what not to do at an accident scene

Actions that can make you legally liable when in a car accident

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It is important to know what to do and what not to do to avoid unintentionally accepting liability if involved in a car accident.

DSC Attorneys partner Kirstie Haslam says that the settlement of personal injury claims arising from a car accident depends on the extent to which each driver is found to be at fault for causing the accident.

She explains that a driver who’s found to be exclusively negligent may be held fully liable for the so-called material damages resulting from an accident (these damages are distinct from those arising as a result of bodily injury, which are recoverable only from the Road Accident Fund). “Alternatively, each driver involved may be held partially liable. For example, you may be held 30% liable, while the other driver is held 70% liable.”

Haslam, offers some tips on what to do in the event that you’re involved in a car accident, to avoid unintentionally accepting liability.

1. Stop and stay at the scene

First stop your vehicle and pull over safely. Failure to stop at the scene of an accident can lead to prosecution, which could result in a fine, a prison sentence or both. You also want to stay at the scene to avoid only one-sided accounts for the accident being taken.

As soon as you’ve stopped, attend to possible medical emergencies. Assess any injury to people, help as best you can to get them to safety and call for emergency assistance. If you don’t know first aid, avoid potentially making matters worse by trying to be the hero.

2. Report the accident

Legally, you’re required to call the police if anyone has been hurt or killed, if an offence has been committed or if a state vehicle or property has been damaged. In these situations, you need to stay on site until a police officer has dismissed you.

If an accident is minor and both parties involved decide to move on with matters with their respective insurance parties, you may leave without a police officer’s permission. However, you must report the incident at your nearest police station – within 24 hours if anyone was injured.

Keep in mind that you’re not under obligation to give a police officer a verbal statement, either at the scene or at the station. If its a serious accident, it’s preferable to have an experienced attorney draw up the necessary statement, after proper consultation.

3. Get details of the other parties and of witnesses

Exchange details with any other parties involved, as well as witnesses (names, addresses, contact numbers, vehicle registration numbers). If you’re too injured to do so, you may ask a traffic or police officer to do so on your behalf. It’s also a good idea to take down the officer’s name, and record the relevant accident report number.

4. Don’t take anything intoxicating “to calm down”

The police at the scene or station may want you to undergo a medical examination, so unless a medical doctor has said you can take some kind of narcotic or intoxicant, don’t do so.

5. Record details of the accident straight away

As soon as possible, make notes of factors like traffic flow and weather at the time of the accident. Take photographs if you can. It can also help to sketch the scene, showing the positions of all vehicles immediately after the accident in relation to a clear fixed point, such as a traffic light, pole or other permanent fixture. Later, measurements can be taken in relation to the fixed point if it’s necessary to reconstruct the accident.

6. Watch your words

With emotions and adrenaline running high, people often say things after an accident that they come to regret. Stay calm, and say less rather than more. Even an offhand or innocent remark may be recorded in police statements and insurance claims, and used against you under cross-examination.

So what type of things should you avoid saying?

First, don’t admit you were to blame and definitely don’t offer any payment that could be construed as a bribe. Most insurers prohibit statements of admission, offer, promise, payment or indemnity.

Also avoid saying things like the following:

  • “I will pay for the damages” or “I’m sure my insurance will take care of it” This could be seen as an admission of fault. Similarly, don’t agree to settle anything without the help of an attorney.
  • “I didn’t see you” or “I was on the phone”. These are examples of admissions against interest, which are admissible in court and may be used against you.
  • “I don’t need medical help. I’m fine.” This kind of statement can be an admission against interest. Also, it can take a few days for injuries to reveal themselves. Endorphins and adrenaline may initially mask the symptoms of injury.

7. Get a copy of the police report

A police report is one of the most critical pieces of evidence for determining liability in the event of a car accident. Always ask the police for a full copy of the report that’s filed.

8. Call an experienced attorney

Minor fender-benders can typically be resolved simply by exchanging insurance information. However, even minor accidents can result in serious injuries. If you have been injured in a car accident, it’s wise to contact an experienced personal injury attorney who can offer professional legal assistance after a car accident.

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