Even with amazing advances in automotive safety, the number of car accidents is rising, with more than 2.3 million crash injuries reported annually throughout the U.S. American roadways are busier than ever, and not just in big cities. With so many cars on the road, it’s no surprise the average driver can expect to be in three or four accidents during their lifetime. Utah has its share of car accidents with over 62,000 car crashes that injured more than 26,000 people in one year. Yet, when an accident happens, it always seems to come out of the blue. One minute you’re safely driving along, and the next minute you’re on the roadside, stunned by a sudden collision. Recovering from injuries and losses after a car accident can be difficult and expensive. Your financial recovery will hinge on the success of your auto insurance claim. You can’t always avoid being hit by a negligent driver, but you can build a strong insurance claim if you know what to say and do, and what pitfalls to avoid after a car accident.
What you need to know if you’ve been in a Utah Car Accident
Here are some steps toward building a strong auto insurance claim.
Stop, Check for Injuries, Call 911
Immediately stop as close to the accident site as you safely can. Check to see if anyone is injured, then call 911.
Tell the 911 dispatcher:
Location: Emergency responders can get there faster if they know where to find you, so tell the dispatcher the road you’re on, which direction you were heading, the nearest intersecting street names or mile markers, GPS coordinates, or any landmarks that will help describe your location.
Injuries: Tell the dispatcher if anyone is injured or asking for medical help.
Hazards: Accidents scenes can be dangerous, with commotion around the wrecked cars and closely passing traffic. Tell the dispatcher if anyone is trapped, if there are overturned vehicles, or if there are hazards in the area like leaking fuel or downed power lines.
Drivers are legally required to immediately notify police in the event of an accident involving injuries, death or property damage. Drivers in Utah are also obligated to provide “reasonable assistance” to the injured after an accident. Reasonable assistance means helping the injured as best you can, and arranging for them to be transported for medical treatment. This obligation is typically fulfilled by calling 911 to ask for police and rescue services. Finally, drivers are required to provide their name, address, car registration and proof of insurance information to all other persons involved in the crash, unless that information has already been given to the investigating police officer. Your injuries from a car accident may be painfully obvious, like broken bones or bad burns. But injuries from car accidents aren’t always easy to see, even potentially life-threatening injuries like head trauma or internal bleeding. Shock and distress can mask your symptoms. Some injury symptoms may not fully develop until hours or even days after the crash. Never refuse medical treatment at the scene. Tell emergency responders about any symptoms you’re experiencing, no matter how mild. If paramedics want to transport you to the hospital, let them take you. If you’re not taken directly to the hospital from the accident scene, make sure you’re seen by a medical provider as soon as possible after the accident. If your primary provider isn’t available, go to the nearest urgent care center or hospital emergency department. Refusing or delaying medical treatment after an accident can seriously undermine your insurance claim when the insurance company argues that your injuries were not caused by the collision.
What if I hit a parked car or other property?
If you’ve hit a parked car or other property, like a street sign or utility pole, you must stop immediately. Try to locate the person in charge of the property and provide your name, address and the registration number of the car you were driving. If you can’t find the property owner, leave a note with your name, address, and the car’s registration number.
Police Accident Investigations
Police are usually dispatched to auto accidents where there are injuries, fatalities, traffic is blocked, or there are reported hazards. In busy jurisdictions, an officer may not be available to respond to non-injury accidents like fender-benders. Police officers are highly trained in accident management and investigation. The investigating officer is authorized to:
• Secure the accident scene
• Coordinate care and transport of the injured
• Gather evidence and determine fault
• Conduct sobriety tests
• Issue citations
You can try telling the police your side of the story, but the officer on the scene doesn’t have to stop and listen. Police have a job to do. If the officer tells you to wait or gives you any other instructions, you should cooperate. If the officer determines you’ve violated Utah traffic laws, you may be cited. While you can try to talk the officer out of giving you a ticket, once it’s issued you should accept the citation. Accepting a traffic citation is not an admission of guilt. Dispute the ticket in traffic court, not at the accident scene. The easiest way to obtain a copy of the report for your accident is to visit the Utah Department of Public Safety Accident Report Database.
