Safety features in today’s cars are designed to minimize impact and reduce occupant injuries. Yet, the number of car accidents is on the rise with more than 2.3 million crash injuries reported annually throughout the U.S.¹
These days, the typical American household has at least two cars. We’re all on the go, all the time. With so many of us behind the wheel, it’s easy to see why the average driver can expect to be in three or four car accidents during their lifetime.²
South Dakota has its share of crashes, with more than 3,000 drivers injured in car accidents in just one year. ³
Accidents happen abruptly, without warning. One minute you’re driving down the same road you’ve traveled a hundred times before, and the next minute you’re in a ditch, reeling from the sudden impact.
It takes time and money to recover from the injuries and losses suffered in a car accident. Your financial recovery begins with a successful auto insurance claim. You must know what to say and do, and the pitfalls to avoid when building your claim.
What You Need to Know if You’ve Been in a South Dakota Car Accident
You can’t avoid every accident, but you can be prepared for the aftermath with these 10 steps to building a successful auto insurance claim. We’ve also answered the questions most frequently asked after a car accident in South Dakota.
After an accident involving injuries, fatalities, or property damage, South Dakota law requires drivers to stop at the accident scene and render reasonable assistance to anyone who is injured or asking for help.
Under the law, reasonable assistance includes arranging for the injured to be transported for treatment. In most cases, this means calling 911 to request emergency services.
When you call 911, the dispatcher needs to know you’re calling about a car accident. Provide specifics about your location, injuries, and dangers at the scene.
Location: Tell the dispatcher the street you’re on, which direction you were heading, the nearest intersecting roads or mile markers, and describe nearby landmarks.
Injuries: Tell the dispatcher if anyone is injured, trapped in a car, or asking for medical help.
Hazards: Describe any potential dangers at the scene like overturned vehicles, traffic problems, fires, or leaking fuel.
Your crash injuries may be immediately obvious, like open wounds or broken bones. But car accident injuries aren’t always easy to see, even potentially critical injuries like closed head trauma or internal bleeding. Some injury symptoms may not develop until hours or even days after the crash.
Never refuse medical treatment at the scene. This is no time to be stoic. Tell emergency responders about any symptoms you’re having, even if you think they’re mild. If paramedics want to transport you to the hospital, go.
If you’re not transported 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 undermine your insurance claim. The insurance company won’t hesitate to dispute your claim by arguing that your injuries were not related to the collision.
If you hit an unattended vehicle or other property, stop at the scene. Locate the driver or owner of the car or property you hit and share your name, address, and your car’s license number.
If you can’t find the owner, leave a note in a conspicuous place on the damaged car or property with your name, address and your car’s license number, with an explanation of what happened. As soon as possible, notify the local police of the accident.
Police are usually dispatched to accidents involving injuries, death, or where the accident scene is dangerous.
A police officer may not always be available to respond to minor fender-benders.
Law enforcement officers are highly trained in accident investigation. On the scene, officers are authorized to:
- Secure the accident scene
- Arrange for care and transport of the injured
- Interview drivers, passengers, and witnesses
- Conduct sobriety tests
- Determine fault
- Issue citations
The police have a job to do. While you can try to tell your side of the story, the officer is not required to listen to you. When a police officer asks you to wait or otherwise gives you directions, you should cooperate.
Acting aggressively or continuing to argue with an officer on the scene will not only impede the accident investigation, but it can also get you arrested.
If the investigating officer decides you violated South Dakota traffic laws, you may be issued a citation. You can try persuading the officer not to give you a ticket, but once a citation is issued, you should accept it.
Accepting a traffic ticket is not an admission of guilt. If you want to dispute the citation, do it in court, not at the accident scene.
Accident reports may be obtained through the South Dakota Office of Highway Safety Purchase Crash Report website.
Accident scenes change quickly. Vehicles are towed, drivers leave, and witnesses walk away, taking important evidence with them. Take advantage of the short time after an accident to gather important evidence before it’s gone.
