You looked down to change the radio station for just a moment, then CRUNCH, that sickening sound of metal on metal. Now car bits are strewn across I-10 and you are left with a sinking feeling in your gut and a skull splitting headache. Louisiana is one of the top ten most dangerous states for drivers. Chances are you will be in an automobile accident at some point in your life, so best learn what your legal responsibilities are, how to protect yourself from a lawsuit and how to recover your medical and repair bills now.
Is Everyone OK?
Don't drive away from the scene of an accident you were involved in. Even if you didn't cause the accident, you can be held criminally responsible as a "hit-and-run" driver (or worse if the accident resulted in someone's death). Plus, be a nice guy and offer first aid, or call an ambulance if necessary. However, you should never apologize for causing the accident or offer to pay the repair bills. Those statements can be used against you in court should the other driver choose to sue.
It is usually a good idea to call the New Orleans police as quickly as possible and gather any potential witnesses. The police will write a detailed report on the accident that helps sort out responsibility later, so it is better for the report to be written while the details are fresh in everyone's mind. Also, you should leave the accident scene intact if possible, unless it obviously obstructs traffic. If you move any vehicles, be sure to take careful note of its position and condition. Photographs are even better: do yourself a favor and buy a cheap disposable camera to store in your glove box today.
You are required by law to provide your name, address and vehicle registration number to anyone involved in the accident, and you should gather theirs too. If the owner of damaged property is not present , you need to leave that information in an obvious location.
Taking notes yet? Don't bother, FindLaw has created this handy checklist to store in your glove box to remind you of the appropriate steps to take after your accident.
Types of Lawsuits After an Accident
The most common lawsuit following an auto accident is negligence. The purpose of a negligence lawsuit is to compensate the injured party for the harm accidentally inflicted. All you need to prove is that the other party was not exercising a reasonable level of care under the circumstances.
However, many accidents are not 100% one driver's fault. If both drivers were acting a little negligently, you can still recover under Louisiana's comparative negligence law. This system distributes damaged by assigning each party a percentile fault, and reducing damages in proportion to each party's relative fault. For example, if your vehicle requires $1000 to repair as a result of the accident which was found to be 10% your fault, you will be able to recover 90%, or $900. Significantly, Louisiana has 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%.
For serious accidents involving a fatality, the deceased individual's family members may be able to sue for wrongful death. You do not need to be involved in the accident at all to sue under this theory, but you must be closely related to the decedent. This type of lawsuit aims to recover lost wages, lost companionship and funeral expenses.
A third avenue is to sue the vehicle manufacturer themselves. In this type of lawsuit, you must prove that the vehicle had a design or manufacturing defect that caused the accident. Proving a defect usually requires the analysis of an automotive expert, and the case can get quite technical.
Instead of sorting this mess out yourself you should seriously consider hiring an attorney. Plaintiff side attorneys typically give free consultations and work on a contingency basis, where their fee is a certain percent of your winnings. Yes, that means that you pay them nothing until they've negotiated a settlement or won at trial.
How to Initiate a Lawsuit
The first step toward suing someone is to write a complaint. A complaint looks formal but is actually just a brief description of the incident and a request for compensation. If you don't know where to start, try copying sample pleadings you can find for free on the internet. Pro tip- successful attorneys know better than to reinvent the wheel with every document, stick with what's known to be effective.
You can file all types of lawsuits at the Orleans Parish Civil District Court. If your claim is worth less than $25,000, you can opt to file your lawsuit in small claims court of the First City Court, located in the same building.
When to Initiate a Lawsuit
Almost all types of lawsuits have a time limit, called the statute of limitations, which begins ticking down the day of the accident. The idea is to protect people from being sued years and years after the accident, after witnesses' memories and evidence have disappeared. Louisiana is notable for having a very short limitations period: you only have one year after the accident to file your negligence lawsuit. If you wait more than a year to begin your lawsuit, your case will be rejected by the judge without even considering the strength of your claim.
Maybe Insurance Will Cover It?
Under Louisiana insurance law, the individual at fault for the accident (and their insurance) is liable for any injuries or property damage. Each licensed driver must carry a minimum of $15,000 per person for injury or death and $25,000 for property damage in insurance coverage. Beyond that, you must recover from the at-fault driver personally.
Knowledge is power! Learn more about the law governing car accidents.
Have an Attorney Review Your New Orleans Car Accident Claim
Even a small fender-bender can result in a serious injury, but don't assume the insurance company will take care of everything. Sometimes it makes sense to have an attorney at your side. Get started today by contacting a Louisiana car accident attorney near you.