Start Gathering Evidence
Accident scenes change quickly. When cars are towed, and the drivers and witnesses leave, they may be taking valuable evidence with them. Use the short window of time right after an accident to begin collecting critical evidence, before it’s gone. The evidence you collect from the accident scene will strengthen your insurance claim, especially when the accident was caused by a negligent driver. You’ll need proof the other driver did something wrong or failed to act responsibly.
Start by collecting key information from the other driver:
• Name and address
• Vehicle registration information
• Driver’s license information
• Insurance information
Passengers: Ask for passengers’ names, addresses, birth dates, telephone numbers, work numbers, and any other contact information. Occupants of the other vehicle are not required to talk to you, but you can make detailed notes for yourself about how many passengers were in the other car, approximate ages, what they looked like, how they were behaving, and what you heard them say.
Vehicles: Look for the make, model, year, license plate number, expiration date, and vehicle identification number (VIN) for each vehicle in the accident. The VIN can normally be found on the left corner of the dashboard near the windshield, or inside the door jamb of the driver’s side door. Don’t enter another vehicle without permission. The VIN may also be found on the driver’s insurance card.
Diagrams: Create a drawing of the accident scene showing the position of the cars before and after the crash, and the direction they were heading. Show road conditions, like ice or construction areas. Add notes about the weather, traffic, blinding sunlight, and anything else that contributed to the accident. Using your phone, tablet or any other device to take pictures and videos at the scene can greatly help your claim. Walk around the scene, taking as many pictures and videos as you can from different angles. Photographs and video footage can reveal important details of the vehicles and crash site. Sometimes, pictures or sound-enabled videos can capture how the drivers and passengers were behaving, admissions of fault, signs of drug or alcohol intoxication, and other important factors that will have a tremendous bearing on your insurance claim. Photographs and videos can be compelling evidence, making it harder for those involved to change their story after the accident.
Witnesses are not legally required to talk to you, but you can try to speak with any potential witness long enough to find out if they saw anything helpful to your claim. If you have a cooperative witness, get their name and contact information, and ask if they’ll write down what they saw. Have the witness sign and date any written statement. Be ready for the unexpected with our free Car Accident Information Form. Keep a copy with a pen in your car, in the same place you stash your insurance and registration cards. You’ll always be prepared to collect the evidence you’ll need for a successful insurance claim.
Notify Your Insurance Company
Your auto insurance policy is a legal contract between you and your insurance company. The insurance company should defend you when you’re in an accident, but you must do your part. Your obligations under the policy include telling your insurance company when an accident happens. Take a close look at your insurance policy. Almost every policy has a Notice of Occurrence and Cooperation clause. The clause means you agree to tell your insurance company when you’re in an accident, and you agree to cooperate with their accident investigation. The clause will have wording like this: “Insured (you) agrees to notify the insurer (your insurance company) of any accidents and thereafter comply with all information, assistance, and cooperation which the insurer reasonably requests, and agrees that in the event of a claim the insurer and the insured will do nothing that shall prejudice the insurer’s position…” You are obligated to notify your insurance company of every accident, even if the accident wasn’t your fault or no one seems to be hurt. Your insurance company can still protect you, even when the accident wasn’t your fault. For example, when the other driver doesn’t have insurance, or changes their story and decides to blame you for the crash. By promptly reporting the accident, you give your insurance company the best chance to protect your interests if someone from the other car decides to hire a lawyer or begins to complain of injuries hours or days after the collision. Failure to notify your insurance company is a breach of your contract that could lead the company to raise your premiums, decline to renew your policy, or even cancel your insurance policy.
