That S-curved stretch on Capital Boulevard between Lane Street and the railroad bridge just north of downtown Raleigh has always given you pause, but you drove it twice daily during your commute and prayed for good luck. Well, today your luck just ran out as a bright orange SUV came flying around the turn in the wrong lane. You slam the brakes but nothing can stop the inevitable head-on collision.
Whether you’ve suffered a major injury or just an annoying fender bender it is crucial for Raleigh motorists to recognize their legal rights and responsibilities stemming from a car accident. So prepare yourself for the road ahead by reading this general guide for what to do after a Raleigh car accident.
What Should I Do Immediately After My Accident?
The first thing you should do after being involved in an accident is to pull your vehicle over to a safe location. Whether you caused the accident or not, North Carolina can prosecute you as a hit-and-run driver should you fail to stop. Call 911 if medical attention is required and render any first aid you are comfortable with.
After the dust (or smoke) has settled you’ll need to exchange information with all involved parties. Be sure to provide your name, address, driver license number, vehicle registration number, and vehicle insurance provider. You should also try to get the names and contact info for any neutral witnesses in case another driver tries to contest your story in court.
If the accident resulted in either an injury or over $1,000 in property damage you’ll need to report the accident to the Raleigh police department, call their non-emergency number at (919) 831-6311. You should also report any accidents with unattended property to the police, because if your note blows away you can be charged with a hit-and-run.
Now that all the essentials are taken care of, you’ll want to think about what evidence you can gather that could help in the long run. It helps to jot notes about the exact circumstances of the accident while it is fresh in your mind, and make sure you include weather and road conditions if they affected driving at all. Make sure you take some pictures of the accident scene and the damage to each vehicle, too. However, you should not volunteer any additional details to the folks involved. In particular, avoid apologizing for the accident or stating that the crash was your fault.
Accidents are scary so why not print out a helpful checklist to jog your memory should the worst come to pass?
Will Insurance Cover It?
All drivers in North Carolina are legally obligated to carry auto insurance with the following minimum coverage:
- $30,000 for bodily injury liability, per person per accident;
- $60,000 of bodily injury liability total per accident;
- $25,000 of property damage liability, per accident.
North Carolina courts follow the “fault” system to determining who pays for damages caused by an accident, so the at-fault driver, and/or their insurance, will be held responsible to the car accident victims.
How Long Do I Have to File My Case?
All lawsuits have hidden clocks counting down the time until a case grows stale. If you fail to file your case within the allotted statute of limitations, the judge will probably dismiss your case without even considering its strength. In North Carolina, you generally have three years from the date of the accident to file your lawsuit for personal injury and property damages.
What Causes of Action Should I Pursue?
The main strategic decision you need to make before you file your case is which claims to bring. The most common type of lawsuit after an accident is a negligence claim, which alleges that the other driver failed to exercise reasonable caution under the circumstances, and that this failure caused your injuries or property damage.
A wrongful death lawsuit is similar to negligence, but is only available to the close family members of a deceased accident victim. This type of suit seeks the financial burdens placed on the surviving family such as funeral expenses, lost income and lost companionship.
Finally, if a defective car part or item was involved, you could sue the car manufacturer in a products liability lawsuit. This type of suit alleges that the vehicle has a design or manufacturing defect that caused it to malfunction in an unexpected way and cause injuries or property damage.
What If I Contributed to the Accident?
North Carolina still applies the traditional (some would say outdated) contributory negligence standard for distributing damages when both the defendant and plaintiff were partly responsible for causing the accident. Under this rule, a plaintiff who contributed to the accident even slightly is barred from any recovery whatsoever. Contrast this with the relatively more modern comparative negligence doctrine, where a plaintiff’s recovery is diminished only by the decree of his or her responsibility.
How Do I File My Lawsuit?
First off, all civil cases are handled at the Wake County Courthouse, located on 316 Fayetteville Street. If a case is worth more than $10,000 it should be filed in the Superior Court; if not, the District Court. If a case is worth less than $5,000 a plaintiff can take advantage of the relaxed procedural and evidentiary rules in small claims court.
The way to initiate a lawsuit is with a complaint, which is a brief explanation of the basis of the suit, the names of the defendants, and a request for compensation. Once it is filed, a local process server can help with hand delivering the court papers to all defendants. If this sounds complicated, you may want to speak with an experience personal injury attorney. Personal injury attorneys almost universally work on a contingency fee basis, which means you pay them a percent of your recover after you win. This means no money upfront, and they earn money only after a recovery (settlement or court victory).