If you have the misfortune of being involved in an automobile accident, the law in Georgia requires you to do certain things. If you are injured in the accident and intend to make a claim for personal injuries there are additional things you can do which should improve the ultimate outcome in your case. We have included those things required by Georgia law and some suggested tips below:
The driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury or death of any person, or property damage to an apparent extent of $500 or more, is required to give notice of the accident to the local authorities immediately. (O.C.G.A. § 40-6-273)
Stay at the Scene
The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury or death of any person or damage to a vehicle is required to immediately stop, remain at the scene and: (1) give his/her name, address and registration number of the vehicle he/she is driving; (2) upon request and if available, show his/her driver's license to the other driver or occupant; and (3) render reasonable assistance to any person injured in the accident including transporting, or making arrangements for the transportation, of such person to a physician, surgeon, or hospital if it is apparent such treatment is necessary or if such transport is requested by the injured person.
The driver shall in every event remain at the scene of the accident until fulfilling these requirements. Every stop shall be made without obstructing traffic more than is necessary. (O.C.G.A. § 40-6-270)
Should you move the vehicles?
As far as moving the vehicles after an accident, Georgia law provides that when a motor vehicle traffic accident occurs with no apparent serious personal injury or death, it shall be the duty of the drivers of the motor vehicles involved in such traffic accident, or any other occupant of any such motor vehicle who possesses a valid driver's license, to remove said vehicles from the immediate confines of the roadway into a safe refuge on the shoulder, emergency lane, or median or to a place otherwise removed from the roadway whenever such moving of a vehicle can be done safely and the vehicle is capable of being normally and safely driven, does not require towing, and can be operated under its own power in its customary manner without further damage or hazard to itself, to the traffic elements, or to the roadway. (O.C.G.A. § 40-6-275(c))
However, a vehicle incapacitated as a result of a motor vehicle traffic accident with apparent serious personal injury or death may not be moved until the law enforcement officers have made the necessary measurements and diagrams required for the initial accident investigation. (O.C.G.A. § 40-6-275(g))
Have your insurance information available
In automobile collisions which meet the reporting requirement, law enforcement officers at the scene of the accident shall instruct the drivers of each vehicle to report the following information to all parties who suffered injury or property damage as an apparent result of the accident: (1) the name and address of the owner and the driver of the motor vehicle; (2) the license number of the motor vehicle; and (3) the name of the liability insurance carrier for the motor vehicle or the fact that such driver has a certificate of self-insurance issued pursuant to Code Section 33-34-5.1 (O.C.G.A. § 40-6-273.1)
The items above are required by Georgia law, but there are other things you can do which will help you advance your claims for personal injury and defend yourself in the event a claim is filed against you.
Notify your insurance company
Insurance policies are contracts, and one of the contractual requirements placed on you is a duty to report claims as soon as possible and cooperate with your insurer in the investigation and handling of your insurance claim. Get out your policy and find the provision which explains your duty to provide notice and proof of loss. Call your insurance agent and notify them as well. Make sure you follow the specific requirements in your policy and document your efforts. Keep copies of letters which you send to the insurance company and make notes of your conversations including the date, time and the name of the adjuster you spoke with. Failure to comply with your policy could result in the denial of coverage.
Many people carry disposable cameras in the glove compartment of their car which allows them to take pictures of the scene. This can be particularly helpful if the vehicles have to be moved before the police arrive.
Even if pictures cannot be taken at the scene, it is very important to take pictures of the damage to both automobiles. This should be done as soon as possible after the wreck and before the vehicles are repaired, sold for salvage, or simply disappear. It is much easier to convince the insurance company and the jury that the impact from the collision was severe enough to cause your injuries if you have a photograph of your crushed vehicle.
Photograph the injuries
Injuries like severe bruises, lacerations, swelling, stitches, and others heal over time, making it difficult to adequately describe them months or years later. Therefore, take photographs of the injuries so they can be shown to the insurance company or jury at a later date.
Be careful what you say
It is certainly true that anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. Therefore, be very careful about what you say after an accident. While you have a duty to cooperate with the authorities and your own insurance company, you are not required to give a statement to the adverse driver or his insurance company. The best course of action is to seek legal advice before speaking to them.
One thing is certain, your memory of the events will fade over time. Therefore, it is important to make notes. Write down any important observations you made at the scene. Did you smell alcohol or was the sun in the other driver's eyes? Keep track of your conversations with the insurance adjusters or the authorities. Make note of the name, address, and telephone number of each person you speak to and the substance of your conversation. It is especially important that you keep the names and addresses of all witnesses to the accident.
You should also make notes about your injuries, the inconvenience and hardship that the accident has caused and how your injuries affect your life on a day-to-day basis. If your claim ultimately takes months or years to resolve, this diary can be an invaluable tool for reminding you just how much you suffered. A word of caution, however. Your diary may one day be subject to discovery or subpoenaed to court which means you may have to produce it to the opposing lawyer, and he may be able to introduce it into evidence and present it to the jury. Therefore, keep it simple and factual, recognizing that it may displayed for all to see and even read to the jury one day.
