Just in 2016, New Jersey had well over 270,000+ total car crashes. Out of these crashes, 62,000+ resulted in physical injuries (some of which were life-changing) and 570 resulted in casualties. New Jersey roads average over 70,000 car crashes every year.
Based on the statistics, if you haven’t been in a car accident at least once in your life, you’re overdue. You could drive the safest car on the road and it could still happen to you. After all, you can’t account for someone else being reckless.
It will come as a shock at first, as fear and uncertainty begin to cloud your judgment. But it is important to stay level headed, calm, and collected for what’s about to follow. The first few moments are crucial, because you’ll be forced into a very complex legal situation involving insurance companies, law enforcement, medical treatment, automobile repair, and more.
To ensure you are fairly compensated for your loss, we’ve prepared a guide that can help.
Here is a list of 6 steps to help you get back on track.
1. Take a Step Back, Document Injuries, Call Police
According to New Jersey law, you’re required to stop at the scene of the accident. Look around you for signs of injuries and report to 911.
Your 911 dispatcher will begin to ask you very detailed questions about the accident.
This includes the following information:
The location: Address, street names, landmarks, intersections, street names, basically anything that can help emergency personnel arrive at the scene quickly.
Also, make sure to tell the dispatcher which side of the road you are facing and the direction you were traveling.
Injuries: Try to give a thorough account of injuries that you can see, or if someone complains of pain, discomfort, headache after a car accident, or if they become unconscious.
Will the police arrive?
Law enforcement agencies have their own policies for responding to reported car accidents. But as a general rule, they will respond to reports of injuries, traffic problems, and impaired drivers.
Exchanging information with the other driver
If your accident resulted in injuries, you must immediately stop, or position yourself as close to the accident as possible. Start by exchanging names and addresses with the other driver, including their driver’s license and vehicle registration. This applies even if no one was physically harmed. The at-fault driver is responsible for any damage done to your vehicle as well as personal property damage including cellphone, laptops, etc.
What if I hit a Parked Car with No One In It?
Immediately stop and find the owner of the car and tell them what happened. Once you’ve found them, provide them with your name and address. If you can’t find the owner, make sure to leave a note, including your name and address. The note should provide a brief explanation of what happened.
Next, you should call 911 and notify them of what happened. This becomes mandatory under the law if the car accident resulted in injuries and/or the damage to the property worth over $500.
2. Collect Evidence at the Scene of Accident
Time is of the essence and you must act quickly to collect as much evidence as possible and fully document the accident. It won’t be long before the cars are towed away and the witnesses leave the scene.
In order to file a personal injury claim, you’ll need to provide evidence to support your claim against the insurance company and the at-fault driver.
Types of injury damage covered under insurance:
- Diagnostic tests
- Miscellaneous expenses
- Over the counter and prescription medications
- Cost of nursing
- Lost wages
As a general rule, the more evidence you collect and provide at the scene of the crime, the stronger your case.
Try to retrieve the following information:
- Complete names
- Addresses of their homes and businesses
- Phone numbers
- Driver’s license information
- Date of birth
- Make and model of the car
- The plate number of the car
- Date of expiry
- VIN (usually found in the dashboard)
Rough Sketch of the Scene
Try to provide a rough sketch of the area including the following:
- the location of the cars right before and after the accident
- weather conditions
- the exact time the accident took place
- the speed at which both cars were traveling
- the direction the cars were headed
Try to take as many pictures (and if possible, videos), of the scene as possible for greater accuracy.
Collecting Witness Statements (pretty hard to do)
Most witnesses are not required to speak to you, but their testimonies are extremely valuable. If you find a willing witness, try to get as much information about them as possible, including their contact info, name, and address. Or better yet, ask them to provide a written statement and have it signed.
3. How to Engage with the Police
The responders who arrive at the scene of collision may be referred to the county sheriff or staff troopers. Their job is to find the root cause of the accident, perform background checks of those involved at the scene, issue traffic citations, and if it comes to that, make arrests.
If the state trooper arrives at the scene of an accident, you will be required by law to identify yourself by providing your name, complete address, and information related to your car.
That being said, if you’re questioned about any actions that could lead to criminal proceedings against you, such as driving under influence or possession of drugs, you have the right to remain silent and ask for your car accident lawyer in NJ.
It is highly advisable to cooperate with the officer (within reason only), not complying with their orders could lead to escalation and ultimately, an arrest.
4. Get in Touch with Your Insurance Company
It is important to contact your insurance provider within moments of the accident. As a general rule, the sooner you contact them, the better. The information you collected earlier will assist them in pursuing the at-fault driver. Your cooperation can protect you from unwarranted claims of personal injuries and property damage by others.
