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How do I proceed in the wake of a car accident?
April 11, 2011 6:58 PM   Subscribe

Car accident. I am having difficulty thinking this through clearly. Please help me figure out what steps I need to take.

Another car that was slightly ahead of mine entered my lane, swiped along the front driver's side, and pushed my car to the side of the road where I hit an obstacle. No one was injured. Side damage to the other car, front and some side damage to mine, and mine could not be driven following the accident. My front doors would not open more than halfway.

Police officers arrived, took statements, and said there would be an accident report. They did not declare either of us to be at fault at the time. They called a towing company and my car was towed. The other car was safe to drive away.

Country is USA, state is PA. I suspected my policy was lapsed, but when called, the company told me it was cancelled. I am the sole owner of my car, and have less than $2000 remaining on the loan. The other driver is not the owner of the other car and possibly/likely was not listed as a driver on the other car's insurance. I do not know if the insurance for the other car was full tort or limited tort.

My fear is that because I am without insurance, the company that insures the other driver will take the opportunity to declare the accident my fault, and I will have no one on my side if I am taken to court. The damage to the other car was not severe, but I know that even cosmetic damage can be very costly.

I am less concerned about how to repair my own car, and in the event that its damage is more than I can afford, I will probably get rid of it while continuing with the remaining payments. It will be a hardship, but at least one that is more within my control.

I have no savings, no assets, and little spare income on my salary even on a strict budget. I know that continuing to drive while letting insurance lapse was incredibly stupid, but I'm having a hard time holding it together at the moment as it is, for a variety of reasons. Please, I cannot take a lecture right now, and the police will be handling that job in the next few days anyway.

The officer I spoke with has asked me to come to the station and present my insurance card. Though the policy is cancelled, I intend to go anyway to let them know this in person. They did not give me any citations at the time, but I'm not sure if that will change once my insurance status is clarified.

1) Is there anything else I should do/say during that meeting?
2) Should I contact a lawyer? Before or after I speak with the police again? I thought I would try to call Legal Aid when they open in the morning, but have no idea if my income is within the expected range, or if they help with this kind of situation. Are there other options that would be suitable to someone in my situation?
3) If the damage to the other car is determined to be my fault and I must pay, are payment plans possible and how do they tend to work?
4) If the damage to my car is more than I can reasonably afford, what are some options for getting rid of the car?

While I am competent enough in many areas, I am ignorant of how insurance and legal disputes actually tend to play out, and I also have difficulty in general formulating specific plans of action on my own. Add to that the fact that my head is spinning with concerns over how this will affect other areas of my life that were already problematic, and the result is that I am pretty upset and scared. Any help, advice, anything would be so incredibly appreciated. anonforcaradvice at gmail if anyone prefers that.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
1. Get your insurance back into effect immediately to avoid any additional citations when you go to the police station. If possible, go to one of those online sites that lets you print your insurance card immediately after paying (e-surance is one).

2. Legal Aid is ill-equipped to deal with this, as most of the stuff they handle is criminal, but worth a shot, they may have a helpful document for you to review.

3. There are a ton of scenarios, and, most important is that you realize that you cannot go to jail for owing someone money. Moreover, depending on how exactly no-fault works in your state, it is very likely that you can just confess you don't have insurance and their insurance will pick it up.

4. I don't know, but can imagine other people will chime in with helpful advice.

As an addendum, be very assertive about what actually happened and that the wreck was not your fault. "Another car that was slightly ahead of mine entered my lane, swiped along the front driver's side, and pushed my car to the side of the road where I hit an obstacle." Taken as fact, this is pretty clear evidence that you were side-swiped and this is not your fault.

Good luck!!!
posted by 2legit2quit at 7:08 PM on April 11, 2011


My fear is that because I am without insurance, the company that insures the other driver will take the opportunity to declare the accident my fault, and I will have no one on my side if I am taken to court. The damage to the other car was not severe, but I know that even cosmetic damage can be very costly.

If the other driver is at fault AND has liability insurance, your damage (and personal injuries) should be covered. Likely, you'd need a lawyer though sometimes people negotiate with insurance adjusters without attorneys.

If the other driver does not have liability insurance, you'd be left to go after them and try to recover from an individual who, it is likely, would not have assets to pay a judgment or settlement.

Ideally, you would have had insurance that included uninsured motorist protection ... So that, if you were in an accident with someone who was uninsured, you would be able to recover your damages as if the other driver was covered.

