Like many Portland residents, you would much rather take your bike. Or the lightrail. Or even walk to wherever it is that you want to go. But your never-ending search for the best cup of coffee or the most exciting karaoke bar takes you far off the beaten path, and you have to take your car. The trouble with cars -- aside from the emissions they create -- is that car accidents can be quite costly and the bills can often take months to resolve. Here is a primer on what to do after a car accident in Portland, so that you're prepared the next time you have to drive across town.
First Steps after an Accident
The first thing you should do after a car accident in Portland -- or anywhere, for that matter -- is stop your car as safely as possible. In Oregon, as in other jurisdictions, not stopping after you have caused property damage or injury to another person is considered a hit-and-run, and is severely punished. If no one is badly hurt and both vehicles can be moved out of traffic, it's best to move aside to allow other cars to pass. However, if it seems unsafe to move the vehicles, leave them as they are.
Next, see if anyone requires emergency medical attention and if they do, call 911 right away.
Assuming no one is severely hurt, give the other driver your name, contact information, and insurance policy, and be sure to get the same information from him. Also take note of the make and model of the other driver's car, their license plate number, the road and weather conditions, and any damage to either vehicle. If it is safe to do so, take a few pictures of the cars, any property damage, and the site of the accident. If there were other witnesses present, be sure to record their names and contact information in case you need to get their perspective on what happened. FindLaw's pamphlet "Motor Vehicle Accidents: First Steps" has a list of the all the information to gather after an accident. It may be helpful to print a copy and keep it in your glove box.
Oregon law requires you to notify local police as soon as possible after an accident. If you had to call 911 to address a medical emergency, then no additional reporting is required. Otherwise, it's best to call the Portland Police on their non-emergency number as soon as possible after the accident so that the police can conduct an investigation and file a police report. Additionally, drivers involved in an accident must file an "Oregon Traffic Accident and Insurance Report" with their local DMV office within 72 hours of the accident. Be sure to keep a copy of the report for your records.
Finally, if you are injured, see your doctor or an urgent care facility for treatment and be sure to keep a copy of any medical records generated. You must notify your insurance company as soon as you can so that you do not miss the deadline for filing a claim.
Determining Who is At Fault
In general, the person who is at fault must pay for the damage to the other party, including automobile repairs, medical bills, and other types of damages. A lawsuit over a motor vehicle accident is a type of personal injury suit, so the determination of fault uses the same guidelines. Oregon follows a comparative negligence rule, which means that the plaintiff (the legal term for the person that was hurt) can still recover damages even if they were partially to blame. However, if the plaintiff was more that 50 percent to blame for the accident, then he can recover nothing.
Judges and juries can consider a variety of factors when allocating fault for a motor vehicle accident, including the following:
- Whether one or both of the drivers were intoxicated;
- Whether the drivers were obeying all traffic laws and observing posted speed limits;
- The condition of the vehicles involved;
- Whether the drivers and passengers were wearing seat belts of using proper child restraint systems; and
- External conditions like weather, visibility, or obstacles in the road.
The Role of Insurance
Oregon requires every driver to carry automobile insurance with the following terms:
- Bodily injury and property damage minimum: $25,000 per person/$50,000 per accident. This amount will be used to pay for the damage you caused to other people;
- Personal injury protection minimum: $15,000 per person. This amount will pay for your own injuries in a crash; and
- Uninsured motorist coverage: $25,000 per person/$50,000 per accident. This amount will pay for your own damage if an uninsured motorist caused an accident.
If a driver does not have an adequate insurance policy, their driver's license will be suspended until he gets a policy that meets the legal minimums.
After an accident, you will need to notify your insurance company as soon as possible so that they can process your claim, if necessary. If the accident was not your fault, you may also wish to consider filing a third party claim with the at-fault driver's insurance company.
In either case, the insurance company will investigate the accident using the available police reports, photos, medical records, and repair bills. If the insurance company determines that the accident was no one's fault, then they will generally pay for damage to your property. If the insurance company determines that the damage was due to another driver's negligence, they may file a claim with that driver's insurance company or advise you to do the same. If the insurance company determines that the accident was your fault, they may reimburse the other party for the damage you caused. They may also pay for an attorney to defend you in any lawsuits.
Get Legal Help After Your Car Accident in Portland
While most minor traffic accidents, what we call "fender-benders," are relatively easy to remedy, every situation is different. If you're having trouble collecting for damages resulting from someone else's negligence, whether it's body work or medical bills, you should seek legal advice. Don't delay, contact a local car accident attorney today.