There are plenty of mobile device applications that make starting a car accident claim faster and easier. Depending on the app, you can:
• Gather information from the other driver and passengers
• Collect car registration and insurance information
• Pinpoint the location of the crash
• Gather witness information
• Create diagrams of the accident scene
• Take photographs and videos
• Notify your insurance company
Submit Driver’s Accident Report
Drivers involved in a car accident in Utah may be required to complete and submit a written accident report form, in addition to the crash report documentation prepared by the investigating police officer. Drivers who are physically incapable of preparing a report will be excused from the reporting requirement during the period of incapacity. If the driver of the vehicle involved in the accident is incapacitated, and was not the owner of the vehicle, the owner is required to submit the accident report within 15 days of being made aware of the accident. You must report the accident if the accident resulted in injury, death, or property damage that appears to be more than $1,500 within ten (10) days. Forms are available from local law enforcement agencies or court offices.
Understanding No-Fault Insurance
Utah relies on a no-fault car insurance system. Under the no-fault system, each driver involved in a crash relies on their own car insurance to pay medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and lost wages resulting from a crash. No-fault insurance does not pay for pain and suffering. Auto insurance policies issued in Utah must provide personal injury coverage in accordance with the state’s no-fault laws, as well as liability coverage for bodily injury and property damage claims. Finally, the insurance company is obligated to provide uninsured motorist coverage and underinsured motorist coverage, unless the policyholder rejects those coverages in writing. Utah relies on a no-fault car insurance system. Under the no-fault system, each driver involved in a crash relies on their own car insurance to pay medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and lost wages resulting from a crash. No-fault insurance does not pay for pain and suffering.
Learn About Comparative Negligence
Drivers in Utah are subject to modified comparative negligence rules, meaning each driver will be held liable for damages sustained in the accident in proportion to each driver’s percentage of fault. In other words, when you’ve been in a Utah car accident, you can pursue the other driver for compensation for your damages, so long as the other driver was more to blame for the accident than you. If you are equally to blame, you won’t be able to recover any financial compensation from the other driver or the other driver’s insurance company. Under Utah’s comparative negligence laws your eligibility for compensation from the other driver or the other driver’s insurance company will depend upon your portion of blame for the accident. The insurance company will decide your share of blame for the accident before paying any claims. If the other driver’s insurance company thinks you are equally to blame for the crash, you won’t get a dime. Whether the insurance company decides you are eligible for partial compensation or none at all, if you don’t agree with their determination you will need an attorney to reach an appropriate settlement amount.
When You Need an Attorney
When you’ve been in a car accident, there are some injury claims you’ll be able to settle on your own. Other claims require the skill of an experienced injury attorney to persuade the insurance company to pay what your claim is worth. Before deciding to face the insurance company on your own, think about the type of injuries you’ve suffered, and what it will take to get the insurance company to pay. Experienced personal injury attorneys have the skill, knowledge and legal tactics to convince the insurance company to pay the amount you deserve for your injuries, pain and suffering.
How much will an attorney charge?
You won’t have to pay anything to find out how a personal injury attorney can help you. Most reputable attorneys offer accident victims a free initial consultation. Before your first meeting with an attorney, gather all your accident-related documents, including your medical records, police report, your notes, photos, and records of any communication you’ve had with the insurance company. After listening to your account of the crash and reviewing your documents, the attorney will discuss your claim’s value, how long it could take to settle, and if you’ll need to file a lawsuit. Personal injury attorneys are usually paid on a contingency fee basis, meaning that your attorney’s fees will be paid out of your insurance settlement or court award. Contingency fees can range from 25% up to around 40% of your gross settlement amount or court verdict. If your attorney can’t settle your claim or loses your case in court, you won’t owe any fees.
Utah is a no-fault insurance state. However, Utah car accident victims can file separate lawsuits in small claims court for their property damage and personal injury claims. While the rules in small claims court are more relaxed, and plaintiffs don’t generally need an attorney to handle a small claims case, the Utah Department of Insurance suggests you speak to an attorney before filing car accidents claims in small claims court.
Statute of Limitations
A statute of limitations is the legal deadline for an accident victim to either settle their insurance claim or file a lawsuit. If you miss the statute of limitations deadline, you lose your right to pursue your claim with the at-fault driver or the driver’s insurance company. The Utah statute of limitations for personal injuries and property damage from a car accident is three (3) years. The statute begins to run on the accident date.
Car Accident Lawyer Free Consultation
When you need legal help for your personal injuries and car accident in Utha, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506