Car accidents are common occurrences, and distracted drivers, poor road signage, dangerous driving conditions, or reckless driving may lead to your involvement in a collision that someone else caused. Whatever the reason, if you have been in an accident and it was not your fault, there are important steps that you should take to protect yourself and your rights. 

What to do at the scene of the accident

Right after an accident occurs, you may be angry, confused, or scared and unsure what to do next. The first thing to do is to try to stay as calm as you can. Move your car out of traffic if possible. Determine if you or anyone else in your car has been injured, and if anyone in the other car has been injured. If someone has been hurt, call 911 immediately so that the injured party can receive medical attention. 

Obtain adequate information

In South Dakota, it is important to know who caused a car accident, because that person is responsible for paying for all damages that result from the accident. It may be obvious who is at fault for the accident, and the other driver may admit responsibility to you. However, do not assume that everything will be taken care of by the other driver just because it was his or her fault. It is important to collect as much information as possible at the scene, because you never know what information will come in handy later down the road. 

Make sure you obtain the following:

  • The name of the other driver and his or her insurance information 
  • The name, contact information, and statement of any witnesses
  • Photographs of the vehicles involved, license plates, any other property damage, and the site of the accident

While you will need to communicate with the other driver as you gather this information, it is not a good idea to have an extended discussion about the circumstances of the accident, particularly any injuries that resulted. In particular, do not tell the other person that you are uninjured, even if you think that is the case, because some injuries may not be immediately apparent. Insurance companies frequently use statements given by the drivers at the scene to discredit later injury claims. 

Report to the law officers

Consider contacting the police to file a police report, even if no one is injured and the damage caused appears to be minor. Although involving the police might seem unnecessary in certain situations, having an official version of events may be useful when negotiating a settlement with the other driver’s insurance company, or if the other driver denies responsibility. 

What to do after you have left the scene

Since the driver who caused the accident is responsible for the damage, the driver should contact their insurance company to begin the claims process. You should also contact your insurance company to inform them of the situation. Not only does this show a good-faith effort on your part to make the company aware of the accident, there is always the possibility that the other party will not report the accident, that the other insurance company will refuse to pay, or that you will be found partially at fault. 

Consult a South Dakota car accident attorney as soon as possible after your accident if you have questions or concerns about which step you should take next.  It is common for complications to arise during the settlement process, especially if you have been injured. An attorney with experience in handling car accident cases and working with insurance companies will help ensure the best possible outcome for you after the accident.    

What should you ask for in a car insurance settlement?

You probably will not receive any money from the other driver’s insurance company until that company is ready to pay you everything that you are owed. When the other driver is at fault, you should expect to receive compensation for the following, subject to the limits of the other driver’s insurance policy:

  • Vehicle Damage. The other driver is responsible for paying the lesser of the total loss in value on your vehicle, based on the fair market value of the vehicle pre- and post-collision, or the reasonable cost of repairs to restore the vehicle to its pre-collision condition.
  • Medical Expenses. You should be reimbursed for the costs of the medical care that was required due to any injuries and for wages lost from missing work due to those injuries. Keep careful documentation of your medical condition, and remember that you cannot seek additional compensation if you later determine that the settlement was insufficient to cover your expenses.
  • Lost wages. Time away from work and lost earning capacity in the future are recoverable damages in South Dakota.
  • Other Damages. You may be entitled to additional compensation, such as payment for pain and suffering. The insurance company may use a multiplier formula to determine the amount, which means they will multiply the amount of your medical expenses by a particular figure, based on how high your medical costs are. Although this is a common insurance industry practice, the reality is that the total amount of your medical expenses does not have much to do with pain, suffering, frustration, and disability. For instance, sometimes people have lots of medical expenses, but recover to their pre-accident condition. Some people treat for awhile, but when they stop getting better, they stop treatment, even if they are not back to where they were before the collision. Damages for pain, suffering, disability, loss of enjoyment of life are difficult to quantify, but they are frequently many times greater than the amount of medical expenses and lost wages, and that is where an experienced South Dakota car accident attorney can help.

If you are unsure what you are entitled to in a settlement, or if you do not think the settlement you are being offered is fair, working with an experienced South Dakota car accident attorney can give you the peace of mind that comes from knowing you have a legal expert on your side who is working to get you fair compensation for all of your losses.

Get advice from an experienced attorney

Car accidents can be stressful, especially when you are not at fault. Follow the tips above and schedule a free consultation. We will assist with your next steps during a no-obligation appointment.