It's your daughter's first class field trip and you've volunteered to chaperone the event. They're learning about civil rights and Martin Luther King Jr. What's a better place to see a living history monument than at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute?
You are following behind the big yellow school bus as it heads down 6th Avenue in downtown. Without any warning, the bus comes to an abrupt stop. BAM! You slam right into the back of it. BAM! The Mini Cooper behind you slams into the back of you. You jump out of the car and rush towards the children to make sure everyone is safe. Luckily, the kids are tough as nails. No injuries, just shaken nerves.
Now what? Here's some information to help guide you through the process of what to do after a car accident in Birmingham.
Automobile accidents can be very terrifying. Many people panic after they are involved in one and end up causing more harm. First, do not drive away. It doesn't matter what you hit -- a pedestrian, a moving car, a parked car or someone's property. Alabama state law requires you to stop and stay at the scene to exchange information and, if necessary, render "reasonable assistance" to anyone that is injured. If you leave, you could be charged with hit-and-run and face criminal severe penalties.
Do I Have to Call the Police?
Yes, contact the police -- even if it's a minor accident. Call the Birmingham Police Department or 911 as soon as possible. An officer will respond to your location and take a report. If you hit a parked car, or other object like a traffic device, you must inform the owner.
Do I Have to Report the Accident to the Alabama Department of Public Safety?
Yes, they want to know and expect to hear from you within 30 days of the crash. Don't delay. You will fill out a form titled SR-13. You can get it online (PDF) or at your local police department. You may also want to get a copy of the accident report. Fill out this form and send it via mail along with a money order for $15.
Do I Have to Report the Accident to My Insurance Company?
Yes, report the crash to your insurance company. Your carrier will open an investigation. Be honest with the adjuster, but remember you don't have to automatically accept their estimate or appraisal. Here's a list of do's and don'ts when speaking with insurance adjusters.
What Information Should I Gather at the Scene?
Be prepared to exchange information with the other driver-your name, address and driver's license number; the registration number of the car you were driving; and the name your insurance company. You may wish to collect contact information for:
- Other car's owner
- Any passengers in the other car
- Any witnesses to the accident
Make notes of traffic and weather conditions. Draw a simple diagram of the collision scene and/or take photographs if you are able.
It's important not to volunteer any information about who was to blame for the accident. Generally you should not agree to pay for damages or sign any documents except a traffic ticket. Most important tip: always cooperate with the police officer investigating the case.
If you do decide to sue, your attorney will provide details about where and when to appear in court. Here's a list of courthouses in Jefferson County.
Alabama State Insurance Requirements
Alabama state law says you need liability insurance for all registered vehicles. There's two ways to do this. First, you can purchase a motor vehicle liability bond for no less than $50,000 or a cash bond. However, most Birmingham drivers buy traditional insurance. Here are the state minimums:
- $25,000 per person for bodily injury
- $50,000 per accident for bodily injury
- $25,000 per accident for property damage
If you don't maintain this coverage, you could lose your driving privilege. Here's a manual about maintaining car insurance minimums (PDF).
How Do I Prove Who Was at Fault?
Determining who is at fault after a car accident in Birmingham (or anywhere) isn't always easy. Car accidents can be caused by a variety of factors, including driver negligence, defective vehicle parts, poorly maintained roads or severe weather conditions.
Alabama is one of the few states that sticks to a controversial rule called contributory negligence. That means an injured driver will not be able to recover anything if he or she was even as little as 1% at fault in the accident.
What Damages Are Available?
If you have suffered harm from the accident, you can seek money damages for your loss. These damages may include lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. Remember, Alabama's statute of limitations for bringing a personal injury or wrongful death claim is two years from the date of the accident. If you miss this deadline, it is quite possible you could lose the right to sue for that claim.
If you aren't sure what to do, an attorney may be able to help. Many lawyers take auto accident cases on a contingency fee basis. Basically, you do not pay the lawyer his or her attorney fees if you lose the case. If you win, you pay the lawyer a percentage of the money you get. A settlement is considered a "win" and you'll have to pay attorney's fees out of that amount.
Filing a Car Accident Claim? An Alabama Attorney Can Help
Auto accidents can be stressful and unnerving. But now that you know what to do after a car accident in Birmingham, you'll be better prepared. If you or a loved one has been in a car accident, consider speaking with an Alabama motor vehicle accident attorney who specializes in such claims.