10 Critical Steps After an Oregon Car Accident

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

Oregon car accident

Modern cars are safer than ever, but that isn’t enough to eliminate your risk of being in an auto accident. An estimated 4.6 million Americans were hurt in auto accidents in a recent 12-month period, with injuries ranging from mild to disabling. ¹

No matter how careful you are, the fact is most of us will be in at least three or four car accidents during our lifetime. ²

The State of Oregon has its share of car accidents. The yearly number of Oregon car accidents has increased to more than 55,000, resulting in death or injury to more than 42,000 people. ³

Accidents happen without warning. You can be driving the same route you travel every day, and suddenly find yourself part of a crash scene. What will you do?

You can’t avoid an unexpected car crash, but you can protect yourself if you know what to do, and just as importantly, what not to do after an auto accident.

What You Need to Know if You’ve Been in an Oregon Car Accident

To get fair compensation for your personal injuries or property damage from a vehicle crash, there’s a lot you need to know. We can help.

Here are 10 steps to help you build a successful Oregon car accident claim. We also answer 33 of the most frequently asked questions about accident claims.

Step 1. Stop. Check for Injuries. Dial 911

Oregon stop call help

If you’ve been in a car accident in Oregon, stop as close to the crash site as you safely can. See if anyone is hurt and call 911. Stay on the phone until the dispatcher ends the call or emergency responders are on the scene.

What should I tell the 911 dispatcher?

Your location: Police, fire and rescue workers can get there faster if they know where to find you, so tell the dispatcher the street or highway you’re on, what direction you were heading, the nearest intersecting streets or mile markers, and any other landmarks you can see to help describe your location.

Possible injuries: Tell the dispatcher if you are hurt, if anyone else looks injured, or anyone is asking for medical help.

Scene description: Accidents scenes can be dangerous and confusing, with plenty of movement and noise around the crash site. Tell the dispatcher if you think anyone is in danger, if there are overturned vehicles, or if there are hazards in the area like downed power lines or leaking fuel.

Will police respond to the accident scene?

Dispatchers will usually send police to accident scenes that need traffic management, or where there are injured people, or reported hazards.

What else should I do at the accident scene?

Drivers involved in an Oregon auto accident are required by law to stop at the scene. Drivers must show their driver’s license if requested by anyone else involved in the crash. Drivers must also exchange the following information with the other driver and passengers:

  • Name and address
  • Vehicle registration
  • Insurance information

What if I hit an unattended vehicle?

If you’ve hit an unattended vehicle, Oregon law requires you to stop immediately at the scene and make an effort to locate the driver or owner of the vehicle you hit. You must give the person your name, address, and insurance information. If you don’t own the car you were driving, you’ll also have to provide the owner’s name and address.

If the person connected with the damaged vehicle can’t be found, you must leave a note on the vehicle in a noticeable place. The note must have your name and address (and the name and address of the owner of the car you were driving, if it isn’t yours) your insurance information, and an explanation of what happened.

What if I hit something other than a vehicle?

If you hit something other than a vehicle, like a fence or a mailbox, you are required to take reasonable steps to find the owner or person in charge of the property.

Be prepared to give your name, address, car registration and auto insurance information. If requested, you must also show your driver’s license.

What if someone is injured?

With any Oregon auto accident, drivers must exchange name, addresses, vehicle registration and insurance information with the other driver and passengers.

Drivers are legally required to give “reasonable assistance” to anyone who is injured in the accident. This means helping an injured person as best you can, including making arrangements to get the injured person to a medical facility, even if you have to drive them yourself.

In most circumstances, your obligation to give reasonable assistance is fulfilled when you call 911, and the dispatcher sends emergency responders to the accident scene.

In the unlikely event you can’t call for an ambulance, do what you can to help. If a person asks you to drive them to a medical facility for treatment, you are legally required to do so, even if the person doesn’t look obviously injured to you.

The only time a driver can legally leave an accident is to get help or transport the injured. If the injuries of any driver or passenger do not require immediate medical transport, you must remain at the scene of the accident until police arrive.

Can I be sued for helping an injured person?

Anyone can file a lawsuit, at any time, for just about any reason, but thanks to Oregon statutes, you are not likely to be sued for trying to help an injured person after an accident.

Even if someone files a lawsuit against you, the statutes are in place to protect people who provide emergency medical care to an injured or ill person where emergency care is not readily available.

Keep in mind that if you are involved in an auto accident and then get sued, your insurance company will almost certainly step in to defend you, even if the lawsuit is for helping an injured person at the accident scene.

