Your mom was out for a lovely Sunday morning drive down coastal Highway 17. She was with her "rowdy" book club group who decided to take a field trip after reading Pat Conroy novel, "South of Broad." Those ladies, particularly Mildred, can be speed-demons. "Millie" just bought a bright yellow, Chevrolet Camaro SS with 426 horsepower. Watch out, world. Here she comes.
Your mom was test-driving the Camaro and discovered her "lead foot." She calls and tells you she was going too fast racing a Mustang (who is this woman?) and couldn't avoid hitting a tree and the Mustang.
Now what? Here's some information to help guide you through the process should you or someone you know be in a car accident in Charleston County.
Stop and Call the Police
First, stop where you are and call the Charleston Police or 911, especially if someone was injured (or worse). A police officer will respond to your location and take a report. The investigating officer will give you a form (FR-10) to fill out to prove that you have the proper liability insurance.
South Carolina law requires all drivers to stop at the scene and exchange insurance information or provide reasonable assistance to anyone injured. If you drive away, you could be charged with criminal hit-and-run.
Report the Accident to the DMV
If the police take a report, you may not have to report the accident to the DMV. However, if you do, the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles will be waiting to hear from you if the accident caused over $1,000 in damages, injuries, or death to anyone. Complete a traffic collision report within 15 days. The form is called an FR-309. If you don't, you could face penalties.
What Do I Do at the Scene?
Be prepared to exchange information with the other driver: your name, address and driver's license number; the registration number of the car you were driving; and the name your insurance company. If there are witnesses, be sure to get their names and addresses, too.
Consider making note of traffic and weather conditions. Draw a simple diagram of the collision scene and/or take photographs if you are able.
At this stage, don't volunteer who you think is to blame for the accident. Generally, don't agree to pay for damages or sign any documents except a traffic ticket. Make sure you always cooperate with the police officer investigating the case.
Minimum Car Insurance Requirements
If you plan to drive in Charleston, you must have liability car insurance. At a minimum, you should have:
- Bodily Injury: $25,000 per person, $50,000 per accident
Insurance experts recommend carrying at least $100,000 per person and $300,000 per occurrence - commonly expressed as "100/300."
- Property Damage: $25,000 of coverage.
What happens if you don't have coverage? Your privilege to drive, license plate and vehicle registration may be suspended and you may have to pay a $200.00 reinstatement fee. You will also have to pay $5.00 for each day your vehicle was uninsured, up to $200.00.
Uninsured Motorist Registration
Back in 1999, the legislature passed a law allowing you to register as an uninsured motorist (PDF), but you have to pay $550. Basically you are telling South Carolina that you intend to drive without insurance whatsoever. Risky move, legally, but it's an option.
Report the Accident to Your Insurance Companies
As soon as you can, report the crash to your insurance company. Failure to make a prompt and correct report may affect your rights. Your carrier will open an investigation. Be honest with the adjuster, but remember you don't have to automatically accept their estimate or appraisal. Here's a list of do's and don'ts when speaking with insurance adjusters.
Remember, any statement may potentially be used as an admission of fault. Be cautious in dealing with persons offering to adjust your case or trying to hurry you into a settlement. Once a release is signed, it is very difficult to reopen a case.
Liability: How to Determine Fault
Determining who is at fault in an accident can be complicated. Car accidents are caused by a variety of factors, including driver negligence, defective car parts, poorly maintained roads, or driver distraction.
In South Carolina, in order to prove fault, you must prove negligence. The state follows a modified comparative negligence, 51% rule. What this means is that you can be found partially at fault for the accident, but your fault cannot exceed 51%; otherwise, you will not be entitled to seek any damages. Therefore, you can be 50% at fault, and still collect compensation for your damages. The lower the fault that is placed on you, the more money you can possibly recover in your injury claim.
What Can I Recover if I Sue?
If you have suffered harm from the accident, you can seek money damages for your loss. These damages may include lost wages, pain and suffering, property damage, and more.
Call a Lawyer
If you aren't sure what to do, a lawyer may be able to help. Many attorneys take auto accident cases on a contingency fee basis. Basically, in these types of arrangements, you do not pay the lawyer his or her attorney fees if you lose the case. If you win, you pay the lawyer a percentage of the money you get. A settlement is considered a "win."
Going to Court
If you do decide to sue, your attorney will provide details about where and when to appear in court and what to expect. Here's a list of courthouses in Charleston County.