It was Friday night and you were meeting your girlfriends at Bistro Le Monde for dinner and drinks. You were thinking about work and not really paying attention as you drove down Dowlen Road. You ended up flying right past the restaurant and had to make a U-turn. Just as you were turning, another car came out of nowhere and slammed into you. What happens now? What do you do? To help you, we've compiled some basic information for dealing with a car accident in Beaumont.
The most important thing to do after an accident is to stop, exchange information with the other driver and get help for anyone who is injured. This is required under Texas law and failure to comply can result in criminal charges.
Try to collect as much information about the other driver (name, contact information, insurance carrier and policy number, driver's license number) and his car (make, model, license plate, registration number) as you can. If there were any witnesses, get their contact information, as well. You may also want to take photographs of the scene and vehicles, and jot down brief notes on the location, weather, and traffic conditions.
This FindLaw pamphlet, Motor Vehicle Accident: First Steps, contains a useful checklist, as well as a place to record information.
Reporting the Incident
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) explains that you should contact the police in the following situations: the accident results in injury or death, the vehicles are not moveable, one of the drivers is under the influence, one of the drivers is uninsured, or one of the drivers flees the scene. If any of these circumstances exist, you may contact emergency services at 911 or the Beaumont Police Department Reporting Line at 409-880-3862.
If the police do not investigate, the TxDOT notes that you must file a Form CR-2 within 10 days. The form provides that it should be completed in the case of injury, death, or apparent property damage of $1,000 or more.
In order to operate a motor vehicle in Beaumont and the rest of the state, you must establish financial responsibility for that vehicle. A common way to do this is by carrying automobile liability insurance. As the Texas Department of Insurance explains, liability insurance will pay for other people's property damage and injuries, but it does not pay for yours. If you want to be covered, as well, you might consider additional insurance, such as comprehensive or personal injury protection. The minimum liability limits in Texas are known as 30/60/25, which means $30,000 for each injured person, up to $60,000 total per accident and $25,000 for property damage.
After the accident, you should contact your insurance company to report the crash. Try to familiarize yourself first with what is covered and what is excluded under your policy. FindLaw has a glossary of common auto insurance terms you may wish to consult. In addition, check out this FindLaw article for tips on Car Insurance Claims Dos and Don'ts.
Bringing Legal Action
You may decide to bring legal action against the other driver, in which case you would likely file your lawsuit at the Jefferson County Courthouse, which houses nearly all of Beaumont's courts in one building. Which court you are in will depend on how much you are seeking in damages (economic recovery). Amounts up to $10,000 are typically heard in the Justice Court or County Court, while larger amounts are generally in the District Court.
Bear in mind that there are timeframes within which you must file your lawsuit or be forever prohibited from doing so. These time limits are called statutes of limitations, and they vary by state and cause of action. In Beaumont and the rest of Texas, you will generally have two years to bring your claim.
A typical car accident lawsuit will likely allege that the other driver acted negligently. To act negligently is basically to act carelessly and for that carelessness to cause or contribute to the accident.
Sometimes both parties behave negligently and in some jurisdictions if you are even 1% at fault yourself you cannot recover from the other party at all. Fortunately, Beaumont and the rest of Texas follow what is known as a comparative negligence (or proportionate responsibility) theory that only prohibits recovery of damages if you are more than 50% percent responsible. So, for example, if you were seeking $100,000 in damages and you were determined to be 40% at fault, you could still recover the remaining 60% ($60,000).
What Types of Damages Can You Recover?
Typically, in a car accident case, you will seek monetary compensation for items such as medical bills, lost wages, property damage and pain and suffering. In some limited cases, and subject to restrictions, "punitive damages" (designed both to punish the wrongdoer and set an example for others) may be available where there is fraud, malice, or gross negligence.
Do You Need An Attorney?
Depending on the extent of the accident and resulting damage and injury, you may wish to consult with an accident attorney. Check out the FindLaw section on Using a Personal Injury Lawyer for information on how an attorney can help, forms to help you prepare your case, and more.