Today we have cars that are safer and more efficient than ever, but despite advances in automotive technology, the number of car accidents is rising, with more than 2.3 million crash injuries reported annually throughout the U.S.¹
Most households have at least two cars, and we’re always on the go. Car accidents have become a fact of life, so it’s not surprising that the average American driver can expect to be in three or four accidents during their lifetime.²
Vermont is no exception to the trend, averaging more than 4,000 vehicle crashes each month.³
Car accidents happen without warning. One minute you’re minding your own business headed to work on the same route you’ve traveled for years. Then suddenly your car is in a ditch, and you’re stunned by the impact of a collision.
It takes time and money to recover from painful injuries, property damage, lost wages and other losses. Your financial recovery depends upon a successful auto insurance claim.
You can’t always avoid a car accident, but you can build a strong insurance claim if you know what to say and do, and what not to say and do after a collision. This guide can help.
What You Need to Know if You’ve Been in a Vermont Car Accident
Here are 11 steps toward building a strong and successful auto insurance claim. We’ve also answered the questions most frequently asked after a car accident in Vermont.
Drivers involved in a car accident on Vermont roadways are required to stop immediately and render “reasonable assistance” to anyone injured. Calling 911 to report the accident and summon emergency responders will satisfy the reasonable assistance requirement.
Drivers must disclose their name, license number, and vehicle owner information to anyone involved in the crash, as well as to the investigating police officer.
Tell the 911 dispatcher the nature of your emergency, and the following important information:
Location: Emergency services can get to you faster if they know where to find you, so tell the dispatcher the road you’re on, which direction you were heading, the nearest intersecting street names or mile markers, and describe any nearby landmarks.
Injuries: Tell the dispatcher if anyone is injured, sick, or asking for medical help.
Hazards: Accidents scenes can be chaotic, with noise and activity around the wreck. Tell the dispatcher if anyone is trapped in their car, if there are overturned vehicles, or if there are hazards in the area like leaking fuel or downed power lines.
Drivers in a car accident resulting in property damage or injuries are required to provide proof of insurance, policy numbers, and insurance company contact information to the other driver and anyone else involved in the crash.
Your injuries from a car accident may be immediately obvious, like broken bones or bleeding wounds. But injuries from car accidents aren’t always easy to see, even potentially life-threatening injuries like head trauma or internal bleeding. Some injury symptoms may not appear until hours or even days after the crash.
Never refuse medical treatment at the scene. Tell emergency responders about any symptoms you’re feeling, no matter how mild. If paramedics want to transport you to the hospital, go with them.
If you’re not taken directly to the hospital from the accident scene, make sure you’re evaluated by a medical provider as soon as possible after the accident. If your personal provider isn’t available, go to the nearest urgent care center or hospital emergency department.
Refusing or delaying medical treatment after an accident is a serious mistake that can undermine your insurance claim. The insurance company won’t hesitate to challenge your claim by arguing that your injuries weren’t caused by the accident.
Police are usually dispatched to accidents where there are injuries or fatalities, traffic problems, or reported hazards.
In busy jurisdictions, an officer may not be available to respond to minor non-injury accidents like fender-benders.
Police officers are highly trained in accident management. The investigating officer has a job to do, including:
- Secure the accident scene
- Coordinate care and transport of the injured
- Gather evidence and determine liability
- Conduct sobriety tests
- Issue traffic citations
You can try telling your side of the story, but the officer on the scene doesn’t have to stop and listen. When the officer tells you to wait, asks for your identification, or gives you any other instructions, you should cooperate.
If the police officer decides you violated Vermont traffic laws, you may be issued one or more traffic citations. While you can try to talk your way out of the citation, once it’s issued you must accept it.
Accepting a traffic citation is not an admission of guilt. Traffic court is the place to dispute a traffic ticket, not at the accident scene.
Everything happens fast after a car accident. Cars are towed, then drivers and witnesses leave and could be taking key evidence with them. Use the short window of time after an accident to start gathering the evidence you’ll need to support your insurance claim.
Start by collecting basic information from the other driver:
- Name and address
- Vehicle registration information
- Driver’s license information
- Insurance information
Passengers: Ask for passengers’ names, addresses, birth dates, and contact information. Passengers from the other car are not required to talk to you, but you can make detailed notes for yourself about how many passengers were in the other car, approximate ages, what they looked like, how they were acting, and what you heard them say.
Vehicles: Look for the make, model, year, license plate number, expiration date, and vehicle identification number (VIN) for each vehicle in the accident. The VIN can usually be found on the left corner of the dashboard near the windshield, or inside the door jamb of the driver’s side door. The VIN may also be found on the driver’s insurance card. Never go into another vehicle without permission.
Diagrams: Make a drawing showing the position of the cars before and after the crash, and the direction they were headed. Show road conditions like potholes, ice, wet leaves, or construction zones. Add notes about the weather, angle of the sun, temperature changes, and anything else that contributed to the accident.
