Through no fault of your own your vehicle is a smoldering wreck on the shoulder of the road at Nicholson Drive and Burbank. Now you have to live with the consequences: pain, medical bills, inability to work and that splitting headache that just won't go away. Sometimes a lawsuit is the only way to recover your losses.
Louisiana is one of the top ten most dangerous states to drive in; nearly 1,000 people die in car crashes every year. A small accident can be a terrifying experience, while a major one can change your life. To add insult to injury, you must wade through the dense Louisiana legal system to recover compensation. To help you navigate these murky waters, we have created a guide to prepare you for what to do after a car accident in Baton Rouge.
Crunch … now what?
It can be difficult to remain calm after an accident, but there are a few easy steps you should always take. First, don't drive away. Failing to pull over mean you could be charged as a criminal "hit-and-run" driver. Keep the accident scene intact if possible, but if you are blocking traffic you should pull your car over to the side of the road. If you move any vehicles, take careful note of its position; photographs are even better.
Second, call an ambulance immediately if anyone has been injured. You should report the accident to the Baton Rouge police department as quickly as possible. It is difficult to reconstruct exactly what happened months later, so it is almost always in your best interest to get the police to write a detailed report. Within a few days you can request the accident report online for a small fee.
Third, after reporting the accident to the police you should provide everyone involved in the accident with your name, address and vehicle registration number. Also, leave contact information on any unattended property that was damaged. It is better for your case if you do not volunteer any additional details until talking to a lawyer. In particular, avoid apologizing for the accident or stating that the crash was your fault.
This is a lot of information to remember after a traumatic accident, so why not print out a helpful checklist and store it in your glove box for that rainy day?
What about my insurance?
Louisiana has adopted a "fault" system in determining financial responsibility for an accident. The person who was legally at fault for causing the accident (and their insurance) must compensate anyone who was injured or whose property was damaged. The minimum coverage a licensed driver must carry is $15,000 per person for injury or death and $25,000 for property damage. This means that you recover from the at-fault driver's insurance company until that coverage runs out, and then may attempt to recover the remainder (if any) from the driver himself.
No more Mr. Nice Guy, let's sue!
To file a lawsuit you must draft a complaint, which is a brief explanation of the basis of your lawsuit. A complaint should be plainly worded, but specific enough to show why you should win the case. Alternatively, you may want to speak with an experience personal injury attorney. Personal injury attorneys almost universally work on a contingency basis, which means you don't pay them anything until you've won or settled.
You can file your lawsuit in either City Court or District Court, depending on the amount of damages you suffered. If you seek $35,000 or less you can file your lawsuit in the Baton Rouge City Court, while if you seek more than $35,000 you should file in the 19th Judicial District Courthouse, instead. For claims worth $5,000 or less, try using the small claims division of the City Court. Read more about Baton Rouge Courthouses to find which location is appropriate.
The Louisiana statute of limitations prevents you from initiating a lawsuit after too much time has passed once, after evidence has disappeared and memories have faded. The statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits in Louisiana is much shorter than most states: you have only one year from the day of the accident to file your lawsuit. If you do not file within one year of the accident, you will be forever barred from recovery regardless of the strength of your claim.
What am I suing for again?
The most common type of lawsuit after a car accident in Baton Rouge or elsewhere is a negligence claim. You must prove that the other driver failed to exercise reasonable care while operating their vehicle. This is easier to prove if the other driver was driving recklessly, breaking traffic laws or intoxicated.
Additionally, in fatal accidents, surviving family members have a right to sue for wrongful death. This type of lawsuit seeks compensation for the survivors, such as lost wages from the deceased, lost companionship and funeral expenses.
Alternatively, you may be able to file a lawsuit against a vehicle manufacturer if a defect in a vehicle contributed to the accident. To succeed on this claim you must prove:
- the defective car or part was "unreasonably dangerous;"
- the vehicle was being operated as intended; and
- the vehicle's performance had not changed since its initial purchase.
How much compensation can I get?
Louisiana has adopted a pure comparative negligence rule for distributing damages. In a comparative negligence state, fault is assigned to each party and damages are reduced in proportion to your relative fault. For example, if you racked up $1,000 in medical bills as a result of an accident which was found to be 10% your fault, you could be able to recover up to 90%, or $900. Significantly, Louisiana is one of 13 states to have a "pure" comparative negligence standard, which means that even if your injury is found to be 99% your own fault, you can still recover 1%.
Injured in a Car Accident? A Louisiana Injury Attorney Can Help
Knowing what to after a car accident in Baton Rouge will go a long way toward helping you get back on the road again. Usually it's as simple as calling the proper authorities and exchanging insurance information, but there are instances where you'll want professional legal help. Get started today by finding a Baton Rouge injury attorney near you.