No one expects to be in an auto accident. At our firm, we use a different term. We call it an “auto collision”; because unfortunately, most accidents are not accidents, but acts of negligence, of a driver failing to obey the rules of the road.
At some point during your life, you will likely become involved in an auto collision, as a driver, passenger, or pedestrian/cyclist. Auto collisions come in all variations, from simple bumps in the road with no bodily injuries, to serious collisions involving total vehicle loss and significant bodily injuries. It’s a good idea to think in advance about what you will do and say, should you find yourself involved in a collision. Here are some general things to think about:
For the purpose of this article a “minor collision” is one in which there is little to no damage to the vehicles and little to no bodily injury. After a minor collision, exit your vehicle if you can do so safely. Call the police immediately, and tell them where you are located. Once at the scene, the officer may advise you to move the vehicles.
The police officer will issue a report on what happened, based on the testimony of the parties and witnesses. Usually, most people involved in minor collisions will be truthful and reasonable. Each driver should give the other identification and insurance information. It may be advisable in busy traffic to move the vehicles out of the middle of the road into a safer area near the scene.
People sometimes leave the scene of a collision. There are many reasons people leave the scene of a collision. They may have drugs or illegal weapons in their vehicle; they may not have insurance; they may have an outstanding warrant for their arrest; they may be afraid of deportation if they are an illegal immigrant. They may be intoxicated on drugs or alcohol. So you before giving anyone a chance to drive off, make sure you take reasonable steps to identify them. Take note of their driver’s license number, address and vehicle tag number before moving the two vehicles to the safer location. If they refuse to exchange information, then do not move the vehicles, and contact police.
Hit and Run Collisions: The “John Doe” Driver
If a driver leaves the scene of a collision, gather as much information on the make, model, color of the vehicle and description of the driver; and if you can, take down the license plate number. It is a good idea to follow the vehicle that is leaving the scene. You never know what or who you may encounter in the process. So try to relax and let the authorities and your own insurance company take care of things. The South Carolina Financial Responsibility Act requires that every automobile insurance policy carry at a minimum liability and uninsured motorist coverage (UM) as follows: $25,000.00 per person/$50,000.00 per accident for all persons injured/ and $25,000.00 property damage coverage. Your policy may be for more than minimum limits coverage. Additional UM coverage, over and above the 25/50/25 minimum limits amount, in amounts up to the limit of your liability coverage, must be offered by your insurance company at the outset of your policy and at every renewal date.
So, if you have your own South Carolina auto policy, and an escapee “John Doe” vehicle leaves the scene, relax, and know that you can simply contact your insurance company and make a “John Doe” claim for damages under your own UM coverage. If you are run off of the road and there is no evidence of contact between your vehicle and the John Doe vehicle, then you must provide an affidavit to the insurance company from an independent witness in making your John Doe UM claim. This is a protective measure to avoid fraudulent claims in one vehicle accidents. If there is physical evidence of contact between the vehicles, then an affidavit is not necessary; but take down the identifying information from any available witnesses, and provide their names to police and your own insurance company as part of your UM claim.
Significant Collisions with Injuries to You or Occupants in Your Vehicle or other Vehicles
In serious auto collisions, stay put in your vehicle, unless there is an indication of leaking fuel or other hazard, such as fire. If you are seriously injured, trying to move can cause you further injury; so stay put until help arrives. The same goes for others. If you are able to get out of your vehicle, do so; but do not try to remove injured people from your vehicle or other vehicles, as this may cause them further injury. Wait until trained emergency medical personnel can assist with proper equipment for moving injured persons. One wrong move can mean the difference between an emergency room visit and medical follow up for an injured person, or permanent paralysis due to a serious spinal injury. Be very careful and use common sense. If you are taken away by medical personnel and/or unable to communicate, don’t worry. The police will follow up with you with information you will need. Just relax and worry about getting better. Everything will work itself out.
Not Necessary to Prosecute the at-fault party in Traffic Court
A conviction in traffic court (a criminal proceeding) for a ticket is generally not admissible in a civil court of law. Your claims of property damage and bodily injuries are civil claims and will be tried in civil court if not settled. So in clear liability cases, it is not to your advantage to go to court to testify in traffic court against the at-fault party, since the results of the proceeding will never be admitted into evidence in a civil court.