Evidence gathered at the accident scene will significantly support your claim with the insurance company, especially if the accident was caused by a negligent driver.
Start by collecting information from the other driver:
- Name and address
- Vehicle owner name and address, if not the driver
- Vehicle registration
- Driver’s license information
- Insurance details
Passengers: Ask for passengers’ full names, dates of birth, addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and any other contact information. Passengers are not required to share information with you, but you can make notes for yourself about how many passengers, their ages, what they looked like, how they were acting, and anything you heard them say.
Vehicles: Look for the make, model, year, license plate number, expiration date, and vehicle identification number (VIN) for each vehicle involved in the accident. If you have permission to enter the other vehicle, the VIN can be found on the dashboard in the left corner near the windshield, or inside the driver’s side door. The VIN may also be listed on the driver’s insurance card.
Diagrams: Make a drawing showing the location of the cars before and after the accident. Indicate the direction each car was heading. Include notes on road conditions, the weather, road construction, visibility, and anything else that contributed to the collision.
Taking photos or videos with your phone, camera or any other device can be highly beneficial to your claim. Walk around the crash scene, taking as many pictures and sound-enabled videos as you safely can.
Photos and video footage can reveal important details about the wrecked cars and the area around the accident scene. Sometimes, pictures or videos capture how the drivers and passengers were behaving, admissions of guilt, and other significant factors that are relevant to your claim.
Photographs and videos can be convincing evidence that makes it harder for others to change their story after the accident.
Witnesses: Witnesses don’t have to stay on the scene or talk to you, but you can try to speak with potential witnesses to determine if they saw anything that might help your claim. If you have a cooperative witness, ask for their name, contact information, and if they’ll write down a description of what they saw. Have the witness sign and date their written statement.
Be prepared with a free Car Accident Information Form. Keep copies in your car, along with a pen, in the same place you keep your insurance and registration cards. You’ll always be ready to gather the evidence you’ll need for a successful insurance claim.
Your insurance policy almost certainly includes a Notice of Occurrence and Cooperation clause. The clause means you agree to promptly notify your insurance company when you’re in an accident, and you also agree to cooperate with your insurance company’s accident investigation.
The clause in your policy 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…”
Your policy is a contract, legally obligating you to report every accident even if the accident isn’t your fault or no one seems to be hurt.
You expect your insurance company to defend you after an accident, but you must do your part. By promptly notifying your insurer, and cooperating with their investigation, you give your insurance company the best opportunity to protect your interests.
Reporting the accident, even a minor parking lot accident, will help protect you later if the other driver decides to blame you for the crash, or starts complaining of injuries.
If anyone from the other care hires an attorney, in no time they’ll be in contact with your insurance company to demand money. Your insurer will be at a terrible disadvantage if you haven’t already reported the accident.
Failing to notify your insurance company can cause the company to raise your rates, decline to renew your policy, or even cancel your auto insurance policy.
There are free apps for Apple and Android devices designed to make your accident claim process faster and easier.
Depending on the app, you can:
- Gather driver information
- Collect car registration and insurance details
- Collect witness information
- Create diagrams of the accident scene
- Take photographs and video
- Pinpoint your location
- Notify your insurance company
Below are a few of the free accident reporting applications. Check with your insurance company to see if they offer a similar app.
Under South Dakota’s third-party liability law, accident victims can file damage claims against the at-fault driver’s insurance company. South Dakota is not a no-fault state, where each driver in an auto accident must rely on their own insurance to cover their damages.
A third-party liability claim is your claim against the other driver’s insurance for property damage or personal injuries, when the other driver is at fault, or “liable” for the accident.
Property damages include your vehicle repair costs, rental expenses while your car is being fixed, replacement costs for personal property lost in the crash, and your car’s value if it was a total loss.
Personal injury damages can include medical, chiropractic, and therapy bills; the cost of medications and medical devices; expenses for mental health services; and the value of your pain and suffering.
