Driving in Houston can be maddening. The highways in the fourth-largest city in America often have different names depending on who you ask. Is it the North Freeway or 59 North? Why do some Houstonians tell you to take the Katy Freeway while others call it Interstate 10 West? Same goes for I-610 North and the North Loop. As if the roads weren't confusing enough, figuring out what to do after a car accident in Houston can be just as complicated.
The City of Houston is larger than the entire state of Maryland. You could fit all of New York, Boston and San Francisco in Houston's city limits. With more than 2.145 million people zipping around, there are fairly decent odds you may end up in a car accident at some point. It can be hard to sort out what to do after a car accident in Houston. The following legal information should help.
Pull Over, Assess Damages and Injuries
The first thing to do after a car accident is to stop the car. In Houston, just like the rest of Texas, you must immediately stop your vehicle at the scene of an accident with injuries, property damage or death. Drivers must remain at the scene (or as close as is safely possible) and stay there until you exchange information with the other driver and provide any injured person reasonable assistance.
Not everyone is aware of this reasonable assistance requirement on Houston roadways. It may be a strange thing to do with a stranger, but this includes transporting the injured or making arrangements for transporting the injured to a doctor or hospital. If anyone needs medical treatment, the best course of action is to call 911 immediately.
Assuming there are no injuries, then next issue to assess the vehicles. 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.
Texas law requires both drivers 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).
You should call Houston 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.
What if the police were not called at the scene? If the accident results in injury, death or $1,000 or more of property damage, you must file an Accident Report with the Texas Department of Transportation within 10 days.
Inform Your Insurance Company
Houston drivers must have proof of financial responsibility for their vehicles. Usually, this is accomplished with automobile liability insurance. The minimum limits in Texas call for 30/60/25 coverage. What does this mean? This insurance covers $30,000 per injured person (up to $6,000 per accident) and $25,000 for property damage per accident. Of course, your coverage may be higher than this if you wish.
It's wise to report your accident to your insurance company right away. That said, you are not required to automatically accept their estimates, appraisals or financial settlements. Dealing with the insurance claim process can be tricky, so be sure to protect your rights.
Damages, Determining Fault
If you have suffered harm from the accident, you may seek damages ("economic recovery") for your loss. These damages may include lost wages, pain and suffering, repair costs, and more. Determining fault and liability after a car accidents can be complicated. For instance, liability will typically come down to police reports and witness accounts of the crash.
Now what about divvying up responsibility for an accident? How much someone can be held responsible for varies by jurisdiction. In some states, if you are even 1% responsible for the accident, you can't recover any damages.
In Houston (like the rest of Texas) there is a modified comparative negligence law on the books. What does this mean for you? This allows you to be found up to 50% responsible for your injuries and still recover damages. But your damages will be reduced depending on how much you were at fault. So, if you are found to be 20% responsible for the accident and you are claiming damages of $10,000, you would only be able to recover $8,000 or 80% instead of the full amount.
Working with an Attorney
You may want to speak with a local Houston accident attorney to sort through the aftermath of a car accident. Many attorneys work on 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 (typically 33%) of the award or settlement and recover their costs of handling the case. Dealing with insurance companies, police, and opposing attorneys can be daunting after an accident. Hiring an lawyer would relieve you from having to deal all the negotiations and formalities, plus potentially give you some peace of mind.
Contact a Houston Attorney after Your Accident
Whether it's a serious collision involving injuries or just a minor fender bender, you may need more help figuring out what to do after a car accident in Houston. Insurance companies handle most claims, but there still could be unresolved legal matters that need to be addressed. Contact a car accident attorney near you today.