Car accidents are stressful for all drivers and passengers involved, including the at-fault driver. Even the safest of drivers sometimes cause accidents, which can leave them feeling anxious and wondering what happens next.
The answer to that question can be straightforward – as is usually the case with minor “fender benders” – or more complicated. However, there are some steps that all parties should take immediately following a car accident.
What to do immediately after a car accident
The top priority should always be the safety of everyone involved, so the first step after an accident is to check to see if everyone is okay. If someone is seriously injured, call 911 immediately. If there are no serious injuries, call the police.
You should not, under any circumstances, flee the scene of the accident. Doing so can result in heavy fines, misdemeanor charges, jail time, and felony prosecution.
While you wait for the police to arrive, take photographs of the accident scene, as well as any damage caused to vehicles, road signs, guardrails, or other road markers. This can help paint a clear picture of how the accident occurred. Once the police arrive, answer their questions but do not admit fault.
You’ll also want to exchange contact and insurance information with the other driver and collect the information of any witnesses who saw the accident occur.
It’s important to get checked out by a doctor sooner rather than later if you were hurt in the accident. It’s common for certain injuries to not be immediately visible, or for pain to be delayed after an accident, so if you start to experience pain or discomfort, see a doctor right away.
Next, you’ll need to notify your insurance company that the accident took place. However, it’s important that you only answer the questions that are asked. Do not provide any information that is not requested by the insurance company. Even if you think you’re at fault, it’s important to remember that fault can be a sliding scale in South Carolina. You might not be as responsible for the accident as you think.
The role of insurance companies
Once your insurance company has been informed of your accident, they will gather additional information from all parties involved, as well as any eyewitnesses. They will also seek to obtain footage from any surveillance or red light cameras that might have captured the accident.
If you’re found to be at fault, your liability insurance will be responsible for paying for the damage to the other party’s vehicle, as well as their medical bills, until your policy limit is reached. Your own insurance policy will also be responsible for paying for your expenses related to the accident.
In the event that you do not have enough insurance coverage to pay for the damages incurred by the other party, the other driver may be able to use their underinsured motorist coverage. However, they may not have such coverage, as it’s not mandatory in South Carolina.
If you were driving without auto insurance when the accident occurred (which is illegal), the car accident victim will be able to file a claim with their own uninsured motorist coverage, which every driver in South Carolina is required to carry.
You and the other driver may also be able to file a claim with your own Personal Injury Protection (PIP) policies, if you each carry it. This optional insurance is designed to cover medical expenses for drivers and their passengers, regardless of whether they were at fault for the accident.
It is common for South Carolina car accident victims to feel as though the amount of money offered by the at-fault driver’s insurance company isn’t enough to cover the financial, physical, and emotional damages incurred. A personal injury claim is often filed when there is a stalemate between the car accident victim and the other side’s insurance company.
In addition to being reimbursed for property damage to their vehicle, South Carolina car accident victims want to make sure they receive fair compensation for the following:
- Medical bills
- Rehabilitation costs
- Lost wages
- Lost or diminished earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Disfigurement and scarring
- Permanent disability
- Punitive damages
In the event that a person has lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence on the road, that family may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Most personal injury claims settle outside of court, but some are heard in front of a jury. If the jury were to award the victim more than your policy limit allows, the victim could file a civil lawsuit seeking your personal assets.
It is important that you cooperate closely with your insurance company after a car accident. If you refuse to do so, they could cancel your coverage and refuse to pay.
South Carolina is a modified comparative negligence state
Certain types of accidents are straightforward. For instance, if a driver rear-ended another driver who was sitting still at a red light, it’s usually safe to assume that the driver of the moving car was 100% at fault.
South Carolina law states that any driver who is partially responsible for an accident can seek damages, so long as they were not more than 50% at fault.
If both drivers were to be found equally responsible for the accident, they would each be able to recover compensation for 50% of the sustained damages.
Will my car insurance premium increase if I’m at fault for a car accident?
One of the most common questions that at-fault drivers ask is whether their insurance rates will go up as a result of their accident. That answer varies based on the person and their insurance policy.
In South Carolina, insurance premiums jump an average of 43.66% after an at-fault accident. Insurance companies will consider a variety of factors when making this decision, including your driving record, your history of making claims, and the severity of the accident. Younger drivers typically see the biggest rate increases.
However, many insurance companies offer accident forgiveness, which means your premium might not go up at all.
Regardless of what your insurance company decides to do following your at-fault accident, remember that car insurance is absolutely necessary for every driver in South Carolina – so choosing to forego insurance because it’s pricey simply isn’t an option!
DUIs and reckless driving
South Carolina takes DUIs very seriously. If you cause an accident while drunk or under the influence of drugs, you will be arrested at the scene and the state will press charges against you. The car accident victim may also choose to file their own civil lawsuit against you.
Once you’re found guilty of a DUI, you can expect to encounter a hefty fine, suspension of your driver’s license, enrollment in the state’s Alcohol and Drug Safety Action program, and jail time. The penalties worsen with every subsequent offense.
Meanwhile, reckless driving – defined as having a willful and wanton disregard for other people’s safety and property while driving – also comes with serious penalties. Drivers who are found guilty of reckless driving in South Carolina can also expect heavy fines, jail sentences, and points on their driving record. As with DUIs, the consequences for reckless driving get worse with each offense.
In both of these instances, your insurance company will still be responsible for paying for the victim’s property damage and medical bills, up to your policy limit, as would be the case with any car accident.
Contact McWhirter, Bellinger & Associates today
If you’ve been involved in a car accident, you may find that you have a lot of questions that need to be answered. The attorneys at McWhirter, Bellinger & Associates have a deep understanding of the law as it pertains to South Carolina car accidents.
McWhirter, Bellinger & Associates has offices across South Carolina, in Aiken, Camden, Columbia, Lexington, Newberry, Orangeburg, and Sumter. We offer free case evaluations, so give us a call today at 888-353-5513. It won’t cost you anything to see if we can help.®