An insurance company cannot just "declare" that you were at fault, any more than you can "declare" that the other driver was at fault. Don't think they have that power, they don't. If you deny fault, they will have to prove in court that you are at fault. Even if you get a traffic citation they appears to assign fault to you, that does not necessarily mean you are at fault. (in my state, for example, pleading guilty to a traffic citation is inadmissible as proof of fault under many circumstances in subsequent litigation over the accident.)
posted by jayder at 7:19 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The officer I spoke with has asked me to come to the station and present my insurance card. Though the policy is cancelled, I intend to go anyway to let them know this in person.

I am sure they already know -- they should have known at the accident scene but the information was probably not given to the officers at that time either b/c of human error or b/c the information about the insurance lapse was not in the DMV computer yet.

When you arrive at the station, be prepared to be arrested for an uninsured accident.
posted by mlis at 7:24 PM on April 11, 2011


"be prepared to be arrested for an uninsured accident." Not an accurate statement of fact.
posted by 2legit2quit at 7:38 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Here's some information regarding driving while uninsured in PA. Looks like you could face a fine and have your license suspended for three months, but you will probably not be arrested or serve time if it is your first offense.
posted by rollbiz at 7:53 PM on April 11, 2011


Do contact Legal Aid as they are absolutely equipped to deal with this kind of situation and may be able to help you.

Do not speak to the police (or go to the station) before speaking to a lawyer.

Are there other options that would be suitable to someone in my situation?

Are you near a law school? Some law schools have clinics where they provide legal assistance to people whose income falls below a certain level. Here is a list of law schools in PA.
posted by mlis at 8:25 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


It doesn't matter who was driving the other car as long as the owner had it insured.

It certainly would not hurt to seek legal counsel, but then you're going to have to pay fees there (and unless your story differs greatly from that of the other driver or any witnesses, it doesn't seem to me personally to be necessary. That said, do what makes you comfortable).

This wasn't your fault so you shouldn't have to pay anything, excepting perhaps a fine for the lapsed insurance.
posted by erstwhile at 9:18 PM on April 11, 2011


be prepared to be arrested for an uninsured accident

How this works in the two states where I understand the laws is that driving an uninsured vehicle can result in a suspension of your license. Driving on a suspended or cancelled license is an arrestable offense, but you would already have had to have had that happen. If you are cited, avoid a suspension by bringing proof of insurance to your court hearing or to the court clerk prior to the hearing if that is an option.

In general, being uninsured is a civil offense, not a criminal one.
posted by dhartung at 12:44 AM on April 12, 2011


Emailed your gmail -
posted by mrs. taters at 6:30 AM on April 12, 2011


In general, being uninsured is a civil offense, not a criminal one.

That's not necessarily the case. You should talk to a lawyer. The Legal-Aid types may help, and offer some advice. You should also talk to them about whether you can recover damages for what appears to be an accident caused by the other driver's improper lane change.

Do not go to the police station, unless a lawyer familiar with both criminal law and uninsured auto accident claims tells you that you should. You should not assume that you have any obligation to help the police find a reason to cite you for something, and you should not assume that you are screwed just because you don't have insurance.

You would also be wise to consider being willing to part with some hard-earned cash to pay a consultation fee, if one is required, to get the legal advice you need. It may save you a lot more than the fee costs, and you can also find out whether you can recover for the damages you suffered in your accident.
posted by Hylas at 10:48 AM on April 12, 2011


STOP WORRYING RIGHT NOW. To you, this is a big, ugly, nasty, life-disrupting mess. To a lawyer--even a generic, mediocre lawyer, this is easy. Any small-town personal injury lawyer could handle this for you blind folded, with one arm tied behind their back. And, you can probably get a good bit of legal help for this situation for cheap or even free (I blaspheme!).

A personal injury lawyer will usually give you an initial consultation with no fee. After that one, free, meeting, you will have a much better understanding of how to handle the insurance issues yourself, including any resulting ticket. And, from your description of the accident, it's very possible that the lawyer will then handle negotiations with the other driver's (and/or owner's) insurance company, and you will someday get a check covering the amount of damage to your car, minus some percentage if they think that the accident was partly your fault, minus another percentage (1/3 is typical) for your lawyer's fee. Another possibility is that the lawyer will decide upfront that the accident is too minor for any legal involvement at all, and decline to take the case. Either way, that initial consultation is going to make you feel a lot more in control of the situation.

And, it's best if you have that consultation soon, before you go to the police station or talk to any representatives of the other party's insurance company (or sign any papers they may send you).
posted by Corvid at 1:18 PM on April 12, 2011


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