Imagine that you suffer a fender bender on a quiet suburban street at low speed (15 mph, for example). Nobody appears to be injured, and neither vehicle appears to be damaged. After discussing the matter with the other driver and passengers, you wonder how you should handle the accident.
The first idea that comes to your mind is to do nothing. Don’t call the police, settle the entire matter at the scene, and forget the accident ever happened. You might wonder, “should I get a lawyer for a fender bender?”.
Is it worth getting a lawyer for a car accident with no apparent damage? The answer is yes; you definitely should seek out a minor car accident attorney for several important reasons.
What Qualifies as a Minor Car Accident?
“Minor car accidents” isn’t a legal term. It is primarily a term defined by your insurance company.
Most insurance companies define the term as an auto accident that does not include a commercial vehicle, results in no major injury, and results in minimal damage to any vehicles involved (usually less costly than any deductible). These are the type of car accident claims your insurance company can easily handle in short order.
When Should I Hire a Lawyer for a Minor Car Accident in Indiana?
Put bluntly, you should hire a lawyer as soon as possible after a minor car accident in Indiana. At the very least, you will need your lawyer to discover whether or not you have a viable claim.
Even if your lawyer decides you don’t have a claim, you should contact your lawyer again if you receive a court summons or a written or verbal complaint from someone else involved in the accident. You will need to respond in writing before the court requires you to file an Answer to the opposing party’s formal Complaint.
Deadline to File a Lawsuit
At the very latest, you need to hire an attorney early enough for them to prepare a solid case before the statute of limitations deadline expires. In a personal injury or property damage case, this date is normally two years after the date of the accident. In a wrongful death case (unlikely after a minor accident), the deadline is two years after the victim’s date of death.
How Long Do I Have to Report an Accident?
Nearly every accident must be reported in Indiana. If a police officer arrives at the scene of the accident and writes a police report, your duty to report is fulfilled.
However, if this does not happen, you must file a report with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles within ten days of the date of your accident. Even if a police report was made at the scene, you should probably still file with the Bureau just in case.
Are There Penalties for Not Reporting an Accident?
There are both criminal and financial penalties for failing to report car accidents. The state of Indiana might suspend your license or revoke your vehicle registration if you fail to report an accident.
You might even be charged with a Class C misdemeanor that could result in up to 60 days in jail and $500 in fines. Additionally, an insurance company may be unwilling or unable to compensate for your accident if you fail to file a report.
Reasons to Hire a Lawyer for a Minor Car Accident in Indiana
Many people think they need to suffer an injury to get help from an accident attorney. No injury is required to be justified in hiring a lawyer, even after minor car accidents.
Reason 1: Your Injuries Might Not Be as Minor as You Think
Sometimes, a serious injury may not start showing symptoms until hours or even days later. The most common injuries of this sort are head injuries and soft tissue injuries. Soft tissue injuries are particularly easy to sustain. Symptoms include:
- Neck pain and swelling;
- Muscle spasms; and
- Your neck hurts every time you move it.
You definitely need to document any such symptoms.
Reason 2: You Can Win Compensation for Noneconomic Damages
Non-economic damages are essentially psychological damages such as:
- Pain and suffering (for physical pain);
- Mental anguish; and
- Loss of enjoyment of life.
You can recover from these damages as long as you suffer some sort of physical injury that caused your psychological symptoms. Courts frequently award noneconomic damages of three to five times the amount of compensation for medical expenses.
You cannot receive noneconomic damages for workers’ compensation claims, and there is a $700,000 limit on claims against the state government. Other than that, “the sky’s the limit”.
Reason 3: The Other Party Might Try to Blame You for the Accident
Imagine you decide not to call the police or a lawyer after a “minor” accident. Shortly thereafter, you receive a court summons notifying you that the other driver (or a passenger) is suing you. You might be fairly sure that the opposing party is lying about their injuries. After all, “Whiplash, whiplash!” has been used so many times that it has become a cliche.
But how can you prove it? In a civil trial, all the opposing party needs to win is evidence representing a 51% likelihood that their claim is true. That’s a much easier standard to meet than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard in criminal prosecutions. It is better if you have a police officer available to serve as a neutral third-party witness.
Reason 4: Insurance Companies Won’t Be on Your Side
Insurance providers all have the same goal. They are trying to make money by selling insurance. The best way to make money is to pay out as little compensation as possible to claimants. This reality is why you can’t trust your insurance company to be on your side when you make your claim.
