You're driving down Essex Street in Hackensack. As you approach the intersection of Summit Road, you realize you're lost. You take your eyes off the highway for a second to double-check the address. Suddenly, you feel the impact on your car, your windshield shatters, and your airbag deploys. You've been in a car accident.
What's next? Here's some information to help guide you through the process should you be in a car accident in the Bergen-Passaic county area.
What to do at the scene
First, you must stop at the scene of the accident -- whether the accident involves a pedestrian, a moving car, a parked car or someone's property. New Jersey state law requires drivers in a crash to stop and stay at the scene to exchange information or render reasonable assistance to the injured. If you leave, you could be charged with hit-and-run and face severe penalties.
Do I have to call the police?
Yes, if a person is injured or killed, or there is property damage $500 or more. Call the New Jersey State Police or 911 as soon as possible. An officer will respond to your location and take a report. If you hit a parked car, or other object like a traffic device, you must inform the owner.
What information should I gather at the scene?
Be prepared to exchange information with the other driver -- your name and driver's license number, the vehicle identification number of the car you are driving, the name and address of the car's owner, the name and address of your insurance company and your insurance policy number. You may wish to collect contact information for:
Consider making note of traffic and weather conditions. Draw a simple diagram of the collision scene and/or take photographs if you are able.
Liability: Who is really at fault?
Automobile accidents can be caused by a variety of factors, including driver negligence, defective vehicle components, poorly maintained roads, or badly installed parts. New Jersey uses a modified comparative negligence rule. The amount of money you can recover from an at-fault driver in court is affected by whether or not you were also partially at fault for the accident.
New Jersey is also one of 12 states with a no-fault insurance program. No-fault automobile insurance is designed to cover any injuries you sustain as a result of the accident provided you were not intoxicated by drugs or alcohol or engaged in other criminal behavior. It doesn't matter who is at fault. Your own insurance company will pay out of pocket for personal injuries up to the policy limits. This means you don't have to sue the other party's insurance company to take care of medical bills and other resulting damages such as lost wages. Simply contact your own insurance carrier and make a claim.
It's important not to volunteer any information about who was to blame for the accident. Generally you should not agree to pay for damages or sign any documents except a traffic ticket. Most important tip: always cooperate with the police officer investigating the case.
Reporting the Accident to the MVC
You are not required to report an accident to the New Jersey MVC if the police filed a report. If a police report wasn't filed and there's property damage, you must report an accident to the New Jersey Motor Vehicles Commission .
State Insurance Level Requirements
New Jersey drivers are required to choose between two car insurance policies; standard and basic. The standard policy tends to be more expensive, but it provides more coverage because bodily injury is included. A basic policy is usually cheaper, but provides limited benefits and just enough coverage to meet the minimum insurance requirements of New Jersey law.
According to the MVC, you must carry a minimum:
Liability Coverage :
Bodily Injury : $15,000 per person, $30,000 per accident
Property Damage : $5,000 per accident
No Fault Coverage or Personal Injury Protection :
$15,000 per person
After the Crash: Dealing with Insurance Companies
As soon as you can, report the crash to your insurance company. Your carrier will open an investigation and a claims adjuster will contact you and do any or all of the following:
Request a copy of the police report;
Take photographs of your car;
Contact the other driver(s);
Talk to any witnesses;
Ask you to sign a medical release form to review your records;
Contact your medical provider;
Request for you to get estimates on vehicle damage.
After an investigation, the insurance company will most likely attempt to reach a settlement agreement with you depending on the type of damages you are claiming such as personal injury or property. You are not required to accept any settlements from an insurance carrier.
If you can't reach an agreement with the adjuster, you may have other options, such as appealing or initiating a lawsuit.
Seeking Compensation Beyond No Fault-Coverage
As the victim in a car accident, if you've chosen standard insurance coverage you retain the right to sue a negligent driver for personal injury losses up to two years from the date of the accident. If you have basic, no-fault coverage, and obtain a "serious injury," like dismemberment, significant scarring, other permanent injury, displaced fractures, or loss of a fetus, you may also sue.
If you aren't sure what to do, a trained legal professional may be able to help. Many lawyers take auto accident cases on a contingency fee basis. Basically, you do not pay the lawyer his or her attorney fees if you lose the case. If you win, you pay the lawyer a percentage of the money you get.
If you do decide to sue, your attorney will provide details about where and when to appear in court. You can find the address of courthouses in the area on our Cour House resource page.
A car accident is never fun, but we hope that what you have learned on this page makes it a little less painful. Come back to FindLaw for more resources or talk to a car accident attorney in your area for more information.
Contact a qualified attorney.