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What to do After a Car Accident in Columbus

The driver in a bright yellow Hummer left your vehicle a smoldering wreck on the shoulder at Cleveland Avenue and Morse Road. Now you have to live with the consequences: pain, medical bills, inability to work, plus haunting nightmares and flashbacks. To add insult to injury, you must brave the Ohio court system because Mr. Hummer won't return your calls. To help you in the potentially long road ahead, FindLaw has created a guide to prepare you for what to do after a car accident in Columbus.

First Things First

There are a few easy steps you should always take after experiencing an accident. First, don't drive away. Ohio law requires you to stop your vehicle at once to provide your name, address, and vehicle registration number to all the parties involved in the accident. You'll need to give the owner's name too, if it isn't your vehicle.

If no one was injured, you can leave the scene after exchanging information. However, if an injury occurred, or if there was at least $400 in property damage, and if the driver or owner of one of the vehicles in the accident doesn't have auto insurance, you have to file a crash report with the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles within six months of the accident. If serious injury resulted, to the point where the injured person cannot understand or write down the information you've given them, you must stay with the victim until the police arrive.

Finally, you should gather any evidence you think might be useful. You may want to write down the contact information of any witnesses not involved in the accident, as well as hear their side of the story. You could also jot notes on the weather and road conditions, or the exact circumstances of the accident. It is also a good idea to take photos of the accident scene and any damage to your vehicle. However, it is often suggested to avoid volunteering any additional details until after you talk 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 to keep nearby for a rainy day?

Auto Insurance

Ohio Revised Code section 4509.101 prohibits anyone from driving in Ohio without auto insurance. The law requires financial responsibility in the minimum amount of $25,000 for bodily injury to or death of one individual in any one accident, $50,000 for bodily injury to or death of two or more individuals in any one accident, and $25,000 for injury to the property of others in any one accident.

Ohio follows the traditional "fault" system when it comes to car accidents, meaning the person who was legally to blame for causing the accident is liable for all resulting damages, including injuries (though damages are usually collected from the at-fault party's insurance company).

Initiating a Lawsuit

To file a lawsuit, you must draft a complaint, which is a brief explanation of the basis of your lawsuit, the names of the defendants and a request for compensation. Alternatively, 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.

If your lawsuit is worth $15,000 or less you must file your lawsuit at the Franklin County Municipal Court. If the amount in controversy exceeds $15,000, you should instead file at the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. These courts are right next door to each other, at 375 and 345 South High Street, respectively. Alternatively, if you claim is worth less than $3,000 consider using small claims court for relaxed procedural requirements. Check out this handy guide to small claims court published by the Ohio Supreme Court.

Time Limits

Like all states, Ohio sets time limits for filing various legal actions. For personal injury or auto accident claims, Ohio's statute of limitations gives accident victims two years from the date of an auto accident to file a claim against the driver at fault for the wreck. If you do not file within two years of the accident, you will be forever barred from recovery regardless of the strength of your claim.

Types of Lawsuits

The most common type of lawsuit after an accident 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 the 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 the manufacturer if a defect in the vehicle contributed to the accident. To succeed on this claim you must prove:

  • the defective car or part was "unreasonably dangerous;"
  • you were operating the vehicle as intended; and
  • the vehicle's performance had not changed since its initial purchase.

Comparative Negligence

Ohio adopted a modified comparative negligence rule for distributing damages in 1980. Under Ohio's comparative negligence law, the jury assigns fault to each party and damages are reduced in proportion to each party's 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 percent your fault, you will be able to recover 90 percent, or $900. But beware, for the same statute specifies that if a party is more than 50 percent at fault they may not recover any damages.

Get Legal Help with Your Car Accident in Columbus

Now that you know what to do after a car accident in Columbus, it's a good idea to consult with a local car accident attorney to learn more about the Ohio state laws governing car accidents, and of course, get help specific questions about what to do after a car accident in Columbus.

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