What To Do If You Are In A Car Wreck

If I am in a car wreck, do I have to stop?

Yes. The law says you must stop—whether the wreck involves a pedestrian, a moving car, a parked car or someone’s property. If you drive away, you can be charged with hit and run—even if the wreck is not your fault.

Hit and run penalties are severe. Depending on the amount of damage, you may be given a large fine, sent to jail or both. You also could lose your driver’s license.

If you hit a parked car, try to find the driver. If you cannot, you may drive away only after you leave behind your name, address and an explanation of the wreck – and you must notify the local police or state police either by telephone or in person.

Call the police too, if the wreck caused a death, injury or property damage. An officer who comes to the scene of the wreck will make a report. If an officer does not show up, you must make a written report at the police department.

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What should I do if someone is injured?

The law requires you to give reasonable assistance to injured persons. For example, you may need to call an ambulance, take the injured person to a doctor or hospital, or give first aid—if you know how.

If you are not trained in first aid, do not move someone who is badly hurt; you might make the injury worse. However, you should move someone who is in danger of being hurt worse or killed – even if you do make the injury worse. For example, if someone is thrown from a car onto the freeway, carefully move the person to a safer place.

To avoid additional collisions, try to warn other motorists that a wreck has occurred. Placing flares on the road, turning on your car’s hazard lights and lifting the engine hood are good ways to warn oncoming traffic.

Arrange to get help for any injured persons, and try not to panic.

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How can I get help?

As soon as you can get to a telephone, call 911.

Explain the situation and give your exact location, so help can arrive quickly. Be sure to mention whether you need an ambulance or a fire engine.

Or, flag down a passing car, and ask the driver to go for help. Perhaps the driver will have a cellular phone in the car and can make an emergency call on the spot.

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What information should I gather at the scene of the wreck?

Since many records now are confidential under the law, you may not be able to obtain the information that you want from the Department of Finance and Administration (MV Division). So be sure to get as much correct and complete information as you can at the scene of the wreck.

You and the other driver should show each other your drivers’ licenses and vehicle registrations. Make sure to record:

  • The other driver’s name, address, date of birth, telephone number, driver’s license number and expiration date, and insurance company.
  • The other car’s make, year, model, license plate number and expiration date, and vehicle identification number.
  • The names, addresses, telephone numbers and insurance companies of the other car’s legal and registered owners – if the driver does not own the car.
  • The names, addresses, and telephone numbers of any passengers in the other car.
  • The names, addresses, and telephone numbers of witnesses to the incident. Ask them to stay to talk to the police. If they insist on leaving, ask them to tell you what they saw and write everything down.
  • The name and badge number of the law officer who comes to the scene of the wreck. Ask the officer where and when you can get a copy of the police report.
  • A simple diagram of the wreck. Draw the positions of both cars before, during and after the wreck. If there are skid marks on the road, pace them off. Draw them on the diagram, noting the distance they cover. Mark the positions of any crosswalks, stop signs, traffic lights or street lights. If you have a camera with you, take pictures of the scene.

Make notes, too, on weather and road conditions. If the wreck happened after dark, say whether street lights were on. Estimate your speed and the other driver’s. Be sure to note the exact time and place the wreck happened.

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If I think the wreck is my fault, should I say so?

Anything you say to the police or the other driver can be used against you later. Do not volunteer any information about whose fault the wreck was. You may think you are in the wrong and then learn that the other driver is as much or more to blame than you are. You should talk to your lawyer before taking the blame.

Do not agree to pay for damages or sign any paper except a traffic ticket (see #6) until you check with your lawyer.

However, be sure to cooperate with the police office investigating the case. But, stick to the facts.

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What if I get a ticket?

Sign it. A ticket has nothing to do with your guilt or innocence. When you sign, you promise to appear in court. If you do not sign the ticket, the police officer can arrest you.

While it is okay to sign the ticket, you may want to talk with your lawyer before you pay a fine or plead guilty to the charges. If you plead guilty, you may hurt your chances of collecting damages from the other driver later. Or, you may help the other driver to collect damages from you.

  • Drunk driving. Driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.02% or higher can be illegal, and penalties for drunk driving are severe. This chart is a guide, but not a guarantee, of how many drinks it may take to raise your blood alcohol level to a percent that would be considered illegal when behind the wheel.
  • Seat belts. You and your passengers can be given tickets for not wearing seat belts. Children under 3 years old must be protected by a special safety seat.

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Do I need auto insurance?

Yes. A police officer may ask you to prove that you have auto insurance. If so, you must show the officer your insurance company’s name and your policy number. If you are not insured, you will be fined, and perhaps your vehicle will be impounded. Then, you must prove that your are financially responsible. If you do not, you could lose your license. If you tell the officer that you have insurance when you do not, you can be fined, sent to jail or both. And your license will be suspended.