What if I’m injured?

Some injuries from a car accident are immediately obvious, like amputations or broken bones. But, accident injuries aren’t always easy to see, even potentially life-threatening injuries like head trauma or internal bleeding. Some injury symptoms may not appear for hours or days after the crash.

Never refuse medical treatment at the accident scene. Be sure to tell the emergency responders about any pain or symptoms you may be experiencing, even if you think they are mild. If paramedics want to transport you to the hospital, go.

If you are not taken directly to a hospital from the accident scene, make sure you are evaluated by a medical provider as soon as possible after the accident.

Refusing or delaying medical treatment after an accident can seriously weaken your insurance claim later, when the insurance company argues that your injuries were not caused by the accident.

Step 2. Gather Evidence

Oregon accident photo evidence

If you’ve suffered bodily injuries or property damage from an auto accident, you’ll want to be fully compensated for your damages. It’s not always easy to get a fair settlement from the insurance company, especially if the accident happened because of a negligent driver.

Evidence gathered at the accident scene will help justify your claim with the insurance company, especially when the other driver did something wrong or failed to drive responsibly. Good evidence can also help you disprove accusations made by the other driver.

Accident scenes change rapidly. Cars are towed, drivers and witnesses leave. Take advantage of the critical window of time right after the crash to get contact information and comments from the other people involved in the accident, and any witnesses.

Walk around the scene, taking pictures or video from several angles. Capture images of the cars, the road conditions and anything in the area that affected what happened.

Take good notes of the date, time, weather conditions, if it was daylight or getting dark, and anything else you may have seen, heard or even smelled (like alcohol) before, during and after the accident.

We’ve made it easier for you, with a free Car Accident Information Form. Keep a copy of the form and a pen in your car along with your proof of insurance. You’ll always be ready to collect important information you need from an accident scene.

What are Damages?

Property damage includes vehicle repair costs, or the value of your vehicle if it is “totaled,” and sometimes the cost of a rental while your car is in the shop. Property damage claims can also include personal items lost or destroyed in the accident like reading glasses, laptop computers, and cell phones.

Personal injury damages are more complex and can include your medical, chiropractic, and therapy bills; out-of-pocket expenses for medications, crutches, slings; costs of travel for treatment; mental health services; the cost of replacement services; and pain and suffering.

What other information can help my claim?

Any information you can gather about the people and vehicles involved, conditions at the scene, and from witnesses, will lend support to your insurance claims.

Vehicle Information

  • The make, model, year, and license plate number
  • Registration
  • Owner name and address
  • Vehicle identification number (VIN)

Note: If you have permission to enter the vehicle, the VIN number can be found on the car’s dashboard in the left corner at the bottom where the dashboard and windshield meet, on the driver’s insurance card, or inside the door jamb of the driver’s side door.

Information About Drivers, Passengers, and Witnesses

  • Full names and contact information
  • Home and business addresses
  • Telephone number
  • Email addresses
  • Birth dates
  • Driver’s license numbers
  • Witness statements

Diagram of the Scene

  • Vehicle locations before and after the collision
  • Date and time
  • Weather and road conditions
  • Approximate speed of the cars before the crash
  • What direction the cars were headed

Photographic Evidence

Take pictures and videos of the accident scene, the surrounding area, and the behavior (like intoxication) and statements of others.

Are photographs and video important?

Yes. Taking photographs or videos with your cell phone, tablet, camera or any other device will be tremendously helpful to your claim.

Photographs and videos can show important details of the cars, the accident scene, and the surrounding area. Sometimes, pictures or video reveal how the drivers and passengers were behaving, apparent injuries, and other important factors that could make a difference in the success of your claim.

Photos and videos are convincing evidence that makes it harder for those involved to change their story later.

How about witness statements?

Witnesses are not required to stay on the scene or speak with you after an accident. However, you may try talking with witnesses to find out if they saw anything that would help your insurance claim.

If you have a cooperative witness, ask for a written statement of what they saw and heard, along with their name and contact information. Be sure to have the witness sign and date the statement.

Step 3. Notify Your Insurance Company

Oregon accident call insurance

Your auto insurance policy is a legally binding contract between you and the insurance company. You expect your auto insurance to protect you if anything happens while driving. It’s important to understand your obligations under the policy to keep those protections in force after an accident.

What does the Cooperation clause mean to me?

Most auto insurance policies include a Notice of Occurrence and Cooperation clause. The clause means that you agree to notify your insurance company if you’re in an accident, and you also agree to cooperate with your insurance company’s investigation of the accident. The clause will look something 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…”

Do I have to notify my insurance company if no one is hurt?

