It's the last weekend of the State Fair of Texas and you and your buddies have piled into the car, dreaming of deep fried peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwiches. You are getting close to Fair Park and can even see the Texas Star Ferris Wheel in the distance. It's stop and go traffic, but the person behind you didn't get the memo on the stop portion. You brace yourself as your car is rear-ended. The impact is hard and your neck hurts. What should you do? What do you say? Who do you call? Here is some legal information to help you after a car accident in The Big D.
Stop, Look and Listen
The first step is to pull over and stop the car. In Dallas, as in the rest of Texas, in any case involving injury, property damage or death, you must immediately stop your vehicle at (or as close as possible to) the scene and remain there until you exchange information with the other driver and provide any injured person reasonable assistance.
Reasonable assistance includes transporting the injured or making arrangements for transporting the injured to a doctor or hospital. If anyone needs medical treatment, call 911 (City of Dallas Emergency Communications Center) right away.
Next, look at the cars. Can they be safely moved? If so, move them out of the flow of traffic. If they can't be moved, the Texas Department of Transportation recommends that you protect the accident scene by raising your hood or setting up flares.
By law, you and the other driver are required to provide the following information to each other at this time:
- Your name and address;
- The registration number of the car you were driving;
- The name of your insurance; and
- Your driver's license (if requested and available).
Call the police if: anyone is injured, damage is anticipated to be $1000 or more, you suspect a driver is intoxicated, a driver doesn't have insurance, or a driver attempts to leave the scene. If the police are not called and the accident results in injury, death or $1000 or more of property damage, you must file an Accident Report with the Texas Department of Transportation within 10 days.
Contact Your Insurance Company
Drivers in Dallas must have proof of financial responsibility for their vehicles. Usually, this is accomplished with automobile liability insurance. The minimum limits in Texas are called 30/60/25 coverage. This insurance covers $30,000 per injured person (up to $6,000 per accident) and $25,000 for property damage per accident. Your coverage may be higher than this.
It is important to report your accident to your insurance carrier right away and to be truthful with them. However, you are not required to automatically accept their estimates or appraisals. Here is a more comprehensive list of do's and don'ts for dealing with the insurance claim process.
What Damages Are Available
If you have suffered harm from the accident, you may seek damages or "economic recovery" for your loss. These damages may include lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.
Determining Who Is Responsible
Determining fault and liability in motor vehicle accidents can be complicated and depends on the circumstances leading up to the crash.
For example, it may be that your accident was caused by the negligence of both you and the other driver. In a case like this, it wouldn't be fair for the other driver to pay for all of your damages, since you were partially at fault. This legal theory is called comparative negligence, and is essentially a way to split the blame.
States handle this differently. In a few states, if you are even 1% responsible for the accident, you can't recover any damages. Dallas (and the rest of Texas) follows what is called a modified comparative negligence law, which allows you to be found up to 50% responsible for your injuries and still recover damages. However, your damages will be reduced depending on how much you were at fault. For example, if you are found to be 10% responsible for the accident and you are claiming damages of $10,000, you would only be able to recover $9000 or 90% instead of the full amount.
Working with Lawyers
You may want to find a local attorney to sort through the aftermath of the accident. Many attorneys work on what is called a "contingency basis," which means that you do not pay your attorney unless you receive a settlement or award in a case. Only then will your attorney take a percentage of the award or settlement and recover their costs of handling the case.
Generally speaking, you will only be liable for an accident where you were at fault. Most insurance providers advise drivers not to admit fault because it can be a complex legal issue. In most cases, it is best to simply notify your insurance provider because the company's lawyers will work with other attorneys to determine fault. If you do not have insurance, or you fear that the collision goes beyond your coverage, you may want to contact a Greater Austin car accident attorney.
Recovery for Your Losses
If you were not at fault, generally you can receive payments for your losses due to a car accident. You can go to court to recover for your personal injuries and property damage. Many local attorneys provide this kind of assistance. They may charge you nothing up front and instead take a percentage of what you receive. When searching for representation, ask about this arrangement, known as a "contingency agreement." Act swiftly because individuals usually only have two years from the date of the accident to file a claim.
Get Help From a Texas Lawyer After Your Car Accident
It can be very difficult to know what to do after a car accident in Austin, or anywhere else for that matter. This outline is meant to be helpful, but a lawyer's assistance can be essential to clarifying your rights and obligations. Contact a local car accident attorney to learn more about how to proceed.