There you are on Bragg Boulevard, doing your best to drive safely. You hit the brakes because someone makes an ill-advised left turn in front of you, and what's your reward? The gentleman behind you smashes the back of your pickup. You can forgive the folks around here for occasionally being mentally distracted -- it happens when you or a loved one lives a life of service -- but what about your injuries and property damage? What about the law? FindLaw presents this guide for what to do after a car accident in Fayetteville. We also have a few tips for complying with state's post-collision requirements.
Stop and Provide Reasonable Assistance
If you think that you may have been in a traffic collision, you must stop your car and do an assessment. Check to see if anyone was injured because the law requires you to provide "reasonable assistance" to any person who has been injured. This could be another driver, his/her passengers, a pedestrian, or even one of your own passengers. "Reasonable assistance" may include calling for medical assistance if it appears necessary, or if an injured person requests that you do so. If you fail to stop and provide assistance, you may be charged with a felony under North Carolina law.
Move the Vehicles, If Possible and Necessary
When a crash happens along a "main lane, ramp, shoulder, median, or adjacent area of a highway," drivers should move the vehicles as soon as possible so as to not obstruct traffic. Only move the vehicles, however, if: (1) the collision did not cause an injury; AND (2) the vehicles may still be driven "normally and safely." So, if you now have to push the car or struggle with a wheel that suddenly lacks power steering, don't bother moving the car.
Under state law, drivers and individuals affected by an accident must exchange information. After a car accident in Fayetteville, ask for and insist upon receiving:
- driver's license numbers, and
- license plate numbers for each party involved.
The Department of Insurance also recommends that you record other drivers' insurance information (name and policy number) and witnesses' addresses and telephone numbers. Use the camera on your cellphone, if you have one, to take pictures of driver's licenses and insurance cards.
Call Law Enforcement
You must notify the local law enforcement whenever you've been in a reportable collision -- a collision that involves death, injury, or property damage of at least $1,000. In addition, a reportable collision must occur on a road or lot generally available to the public or after a vehicle has run off of the roadway. If the wreck occurs in the City of Fayetteville or in Cumberland County, contact the Fayetteville Police Department or Cumberland County Sheriff's Office respectively. If a crash happens on the highway, contact the State Highway Patrol's Fayetteville office.
The law generally requires drivers and passengers to remain at the scene of a crash until an investigating officer either concludes his/her investigation or otherwise dismisses the involved parties. Of course, you do not have to remain on-site if that would aggravate injuries or cause additional harm. If leaving the scene, be sure to report to law enforcement where you are going and why you are justified in doing so. This will help you avoid being charged with at least a misdemeanor -- and possibly a felony -- for leaving the scene early.
Be Friendly, But You Don't Have To Talk About the Crash
It can be difficult to determine who is truly at fault in an accident. It is a complex task, and we leave it up to judges, juries, and insurance companies. The general rule is not to admit any degree of fault in the accident. North Carolina law features a contributory negligence rule. This means that if a suing party was at all negligent on his/her part in the incident, the suing party will not be able to recover anything in court. So, if you've been rear-ended on Gillespie St., for example, do not jump out of the car and say, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have slammed on my brakes like that." This kind of statement could prevent you from receiving money for the damage to your car.
On a similar note, do not immediately make any deals to just "forget about the accident." In many cases, as the Department of Insurance warns, the complete nature and amount of injuries and property damage may not be immediately apparent.
File an Insurance Claim
Start by contacting your own insurance company or agent, unless it is obvious that the other driver was responsible. In that case, contact his/hers using the information you obtained at the scene. When dealing with another party's insurance provider, you may receive a settlement offer fairly quickly. Ask for some time to think it over. It may be a good idea to speak to your own attorney before accepting any deals.
File a Tort Claim
In the event that an insurance policy does not cover financial losses resulting from a collision, you may have to proceed in civil court. If you intend to file a claim, you generally have only three years to do so after the crash. You may want talk to an attorney soon after a wreck to help figure out your next steps and preserve your rights.
Typically, car accident cases take the form of negligence claims. Attorneys who work on these types of cases often work on what is called a contingent fee basis. This means that you do not pay the attorney anything until and unless you win your case. It is important to note, however, that a settlement is considered a "win." Last, but not least, many attorneys provide free initial consultations with prospective clients.
Get a Case Assessment From a Local Attorney
The foregoing discussion provides some basic information about what to do after a car accident in Fayetteville, but there are many details that could significantly impact your situation. A professional's assistance can be very valuable to help ensure that you don't end up paying for someone else's mistakes. Contact a local attorney to schedule a consultation to discuss your case.