Auto Accidents

In our automobile dominated society, the most likely point at which an average person will deal with tort law in the context of a car wreck, also referred to as an automobile accident or motor vehicle collision.

A traffic court can deal only with citations issued to drivers for violations of traffic laws, set fines, and occasionally send someone to jail for a short time. The Georgia Department of Driver Services may suspend or revoke a driver's license. However, neither of those decides who pays monetary damages, or how much. In fact, traffic tickets and license suspensions are ordinarily not even admissible in evidence in a tort case, except for a guilty plea or bond forfeiture which may be admissible as an admission against interest.

Liability for another person's bodily injury or property damage in a motor vehicle collision is based upon  negligence rules, most of which are common sense. Most of these are which are codified the Uniform Rules of the Road which has been adopted by legislatures in most states including Georgia.  Examples include speeding, improper lane change, following too closely, driving on the wrong side of the road, failure to keep a lookout for other vehicles on the road, etc.

How to be prepared for an auto accident in the future:

  • Keep a copy of this in your glove compartment so that it will be at hand when you need it.
  • In your car, keep a camera (cell phone or disposable),pad, pen,  flash light, reflective triangles or emergency flares, and a copy of this information form. 
  • Review your auto insurance policy to confirm that you have uninsured / underinsured motorist (UM) coverage equal to your liability coverage, collision and comprehensive coverage to promptly deal with damage to  your own car, rental car coverage.
  • Keep this checklist with the emergency kit in your glove compartment:

What to do at the accident scene:

  •  Immediately turn car engine off to reduce fire risk.
  •  Immediately turn on hazard flasher lights.  If you are on a dark road or near the crest of a hill, put out flares and other warning signs to warn other drivers.
  •  Call 911. Don't let anyone talk you out of it.  Pleasantly disregard offers to settle for immediate payment at the scene if you don't call police. Seldom would that work out well.
  • Photograph the scene and vehicles before the cars are moved, preferably from multiple angles, and of the people involved. You don't need to make a big production of it, but if you are able get some quick photos. They may be invaluable later. 
  • If there are no major injuries and vehicles are operable, pull over to shoulder to clear traffic.
  • Stay calm.  Arguing, shouting, name calling and accusations do not help. 
  • Do not admit fault. Calm reflection and analysis may differ from an instinctive reflex.
  • Do not give your Social Security number. Nobody needs it. Phone number, address, driver's license number and insurance information should suffice.
  • From the other driver's license, copy the name, address, license number and date of birth. Write down the tag number. If a large truck is involved, also copy everything that is written on the side of the truck.
  • If you are hurt at all, don't be a stoic hero. Even if you subjectively feel you are just shaken up, accept the offer of an ambulance ride. It is very common for symptoms to increase over the next couple of days after a wreck. Describe what you are feeling to the medical personnel in detail. They won't know if you don't tell them. If you are injured, go to the emergency room and and follow up with your doctor or one who to whom you are referred.
  • Do not move someone else who is injured unless absolutely necessary to prevent further injury and unless you have substantial lifesaving training.
  • When a law enforcement officer comes to the scene, be polite, respectful, courteous and calm. Give accurate and complete information in response to his or her requests.  Make notes of the officer’s name, badge number,  station address and phone number.  Ask when and where you can get a copy of  the accident report.
  • If you get a ticket, don't argue with the officer. You may sign it to acknowledge receipt.
  • Stay at the scene until the police and other drivers leave, unless you are taken away in an ambulance.
  • Do not call a lawyer from the accident scene. It would not look good.  But if there is a significant injury call us at 404-253-7862 (metro Atlanta) after you have seen a doctor.

After the dust settles:

  • Talk to an experienced lawyer before you sign anything else, give a written or tape recorded statement, go to traffic court, or settle with a claims adjuster.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions. If you aren't getting better, go back. Let the doctor know what is truly going on.
  • Make sure a friend or family member takes a good camera to the scene and to the impound yards where the vehicles are held, and takes A LOT of pictures with a good quality digital camera. 
  • Get pictures of the injured person that show the injuries, but not pictures that look phony or posed.
  • Tell your lawyer the absolute truth. If you have preexisting injuries or medical conditions, or embarrassing things in your personal history that would ultimately come to light, e.g., criminal record, you MUST tell your lawyer about it up front.  We can deal with almost anything if we know about in advance. Surprises in the middle of a trial may not work out so well.
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