Car Accidents FAQs

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

If you're in an accident involving injuries, your first concern should be health and safety. When possible, you should move your vehicle out of any lanes of traffic. Once you are out of harm's way, you should call 911 and ask a police officer to respond to the scene. A police report noting the names of the drivers, their passengers, and any other witnesses, as well as a diagram of the accident scene, can be a helpful piece of evidence in the course of an insurance claim or lawsuit. You should also exchange insurance information with the other driver and take photographs of the property damage and injuries.

After an accident that causes you injuries, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. In some cases, there may be invisible injuries, such as internal bleeding or traumatic brain injury that are hard to discern from the outside. Moreover, in some cases, immediate medical attention can reduce the severity or length of the injury. Most states require a plaintiff to "mitigate" damages. Among other things, this means that a plaintiff has taken all reasonable steps to reduce his or her damages.

Read more about car accidents.

Do different rules apply to elderly drivers?

Although seniors drive less than other age groups, they accumulate more accidents per mile than younger drivers. As a result, over 30 states and the District of Columbia have enacted rules that apply specifically to aging drivers. These requirements generally pertain to things like vision testing, road testing, and the frequency of license renewal deadlines. The age at which these rules kick in varies by state, but at least two impose these rules on drivers starting at age 40. No state will revoke a license based solely on age.

Read more about elderly related car accidents.

What are my options if I’ve been hurt by a hit and run driver?

Fleeing the scene of an accident is a crime, and in most states, a felony hit and run occurs after someone injures another person in his or her vehicle and flees. If you've been injured by a hit and run driver, you should preserve all evidence of the accident and cooperate with the police investigating the accident. You probably should note the physical details of the car and driver that hit you.

You can wait for a short while to see if the police catch the hit and run driver. If they do, the driver will likely face prosecution, and a conviction can be helpful for your civil suit for damages. However, in many cases, hit and run drivers are never caught, and even if they are caught they may have fled because they are uninsured or underinsured.

If the other driver is uninsured or underinsured, you may be able to make an uninsured motorist claim against your own insurance policy. In some states, insurers must provide uninsured motorist coverage unless a motorist has elected in writing not to keep this coverage. The uninsured motorist coverage stands in for the uninsured driver, and the coverage pays those damages that would have been paid by the at-fault driver had he or she been adequately insured. In some cases, an insurer fails to honor its obligations under the uninsured motorist provision. If that happens, you can sue for bad faith and possibly recover punitive damages.

Read more about hit and run accidents.

Who is responsible for an accident caused by a pothole or other road hazard?

Road hazards include potholes, debris, rough edges, uneven expansion joints, animals, standing water, snow, ice, or objects that have fallen from a truck. If the road hazard is natural, like wild animals or bad weather, nobody may be to blame for it. However, where a particular, identifiable entity is to blame for a road hazard, it may be possible to sue that entity to recover compensation after the road hazard causes an accident.

For example, potholes are usually created due to high heat and pressure caused by fast motorists in heavy cars or trucks. Potholes can be worsened by rain, snow, and big rigs. A state, county, or town is responsible to repair potholes on a public road that could cause accidents to those traveling on the road. Failing to maintain and repair the road can result in serious accidents, causing a driver to swerve unexpectedly or causing a tire to blow out. An unexpected and quick maneuver can result in a serious collision.

If you suffer injuries in an accident due to a pothole, you may be able to sue the governmental entity responsible for maintaining the road. In general, suing a governmental entity in any state means you will need to follow strict notice requirements. Often, notice of a claim must be given to the governmental entity within 90 days of the accident, which is a far shorter time frame than what is necessary to file suit against a private party in civil court.

Read more about road hazards.

Who is responsible if my teen injures someone while driving?

A leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States is car accidents. Teens aged 16-19 are three times more likely than those over 19 to get into a fatal accident. This may be because of teen drinking and driving, lack of experience, and a greater propensity to speed and leave insufficient distance between cars, or it may be because teens use their seatbelts less than other groups.

If your teen injures someone while driving, the victim may sue you and your teenager to recover compensatory damages, including medical bills, property damage, and lost wages. Assuming your teen is on your policy, your insurance company will be responsible for defending the suit. The greater accident risk of teenagers is usually accounted for in the premium you are charged. However, if your coverage is limited and you have assets, the at-fault driver may go after you personally.

A parent can be held personally responsible if he or she knows the teen is a reckless driver or the teen is driving as part of work for the parents. If a parent knows or should know in the exercise of reasonable care that his or her teenage child isn't fit to operate or drive, the parent can be held liable for accidents caused by the teen under a theory of "negligent entrustment." For example, if your child is regularly drunk or an alcoholic, and you loan the teen your car for social activities, the injured party may sue you not only for compensatory damages but also for punitive damages, depending on the severity of the accident.

Read more about teen driver accidents.

What do I do if I was hit by an uninsured motorist?

Vehicle owners must carry liability insurance to cover property damage and personal injuries. However, the minimum amount of insurance coverage required is different in each state. Different states place different restrictions on an accident victim's right to sue and whether an insurer must pay first-party benefits regardless of fault. There are four categories of car insurance in America: tort liability, no-fault, choice no-fault, and add-on.

In some states, known as "no fault" states, you must first make a claim against your own insurance policy, which will take responsibility for a certain sum of your own medical expenses, unless you have serious injuries or were disfigured. This means that if an accident is minor, it doesn't matter for purposes of recovery whether the other driver is insured or not.

If you are in a tort liability state, however, your ability to recover compensation from an at-fault driver usually depends on the at-fault driver having insurance, whether your claim is minor or major. If the at-fault driver is not insured or underinsured, you will have to make a claim against the uninsured motorist portion of your policy. In many states, insurers are required to offer uninsured motorist coverage to all policyholders unless they decline this coverage in writing. You should notify your carrier as soon as you become aware you might need to file an uninsured motorist claim.

When an at-fault driver is extremely affluent and has significant assets from which you can recover your damages, you may be able to recover without making a claim against your own insurance, but this is very rare.

Read more about uninsured motorist accidents.

My loved one was killed in a car accident. Can I sue the other driver?

If one of your family members was killed due to careless driving or other conduct on the part of another person or entity, you may be able to sue for your loved one’s wrongful death. Each state has different rules that apply to these lawsuits, and they define issues like who has the right to take legal action under these circumstances. For example, while all states allow immediate family members to sue for wrongful death, only some allow more distant relatives and/or people who were financially dependent on the victim to be plaintiffs in these cases. The executor of the estate will usually represent the loved ones (also called “real parties in interest) in the lawsuit.

Available damages in a wrongful death case can include economic losses like the victim’s medical and funeral expenses or expected income, as well as non-economic losses like mental anguish and loss of companionship. In some rare cases, punitive damages, which serve to punish the defendant for egregiously bad conduct rather than to compensate the plaintiff(s) for specific losses, are available.

As in other injury cases, there is a deadline by which you must file a wrongful death suit. This time frame varies by state, but in many places is two years from the date of careless behavior that led to the victim’s death.

Read more about wrongful death lawsuits.