Despite great strides in automotive safety and efficiency, the number of car accidents is rising with more than 2.3 million crash injuries reported annually throughout the U.S.¹
From big cities to small towns, American highways are busier than ever. Most households have at least two vehicles on the road every day. With the increased traffic, it’s no surprise the average driver can expect to be in three or four accidents during their lifetime.²
The State of Wyoming has its fair share of car accidents, with over 3,700 drivers involved in injury-causing crashes in the last reported year.³
Accidents happen suddenly when we least expect it. One minute you’re traveling a familiar route to work, and the next minute you’re on the roadside, reeling from the impact of a collision.
Recovering from personal injuries, property damage, and related losses after a car accident can be challenging and expensive. Your financial recovery depends on the success of your auto insurance claim.
What You Need to Know if You’ve Been in a Wyoming Car Accident
You can’t avoid every accident, but you can be prepared to protect yourself financially with these 10 steps toward building a strong and successful auto insurance claim. We’ve also answered the questions most frequently asked after a car accident in Wyoming.
Wyoming laws require drivers involved in an accident to immediately stop at the accident scene. Check to see if anyone is injured, then call 911.
Drivers involved in a Wyoming car accident resulting in injuries, death, or property damage of $1,000 or more are obligated to notify police by the quickest means of communication available.
The 911 dispatcher will want to know the nature of your emergency, your location, if anyone is injured, and if there are hazards near the accident scene.
Location: Police and rescue can get to you faster if they know where to find you. Give the dispatcher detailed information about the road you’re on, the direction you were heading, the nearest intersecting roads or mile markers, and about nearby landmarks.
Injuries: Tell the 911 dispatcher if anyone is sick or injured, if anyone may have been killed, and if anyone is trapped in a wrecked car.
Hazards: Describe any dangers like cars overturned or on fire, power lines down, or leaking fuel. You should also tell the dispatcher if there are traffic problems around the accident scene.
Drivers in Wyoming are required to provide “reasonable assistance” to the injured after an accident. Reasonable assistance means doing whatever you can to help anyone who is hurt, and arranging for the injured to be transported for medical treatment. This obligation is typically fulfilled by calling 911 to request emergency rescue services.
Drivers are also required by law to provide their name, address, and car registration to others involved in the crash and the investigating police officer. Drivers must also show their driver’s license if requested.
Your injuries may be painfully obvious, like broken bones or open wounds. But not all injuries from car accidents are easy to see, even serious or potentially life-threatening injuries like head trauma or internal bleeding. Sometimes, clear symptoms may not appear until hours or even days after the crash.
Never refuse medical treatment at the scene. Shock and distress can mask injury symptoms. Don’t try to rationalize what you’re feeling. Tell emergency responders about every symptom you’re experiencing, no matter how mild. If paramedics want to transport you to the hospital, let them take you.
If you’re not taken directly to the hospital from the accident scene, have a medical evaluation as soon as possible after the accident. If your primary medical 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 will jump at the chance to assert that your injuries were not caused by the collision.
If you’ve hit a parked and unattended vehicle or any other property, stop immediately. Try to find the owner of the car or property and provide your name, address and the registration number of the car you were driving. If you can’t find the owner, leave a note with your name, address, and your car registration information.
Police are usually dispatched to accidents where there are injuries, fatalities, traffic problems, or there are reported dangers at the scene.
In busy jurisdictions, an officer may not be available to respond to minor non-injury accidents.
Police officers are trained in accident management and investigation. At the scene, the investigating officer is authorized to:
- Secure the accident location
- Coordinate care and transport of the injured
- Gather evidence and determine fault
- Conduct sobriety tests
- Issue citations
It’s okay to offer your side of the story to police, but the investigating officer doesn’t have to listen. If the officer tells you to wait or gives you any other instructions, you should cooperate. Continuing to argue or challenging a police officer not only interferes with the investigation, but it can also lead to your arrest.
During the accident investigation the officer may decide you violated Wyoming traffic laws. If so, you may be issued traffic citations. While you can try to talk the officer out of giving you a ticket, once the citation is issued you should accept it and sign for it if necessary.
Accepting a traffic citation is not an admission of guilt. If you want to argue the merits of the citation do it in traffic court, not at the accident scene.
Visit the Wyoming Highway Patrol website to Request a Crash Report electronically or by mail.
