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You've just spent some time shopping downtown, and you're trying to get out of the city. Your light turns green and you make a right turn onto E. Washington Street, but some guy who thinks he's on the Indianapolis Speedway runs his red light and slams into you. Car accidents occur in an instant, but can leave lasting damage. If you've been in a car accident in Indianapolis, this guide may have helpful information about the legal aspects of your case.
First Steps After an Indianapolis Car Accident
After you've been involved in a car accident, you should always stop and check to see if anyone is injured or in an unsafe position. Most people believe that stopping after an accident is the right thing to do, but not everyone realizes that, under Indiana state law, if you're involved in an accident that causes damage to a vehicle, you must stop and exchange information with all other drivers involved, including your driver's license and insurance information. If the accident results in injury, death or property damage over $1,000, you also must provide reasonable aid to anyone who's injured and report the accident to the nearest police department within 10 days of the accident.
There are other steps you should take if you're involved in a car accident, although not necessarily required by law, that are important for preserving evidence and making you safe after a car accident. FindLaw's brochure, Motor Vehicle Accidents: First Steps , contains a list of these steps. It's helpful to print it and keep it in your car in case of an accident.
Liability: The 51% Rule
Your car accident is over, the damage has been done, and it's time to figure out who is liable: that is, who is required to pay for the damage. Since many car accidents are the result of negligent driving, liability for accidents is generally based on the law of negligence. Under the law of negligence, motorists have a duty to drive with reasonable care. If a motorist fails to drive carefully and causes an accident, that motorist might be liable for the harm the accident has caused if he is found to be at fault.
Sometimes, more than one individual or entity is at fault in an accident. Indianapolis courts and insurance claims adjusters use a system of modified comparative negligence to determine liability when multiple parties are at fault.
This system is sometimes called the 51% Rule: if a person is found to be 51% or more at fault for an accident, he is barred from recovering money from other parties at fault in the accident. If a person is found to be 50% or less at fault for the accident, he may recover money for his losses, but the money he's awarded will be reduced by the percentage of his fault. Take this example: Paul is in an accident with Amy. Paul is found to be 45% at fault and Amy is found to be 55% at fault. Paul has $1,000 of damage, so he can recover $550 (55% of the cost of the damage) from Amy, but he will be responsible for $450, proportionate to his fault.
Sometimes proving fault for an accident is straightforward, while at other times, it's more complicated. Statements from witnesses, police reports, photographs of the scene and of damage and medical records are all examples of evidence a judge or claims adjuster may use to determine fault in an accident. In some circumstances, fault is presumed, such as when a driver hits a parked vehicle or rear ends another vehicle.
Filing an Insurance Claim in Indianapolis
Indiana drivers are required to have car insurance. If you're in a car accident in Indianapolis, chances are you'll be working with an insurance company. Because Indiana is a "fault" insurance state, if you believe that another party was more than 50% at fault in your accident, you may choose whether to file a claim with your insurance company or with the insurance company of the party at fault. After you make a car insurance claim, a claims adjuster will use the evidence available to him or her to determine fault in the accident.
Once the claims adjuster has made a fault determination, the insurance company will then either deny your claim or offer you a settlement to cover your damages based on the limits of the insurance policy and the evidence of the damage. FindLaw's article Insurance Claims After an Accident: The Basics can give you more information about the claims process. If you believe that an insurance company has wrongfully denied your claim or offered you an unfair settlement, you may want to appeal the insurer's decision or file a complaint with the Indiana Department of Insurance.
Your Car Accident Lawsuit
Sometimes, in order to be compensated fairly for your losses, you need to resort to a lawsuit against the party or insurance company liable for your damages. In Indianapolis, civil cases, such as claims for losses resulting from property damage and personal injuries, are heard in both the Marion Superior Court and the Marion Circuit Court.
Before You File, Get a Legal Evaluation of Your Indianapolis Accident Case
Fender benders and other car accidents are never a fun experience, especially if there are injuries or serious damage. Your insurer usually will take care of everything for you, but there may be instances where you'll need to file a lawsuit for injuries. Learn more about your legal options after an Indianapolis car accident by speaking with an experienced car accident attorney near you.