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a guide to

Auto Collisions

What to do After an Auto Collision

Find out best practices to make sure you’re prepared in case you’re ever in an accident.

What information should I obtain?

It is important that you seek immediate medical attention if you are seriously injured in an automobile accident. After everyone is out of danger and any medical and police help has been summoned, obtain the following:

  • The full names of the drivers of all of the vehicles involved.
  • The driver's license numbers & addresses of all the drivers.
  • If any of the drivers appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, notify police or other emergency personnel immediately.
  • The full names & addresses of any passengers, pedestrians, witnesses or other parties involved.
When should I contact an attorney?

If you believe the accident warrants an attorney you should contact one after leaving the scene of an accident, or while still there if you are safely able. A personal injury lawyer will promptly arrange for an attorney to consult with you free of charge so as to enable them to immediately take action on your behalf, while all of the evidence is still "fresh". If necessary and feasible, they will have an investigator conduct a thorough analysis of the accident scene so that no evidence goes undetected.

Should I talk to the other driver's insurance company? What if they call me?

Never give an oral statement to the other side's insurance company. If you do, you will regret it. If you are contacted, be polite, but decline to talk. Insurance companies' claims adjusters are professional negotiators, with extensive experience in using every psychological technique to maneuver you into giving information which can hurt your claim, including discouraging you from using the professional services of a lawyer.

Claims adjusters are hired because they sound good over the telephone, but they are well trained by insurance company lawyers to ask questions in a manner designed to hurt you and help them. You cannot beat an expert at their game. Do not try it. Simply say “thank you for calling but I am not prepared to discuss this matter with you at this time.”

Do I need to take pictures of the accident scene?

Absolutely.  Always take multiple pictures of the accident location, the vehicles involved, various approaches to the accident scene, and of the persons involved, particularly if they have suffered an injury. Plan on taking three times as many photographs as you think you might need, taking shots from multiple angles and locations. By moving around as if on the points of a compass, you will enable an accident reconstructionist to construct a more accurate diagram of the collision. If you are unable to take photographs, contact our office immediately at (402) 397-5000. At The Law Office of Ronald J. Palagi, we work with investigators and other expert personnel who often can rush to the scene of any serious collision and preserve and document valuable evidence before it is lost.

Do I have to take photos right away or can I wait?

It is very important to take photos as close in time as possible to the time of the accident. This is particularly important when it is necessary to photograph "impending" skid marks. Tires do not immediately lock-up and change from rolling tires to skidding tires. During the braking process, a tire begins to leave an imprint on the roadway before actually skidding. These marks are "impending" skid marks and are faint marks that can normally be seen on the roadway for only 24 to 48 hours after a collision. An impending skid and a skid mark, when taken together, give a more accurate record of the actual speed of a car before braking. Lay a shoe or other easily measured item next to impending skid marks while photographing them so an accident reconstructionist can later compute actual distances based on the photographs.

What about preserving other evidence besides photos?

In many cases, even though it may not seem important at the time, it later becomes vitally important to have access to the physical evidence of an accident. For example, in cases where a passenger is ejected from the vehicle, it is necessary to examine the seatbelt to determine if it was functioning properly. If the seatbelt is lost because the car which contains it is sold or destroyed, it may be impossible to bring a claim against the seatbelt manufacturer and/or the car manufacturer — something which can make or break the recovery of damages in cases where there is little or no other adequate insurance coverage available.

If the evidence is removed to another location, it is important to put everyone on notice by certified mail, including owners, tow operators, wrecking yards, police impounds, and the like, that they must take every step to preserve important evidence, and the failure to do so will subject them to being sued for allowing evidence to be destroyed. In some cases, we are required to go to court quickly to get a restraining order and preliminary injunction in order to avoid alterations or destructive handling and testing of potentially incriminating evidence.

Should I call the police?

Yes! It is important to contact the police immediately if you are involved in an collision. Doing so will provide proof of the accident, and will allow for an immediate investigation of the scene. In addition, police will take statements of witnesses, and will examine the other driver to check for drug or alcohol use. The police can also be valuable witnesses to your injury at the scene, and they can assist in securing an admission of fault from the negligent driver.

Even in minor accidents, resist the temptation to "keep things simple" by "settling up" with the other driver on the spot. You should make sure that you have not suffered injuries which do not develop symptoms until days or even weeks after the accident, and you should always consult with your doctor and an experienced attorney to make sure that you are aware of all of the avenues of recovery available to you.

Should I contact my own insurance company?

Most auto insurance companies require their policyholders to promptly report every auto accident. Your insurance company will want to gather all of the basic information concerning the accident for its records — whether you are at fault or not. Sometimes the insurance company will want your authorization to make a recorded statement concerning the accident. We suggest that if you or your passengers were injured in the accident, or if you believe the insurance company might try to claim you are not covered or you have any concerns about the adequacy of your coverage, you should contact an attorney before you go any further, and certainly before you give the insurance company permission to record your conversation (NOTE: You should never give a statement to the other driver's insurance company without consulting with an attorney). However, bear in mind that failure to provide information to your insurance company on a timely basis — your policy will set forth how quickly you must notify the company — could result in loss of coverage for the accident, without it constituting bad faith by the insurer.

Should I go to the doctor?

Never hesitate to get checked out by medical professionals even when you feel okay. Many times the onset of physical complaints begins 12 to 24 hours after an accident. Even if you did walk away only feeling "shaken up" after being rear-ended by a truck, tomorrow morning when you get out of bed it may be a different story.