Yes. When you purchased your auto policy, you agreed to report any accident. You are obligated to report every accident, even if it’s not your fault or no one seems to be hurt.

Reporting the accident, even a fender-bender, will help protect you later if the other driver decides to blame you for causing the accident, or anyone from the other vehicle claims to be injured.

If anyone from the other car hires an attorney, you can be sure their attorney will contact your insurance company, putting you and the insurance company at a disadvantage if you hadn’t already informed them of the accident.

If you are at fault for an accident, don’t be tempted to settle directly with the other driver to avoid telling your insurance company. Regardless of the circumstances, failing to promptly notify your insurance company can cause the company to raise your rates, decline to renew your auto policy, or even cancel your policy.

Are there apps to help with accident claims?

Yes. There are free apps available for Apple and Android devices that can simplify how you report a car accident. Many of the apps will help you gather information and get the claims process started with the insurance company. Apps can help you:

  • Gather key info like driver’s license, registration, and insurance information
  • Collect witness names and contact information
  • Create diagrams of the accident scene
  • Take photographs and video
  • Pinpoint the GPS location of the accident scene
  • Notify your insurance company

Below are links to just a few of the free accident reporting apps. Check with your insurance company to see if they offer a similar application.

Google Accident Report

Allstate Mobile

State Farm




Step 4. Understanding Oregon Insurance Requirements

Oregon car insurance

In the State of Oregon, if you’ve been the victim of a car accident caused by the negligence of another driver, you may pursue the at-fault driver for compensation. However, you are still required to carry Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage and uninsured motorist coverage.

What are the minimum auto insurance requirements in Oregon?

Oregon drivers are required by law to carry at least the minimum amount of four types of auto insurance coverage:

Personal Injury Protection (PIP) protects you and anyone else covered under your auto policy. You must carry PIP coverage of least $15,000 per person for each accident. PIP benefits cover reasonable medical expenses, lost wages, essential services, and funeral expenses incurred for up to two years after the injury.

Liability Insurance covers injuries or damage to other people or property when you are liable for an accident. You must have at least minimum liability coverage for bodily injury in the amounts of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident, as well as $20,000 per accident for property damage.

Uninsured Motorist coverage is triggered if you are injured in an accident caused by a driver who has no insurance. You must carry uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage of at least $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident.

Underinsured Motorist coverage comes into play when you are injured in an accident caused by another driver, and the cost of your injuries is more than the at-fault driver’s liability coverage. You must carry underinsured motorist bodily injury coverage of at least $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident.

What are my options if I’m the victim of an Oregon auto accident?

Oregon laws allow several options for pursuing recovery of your personal injury or property damage losses after an auto accident:

  • You can file a claim for your injuries under your own auto insurance policy’s PIP coverage.
  • If the other driver is insured, you can file claims with the at-fault driver’s insurance company for both bodily injury and property damage.
  • If the at-fault driver is insured, but your bodily injury damages are more than the available liability limits, you may also file a claim under your own uninsured motorist coverage.
  • If the at-fault driver had no insurance at the time of the accident, you can file a claim for your bodily injury damages under the uninsured motorist coverage on your own insurance policy.
  • You may bring a lawsuit against the at-fault driver to seek recovery of your personal injury and property damages. In Oregon, you don’t have to use up all your PIP coverage before bringing suit against an at-fault driver.

Note: Oregon has subrogation laws that allow your insurance company to be paid back for PIP benefits out of any injury settlement proceeds you get from the at-fault driver. Consult a personal injury attorney to avoid unpleasant surprises.

Step 5. What You Need to Know About Contributory Negligence

Oregon contributory negligence

How do the Oregon Contributory Negligence rules work?

Oregon follows the Contributory Negligence rule, also called the Comparative Negligence rule, meaning you can file an accident claim against the other driver, even if you are partially at-fault (liable) for the accident, so long as the other driver was more to blame for the accident than you.

If you are equally to blame, you won’t be able to recover any damages from the other driver. If you are partially to blame, you can still receive a settlement, but the amount will be adjusted according to your share of liability for the accident.

Example of how contributory negligence can change the amount of an insurance settlement:

June was driving home from work in the right lane of the Interstate. Jeffrey was driving his car behind her. Jeffrey wanted to pass June, so he moved into the center lane and increased his speed.

Once past June, Jeffrey started to move back into the lane in front of June. When moving back into the right lane, Jeffrey’s car hit the front fender on June’s car, causing her to run off the road into a tree, injuring June and wrecking her car.

