Getting into a car accident can feel overwhelming. You might face painful symptoms, mounting medical bills, and lost income. After a bad crash, you deserve to focus on treating your injuries so you can return to work and move forward with your life. However, a severe car accident may involve a long road to recovery.
Knowing what steps to take after a car accident in Columbia, South Carolina, can make the recovery process go more smoothly. Prompt action can improve an injury's prognosis and give accident victims more legal options for pursuing compensation for medical bills, car repairs, and lost income.
Following a car crash, adhere to your doctor's treatment plan and recovery instructions, preserve relevant evidence, get copies of your medical records, notify insurance companies about the crash, file claims, and obtain experienced legal representation.
Hiring a car accident attorney as early as possible in the recovery process is perhaps the most important step after a car accident in Columbia. Doing so can provide you with the resources and advocacy you need to seek compensation and accountability from those responsible for your injuries.
Understanding Car Accidents in Columbia, SC
Unfortunately, car accidents are all too common across the state. According to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, South Carolina had 147,724 traffic collisions in one recent year, a nearly 22 percent increase from the previous year.
These accidents included:
- Over 110,00 property damage-only collisions, an increase of 26 percent over the previous year
- Nearly 2,400 severe injury collisions, an increase of about 9 percent over the previous year
- Over 34,000 other injury collisions, an increase of about 11 percent over the previous year
- More than 1,100 fatal collisions, an increase of about 15 percent over the previous year, for a rate of 93.22 injuries per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and 2.08 fatalities per 100 million VMT
Car accidents can occur due to a variety of reasons.
Some of the most frequent causes of crashes involve driver error or negligence, including:
- Speeding or traveling too fast for conditions
- Tailgating or following too closely
- Reckless driving, such as excessive speeding or swerving through traffic
- Drifting out of the lane or over the center line/median
- Running red lights or stop signs or disregarding traffic controls
- Failing to yield the right-of-way
- Not using turn signals or checking mirrors before turning or changing lanes
- Distracted driving, including using a cell phone, eating, drinking, or grooming and applying makeup
- Drowsy or fatigued driving
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Aggressive driving and road rage
Other causes or contributing factors in car accidents in Columbia include poor road conditions (potholes, black ice, etc.), car mechanical failures due to inadequate maintenance or design/manufacturing defects, and poor visibility from low lighting or adverse weather.
After getting into a car accident, a driver or passenger should take various steps to document the crash and their injuries and losses, which you need in an insurance or car accident claim.
Car accident victims should seek treatment for crash injuries, gather evidence, keep records of injuries and expenses, report the accident to insurance companies, and seek legal counsel to pursue financial recovery.
Seeking Medical Attention
A car accident victim must start medical treatment for any injuries caused by the accident. Seeking prompt medical attention and following a doctor's treatment recommendations and recovery instructions can benefit a car crash victim in several ways.
First, prompt diagnosis of injuries can help link those injuries to the accident. A person who delays seeking medical attention after a car accident risks jeopardizing their injury claim, as any long period between a car accident and injury diagnosis may give an insurance company a basis to question whether injuries arose from the car accident or from another source, such as pre-existing conditions.
Second, diligently following a treatment plan can give a car accident victim a better injury prognosis. Delaying treatment or failing to follow recovery instructions runs the risk of car accident injuries worsening or aggravating.
Collecting Evidence and Accident Reports
A person injured in a car accident should also begin collecting evidence or documents to prove what happened in the crash and identify who may have caused it. A car accident victim should preserve any photos or videos they took at the crash scene and contact information they gathered from any eyewitnesses.
Accident victims should also remember to request a copy of the police accident report if officers responded to the crash. The police accident report will contain critical information for a car accident claim, such as the contact and insurance information for the drivers involved in the crash, documentation of injuries or vehicle damage, a diagram of the collision, and the officer's determination of fault.
Although the officer's determination of fault does not bind an insurance company or jury, it can serve as persuasive evidence because of police officers' training in investigating motor vehicle accidents and their unbiased perspective on the crash.
Notifying Your Insurance Company
Car accident victims should immediately notify their auto insurance provider about the crash. Auto insurance policies may require insured drivers to provide prompt notice of a car accident so that the insurance company may begin an investigation of the crash before evidence gets lost.