Using your phone, camera or any other available device to take pictures and videos after an accident is extremely helpful to your claim. Walk around the scene, taking as many pictures and videos as you can from different angles.
Photos and video footage can expose important details about the vehicles and crash site. Pictures or sound-enabled videos can reveal how the drivers and passengers were acting, admissions of guilt, indications of drugs or alcohol, and other important factors that can have a profound influence on the value of your insurance claim.
Photographs and videos can be compelling evidence that makes it difficult for those involved to change their story after the accident.
Witnesses don’t have to talk to you, but you can try to speak with any potential witness long enough to find out if they saw anything helpful to your claim. If you find a good witness, get their name and contact information, and ask if they’ll write down what they saw. Have the witness sign and date their written statement.
Be prepared with our free Car Accident Information Form. Keep some copies in your car, along with a pen, right next to your insurance and registration cards. You’ll always be ready to collect the evidence you’ll need for a successful insurance claim.
Your auto insurance policy is a legal contract between you and the insurance company. You want your insurance company to protect you when you’re in an accident, but you have to hold up your end of the contract.
Your part of the arrangement includes prompt notification to your insurance company any time you’re in an accident.
If you read the long version of your car insurance policy, you’re sure to find a Notice of Occurrence and Cooperation clause. The clause means you agree to tell your insurance company when you’re in an accident, and you agree to cooperate with your insurance company’s accident investigation. 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…”
You are required to tell your insurance company about every accident, even if the accident wasn’t your fault, or no one seems to be hurt.
By promptly reporting the accident, you give your insurance company the best chance to protect your interests. If someone from the other car decides to hire a lawyer or begins to complain of injuries days after the collision, you can bet they’ll be contacting your insurance company asking for money. Your insurer would be in a terrible position if you hadn’t already notified them about the accident.
Failure to notify your insurance company is a violation of your policy agreement that could lead the company to raise your premiums, decline to renew your policy, or even cancel your insurance policy.
There are free mobile device applications that will make starting a car accident claim faster and easier. Depending on the app, you can:
- Gather information from the other driver and passengers
- Collect car registration and insurance information
- Pinpoint the location of the crash
- Gather witness information
- Create diagrams of the accident scene
- Take photographs and videos
- Notify your insurance company
Here’s a short selection of free accident reporting apps. Your insurance company may offer a similar application.
Drivers involved in a motor vehicle accident that resulted in any kind of injury, no matter how minor, or property damage totaling $3,000 or more, must complete and submit an Operator’s Report of Motor Vehicle Crash Form.
The accident report must be completed and mailed to the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles within 72 hours after the accident.
For more information, and to obtain the Operator’s Report of Motor Vehicle Crash Form and instructions, visit the Vermont DMV Official State Website.
Drivers in Vermont are required to post a bond or carry an automobile liability policy with coverage limits of no less than $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident for bodily injury liability coverage, as well as $10,000 in property damage liability coverage.
Insurance policies issued in Vermont must provide uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage of no less than $10,000 per accident for property damage, and bodily injury coverage of no less than $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident.
If the bodily injury liability limits for the policy are higher than $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident, then the uninsured/underinsured coverage must be equal to the liability limits.
Vermont is not a no-fault insurance state, where drivers must rely on their own insurance to pay for their injuries. When you’re hurt in a Vermont car accident, you can pursue the at-fault driver or the driver’s insurance company to seek compensation for your injuries, pain and suffering.
In Vermont, you have three options for seeking compensation after a car accident caused by a 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)
- File a lawsuit against the negligent driver
Vermont follows the Modified Comparative Negligence rule, meaning that you can seek compensation from the other driver or the other driver’s insurance company even if you’re partially to blame for the accident, so long as you are not more to blame than the other driver for causing the collision.
How much settlement money you’ll be eligible for after an accident in Vermont not only depends on the value of your claim but how much fault you share with the other driver.
When you’re partially to blame for the accident, you may be entitled to compensation, but the amount will be reduced. If you are the driver most liable for the crash, you won’t be eligible for any compensation from the other driver or their insurance company.
The other driver’s insurance company will decide how much you’re to blame and make their settlement decision accordingly. Their decision determines if you get a smaller settlement or nothing at all. If you disagree with the insurance company’s decision, you may need an attorney to get the compensation you deserve.
Example of comparative negligence rules affecting a claim settlement:
Harold was driving west on Maple Drive to pick up his girlfriend for dinner. He was texting to let her know he was on the way.
Lucy was late to work, heading northbound on Cedar Lane. As she approached the intersection of Cedar and Maple, Lucy hit the gas, trying to make it through a yellow traffic light. Unfortunately, the light turned red as she entered the intersection. Lucy T-boned Harold’s car, seriously injuring Harold.
Harold filed a claim with Lucy’s insurance company, demanding $100,000 for his medical costs and pain and suffering. The insurance company refused to pay, claiming that Harold’s negligence caused the crash since he was texting while driving.