Seek medical care if necessary
If you are injured, get to a doctor. While this seems like common sense, many people choose to simply "tough it out" hoping they will get better. Invariably, the insurance adjuster or opposing lawyer will ultimately ask, "If they were hurt so bad, why didn't they seek medical attention?" This can be a tough question to answer. Therefore, if you are hurt go to a doctor. Tell your doctor exactly what is bothering you and follow his/her advice. Follow up as directed, and take the medicine he/she prescribes. Keep you appointments and take ownership of your own health. This is the responsible way to handle injuries caused by an automobile collision, and the jury will understand and appreciate your diligence. Also, keep all bills and records related to your medical care in case you need them to establish your claim.
Get the accident report
Typically, the investigating officer will give you a card that contains the accident report number. After a few days, the final accident report should be finalized and on file at the law enforcement office. Get a copy as soon as you can or have someone else get it for you. Review the accident report and make sure it is accurate. If the report is not accurate, contact the investigating officer and explain the inaccuracies to him. It is always better to do this while the events are still fresh on his/her mind and the minds of witnesses in case he needs to follow up with them in order to clarify a mistake.
What if you get a ticket?
Sometimes the investigating officer will issue a citation to one of the drivers. Sometimes the officer will not, deciding instead to let the parties respective insurance companies resolve the issue of fault. If you receive a ticket, protect yourself. Make sure you know when and where you are supposed to appear in court. Failure to appear for a scheduled court date can have serious consequences and compound an already difficult situation. If you are not guilty, then don't plead guilty. If you do, it may constitute an admission that can be used against you if a civil claim is filed. If you can afford counsel, they may be able to negotiate a plea bargain and a reduction in the charges against you. In the long run, this may save you considerably more in future insurance premiums than it costs.
What if the other driver gets a ticket?
If the opposing driver is issued a citation and you receive a subpoena or other notice of his/her court date, make a point to attend. By listening to the opposing driver in court and speaking to the prosecutor, you may discover valuable information which proves helpful in pursuing your claims.
What if the other driver does not get a ticket?
Many people get upset when the investigating officer fails to ticket the other driver for causing the wreck even though he/she was clearly at fault. While this frustration is understandable, the fact that no ticket was given does not defeat your claim against the opposing driver for personal injuries. In fact, the citation would only benefit you in your personal injury case if the opposing driver actually pled guilty to the charges, something he is not likely to do. Therefore, try not to concern yourself with whether the opposing driver receives the criminal punishment he deserves and focus instead on making sure you receive fair and adequate compensation for the injuries and damages you have suffered.
Should I give a recorded statement?
Typically, the adverse driver's insurance company will contact you and ask you to give a recorded statement over the telephone. While you are required to cooperate with your own insurance company, the law does not require you to give a statement to the opposing insurer. Therefore, this is not something you have to do. Depending on the circumstances, it may be in your best interest to give a recorded statement, but it is always better to obtain legal advice before doing so.
Keep all paperwork
It is important to keep all paperwork related to your automobile wreck. This includes but is certainly not limited to:
- the accident report;
- the names, addresses and telephone numbers of witnesses;
- the name, address and telephone number of the adverse driver;
- all insurance information, including policy numbers, claim numbers and correspondence sent to and from insurers;
- information related to property damage including estimates to repair;
- photographs of the scene, the vehicles involved and the visible injuries;
- medical records and bills;
- correspondence sent to and from courts
Don't throw anything away. It is always better to have the documents and not need them than to need them and not have them.
Don't blog, tweeter, e-mail or post
The internet has changed the way people communicate and exchange information. It has also created new avenues for people to make admissions against their own interest, admissions that can be used against them later. Therefore, it is better not to blog, e-mail or post information on the internet which concerns your automobile wreck or the injuries you have suffered. This information can be obtained by the opposing insurance adjuster and later used to defeat or reduce your claims.
Can you settle your own case without hiring an attorney? Possibly. In fact, sometimes we even advise people that it makes more economic sense for them to handle their own claim rather than hire us. Usually, however, this is not the case. Automobile wrecks involve complicated issues related to auto insurance contracts, liability laws, lien rights of hospitals and doctors, subrogation and reimbursement rights of Health Insurance plans, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. Why not obtain a free initial consultation and get professional advice on whether you need a lawyer?
Keep in mind that the opposing insurance adjuster handles claims for a living. He or she is a skilled negotiator with unlimited resources and, regardless of what he or she may say, their goal is to pay you as little as possible in order to resolve your claim. In most instances, the lawyer you hire can add enough value to your claim to more than justify the attorney fees you ultimately pay. In addition, it provides you peace of mind, knowing that your claim was handled by a seasoned and experienced attorney hired to protect your interest. After your claim is concluded, you will not be left to wonder whether the settlement you received could have been more if you had a lawyer fighting for you.
Therefore, if you have been injured in an automobile collision, please contact one of the experienced attorneys at Burnside Law Firm LLP for a free initial consultation.
DISCLAIMER: Every automobile wreck presents a unique set of facts and circumstances. These suggestions, on the other hand, are very general in nature and may or may not be appropriate in your particular case. Therefore, these suggestions are not intended as legal advice for your case and should not be relied upon as such. For legal advice and a free initial consultation about your automobile wreck case, please contact one of the attorneys at Burnside Law Firm LLP.
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