agreement you will appear at a certain time and date to answer for the ticket. At that time you can choose to contest the citation and ask for a trial.

Depending on your driving record, you may be able to negotiate with the prosecutor a plea where you will be placed on a probationary period, during which you agree not to receive any further citations. You may also have to pay a fine, and possibly attend a defensive driving course. However, once these are all completed, the citation may be dismissed and not appear on your driving record.

Step 9 – Personal Injury Attorney or Self-Representation?

North Carolina attorney self representSome personal injury claims can be handled by a victim without legal representation. However, there are others which always require legal representation.

When can I handle a claim myself?
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 don’t result in substantial medical bills, nor do they involve complex issues of law, a victim can negotiate his or her own injury claim with the insurance company.

Moreover, in soft tissue injury claims there may not be enough compensation to pay an attorney and still have enough leftover to pay your medical bills and pain and suffering.

Hard injuries are much more serious. They can include head trauma, fractures, third degree burns, scarring, and other injuries requiring substantial 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. While an insurance claims adjuster may lead you to believe you’re an expert negotiator, the truth is you’re just a pawn being moved around the board by the adjuster.

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 out substantial amounts in legal fees to defense attorneys. Lawsuits almost always require pretrial discovery, including depositions, interrogatories, subpoenas for production of documents, and more. These are actions only an attorney can take.

Through a lawsuit, a personal injury attorney can learn what the driver’s policy limits are, whether the driver has a past record of traffic accidents, traffic tickets, prior arrests, prior lawsuits, and much more.

How much do attorneys charge?
Most reputable personal injury attorneys do not charge anything for initial office consultations. When you find an attorney who will accept your case, the attorney will likely agree to represent you on a “contingency fee” basis.

A contingency fee means you do not have to 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.

How do I choose a personal injury attorney?
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 several appointments with 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 personal injury attorney will review the evidence, discuss the underlying facts, and ask questions. After doing so, the attorney may be able to give you their opinion of the viability of your claim, whether or not they believe the claim will settle, or if the claim may have to be tried in court.

Step 10 – Small Claims Court

North Carolina small claims courtIn the event you’re not successful in settling your property damage or personal injury claim, you may consider filing a lawsuit in one of North Carolina’s Small Claims Courts.

Small claims court is part of the North Carolina District Court Division. These courts are designed to give aggrieved parties a forum to have their cases heard before a judge. The nature of small claims courts is to provide a relaxed venue where parties aren’t bound by North Carolina’s formal Rules of Evidence.

How much can I sue for in North Carolina Small Claims Courts?
The amount in controversy in a small claims action may vary from county to county, depending on local rule, and may range from $5,000 to $10,000.

Can I also sue for my pain and suffering?
Small Claims Court judges do not award compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress or mental anguish.

How much does it cost to file a lawsuit in Small Claims Court?
You’re required to pay a $96 filing fee to the clerk of court. You pay an additional $30 to cover the cost of the sheriff getting the proper legal forms ready and serving them to the defendant (at-fault driver).

How can I find out more information about filing a lawsuit in one of North Carolina’s Small Claims Courts?
To learn more about filing a lawsuit in one of North Carolina’s Small Claims Courts, and for access to forms, including  affidavits, petitions, summons, and more, visit the legal aid website where you will find “A Guide to Small Claims Court.”

Step 11 – Statute of Limitations

North Carolina statute limitationsWhen it comes to personal injury claims, each state has its own law setting out 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.

What is the Statute of Limitations for property damage and personal injury claims in the State of North Carolina?
The State of North Carolina has a three year statute of limitations for action arising out of property damage or personal injury claims.

What if the insurance company won’t return my calls, or won’t settle my claim and the statute of limitations period is about to expire?
The insurance company does not have a legal or practical obligation to settle your claim within the statute of limitations period. Nor do they have a legal duty to advise you if the period is about to expire. You will not receive any sympathy from the insurance company or it’s claims adjuster if you miss the date. Saying that the claims adjuster did not return your calls is not a legal defense to the expiration of the limitation period.

What can I do if the limitations date is approaching and I haven’t settled my claim?
You can file a lawsuit, even if you do so in small claims court. Once a lawsuit is filed the statute of limitations is “tolled,” meaning it doesn’t apply to your claim anymore. Stay vigilant. If the statute of limitations is about to expire you might consider seeking the advice and counsel of a local personal injury attorney. The attorney may agree to file the lawsuit for you.

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