However in questionable liability cases, it is sometimes helpful to go to traffic court to understand the person’s testimony and the testimony of witnesses to the collision, who may appear. Many police refrain from ticketing at-fault parties following a collision; and instead, simply let the insurance companies for the parties work things out. If you are subpoenaed to court, you must comply with the subpoena and be there at the place and time specified.
Photograph and Document with a Diary
Obtain photographs of the damages to your vehicle and others involved, if you are able; or ask someone to do so. Do not rely on body shop personnel to take care of this.
It is good idea to keep a brief diary following a collision to take note of aches and pains you may have, limitations on activities of daily living, and other situations and adverse effects of the collision. After several months, it is easy to forget the details of everything you went through in the days, weeks and months following a significant collision involving injury.
Watch Your Temper
It is quite aggravating to have another driver collide with your vehicle (or you as a cyclist or pedestrian), as a result of violating the rules of the road, such as following too closely, driving too fast for conditions, running stop signs, running red lights. The list of possible violations and mishaps are almost endless. Just remember, every thing you say or do that is negative or violent, will be held against you. You may end up in front of a judge and jury one day in a civil or criminal court of law, testifying about what happened and what was said by you at the scene; and other people will testify about things you said or did at the scene. So do your best to keep your cool. Take the high road, and know that no matter how bad or egregious the situation may be, things will get resolved. Arguing, cursing and committing acts of violence at the scene can be costly mistakes.
Medical Care Following A Collision
Collisions come by surprise; often during times of economic stress. Do not be concerned about the cost of medical care if you are injured. First, regardless of fault, your health should always be your first concern. In South Carolina, the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) is legally obligated to provide you treatment and transportation to a hospital of your choice; and once at the emergency room, the hospital is legally obligated to give you basic care to stabilize your injuries. If the collision was not your fault, these financial matters will more likely than not be resolved by auto insurance policies, so relax and get the medical care you need. Even if the collision was your fault, get the medical care you need. Your health and well-being is most important. It is advisable to carry Personal Injury Protection (PIP), or Medical Payments (Med Pay) on your own policy, in addition to liability, underinsured motorist, and uninsured motorist coverage.
If you lack health insurance, there are health care facilities that will treat you if you sign a lien, allowing them to get paid from the proceeds of your insurance settlement. Most health care providers require that you have an attorney, who will ensure the lien is honored; and an attorney can assist in negotiating the lien, should there be issues with the case settlement, or other circumstances warranting a possible reduction in medical lien(s).
Private Health Insurance and/or Government Benefits Such as Medicare
If health care providers will accept private health insurance and/or Medicare, including Medicare supplemental insurance, then use it. Companies such as Blue Cross Blue Shield have provider agreements that limit medical facility reimbursement and require the providers to write off the difference, leaving you with a zero balance, except for co-pays. For example, an MRI facility might charge 1800.00 for an MRI scan, a common scan used to diagnose injuries to virtually every body part. However, Blue Cross Blue Shield may only pay the facility $500.00 for that scan. So instead of a balance owing, Blue Cross will write off the other $1300.00. However, Blue Cross will assert a “subrogation lien” and require repayment of a portion of monies you get from the liability insurance company at settlement or trial. The same goes with Medicare and other governmental insurance.
The bottom line is after all is said and done, you can put more money in your pocket by using health insurance or Medicare. The trend of late is for health care providers to refuse to accept these insurance policies, and instead, hire a law firm to negotiate the balance with the attorney for the injured party. The reimbursement rates to hospitals by Medicare and insurance can sometimes be low, so to maximize return on the provider’s charges, they will sometimes refuse to file health insurances and assert a lien for their full amount of charges; then the charges get negotiated by a percentage off, usually 25% to 30%.
Call an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney in Serious Collisions
If your collision involves moderate to heavy property damage to your vehicle and injuries that persist more than a few days, it is a good idea to at least consult with an experienced personal injury attorney.