Jeffrey was issued a citation by the investigating officer for violating Oregon Revised Statute § 811.410 (a) by moving back into the right lane before it was clear when passing June’s car.

However, June was also ticketed by the same officer for violating Oregon Revised Statutes § 811.410 (b) by speeding up when Jeffrey was attempting to pass her.

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

June sued Jeffrey for $100,000 for her property damage, medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. At trial, witnesses testified they saw June speed up when Jeffrey was trying to move back into the right lane.

In court, the jury decided that Jeffrey was the person most at fault (75%) for the accident because he began moving back into June’s lane before it was clear.

But, Jeffrey wasn’t the only one who caused the accident.

The jury found that if June had not sped up, Jeffrey might not have hit her car. June was found to be 25% at fault for the accident because she increased her speed and didn’t give way to Jeffrey’s car when he was passing her.

In this case, the jury decided Jeffrey was 75% at fault, and June was 25% at fault for the accident. Since Jeffrey was more at fault than June, she won her case. But, while the jury agreed that June had $100,000 in damages, they only awarded her $75,000, adjusting the amount for Jeffrey’s 75% negligence and June’s 25% negligence.

If the jury had decided that Jeffrey was 100% at fault for the accident, June would have been awarded the entire $100,000. On the other hand, if the jury had found June’s part in causing the accident was 50% or more, under Oregon’s Contributory Negligence rule, June would have received nothing.

Step 6. Cooperating with Law Enforcement

Oregon accident police

Law enforcement and other appropriate emergency responders are usually dispatched to any accident where people are injured, traffic needs to be directed, or there are dangerous conditions near the accident scene.

What is the role of law enforcement at the accident scene?

Police officers are highly trained in investigating traffic accidents. Upon arrival at the scene, any law enforcement officer has the authority to:

• Secure the accident scene
• Make arrangements for the care and transport of the injured
• Take statements from the drivers, passengers, and witnesses
• Conduct sobriety tests
• Determine fault
• Issue traffic citations

Do the police have to listen to my side of the story?

No. While you have the right to try to give the officers your side of the story, they are not obligated to listen. The police have a job to do. When a police officer asks you to wait, or otherwise gives you directions, you must cooperate.

Never argue with the police. Repeated and aggressive comments like “I’ll report you. I know my rights!” not only interfere with the accident investigation, but in extreme cases can get you arrested and taken to jail.

Do I have to answer questions from the police?

It depends. If the officer asks you to identify yourself, including your full name and address, proof of registration, and proof of insurance, you must comply. However, if you are being questioned about possession of drugs, or for any other action which might result in criminal charges, you have the right not to answer those questions.

What if the officer gives me a ticket?

If a police officer decides you violated Oregon’s traffic laws, you may be issued one or more traffic tickets. You can try to talk the officer out of giving you a ticket, but if you are issued a citation you must accept it, and if requested, sign it.

Signing the ticket is not an admission of guilt. A traffic citation is your promise to appear in traffic court. Court is the place for you to argue about a traffic violation, not the accident scene.

Which police department will come to the accident?

If the accident occurs within a city, village, or town, you can expect to see an officer from the local police department. If the crash happens outside city limits, the county sheriff’s department will be dispatched. If the accident occurs on a state highway, Oregon State Troopers will be directed to the scene.

Don’t be surprised to see police officers from more than one agency, especially if the accident is severe, traffic is blocked, or there are overlapping jurisdictions.

Step 7. Filing an Accident Report

Oregon accident reports

Do I have to file an accident report?

If you’ve been in an Oregon car accident, you must file a report with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) if one or more of these circumstances apply:

  • Injuries to anyone involved (no matter how minor)
  • Death
  • Any vehicle is towed from the scene
  • Any vehicle has damage estimated to be $2,500 or more
  • Any non-vehicle property damage estimated to be $2,500 or more

Visit Oregon’s Department of Driver Services for more information on Oregon Accident Reporting and Responsibilities.

Go here to download a copy of the Oregon Traffic Accident and Insurance Report.

Send the completed accident report to the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles:

Accident Reporting Unit (DMV)
1905 Lana Ave NE
Salem, OR 97314

Step 8. Deciding to Hire an Attorney

Oregon hire attorney self represent

Some property damage and personal injury claims can be negotiated and settled without an attorney. Other claims need expert legal representation to persuade the insurance company to pay a fair amount.

What happens if I represent myself?

