What do I do if I’ve been in a car accident?

If you’re driving where we’re driving, then you probably have some concerns about getting into a car accident. The roads seem to be getting more dangerous than ever! In 2020 alone, over five million car collisions occurred in the U.S., over a million of which resulted in injuries. To stay safe on the roads, make sure you buckle your seatbelt, use appropriate turning and braking signals, stay alert, and keep your car’s mechanics in working condition. It’s always better to prevent an accident when you can, but this isn’t always possible.

What do I do if I’ve been in a car accident?Getting into a car accident is an incredibly upsetting event, especially when you experience damage to your person or property. In the worst case scenario, loss of life can occur. Following a motor collision, there’s a plethora of medical, legal, financial, and personal matters that have to be attended to. In the chaos of the moment, though, it’s difficult to figure out everything you need to do to resolve the incident. Our personal injury team here at Best & Brock has experience dealing with a wide array of motor vehicle accidents, so we understand how disorienting this process can be. Stay tuned as we break down what to do if you get into a car accident.

Safety First

The first step of dealing with any accident is to check on the well-being of yourself and your passengers. If yourself or anyone else is injured, immediately contact emergency medical services via 911, or ask a bystander to call for help if you’re unable to move. If someone is bleeding severely as a result of the accident, you can take a simple yet life-saving measure by applying direct pressure to the wounded area to slow or stop the bleeding. Oftentimes, you’ll have to remain in your car after an accident due to injuries or because it is unsafe to exit the vehicle and step out onto the roadway. However, if you’re able to, you can pull your car to the side of the road to prevent another car from colliding with it. Turn off your car’s engine and/or activate your hazard lights. If you’re unable to move your vehicle, but you can safely exit, please move yourself to safety on the sidewalk or on the side of the road.

Call Law Enforcement

Once you’ve secured the safety of yourself and other persons involved in the accident, you can move on to settling legal and property-related concerns.

The first question you might have after a car accident is, “Do I have to call the police?” The short answer is yes. TN Code §55-10-106 requires the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury, death, or property damage of $50.00 or more to immediately give notice of the accident to the local police. Whether the accident occurred on a highway, in a parking lot, or any other public space, drivers are legally obligated to report the accident. In the case that a driver strikes an unattended vehicle or other property, they are furthermore required to make contact with the owner of said property before leaving the scene. This contact can be made in person, or by leaving a note including the name of the driver and vehicle owner and their insurance information. If bodily injury, death, or property damage in excess of $1500 is sustained during an accident, the report will be forwarded to the department of safety. Usually, as long as the driver complies with TN Code §55-10-106, the police department can complete this step without any further action required on the driver’s part. Otherwise, reports to the department of safety are often fulfilled as drivers go through the insurance process.

However, just because you report your accident to the police, that doesn’t mean that officers will respond to the scene of the crash. When you call 911 or the non-emergency line of your local police department, operators will determine if the crash is severe enough to send an officer and any other first responders, such as EMS and the fire department. You’re probably wondering why you should report a crash to local law enforcement if they’re not going to respond to the scene. For starters, there are legal penalties associated with not reporting a crash. According to TN Code §55-10-111, if someone fails to report an accident, that person’s license or permit to drive can be suspended until the report has been filed, and for up to 30 days afterwards. You may even be charged with a hit-and-run under TN Code §55-10-102 if you leave the scene of an accident without first exchanging information and rendering necessary aid to other parties involved in the accident. Aside from reporting a crash being required by the state of Tennessee, reporting your accident also begins the process of documenting the accident for insurance purposes. If the police don’t respond to the scene of the accident, you can still go to the nearest police station and fill out an accident report yourself. Insurers often ask for a copy of the police/accident report to begin the claims process, therefore it is vital that you are thorough about documenting the accident.

Contact Your Insurance Company

In order to begin the claims process with your insurance company, you must exchange contact and insurance information with the other driver involved in the accident. Be sure to write down the full name, contact information, insurance company and policy number, driver’s license and license plate number, and vehicle make and model of the other party. Also ensure that you share your own information with the other driver. Also write down information about the location of the accident and any injuries or property damage sustained, which can be further corroborated by pictures and videos taken on your cell phone. Although you must work with the other party involved to resolve an accident, avoid discussing fault during this process. Admitting fault at the scene of the accident can jeopardize your right to recover damages, so be mindful of what you say following the crash. Focus on documenting the facts of the accident.

Insurance adjusters will assess this information when reviewing your insurance claim to determine who is at fault. In the process of documenting the accident, be sure to identify any officers who respond to the scene and any witnesses who can describe what happened. Allstate has produced this handy accident information form that you can print out and keep in your car in case of an accident — this will help you remember all the relevant information you need to obtain after a collision. You can also request that the police officer(s) or the police department share a copy of the accident report with you for submission to your insurance company (“Any report of a motor vehicle accident investigated by the department… is open to public inspection as a public record under the public records laws,” TCA §55-10-108). You should contact your insurance provider as soon as possible to report your claim. Many people choose to call their insurance provider at the scene of the crash, or to report their claim on their insurer’s mobile app if possible. It’s useful to contact insurance agents at the scene of the crash, because they can guide you in collecting information they will need to process your claim.

Filing a Lawsuit

If you or your passenger(s) were injured or killed, or if your property was damaged as a result of a vehicular collision, you may choose to file a lawsuit against the person who allegedly caused the accident. Varying statutes of limitation set time constraints on your right to bring lawsuits to court. Under TCA §28-3-104, you must file a lawsuit within one year of the accident to hold the driver who caused a car accident responsible for any injuries sustained in the accident. The statute of limitations is the same for lawsuits regarding deaths caused by car accidents, however the effective time begins on the day of the victim’s death rather than on the day of the accident. The window in which you can hold the driver accountable for property damage is a little bit longer: TCA §28-3-105 provides a three-year statute of limitations for lawsuits regarding property damage sustained during an accident. You may trust your insurance company to settle all your claims, but be aware of these statutes of limitations so that you won’t run out of time to file a lawsuit if necessary. Car insurance is a multi-billion dollar industry whose profits increase when they pay out less on claims. Insurance companies have years of experience in minimizing their payouts, so oftentimes your only hope of getting appropriate compensation for your injuries and losses is a personal injury attorney.

Zack England with Best and Brock is an experienced personal injury attorney with the drive to go head-to-head with insurance and corporate defense attorneys for you. If you or a loved one has been involved in a car accident, please contact us as soon as possible at (423) 829-1043 to discuss your options.