Your daily commute north on I-75 past Highway 48 and Grand Avenue is never pretty, but in winter conditions things get downright scary. It seems every other day you spot some poor sap shivering in the snow, stranded on the shoulder waiting for a tow truck to show up. Unfortunately, today that poor sap is you. You wished you paid more attention to the driver's ed class, but now your car's a wreck. Accidents can happen in all sorts of ways, but FindLaw has created this guide to fill you in with general information about car accidents in Dayton.
First Things First
There are a few easy steps you should generally take after an accident. First, Ohio law requires you to stop your vehicle in a safe location after any accident. You must provide your name, address and vehicle registration number to all the parties involved in the accident. If you were borrowing someone else's car, you'll need to give the owner's name too.
If no one was injured, you can drive away after exchanging information. However, if the accident resulted in an injury or at least $400 in property damage, you have to file a crash report (PDF) 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 are required to stay with the injured person until the police arrive.
Finally, you should gather any information and evidence you think might be useful. This includes contact information for any witnesses who weren't involved in the accident. You may also jot down notes on the weather and road conditions, if relevant, or the exact circumstances of the accident. These kinds of notes can be helpful to reinforce your credibility or ability to remember, should it be questioned later on. It is also a good idea to take photos of the accident scene and the damage to your vehicle. Although it may be tempting, it's usually not a good idea to discuss fault after an accident.
This is a lot of information to remember after a traumatic accident, so why not print out a helpful checklist (PDF) to store in your glove box just in case?
Provisions of Ohio law prohibit anyone from driving in Ohio without auto insurance. All drivers are required to carry a minimum coverage of at least:
- $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 caused the accident is liable for all resulting damages, including injuries, though in reality damages are usually collected from the at-fault party's insurance company.
The Statute of Limitations
Ohio law sets time limits for filing various legal actions to prevent plaintiffs from dragging defendants to court for old accidents. For personal injury or auto accident claims, Ohio's statute of limitations gives plaintiffs two years from the date of an accident to file a claim. If you do not file within two years of the accident, the judge may dismiss your claim without even considering it.
Initiating a Lawsuit
You must draft a complaint to file your lawsuit. A complaint is a brief description of the incident, the names of the defendants and a request for compensation. Alternatively, you may want to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney about if and how to proceed. Personal injury attorneys almost universally work on a contingency fee basis, which means you pay them a percentage of your recovery in the event that you win. Yes, if you lose, you typically pay nothing in such an arrangement.
Next is the question of which court to go to? If a lawsuit is worth $15,000 or less, it should probably be filed at Dayton Municipal Court at 301 W. Third Street. If someone is seeking more than $15,000, the suit should be filed at the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court at 41 N. Perry Street.
Alternatively, if a claim is worth less than $3,000, the small claims division of the Municipal Court may be a good option for its relaxed procedural requirements. Check out this handy guide to small claims court (PDF) published by the Ohio Supreme Court.
Types of Lawsuits
The most popular type of claim in court after an accident is one for negligence. To recover in a negligence lawsuit, one 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.
Ohio has adopted a modified comparative negligence rule for distributing damages when both drivers are partially responsible for causing an accident. Under Ohio's comparative negligence law, fault is assigned to each party and damages are reduced in proportion to the plaintiff's level of responsibility. For example, if you racked up $1,000 in medical bills as a result of an accident which was found to be 10% your fault, you may be able to recover 90%, or $900. But beware of Ohio's "51% rule." The same statute specifies that if the plaintiff is more than 50% at fault, they may not recover any damages whatsoever.
In cases of fatal accidents, surviving family members have a right to sue for wrongful death. This type of lawsuit is similar to negligence, but may also seek lost wages from the deceased, lost companionship, and funeral expenses for the survivors.
The above information covers the basics of Dayton car accidents and contains general information. For information specific to a particular case or for advice, it may be best to contact a local attorney specializing in car accident cases.