You may be tempted to work out the property damage with the other driver and not report the event to your insurance company, or maybe you don’t want to report the crash because you’re afraid they’ll raise your premiums.
Either way, don’t give in to these fears because the at-fault driver may decide to take advantage of the situation and file several fraudulent claims when you least expect.
Most insurance companies provide free apps that let their users provide detailed information, including pictures, videos, GPS locations of the scene of the accident, and sketching a diagram of the scene of the accident.
Failing to report to the insurance provider may lead to higher premiums and in worst-case scenarios, failure to renew your policy or even outright cancellation of your insurance.
Besides, in most cases, your premium wouldn’t go up if you weren’t responsible for the accident. A decision to raise your premium depends on several factors.
Caution: Never admit to the other side that you were the one at fault. There could be factors that you may not be aware of that contributed to the accident. It may be possible that the other party is guilty.
5. Hire a Car Accident Lawyer in NJ
While it is true that you could handle your property damage claim yourself, it isn’t advisable. Most personal injury claims always require an experienced car accident lawyer in NJ.
There are two types of personal injury cases that need to be discussed:
Soft tissue injuries: these include minor bruising, strains to the ligaments, tendons, and muscles, abrasions, and cuts that don’t require stitches. These usually don’t require medical treatment and will heal on their own in a few weeks.
Hard injuries: these are serious injuries that may include dismemberment, scarring, fractures, gashes, third-degree burns, and more. They require lengthy and expensive medical treatment, including diagnostic tests, and much more.
In the case of the latter, it is highly advisable to hire an experienced car accident lawyer in NJ to pursue your injury claim. Without an experienced attorney, you’ll be forced to deal with insurance companies who know the law inside out and can manipulate certain loopholes to negotiate an outcome that isn’t favorable to you.
A car accident lawyer in NJ can file your lawsuit, which is the best way to get a higher settlement. You will end up with more compensation than if you had gone without your car accident lawyer in NJ.
Your attorney will have access to many legal tools such as the ability to file subpoenas for witnesses, serve requests for the production of documents, and utilize file discovery motions, among others.
You could retrieve this information yourself but you will have a harder time doing so, and the insurance company is well aware of it.
Insurance providers don’t like to work with car accident lawyers in NJ because once they get involved, the company has to hire their legal counsel, which is going to cost them. Insurance companies lose millions of dollars every year to lawsuits.
Once you hire a skilled car accident lawyer in NJ, the at-fault driver’s insurance company will have to cave-in and provide you with a settlement that is going to be much higher than if you had negotiated on your own.
What are the Contingency Fees
Most car accident lawyers in NJ will charge 15% to 45% of the settlement amount. But the actual fee may depend on the case, whether it goes to trial, and ultimately, your negotiation skills.
It is worth noting that your attorney is required to pay all costs to pursue your claim. These costs may include fees for private investigation, lawsuit filing, medical experts, and more. The costs can be substantial. If your lawyer fails to settle the claim, or don’t make it to trial, you won’t owe them anything. The attorney will have to absorb the loss.
6. Considering Small Claims Court (optional)
The New Jersey Small Claims Court handles more informal cases, where the rules aren’t as strict. You might want to consider filing lawsuit against the at-fault driver in Small Claims Court if:
- The at-fault driver’s insurance company doesn’t offer a fair settlement amount, or outright denies your claim.
- The guilty driver didn’t have insurance or was underinsured
- You don’t want to contact your own insurance provider
- You are unable to find an attorney who can represent you
The maximum amount you can sue for is $3000. Because the rules aren’t as strict, you don’t need to hire a car accident lawyer in NJ to represent you in small claims court.
Advice: Take Action Before the Statute of Limitations Expires
You have about 2 years to file your lawsuit if you’ve been the victim of a car accident in New Jersey. In most cases, the countdown starts on the date of the accident. If you don’t settle your claim or file a lawsuit within 2 years, you won’t get another chance for compensation
The insurance company will use this to their advantage and may try to stall your case. The claims adjuster is not required to settle your case before the statute of limitations expires. Make sure to file a lawsuit before the two-year deadline expires or settle the claim.
The statute of limitation doesn’t apply anymore once you’ve filed the lawsuit, even if it takes more than a year to resolve the claims.
If the statute of limitations is fast approaching, make sure to reach out to your injury attorney right away. Most attorneys offer free case reviews and will provide you with a realistic understanding of what you can do to protect your claim.
The checklist provided above is only a small aspect of what may happen following a car accident in New Jersey. The actual impact of the accident may take years to fully resolve, causing stress, trauma, and ongoing medical treatments to overcome the damage.
If you or your loved one need legal representation, click here to work with our experienced car accident lawyers in NJ.