A car crash victim should confirm their eligibility for coverage under their policy, including:
- Uninsured motorist coverage: A type of coverage required in South Carolina that covers injuries sustained in a car accident caused by an uninsured or hit and run driver
- Underinsured motorist coverage: Optional coverage that pays for losses incurred due to an accident caused by a driver whose liability insurance coverage cannot fully cover those losses
- Medical payments (Med Pay): Optional coverage that can help pay for medical expenses to treat car accident injuries regardless of who may have caused the crash
- Collision coverage: Optional coverage that can reimburse car repair expenses or the cash value of a totaled vehicle
Documenting Your Injuries and Losses
Car accident victims should also begin gathering records to document injuries and losses. A car insurance company will want written records of those injuries and losses before reimbursing accident victims.
Car crash victims should keep copies of all bills, invoices, or receipts for medical care, vehicle repairs, and other related expenses incurred to recover from a car accident.
Accident victims should also find their pay stubs or income statements to calculate lost earnings if they need to take time off work while recovering from injuries or if their medical restrictions require them to transfer to a lower-paying part-time or light-duty position temporarily.
Car accident victims should refrain from providing the insurance company with a medical release that grants the insurer access to the victim's medical records. Insurers may ask for medical releases to comb through a crash victim's medical history for any sign of a pre-existing injury or degenerative condition the insurer can point to as the cause of the accident victim's claimed injuries.
How Can an Attorney Help You After a Car Accident?
Recovering from a car accident can be complex and time-consuming, especially when a crash victim has suffered severe, life-altering injuries. Severe injuries may require months of medical treatment and rehabilitation. A car accident victim should focus their time and energy on their physical and emotional recovery to return to regular life after a devastating car accident.
An attorney can help with the recovery process by handling all the details of an insurance or legal claim, including:
- Thoroughly investigating the accident to recover relevant evidence, such as police accident reports, accident scene photos, witness statements, surveillance and traffic camera footage, vehicle event data recorder logs, or cell phone records
- Reviewing the facts and evidence and working with accident reconstruction experts as necessary to identify the party or parties at fault for the crash and build a compelling case to prove liability for an accident victim's injuries and losses
- Gathering documentation of a crash victim's expenses to calculate ongoing and future anticipated losses
- Evaluating legal options for pursuing financial resources for a crash victim's recovery, including identifying applicable insurance coverage or other parties that may bear liability for the crash victim's financial and personal losses
- Filing insurance claims and communicating with insurance adjusters on the injured accident victim's behalf
- Handling settlement negotiations or litigation if going to court becomes necessary to pursue financial recovery for a crash victim's injuries and losses
Pursuing Settlement or Litigation
An injured car accident victim might have the right to seek financial recovery from an insurance company or the driver(s) who caused the crash. Most car accident claims end in a settlement. Once a crash victim or their attorney has notified the insurance company about an accident or filed a claim, the attorney might draft and send a demand letter.
The demand letter will outline the crash victim's allegations, supporting evidence, and documentation of injuries and losses, usually ending with an initial settlement offer. A demand letter will kick off the settlement negotiation process, during which a crash victim and their attorney will exchange evidence and counteroffers with the insurance company or at-fault driver.
Parties may pursue alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to resolve a car accident claim, such as mediation or arbitration. Mediation involves a more structured form of negotiation facilitated by a neutral third party called a mediator, who helps parties understand the strengths and weaknesses of the respective cases and suggests solutions to assist the parties with settling.
Arbitration involves a trial-like hearing before an arbitrator or panel of arbitrators, who hear arguments and evidence from the parties and issue a usually binding ruling resolving the dispute.
However, some car accident cases end up going to court and trial. Under South Carolina's statute of limitations, a car accident victim usually has three years to file a lawsuit against the driver or drivers who caused the crash. However, the trial court might dismiss any lawsuit filed after this deadline.
Because investigating a car crash and settlement negotiations can take time, a person injured in a car accident should promptly begin treating their injuries and hire an experienced car accident lawyer to prepare for an insurance or car accident claim.
Acting Quickly After a Car Accident Can Protect Your Legal Rights and Options
After a car crash, a driver or passenger can take immediate steps to begin the healing process and preserve their legal options for pursuing compensation for expenses and other losses caused by the accident.
After a car accident, seek medical attention and follow the doctor's treatment plan, including keeping follow-up appointments.
Accident victims should also gather and preserve relevant evidence from the crash, including crash scene photos, pictures of vehicle damage, surveillance footage, and copies of medical records to document injuries and other losses. They should also contact insurance companies to report the crash and file claims.
Most importantly, car accident victims should seek effective legal representation immediately after a crash. The longer a car accident victim waits to speak to an attorney, the harder it might become to fully recover and pursue fair compensation. Hiring a Columbia personal lawyer early in the recovery process might improve an injured victim's chances of obtaining financial relief.