If you’re the victim of a South Dakota car accident, you have three options for recovering your losses from the negligent driver:
- File a claim with the negligent driver’s insurance company
- File a claim with your own insurance company (if the negligent driver is uninsured or underinsured)
- Sue the negligent driver
South Dakota requires drivers to provide proof of financial responsibility by posting a surety bond or carrying auto insurance with bodily injury liability coverage of no less than $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident, and $25,000 liability coverage for property damage.
South Dakota also requires auto policies issued in the state to provide uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage equal to the policy’s liability coverage, not to exceed $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident.
When it comes to car accidents, comparative negligence means you can seek compensation for your losses from the other driver, even when you are partially to blame for causing the collision.
While South Dakota is one of many states that follows a comparative negligence rule for settling injury claims, it’s the only state that does not clearly define the percentage of fault necessary before a claimant loses the right to compensation.
South Dakota law will allow you to recover damages from the other driver, even if you’re partially to blame for the collision, so long as your share of the blame is “slight” compared to the other driver.
If you are only slightly liable, you can still recover damages, but your compensation will be reduced in proportion to your percentage of blame. Unfortunately, South Dakota law does not define “slight.”
Comparative negligence won’t come into play if the other driver’s insurance company admits their insured was 100% liable for causing your accident. When the other driver is completely to blame, you are entitled to full compensation for your injuries.
The problems start when the other driver’s insurance company gets to decide if you are “slightly” liable for the crash and entitled to a reduced settlement amount, or if your share of blame is large enough for the insurance company to flatly deny your injury claim.
If you’ve been injured in a South Dakota car accident and have any concerns about the insurance company’s liability determination, consult a personal injury attorney right away.
Example of how South Dakota’s comparative negligence law can work:
Chad was driving west on Washington Street to pick up his girlfriend for dinner. He was texting to let her know he was on the way.
Marlene was late to work, heading northbound on Park Lane. As she approached the intersection of Park and Washington, Marlene hit the gas, trying to make it through a yellow traffic light. However, the light turned red as she entered the intersection. Marlene slammed into the side of Chad’s car, seriously injuring Chad.
Chad filed a claim with Marlene’s insurance company, demanding $100,000 for his medical costs and pain and suffering. The insurance company refused to pay, claiming that Chad’s negligence caused the crash since he was texting while driving.
Through his attorney, Chad filed a lawsuit against Marlene for his injury damages. Chad’s attorney argued that Chad’s part in causing the accident was slight, compared to Marlene’s gross negligence in causing the crash.
During trial, the jury saw evidence that Marlene caused the accident because she didn’t stop at the red light. However, the jury also saw evidence that Chad was texting at the time of the crash. Both Chad and Marlene were negligent. They both caused the accident.
The jury found Marlene to be 80% liable for the accident because she ran the red light. The jury found Chad to be 20% liable for texting while driving. Further, the jury determined that Chad’s part in causing the accident was slight compared to Marlene’s gross negligence for intentionally running a red light.
While the jury agreed that Chad’s injury claim was worth $100,000, under South Dakota’s comparative negligence rule, his compensation was reduced by 20%, corresponding to his portion of negligence, so Chad was awarded $80,000 for his damages.
If the jury had found Chad’s share of liability for the accident to be more than “slight,” he would not be eligible for any compensation from Marlene or her insurance company.
Some injury claims can be settled for an appropriate amount without an attorney. Other claims require an experienced personal injury attorney to get anywhere near the amount of money needed to compensate you for your injuries.
Before you decide to stand alone against the insurance company, think about the type of injuries you’ve suffered, and what it will take to get a proper settlement.
There are generally two types of injuries from car accidents:
Soft tissue injuries include strains and sprains, minor bruising and scrapes, whiplash, and other relatively minor injuries. Soft tissue injury claims are uncomplicated, calculated by adding up the cost of treatment and therapy bills, some lost wages, and a nominal amount for pain and suffering.
