You and your husband had made a resolution to watch television less and get out more and one of the activities on your list was the monthly Les Vues Film Series at the Vermilionville Performance Center. It was Monday night and you both were exhausted from work, but you piled in the car anyway -- you were getting your culture in no matter what. You were cruising down S.E. Evangeline Thruway feeling pretty good about yourselves when you encountered some stop and go traffic.
Next thing you knew, you were rear-ended.
What happens now? What do you do? Here is some basic information to help you navigate through your car accident in Lafayette.
Make Sure to Stop
The first thing to do after an accident is to pull over where it is safe to do so. In Lafayette and the rest of Louisiana, if you intentionally fail to stop, give your name, address, and vehicle license number, and render "reasonable aid," you could be found guilty of "hit and run driving" and subject to punishment including fines and imprisonment.
If the accident results in injury, death, or property damage over $500, you must immediately "by the quickest means of communication" notify the Lafayette Police Department, the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office, or the Louisiana State Police, as appropriate. In cases of injury, death, or property damage over $100, you must also forward a written report within 24 hours to the Department of Public Safety and Corrections.
While you are at the accident scene, it is also a good idea to take photographs, jot down notes about the circumstances of the accident, and gather the contact information of any witnesses. Here is a helpful FindLaw article on First Steps After A Car Accident you may wish to refer to for additional tips and reminders.
Drivers in Lafayette and the rest of the state must have proof of some type of liability security on their vehicles. Most people accomplish this through automobile insurance -- specifically, a liability policy with the following minimum limits: $15,000 for injury or death to one person, $30,000 for injury or death to two or more people, and $25,000 for property damage. Your coverage may be higher than this.
Call your insurer right away following the accident to report what happened and take notes of your conversations, including the names of the people you speak with. Be honest and candid with them, but remember that you do not have to accept their initial settlement offers. Refer to this list of Car Insurance Claims Dos and Don'ts for more information. If you have problems with your insurer and wish to a file a complaint, you may do so through the Louisiana Department of Insurance.
Depending on the extent and nature of the accident, you may find that it would be easier to have someone else handle the administrative aspects of your claim while you focus on recuperating. A skilled attorney can handle the red tape and work to see that you are fully compensated for your losses. In many accident cases, attorneys will work on a "contingency" arrangement, whereby the fees will simply be deducted from your recovery, which includes settlements. Yes, this means that if you don't recover, you don't pay. You may wish to check out the FindLaw section on Car Accident Legal Help for more information.
You probably shouldn't wait too long to contact a lawyer if you feel you might need one, though. The Statute of Limitations in Lafayette and the rest of Louisiana for personal injury lawsuits is one year.
If you bring such a suit, you will likely allege that the other driver acted negligently. To act negligently is basically to act carelessly and for that carelessness to cause or contribute to the accident.
In some cases, however, both parties act negligently -- what happens then? In some states, if you are even 1% at fault, you are barred from bringing an action against the other party. Louisiana, by way of contrast, follows what is known as a pure comparative fault system, which means that if you are even 99% at fault, you can still bring your action for the remaining 1%, although your damages will be reduced in proportion to your fault. So, for example, if you had $10,000 in damages and were 70% at fault, you can still pursue an action for the $3000 or 30% attributable to the other party.
Damages refer to monetary compensation for the losses sustained in an accident. These can include the specific quantifiable losses such as medical expenses, property loss, and lost wages as well as the less tangible losses such as pain and suffering. In addition, in Lafayette and the rest of Louisiana, in cases involving drunk drivers, punitive or exemplary damages may also be available.
Accident cases can be time-consuming and complicated. It doesn't help that those suffering from the effects of a car accident may be in no condition to look after their own legal interests. If that sounds like you or someone you know, you may want to look into talking to a personal injury attorney.