Before you make up your mind about representing yourself in a personal injury claim, think about which kind of injury you suffered in the accident:

“Soft tissue” injuries typically include muscle or tendon strains and sprains, minor scrapes and bruising, cuts that don’t need stitching, and similarly minor injuries. Soft tissue injury claims usually consist of medical, chiropractic, or physical therapy bills, some lost wages, and a limited amount of pain and suffering.

Soft tissue injuries are generally straightforward and can often be settled without intimidating legal procedures or litigation.

“Hard” injuries are much more serious and can include fractures, deep lacerations, extensive burns, head trauma, amputations, and similar severe, and sometimes life-threatening injuries. Hard injury claims are complex, requiring the insurance company to pay out significantly more money for an appropriate settlement.

There’s just too much at stake for you to represent yourself in a severe injury claim.

Persuading the insurance company to offer a fair settlement for hard injury claims usually involves a potential lawsuit and complex legal procedures like pretrial discovery, depositions of witnesses, expert testimony, and more.

When it comes to insurance policies and legal issues, you have limited power on your own, especially if you’ve suffered serious injuries in an accident. Without legal representation, once the insurance company says, “That’s our final offer,” you probably won’t have the skills or energy to fight them. Insurance companies know that and routinely offer less settlement money to claimants without an attorney.

Experienced personal injury attorneys have the legal skills, knowledge, and tools needed to compel the insurance company to pay the money you deserve for your injuries and suffering.

How much do attorneys charge?

Your first meeting with a personal injury attorney is usually free. You may consult with more than one attorney before choosing who will represent you.

If you’ve been injured, gather your medical records, accident report, witness statements and other accident-related documents. Bring those documents to your initial consultation, and be prepared to ask questions.

After reviewing your documents and hearing what you have to say, the attorney will be able to tell you the strength of your claim, its approximate value, and if a lawsuit may have to be filed.

Personal injury attorneys normally charge a contingency fee, meaning that your attorney’s fees will be paid out of your settlement from the insurance company. Contingency fees can range from around 25% up to a maximum of about 40% of the settlement amount or court verdict. If your claim isn’t paid, your attorney won’t be entitled to any fees.

Step 9. When to Sue in Oregon Small Claims Court

Oregon small claims court

If you haven’t been able to settle your personal injury or property damage claim after an accident, suing the other driver in an Oregon small claims court might be the right option for you.

Small claims courts are intended to be a less formal way for individuals to resolve smaller claims. Attorneys are not allowed to represent individuals in Oregon small claims court without special permission from the judge.

When would Oregon small claims court a good option for me?

Filing a small claims lawsuit might be your best option if any of these circumstances apply to you:

  • The at-fault driver was uninsured or underinsured.
  • The at-fault driver’s insurance company will only make low-ball settlement offers, or completely denies your claim.
  • An attorney will not agree to accept your case on a contingency fee basis.

What is the most I can ask for in small claims court?

You may file a lawsuit in Oregon small claims court if your claim isn’t for more than $10,000.

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

If you decide to file a lawsuit in small claims court, you must sue the driver who caused the accident, not the driver’s insurance company.

Where can I find more information about Oregon Small Claims Courts?

Go here to learn more about filing a lawsuit in an Oregon small claims court.

Step 10. Watch Out for the Oregon Statute of Limitations

Oregon statute limitations

A statute of limitations for auto accidents is the time limit for either settling your damages claim or filing a lawsuit.

What is the Statute of Limitations in the State of Oregon?

The State of Oregon has a two-year statute of limitations for accident claims. The statute begins to “run” on the date of the accident.

If you miss the statute of limitations deadline, you will lose your legal right to pursue your personal injury claim, no matter how badly you’re hurt.

What if the insurance company won’t return my calls?

The insurance company and the claims adjuster don’t have to help you settle your claim. If negotiations are going slowly, it’s up to you to keep an eye on the statute of limitations deadline.

The insurance company is under no legal obligation to settle your claim before the statute of limitations expires. If you miss the two-year deadline, there is nothing you can do to make the insurance company pay you any amount of money.

What if time is running out and my claim hasn’t settled?

Don’t risk forfeiting your claim. If you don’t have an officially signed settlement agreement, don’t wait until the last day to preserve your claim by filing a lawsuit, no matter what the insurance adjuster promises. Remember, the insurance company cannot give you an “extension” on the statute of limitations.

If you fail to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver within two years of the accident date, you can’t do it later by blaming the insurance company.

Write down that date and put it in your phone’s calendar, with alerts in advance of the deadline. Put the date on your wall calendar, your computer and anywhere else that will remind you. Don’t wait until the last day to protect your claim.

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 >>