Immediately following a car accident, it can be hard to think clearly about what your next steps should be. After checking for injuries, and seeking medical help if necessary, calling the police should be the next step. Most people think to call the police after a major car accident, but what about after a minor one?
Is it always necessary to call the police?
North Carolina law requires that after a car accident, law enforcement (the local police department if you are in a town or city like Charlotte, or the N.C. Highway Patrol or county sheriff’s department if you are not in a city or town with a police department) must be called immediately if:
- Someone was killed or hurt, or
- There was property damage of at least $1,000. This applies even if a vehicle is vacant. Therefore if you hit a car in a parking lot and caused damage, you need to notify the police.
The police can assist with numerous things, two of the most important being:
- Traffic control. If you were involved in a major car accident, you may not be able to pull your car over to the side of the road out of traffic. You might not have flares in your car to alert other motorists of the upcoming hazard. This creates a dangerous situation for both you and other motorists who may come suddenly upon the accident and be unable to stop. The police can park their cruiser and put on the flashing lights to alert motorists to slow down and they can direct traffic safely around the scene of the accident.
- Creating a police report. The police report is a summary of the accident that might be extremely valuable to either, or both, party(ies) down the road. The police will talk to the operators of the cars involved in the accident as well as any witnesses on the scene. They will record the relevant personal information of all parties involved, including the name, address, telephone numbers, drivers license information, license plate numbers and insurance information of all parties. They will also obtain witness contact information and may even get a brief statement from any witness. The police officer will document the time, date and location of the accident as well as the location of each car and the specific damage to each car. They, as independent witnesses, will include their observations and opinions about who or what caused the accident.
However, the majority of car accidents are minor or fender benders. There may be no apparent injuries and there may be little car damage; the above criteria on when you must call the police does not exist. That does not mean that you should not call the police. Police reports can be an invaluable tool in any car accident case.
North Carolina law provides that police must create a written report within 48 hours of an accident and that they must file it with North Carolina’s Division of Motor Vehicles. If a person injured in a car accident dies within one year of that accident, then the police officer who generated the report must amend it to include that information. The requirement that the report be filed with the Division of Motor Vehicles is helpful because if the report is needed in a personal injury case, it can be obtained for a $5 fee from the Division of Motor Vehicles.
Police reports can be extremely helpful in a personal injury case for a number of reasons. First, injuries, especially soft-tissue injuries, do not always manifest themselves immediately. In addition, the stress and adrenaline that often happens after a car accident can mask any immediate pain. Having a police report could go a long way in proving that injuries that don’t present immediately at the scene of an accident are actually accident related.
Second, police will gather the facts impartially and they are unbiased witnesses. Their only goal is to record what they see and what they hear from witnesses. They are trained to assess an accident scene and provide independent observations and opinions on the cause of the accident.
Personal injury claims are contentious. Neither side wants to admit that they were at fault. In a state like North Carolina, which follows the contributory negligence doctrine (if the injured party was even partially at fault, he/she will be precluded from collecting all damages), a police report can be the difference between recovering damages or not.
Of course there are times when police may be attending to other more urgent matters and may not be able to come to the scene of a minor car accident. In that event, North Carolina law requires that drivers exchange contact information including name, phone number, address, drivers license number and vehicle registration numbers. Drivers should record their account of the accident, along with all of the information about the accident (including pictures of the scene of the accident, any property damage or any injuries as well as any witness contact information) and save it. While drivers are not necessarily impartial like police would be, a contemporaneous record of the events, and in particular pictures, and witnesses could be helpful in a personal injury suit.
Calling the Insurance Company
After a car accident, and after the police have come and filed a report, it is important that a car accident be reported to the insurance company. All accidents, even minor ones, are required to be reported to the insurance company to avoid denial of coverage.
Why Do I Need a Charlotte Law Firm?
Car accidents happen more often than people realize. The Charlotte, NC based lawyers at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC are experienced car accident attorneys who can help you understand your rights and whether or not you have damages and should proceed with a claim. Please contact our office at 704-714-1450. There is no fee for an initial consultation.