Protecting Your Personal Interests Following A Car Accident

by gclatworthy on January 22, 2013

[US law and general] Automobile accidents are a common source of injuries, property damage, and deaths. Motor vehicle collisions typically result from the negligence of one or both drivers. As a result, automobile accidents are a common source of litigation. When an accident occurs, both parties must take preventative actions to mitigate their potential losses. These actions are similar regardless of whether a party is at fault.

Do Not Admit Fault

Assigning fault in an automobile accident is paramount. Police officers will assign fault in significant accidents, which will result in citations and possibly an arrest depending upon the nature of the at-fault party’s conduct. Insurance companies will apportion blame between the parties, which will affect the amount of damages apportioned to each party as well as any increase in insurance rates. Any litigation is likely to involve a dispute over who was at fault and thus who is liable for the damages.  In these instances a lawyer will be required and websites such as can help find a reputable attorney locally to represent you.

Do not admit fault to the other driver. Regardless of who is at fault, it is common in accidents for both parties to blame the other. This can lead to spontaneous and seemingly superfluous utterances such as apologies and a concession that one party violated a traffic law with an assertion that the conduct did not cause the accident. If the matter ever results in litigation, such comments can be strong evidence of fault. Do not make such comments or acknowledge fault in any way. Making exceptions requires applying a bit of common sense; if the other driver appears to be reasonable and if the damages are little more than a couple of damaged body panels, offering to pay for the damages may be a calculated risk worthy of taking. It is still a risk, however.

Obtain a Police Report

For a driver who is not at fault, obtaining a police report at the scene of a collision is a wise decision. An investigation by law enforcement can determine which party was at fault by determining the respective speeds and positions of each vehicle at the time of impact and interviewing witnesses. This will help document the scene and provide an unbiased report to the insurance companies in the event of a dispute. In practice, having an officer come out to the scene may not be possible; in a non-injury collision or any collision on private property, many departments will not dispatch officers to take reports. When officers are dispatched, their involvement will be minimal in the absence of a serious injury or death.

Reports can be a mixed bag for the party at fault for the collision. On one hand, reports can help document the extent of the damage. On the other hand, a report may result in a citation and a clear assignment of liability. If the party who was not technically at fault for the collision contributed to the collision in some way and if that contribution was not reflected in the report, advocating for a reassignment of fault may be difficult.

Additionally, a report is an indicator that the party who was not at fault intends on handling the matter through insurance. Minor collisions may involve damage figures that do not exceed the at-fault party’s deductible, so going through insurance would just raise the at-fault party’s insurance rates. If the party who was not at fault is willing to handle the matter privately, a police report may not be necessary. However, one or both parties may reconsider handling the matter privately after discovering that the damages were more serious than expected. A police report is helpful to both parties in such a situation. If the police are willing to send an officer to take a report, contact them and ask them to do so, regardless of who is at fault.

Document Everything

Both parties must thoroughly document the circumstances surrounding the accident. Documenting the damage at the scene is essential; taking as many pictures of both vehicles as possible to clarify what was damaged will help the at-fault party avoid having the innocent party inflate the damages while the party who was not at fault will benefit from avoiding any arguments that the damages are less than they are. Thorough documentation of the damage to vehicles and any other property keeps all parties honest. Documenting the scene is also worthwhile. Note the layout of the road or parking lot, the prevailing weather conditions, and the amount of traffic at the time of the accident.

Preventing losses after a collision is less an exercise in avoiding liability as it is an exercise in containing the damage. Drivers should avoid making inadvertent admissions of liability and taking any actions that could result in a dispute over the damages. Careless statements and poor documentation may result in having liability assigned where it was not due or allowing one party to evade the damages altogether. 

Georgina Clatworthy is a freelance legal writer posting informative articles relating to personal injury, accidents and other consumer issues. Legal sites such as can offer victims of car accidents in Dallas, Texas the means to partner with a reputable attorney and handle their claim.  Partnering with a trustworthy lawyer is essential to ensure your rights and interests will be protected.

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