Hard Injuries are much more serious and can include head trauma, spinal cord injuries, severe burns, amputations, disfigurement, and other potentially disabling conditions. Hard injury claims often include the cost of extensive medical care and treatment, hospitalization, surgery, rehab, replacement services, and a tremendous amount of pain and suffering.
Hard injury claims require high-dollar compensation. Insurance companies are reluctant to part with that kind of money and train their adjusters to avoid big payouts to claimants like you.
When the adjuster makes their “final” offer, they know you probably won’t have the skill or energy to fight them. They’re banking on it. Insurance companies typically offer lower settlements to claimants without legal representation.
There’s just too much to lose by representing yourself.
High-dollar claims often require the threat of litigation and the skillful use of pre-trial tactics like expert testimony, interrogatories, subpoenas for financial records, depositions, and more.
You’ll need a capable personal injury attorney to convince the insurance company to pay the amount of compensation you deserve for your injuries.
Reputable personal injury attorneys typically offer a free initial consultation. You can meet with as many attorneys as you want before choosing the attorney who will fight for you.
Before the initial consultation, gather all your accident-related documents. Include copies of your medical records and bills, the police report, your notes about the accident, and records of any communications with the insurance company.
After reviewing your documents, the attorney will discuss the potential value of your claim, how long it might take to settle, and if a lawsuit will be necessary.
Most personal injury attorneys will represent accident victims on a contingency fee basis. That means your attorney’s fees will be subtracted from the amount of your settlement or court award.
Contingency fees range from 25% to 40% depending on the complexity of your case, and if the case goes to trial. If your attorney fails to settle your injury claim or loses your court case, you won’t owe any fees.
Small claims court is an informal court which allows accident victims in South Dakota to sue for small losses of money or property. The procedures are simple enough that claimants can handle their own claim, although either party may choose to be represented by an attorney.
Small claims cases are decided by a judge. The judge’s decision cannot be appealed to a higher court.
Filing a small claims lawsuit may be a good option for you when:
- The insurance company won’t offer a fair settlement
- The insurance company denies your claim
- The at-fault driver was uninsured
- An attorney won’t take your case on a contingency basis
In South Dakota small claims court, you may file car accident claims against the at-fault driver for amounts up to $12,000. You must sue the driver, not the driver’s insurance company.
To learn more, visit the South Dakota Unified Judicial System Small Claims Court website.
A statute of limitations is the legal time allowed for an injured party to either settle their insurance claim or file a lawsuit.
The statute of limitations for South Dakota car accident victims is three (3) years. The statute begins to run on your accident date.
If you miss the statute of limitations deadline, you will lose your legal right to pursue your claim with the negligent driver or the driver’s insurance company.
The insurance company and the claims adjuster aren’t obligated to settle your claim before time runs out. If negotiations are going slowly, it’s up to you to keep a sharp eye on the statute of limitations deadline.
Don’t risk forfeiting your claim. If you don’t have a signed settlement agreement in your hands, don’t wait until the statutory deadline to protect your claim. Remember, the insurance company doesn’t have the authority to give you an “extension” on the statute of limitations.
The adjuster isn’t your friend, no matter how sympathetic they sound. They know that if your claim isn’t settled and you haven’t sued their insured before the deadline, they win. They’ve saved the insurance company a pile of money, and you’ll never see a dime of compensation for your injuries, pain and suffering.
Don’t be afraid of filing a lawsuit against the at-fault driver. Not only will a lawsuit stop the statute from running, but it will also put the insurance company on notice that they’ll have to pay an appropriate amount to resolve your injury claim. Once you’ve hired an experienced personal injury attorney, the insurance company knows what they’re up against.
Your attorney will continue settlement discussions after suit is filed. Skilled attorneys are often able to negotiate excellent settlements before the case ever goes to trial.
Be vigilant about the statute of limitations deadline for your accident. Schedule alerts on your phone, mark the date on your calendar, or whatever it takes to remind you. Don’t wait to act on protecting your claim.
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