Your insurance provider will typically look for any reason to deny your claim or offer you less than you deserve. Even in a minor accident, the best person to help you avoid this situation is an accident lawyer. No injury is required to get attorney assistance.
Reason 5: Stressful Claims Process
Insurance providers intentionally make car accident claims stressful. You need to provide reams of information and evidence, often by unclear deadlines. Any mistake could set you back weeks or result in your claim being denied.
Additionally, since you likely don’t know your legal rights, the insurance provider might try to illegally drag out the process, demand recorded statements, undervalue your injuries, require that you sign waivers, or pressure you to make poor decisions.
A car accident lawyer will explain your rights and protect you from any unsavory tactics that your insurance provider might attempt to use against you.
What Should You Always Do After a Minor Accident?
The first thing you should do after any accident is to get a medical evaluation. Even if you believe that you only suffered minor injuries, that doesn’t mean it is true. Let a medical professional determine that for you. Once any potential injuries have been evaluated, you should:
- Call the police to report the accident, even if you believe it was too minor to require a report.
- Document everything about the accident and accident scene.
- Exchange contact information, including insurance information, with other drivers involved in the accident.
- Get the contact information of any witnesses.
- Confirm that any responding officers intend to file a police report.
- File an independent accident report.
Few people plan for accidents, so it is easy to forget one or more of these steps immediately after an accident. It is a good idea to keep this list with you just in case you are ever in an accident.
What Not to Do After a Minor Car Accident
Avoid the following actions after a car accident, no matter how minor it was:
- Don’t leave the scene of the accident without reporting it to the police. Under certain circumstances, Indiana law will let you get away with this, but the legal standard is ambiguous at best.
- Don’t fail to photograph the scene of the accident, as well as the people and vehicles involved.
- Don’t fail to get the other driver’s contact and insurance details.
- Don’t admit fault. Don’t say sorry, even to be polite.
- Don’t neglect seeking medical attention, even if you don’t think you were injured. Let a doctor decide whether you were injured.
- Don’t neglect reading the police report and objecting to any inaccuracies.
- Don’t mention your case on social media, and assume that the opposing party is always monitoring your account for something they can use against you.
- Don’t delay reporting the accident to your insurance company and filing your claim.
- Don’t accept the first settlement offer until you have shown it to an auto accident attorney.
- Never try to settle a case without assistance.
Above all, don’t try to handle everything on your own. Hire a car accident attorney.
Is Indiana a No-Fault State for Car Accidents?
Indiana is a “fault state”. This designation means that if the other party is responsible for your accident, the other party (or their insurance company) is responsible for paying compensation for your damages from that accident.
Generally, your car insurance provider will only pay compensation if the responsible party wasn’t insured or didn’t have enough insurance to fully cover your damages. This setup also applies when you have been involved in a hit-and-run accident and you don’t know the other driver's identity.
However, there is one other complication. Indiana follows a doctrine of modified comparative negligence. This doctrine means that if you are partially responsible for an accident, your compensation for the accident will be lowered by the percentage you are responsible for.
How insurance companies determine the percentage of responsibility is complicated and something you can contest. A personal injury lawyer will help you contest your level of fault.
How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Car Accident Attorney for a Personal Injury Claim in Indiana?
Hiring a minor car accident lawyer costs you nothing unless you win your claim. Even if you do win, it is essentially the opposing party who pays your legal bills. Personal injury lawyers from Stracci Law Group work on contingency, meaning they only receive a payment if they win compensation for you.
Under this contingency fee arrangement, your attorney will receive between 25% and 40% of the money you receive for compensation. The exact percentage depends on the complexity of your case and whether your case goes to trial.
You will receive a contract that specifies the exact percentage and what circumstances would increase the percentage before hiring an attorney from Stracci Law Group. Because your attorney earns more money if you get more compensation, your lawyer has every motivation to maximize the amount that the other party pays out.
Let Stracci Law Group Handle Your Car Accident Case
If you suffered a “minor” car accident in Indiana that turned out not to be so minor after all, now is the time to act. You will need to document any injuries before they heal over, and you will need to properly document the accident.
Call Stracci Law Group at 219-525-1000, or simply contact us online. We serve clients in Crown Point [46307, 46308], Merrillville [46410, 46411], Hammond [46320, 46323], and elsewhere in Northwest Indiana.