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What should I do after a car accident?

A serious car accident is a logistical nightmare for everyone involved. Between physical injuries, the shock of the event and filing a claim, it’s no wonder so many individuals find dealing with the aftermath of a car accident to be such a challenge.

While many drivers are able to receive the compensation they deserve from their insurers, others must fight to get justice. If you fall into the latter category, it’s important to have legal representation you can trust.

Here’s what’s expected of you in the minutes, days and months following an accident, and the reasons legal assistance might be needed.

Immediately following the accident

There are several steps you should take following a motor accident before worrying about liability. First and foremost is ensuring that you, the other driver and any passengers you both have are safe. Immediately call 000 for emergency services if necessary, and apply first aid care if you know how. Move the vehicles off the shoulder if the accident is blocking the roadway and it’s possible to do so.

From there, find out if the other party has insurance and collect their insurance information if so. While Compulsory Third Party insurance (CTP) is a requirement for registering a car in Australia, as many as 1 in 5 cars on the road may not be properly insured, according to Finder. You should also ask to see the other driver’s license and take a photograph if possible.

Once you’ve swapped basic information, it’s time to record as many details about the accident as possible. Write down as much information as you can about the driver, their car and any damage to either vehicle. Be sure to also note the speed at which you were driving, diagram the scene of the accident and detail any traffic lights or signs. If possible, try to do this with either photographs or video. Ultimately, the more details you can collect, the better the case you can make for yourself to insurance or in litigation. If you are unable to gather information at the scene of an accident because of injuries you suffered, a personal injury solicitor can assist you later.

Throughout this time, it’s also important that you remain calm and neither admit fault nor accuse the other party of being at fault — even if you’re confident they are. Statements like these could be used against you by insurers, even if you’re not responsible.

Determining fault in an accident

In Australia, the person who is found to be “at fault” for a motor vehicle accident must pay for damages incurred to the other driver. Reasons a driver could be found responsible are particular to each situation but could include:

  • Speeding
  • Improperly signaling or moving into a lane
  • Stopping suddenly
  • Ignoring traffic signals or signage
  • Distracted driving
  • Drink driving

In many accidents, multiple drivers can be found to be responsible — in these cases, each driver is “partially at fault.” If the at-fault driver is operating a work vehicle, the employer may potentially be at least partially responsible.

While in some cases a driver will simply admit fault, it often falls to the insurers to review the evidence and determine either who is at fault or, in cases of partial responsibility, what the split in payments will be. To do this, companies look at the evidence gathered by you, the other driver and the police (if they were needed at the scene), as well as any witness accounts that may exist.

Seeking damages in a motor vehicle accident

Once it’s been determined who is at fault for an accident, you can begin filing for personal injury damages. In situations where both you and the other driver are properly insured, it will be the responsibility of the at-fault driver’s insurance to foot the bill.

If the responsible party is uninsured, they’ll have to pay out of pocket — a situation that can make getting fully compensated a challenge. While an insurer is responsible for all personal injury damages, other categories, such as repair costs, may require a third-party insurer or for you to pay out of pocket.

To make a claim, you’ll typically need to send a letter of demand to the other driver or their insurer. This letter should include the amount you’re seeking, the specific damages it’s covering and when you expect to receive your compensation.

As with most personal injury cases, the potential damages an injured driver can seek include:

  • The cost of treating the immediate physical or psychological injury
  • Ongoing medical costs, such as domestic care to recuperate from long-term injuries
  • Non-economic damages, also called “pain and suffering” damages, for psychological or emotional distress
  • Loss of earnings or superannuation if the incident leaves you unable to work

Of course, just because you believe you are entitled to fair compensation does not mean that an insurer will necessarily give you all of it. In some cases, an insurer may deny your claim outright. That’s where assistance from a qualified personal injury legal team comes into the picture.

When to seek legal assistance

An auto accident lawyer can help you with every stage of the injury claims process, from presenting evidence to an insurer to filing a letter of demand and ultimately handling litigation if you are denied payment. You can also consult with a lawyer to ensure you’re claiming all of the damages available to you.

Legal representation becomes especially important If an insurer — either your own or the other driver’s — rejects your claim. A solicitor can review the evidence of the case and let you know if your claim is being unfairly denied and what your next steps may look like.

Generally, a lawyer will either reach out directly to an insurer or file a court order. Even if a court motion is filed, a judge will usually recommend that your legal team and the insurer enter into a settlement negotiation before proceeding any further. Settlements have the potential to save all parties the time and money required for pursuing a full court case but could result in you getting slightly less money. The vast majority of these cases will end in a settlement, generally a positive outcome for accident survivors like you.

Ultimately, experts in the field can help you sort through paperwork and assist you in gaining the compensation you’re seeking, including payouts that are handled quickly and professionally. It’s important to work with lawyers who specialise in personal injury law with the experience you need to successfully pursue compensation.

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Gerard Malouf & Partners
 — Personal Injury Compensation Lawyers

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