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Should I get a physical check-up after the accident?

A check-up may be a good idea for both you and your passengers. You could be injured and not know it right away. At least call your doctor or another health care provider for help in deciding what your needs may be. Your automobile insurance may pay your health care bills (see #11).

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Do I have to report the car wreck?

Yes. First, you may need to call the police.

Second, report the wreck to your insurance company. Ask your agent what forms you should fill out and to help you make other necessary reports on the wreck.

Third, you and the other driver must report the wreck to the State Police within 48 hours if:

  • The damage to either car is more than $50 or
  • Anyone is injured or killed in the wreck.

Get a Report of Traffic Accident form from your local DFA office, or insurance commission.

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Who pays if I am injured or my car is damaged?

That depends on who is at fault, whether you and the other driver have insurance and what kind of insurance you have. There are two major types of insurance: liability and collision.

  • Liability. If you are to blame for a car wreck, your liability insurance will pay the other driver for property damage and personal injuries up to your policy’s limits. If you are not at fault, the other driver’s liability insurance pays for your car damage and/or personal injuries.
  • If you and the other driver both have car damage or injuries and you both are partly responsible for the wreck, you and your passengers may be able to collect.
  • If you loan your car to someone who has a wreck, your insurance pays for the damages – just as it would if you had been driving.
  • Collision. No matter who is at fault, your collision insurance pays for damages to your car (not your medical expenses), minus the policy deductible.

You may have other insurance too. Your health insurance, for example, may pay your medical bills. Also, your automobile insurance may have medical payments coverage. If so, it will pay the cost of your medical treatment. This coverage can be used in place of your other health insurance or in addition to it.

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What should I do if the other driver does not have insurance?

If the other driver caused the car wreck and is not insured, your own policy will pay for your personal injuries—if you have uninsured motorist coverage.

If the other driver’s insurance is not enough to pay for all of your damages, your own insurance may pay the difference—if you have underinsured motorist coverage. It is highly recommended you purchase both uninsured and underinsured coverage!

If you do not have these kinds of insurance or if your damages are more than the policy’s limit, you can sue the other driver. However, even if you win the case, you cannot be sure that the other driver has the money to pay.

If you have collision insurance, it will pay for damage to your car, no matter who is at fault (see #10).

If you have Medical Payments coverage, you can collect the amount of your medical bills only, up to the policy amount.

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What if someone sues me?

Contact your insurance agent and/or your lawyer right away. Generally, your insurance company will assign a lawyer to handle your case. But, if you are sued for more money than your policy covers, you may need your own attorney too.

Also, insurance company lawyers do not handle traffic citations or criminal cases, such as hit and run charges.

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What if I want to make a claim for my injuries?

If the other driver was at fault, you may be entitled to compensation—for your personal injuries, pain and suffering, car damage, and other expenses, such as lost wages or the cost of a nurse needed after the wreck.

If you plan to make a claim do not delay. There are time limits for filing various types of claims – so act quickly.

You will need your own lawyer. An insurance company lawyer cannot represent you if you are the person who is making the claim.

The lawyers at Law Offices of Gary Green take car wreck cases on a contingent fee basis. That means you do not pay the lawyer if you lose the case. If you win, you pay a percentage of the money you get. We charge a smaller percentage if the case is settled before the lawyer does all the work necessary to go to trial.

If we agree to a contingent fee, we put the agreement in writing and give you a signed copy. The contract explains what percentage the lawyer will get if you win and how it might vary.

The purpose of this on-line pamphlet is to provide general information on the law, which is subject to change. If you have a specific legal problem, you may call us for a free consultation in Little Rock, Arkansas at (501)224-7400 or toll free at 1-888-4GARYGREEN, Springfield, Missouri at (417)863-2229 or toll free at 1-888-2GARYGREEN, Memphis, Tennessee at (901)523-0999 or toll free at 1-888-7GARYGREEN or toll free at 1-888-9GARYGREEN.

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Checklist

Protect Yourself And Others:

  • Drive defensively.
  • Don’t drive after drinking.
  • Make sure you and your passengers wear seatbelts.
  • Have adequate insurance coverage, including uninsured and underinsured coverage.

If A Wreck Happens:

  • Stop.
  • Help or get help for injured people.
  • Warn other motorist (use flares, hazard lights).
  • Call 911 to contact the police.
  • Use the back of this pamphlet to take notes regarding the wreck – write down information about the other driver and car, witnesses, passengers, location of the wreck and more.
  • Cooperate fully with law officers, but speak with your insurance agent and/or lawyer before accepting any blame.

After A Car Wreck:

  • Call or see your physician.
  • Report the wreck to your insurance company.
  • Report the wreck to the State Police within 48 hours if someone is injured or killed or if damage to either car is more than $50.
  • Contact a lawyer if you are sued or if you want to make a claim.