What to do after a car accident in New Jersey
WHAT DO I DO AFTER A CAR ACCIDENT IN NEW JERSEY? Car accidents can be very scary and can be disorienting even if you do not appear to be hurt very badly. Even a minor impact can leave you in shock, and feeling bewildered as to what to do. Often, even though you seem not to be injured at the scene of the accident, and decline medical attention, a day or two later you will be feeling really terrible and in increasing pain. This will give you some pointers on dealing with the situation. Stop and Exchange Information Stop at the scene and get the other driver's information even if it appears that there is minor damage to your car, and that there are no injuries involved. There are several reasons for this. The law of most states requires the police to be called, and the accident to be reported if the damage to the vehicles is even above a very minimal amount; sometimes as little as several hundred dollars. The smallest sheet-metal dent in a late model car will cause more than several hundred dollars of damage, so you should report it to be on the safe side and to avoid a possible summons for nonreporting. In addition, there may be hidden damage to your car or to the other driver's car which does not show up until a closer examination after the accident. If you expect to report it to your own insurance company (to make a "collision claim") you are going to want to have a police report. If you are going to make any sort of claim against the other driver's insurance company, you obviously need to know his name, license number, insurance carrier, etc. Do Not Admit Fault Regardless of how clear the fault may seem to you for the accident, do not admit fault. If the other driver claims to have pain or an injury, you can of course be kind to them and express empathy, but do not say "It was all my fault". If it was indeed your fault, that will be determined later but you should not admit it at the scene. On the other hand, if the accident was the other driver's fault, you should listen carefully to what he says and, as soon as possible, write down exactly what he said. This can be very helpful to you later on. Summonses If the accident appears to be the fault of the other driver, by all means you should ask the attending police officer to issue a summons against him. Sometimes, police officers will not issue summonses (without a request) because they feel the other driver has had enough troubles already by causing the accident, and does not need a summons on top of it. If you feel the other driver caused the accident, request that a summons be issued to him. If the officer tries to tell you he cannot issue a summons because he did not personally see the accident, you should challenge him on this. Officers rarely are eyewitnesses to accidents, but issue summonses nonetheless all the time. If you yourself receive a summons, it is wise to speak to an attorney about how to handle it. Even if you are inclined to plead guilty, you are often better off doing so with an attorney as he can protect you against the guilty plea being used in a lawsuit against you, minimizing your penalties, etc. It may cost you several hundred dollars to have an attorney challenge the summons, but it is usually worth it (among other things your insurance premiums are likely to go up for several years). Medical Treatment Even if you have not sought medical treatment at the scene, or left the scene in an ambulance, if you are feeling pain (or numbness in your arms, legs, hands or feet) you should seek immediate medical treatment. It is extremely common for serious auto-accident-related injuries not to show themselves for a day or two after the accident occurs. The muscles and body tissues involved take a day or two for the trauma to "register", and the pain and restriction of motion can then be severe. This may indicate a serious injury. This is particularly true with spinal injuries in the neck and low back. You can start by seeing an emergency room, or your family doctor, but it is often a good idea to see an orthopedist as soon as possible as they are the specialists who focus upon this type of injury. If the pain and restriction of motion continues, do not be shy about asking for an MRI as this is the "gold standard" of tests to show these injuries. Insurance You should of course notify your insurance company as soon as a significant accident occurs. Your own insurance carrier should pay for all your accident-related testing and treatment. If you delay reporting injury to them, they may decline coverage or vastly reduce your coverage. If the other vehicle involved in the accident did not have insurance, that is not the end of the matter. Most people don't know that they have "uninsured/underinsured" motorist vehicle coverage on their own policy. That is, if the other vehicle was uninsured, or did not carry enough insurance to compensate you for your injuries, your own insurance carrier will act as if it was the other driver's carrier, and will compensate you. Your rates will not go up for claim like this. If you have a late model car, and wish to make a collision claim, your own carrier is the place to make it. You do not have to make a claim against the other driver's carrier even if the accident was their fault. You can make it against your own carrier (and they will recover the money back from the at-fault other driver). Finding A Qualified Attorney If there truly are no injuries, or summonses against you and you simply submit your collision claim to your own carrier, you probably do not need an attorney. However, it may be very smart to find a qualified attorney if there are injuries involved, or if summonses are issued against you. Handling a significant auto accident claim is full of all sorts of complications and nuances and you can really prejudice your own interests if you try to handle it without an attorney. The insurance issues alone can be very complicated, and timelines and deadlines must be observed and handled properly. Failure to do so can result in harm to your claim, or the extinguishment of your claim. While any licensed attorney can technically handle an auto accident claim, the state Supreme Court designates "Certified Civil Trial Attorneys" and you should use one if possible. Only 2% of the attorneys in the state are CCTEs and they are generally highly qualified. New Jersey attorneys themselves yearly elect from amongst themselves the state's "Super Lawyers" (top 5% of attorneys) and if possible it is a good idea to ask your prospective attorney whether he has been elected. You may also check attorney rating services such as AVVO.com or Martindale Hubbell. A word of caution: you may be bombarded with letters you receive in the mail from attorneys asking to represent you regarding your car accident. This ethically questionable and unseemly practice probably does not reflect well on the type of attorney you want to have representing you. Virtually all automobile accident claims are handled on the basis of the contingency fee which means that the attorney is not paid at all unless he successfully settles your case or obtains verdict for you at trial. This can be very good for most people because they can hire highly experienced and qualified attorney who might be too expensive if they had to pay him by the hour. The vast majority of auto accident claims settled before trial.