The evidence you gather from an accident scene will strengthen your insurance claim, especially when the accident was caused by a negligent driver. To prove your claim, you’ll need to show the other driver did something wrong or failed to act responsibly.
Accident scenes don’t last long. Cars are quickly moved or towed. When drivers, passengers, and witnesses leave, they may be taking important evidence with them. Take advantage of the time right after an accident to begin collecting critical evidence before it’s gone.
Start by asking the other driver for:
- Name and address
- Vehicle registration information
- Driver’s license information
- Insurance information
Passengers: Ask for passengers’ names, addresses, birth dates, and phone numbers. Passengers from the other car aren’t required to give you any information, but they can’t stop you from making detailed notes for yourself about how many occupants were in the other car, their ages, what they looked like, how you saw them behaving, 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. If you have permission to enter the other car, 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.
Diagrams: Make a sketch of the accident scene showing the position of the cars before and after the crash, and the direction they were heading. Indicate road conditions like ice, potholes, or construction areas. Add notes describing factors like traffic conditions, weather conditions, visibility, and anything else that may have contributed to the accident.
Photographs and videos taken at the scene will be incredibly helpful to your claim. Use your phone, tablet, or any other device at your disposal to take as many pictures and videos as you can from different angles around the accident location.
Photographs and video footage can capture important details of the vehicles and crash site. Sometimes, your pictures or sound-enabled videos will reveal how the other driver and passengers were acting, admissions of fault, signs of drug abuse or alcohol intoxication, or other relevant factors that will have a huge bearing on your insurance claim.
Photographs and videos can be convincing evidence that makes it harder for those involved to change their story after the accident.
Witnesses aren’t required 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 helpful witness, get their name and contact information, and ask if they’ll write down what they saw. Have the witness sign and date any written statement.
Be prepared with our 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 auto insurance policy is a legal contract between you and the insurance company. Your insurance company is supposed to defend you when you’re in an accident, but you have obligations too.
Your contractual obligations include telling your insurance company when you’ve been in an accident.
Look over the long version of your auto insurance policy, and you’re almost 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’re obligated to notify your insurance company of every accident, even if the accident wasn’t your fault or the other driver tries to convince you not to involve the police or insurance companies.
By promptly reporting the accident, you give your insurance company the best chance to defend you. If someone from the other car decides to hire a lawyer or suddenly starts to complain of injuries days after the collision, it won’t be long before they’ll be contacting your insurance company to ask for money. Your insurance company would be at a terrible disadvantage if you hadn’t already notified them of the crash.
Failure to notify your insurance company is a violation of your agreement that could lead the company to raise your premiums, decline to renew your policy, or even cancel your insurance policy.
Today there are plenty of Apple and Android apps that 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 are a few free accident reporting apps. Your insurance company may offer a similar application.
Wyoming is not a no-fault insurance state, where each driver in a crash must rely on their own insurance to cover bodily injuries. Under Wyoming third-party liability laws, car accident victims can file injury claims against the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
There are two general categories of accident damages:
Property damages include the cost to repair your car, a rental while your car is being fixed, the value of personal property lost in the crash, and the value of your vehicle if it’s a total loss.
Personal injury damages include the costs of medical diagnosis, treatment, and therapy; medications; medical devices; the cost of transportation to medical appointments; hospital bills; mental health services; pain and suffering; and more.
If you’ve been in a car accident and sustained property damage or personal injuries caused by the other driver’s negligence, you have the following options:
- File a claim with the negligent driver’s insurance company
- File a claim with your insurance company if the negligent driver is uninsured or underinsured
- File a lawsuit against the negligent driver
Wyoming drivers must carry an insurance policy with these minimum coverages:
Liability: Bodily injury liability coverage of no less than $25,000 per person, and $50,000 per accident, as well as property damage liability of $20,000 per accident. Liability coverage is used for claims brought against you by others when an accident was your fault.
Uninsured Motorist: Insurance policies in Wyoming are required to provide uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage of no less than $25,000 per person, and $50,000 per accident, unless the policyholder has rejected the coverage in writing.
Uninsured motorist coverage pays for you and your passengers if you are injured by a hit-and-run, or an at-fault driver who doesn’t have insurance.
Wyoming follows a Modified Comparative Negligence rule, meaning you can pursue 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 a Wyoming car accident not only depends on the value of your claim but on 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’re the driver with the largest portion of blame 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 determine how much you’re to blame and make their settlement decision accordingly. In other words, the insurance company decides if you get a reduced settlement or nothing at all. If you disagree with the insurance company’s decision, you will need an attorney to get the compensation you deserve.