Through his attorney, Harold filed a lawsuit against Lucy for his injury damages. During trial, the jury saw evidence that Lucy caused the accident because she didn’t stop at the red light. However, the jury also saw evidence that Harold was texting at the time of the crash. Both Harold and Lucy were negligent. They both caused the accident.
The jury found Lucy to be 60% liable for the accident because she ran the red light and found Harold to be 40% liable because he was texting while driving.
While the jury agreed that Harold’s injury claim was worth $100,000, under Vermont’s comparative negligence rule, his compensation was reduced by 40%, corresponding to his portion of negligence, so Harold was awarded $60,000 for his damages.
If the jury had found Harold’s share of liability for the accident to be 51% or more, he would not be eligible for any compensation from Lucy or her insurance company.
Some insurance claims can be settled for a reasonable amount without legal help. Other injury claims require an experienced personal injury attorney to get anywhere near the amount of money you’ll need to cover your losses.
Before you decide to deal with the insurance company on your own, consider the kind of injuries you’ve suffered and what it will take to get the appropriate compensation.
“Soft tissue” injuries can be scrapes and bruises, sprains, whiplash, and similarly minor injuries. Soft tissue injury claims are straightforward, calculated by adding up the cost of your treatment and therapy bills, some lost wages, and a nominal amount for pain and suffering. Soft tissue claims can often be successfully resolved without an attorney.
“Hard” injuries are more serious and include potentially life-threatening or disabling injuries like brain trauma, spinal cord injuries, open fractures, and extensive burns. Hard injuries are difficult and expensive to treat, with large bills that can include the cost of transport to trauma centers, hospitalization, surgeries, rehab, replacement services, mental health services, and a significant amount of pain and suffering.
Getting the insurance company to pay fairly for hard injury claims often takes the expert use of legal tactics like accident reconstruction, medical expert testimony, records subpoenas, depositions of hostile witnesses, and more.
Hard injuries are complicated, high-dollar claims. Insurance companies will do whatever it takes to avoid paying out that kind of money. Don’t believe for a minute that the adjuster is there to help you. When the adjuster makes the company’s “final” offer, you probably won’t have the energy or skills to fight them. They’re banking on that. Insurance companies routinely offer lower settlements to claimants without an attorney.
There’s too much to lose by representing yourself in a hard injury claim.
An experienced personal injury attorney has the tools, knowledge, and legal savvy to compel the insurance company to pay the full amount of compensation you deserve for your injuries and pain and suffering.
There’s no risk in speaking with a personal injury attorney. Most reputable attorneys offer a free initial consultation to accident victims like you.
Before your first meeting with an attorney, get together all your accident-related paperwork, including the police report, your medical records and bills, your notes, photos, and records of any communication you’ve had with the insurance company.
After hearing your side of the story and reviewing your paperwork, the attorney will discuss your claim’s value, how long it might take to settle your claim, and if you should file a lawsuit.
Personal injury attorneys usually represent accident victims on a contingency fee basis, meaning your attorney’s fees will be paid out of your insurance settlement or court award.
Contingency fees can range from 25% up to around 40% of your settlement amount or court verdict. If your attorney can’t settle your claim or loses your case in court, you won’t owe any fees.
A small claims lawsuit may be your best option when:
- The at-fault driver’s insurance company denies your claim
- The at-fault driver’s insurance company offers a low-ball settlement
- The at-fault driver was uninsured or underinsured
- An attorney won’t accept your case on a contingency fee basis
Vermont small claims courts hear cases seeking amounts up to $5,000. There are no jury trials in small claims court. Each case will be decided by a judge.
For small claims forms and filing instructions, visit the Vermont Judiciary Small Claims Courts website.
A statute of limitations is the legal deadline to either settle a damages claim or file a lawsuit.
Vermont’s statute of limitations for claims related to personal injuries and property damage from a car accident is three (3) years. The statute begins to run on the accident date.
If you miss the statute of limitations deadline, you lose your right to pursue your claim with the at-fault driver or the driver’s insurance company.
The insurance company won’t help you settle your claim before the three-year statute of limitations expires. Their adjuster has no obligation to remind you when the deadline is approaching and has no legal authority to grant you an extension of time.
You can’t trust a “sympathetic” adjuster who says you won’t need an attorney. The insurance company knows that if you haven’t settled your insurance claim or filed a lawsuit against their insured before the deadline, they’ve won. You’ll never see a dime from the insurance company or the at-fault driver, no matter how badly you’ve been injured.
There’s no good reason to wait until the deadline is looming to protect your claim. Filing a lawsuit against the negligent driver will not only stop the statute of limitations from running, but it will also put the insurance company on notice that it’s time for them bring some real money to the table.
Your attorney will continue negotiations with the insurance company after the lawsuit is filed. Personal injury attorneys can often negotiate excellent settlements before the case ever gets in front of a judge.
Act now to get the compensation you deserve for your injuries, pain and suffering.
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