Example of comparative negligence rules affecting an injury claim settlement:
Rafe was driving west on Lasso Drive to pick up his girlfriend for dinner. He was texting to let her know he was on the way.
Sally was late to work, heading northbound on Pinto Lane. As she approached the intersection of Pinto and Lasso, Sally hit the gas, trying to make it through a yellow traffic light. Unfortunately, the light turned red as she entered the intersection. Sally T-boned Rafe’s car, seriously injuring Rafe.
Rafe filed a claim with Sally’s insurance company, demanding $100,000 for his medical costs and pain and suffering. The insurance company refused to pay, claiming that Rafe ’s negligence caused the crash since he was texting while driving.
Through his attorney, Rafe filed a lawsuit against Sally for his injuries. During trial, the jury saw evidence that Sally caused the accident because she didn’t stop at the red light. However, the jury also saw evidence that Rafe was texting at the time of the crash. Both Rafe and Sally were negligent. They both caused the accident.
The jury found Sally to be 60% liable for the accident because she ran the red light and found Rafe to be 40% liable for texting while driving.
While the jury agreed that Rafe’s injury claim was worth $100,000, under Wyoming’s comparative negligence rule, his compensation was reduced by 40%, corresponding to his portion of negligence, so Rafe was awarded $60,000 for his damages.
If the jury had found Rafe’s share of liability for the accident to be 51% or more, he would not be eligible for any compensation from Sally or her insurance company.
Some insurance claims can be settled by the claimant for a reasonable amount of money. Other claims require an experienced personal injury attorney to get anywhere near a settlement amount that will adequately compensate you for your injuries.
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 negotiate an appropriate settlement.
“Soft tissue” injuries can be scratches and bruises, sprains, whiplash, and similarly minor injuries. Soft tissue claims tend to be straightforward, calculated by adding up of the cost of your treatment and therapy bills, your lost wages, and a minimal amount for pain and suffering. Soft tissue claims can often be successfully resolved without an attorney.
“Hard” injuries are much more serious and include potentially permanent or disabling injuries like brain trauma, spinal cord injuries, multiple fractures, and disfigurement. Hard injuries are difficult and expensive to treat, with large bills that can include high-tech diagnostics, hospitalization, surgeries, rehab, replacement services, mental health services, and a tremendous amount of pain and suffering.
Getting the insurance company to pay what hard injury claims are worth will take the professional use of legal tactics like records subpoenas, medical expert testimony, depositions of hostile witnesses, actuarial analysis, and more.
Hard injuries are complicated, high-dollar claims. Insurance companies will do whatever it takes to avoid paying out that kind of money. When the insurance 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, skills, and legal insight to compel the insurance company to pay the compensation you deserve for your injuries and pain and suffering.
You won’t need any money to find out what an attorney can do for you. Reputable personal injury attorneys usually offer a free initial consultation to accident victims.
Before your first meeting with an attorney, gather 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 listening to your concerns and reviewing your paperwork, the attorney will discuss your claim’s value, how long it might take to settle your claim, and if a lawsuit will be necessary.
Personal injury attorneys typically 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 award. If your attorney can’t settle your claim or loses your case in court, you won’t owe any fees.
Small claims cases valued at $6,000 or less are heard in Wyoming District Courts. 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 take your case on a contingency fee basis
Your small claims court lawsuit must be filed against the driver who caused your damages, not the driver’s insurance company.
For more information, visit the Wyoming Judicial Branch website for Rules and Forms Governing Small Claims Cases.
A statute of limitations is the legal deadline to either settle a damage claim or file a lawsuit.
Wyoming’s statute of limitations is four (4) years for personal injury and property damage claims from a car accident. The statute begins to run on the accident date.
That means you have four years from the crash date to either settle your insurance claim, or file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver. 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 has no obligation or incentive to help you settle your claim before the four-year statute of limitations expires.
Don’t be fooled by a “friendly” 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 seriously you’ve been injured.
There’s no good reason to wait until the deadline is looming and the evidence is cold before protecting your injury claim. It won’t cost you anything to discuss your claim with an attorney.
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 to 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 an excellent settlement before the case ever gets in front of a judge. Act now to get the compensation you deserve for your serious injuries, pain and suffering.
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