It is also important that you get medical attention if you feel any pain or discomfort. Many people hope that their pain will go away on its own and wait for several weeks before finally succumbing and going to the doctor. Waiting to get treatment is not only not good for your health - it will hurt your chances of obtaining an appropriate settlement for your injuries, since there will be no medical record of your injury at the time of the accident. Seeing a doctor following the accident will insure a preliminary diagnosis and perhaps minimize the discomfort and future treatment you may need later. Follow the doctor's advice to the letter and never miss a doctor's appointment. Do not substitute your judgment for that of an experienced medical professional. If you do, it will be used against you in court.

If you have been in a serious accident, chances are that someone has already made a record of what has happened to you. There already is a police report, an on-the-job worker's compensation report, or the like. If your condition required immediate medical care, hospital records will confirm your injuries. Make sure you promptly follow-up with treatment from your regular doctor or an appropriate specialist following hospitalization.

Is there anything special I should tell my doctors?

When you are reporting your injury to police, paramedics, hospital staff, and doctors, take extra care to identify specific complaints, and do not omit any complaint you may have, no matter how minor. If something does not feel "right" your doctor needs to have this information in order to render an informed medical opinion.

Even if you feel it is "no big thing" or not related to your accident, you still should recite all of your complaints. A dry mouth, a light headache, and a little dizziness may be evidence of something more serious. Anything that is out of the ordinary is a symptom and should be reported to assist your doctor in making an informed diagnosis.

For example, a patient who has very slight tingling in the fourth and fifth fingers and a minor crick in the neck, may not report the tingling sensation, which could be the sign of major disruption to a cervical disk. If that disk becomes a complete rupture that requires major surgery, it would have been far better to have had the initial medical diagnosis at the time of the accident in order to prove when the onset of the fracture to the outer wall of the disk occurred. Otherwise, the defense will argue that it could just have well occurred picking up a bag of groceries three weeks after the accident.

How is fault determined?

Learn more about how courts decide who is at fault in an auto accident.

Automobile accidents are generally decided using the law of negligence. A person who negligently operates a vehicle may be required to pay any damages caused by their negligence, either to person or property. Generally, people who operate automobiles must exercise “reasonable care under the circumstances.” Failure to use reasonable care is the basis in most lawsuits for damages caused by an automobile accident. Courts look to a number of factors in determining whether a driver was negligent. Some examples of these factors include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Driving too fast or too slow
  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Failing to signal while turning
  • Disregarding weather or traffic conditions
  • Disobeying traffic signs or signals
  • Failing to drive on the right side of the road

A driver may also be liable for an accident caused by intentional or reckless conduct. A driver who is reckless is one who drives unsafely, with willful and wanton disregard for the probability that the driving may cause an accident.

In certain cases, accidents are caused by factors unrelated to the conduct of any particular driver. For example, under the law of product liability, an automobile manufacturer or supplier may be responsible for injuries caused by a defect in the automobile, or a component of the automobile, as in the Firestone tire litigation. A products liability suit is a lawsuit brought against the seller of a product for selling a defective product that caused physical injury to a consumer or user. If a manufacturer of a product creates a defective product — either in developing, designing or labeling the product — the manufacturer is liable for any injures the product causes, regardless of whether or not the manufacturer was negligent.

In another example, if a mechanic fails to properly repair a vehicle, and the failure causes an accident, the person who improperly repaired the automobile, and the repair shop, may be liable for injuries sustained. Other factors such as poorly maintained roads and malfunctioning traffic control signals can contribute to the cause. Improper design, maintenance, construction, signage, lighting or other highway defect, as well as improper striping on the road's passing lanes, a sharp obstruction or problem with the roadway that limits the drivers' vision, or poorly placed trees and utility poles can also cause serious accidents. Finally, if an accident is caused by an intoxicated driver, a bar or social host may be liable for damages sustained if they served an obviously intoxicated guest, who then drives and causes an accident.

Auto Insurance Coverage

Read about the different types of insurance coverage and learn which ones you may need.

There are two categories of auto insurance - first party coverage and third party coverage. First party coverage covers you and your property (such as medical expenses, damage to your vehicle and the insurance company's duty to defend you in the event that you are sued as the result of your operation of a vehicle, etc.). Third party coverage is for your responsibility to pay for injury caused to other people (and vice versa), whether in your vehicle, or another vehicle involved in the accident. The coverage (and its exclusions) is set forth in your insurance policy. In exchange for the payment of a premium, the insurance company promises to provide compensation in the event of certain occurrences. Though a full recitation of insurance coverage and laws would occupy several large text volumes, the following is brief synopsis of the most typical coverage and issues. Among the various types of insurance coverage which may apply are the following:

Liability Insurance

As stated, this type of insurance is required by law in Nebraska.(N.R.S. § 60-534.) The liability portion of an insurance policy is specifically for defending and settling any claims or paying any judgments rendered against the insured in an automobile negligence claim. If you are injured by the negligence of a defendant, we will make a claim under the bodily injury liability coverage of the negligent defendant's insurance policy. Liability coverage is not health insurance, and it is not designed to pay for your medical bills as they are incurred. It is designed for a one time settlement or payment for all of your damages. Liability insurance minimums required by law in Nebraska are:

  • Twenty-five thousand dollars for bodily injury or death of one person in any one accident.
  • Fifty thousand dollars for bodily injury or death of two or more persons in one accident, not exceed the per-person limits above.
  • Twenty-five thousand dollars for injury to or harm to property of others in one accident.

Lawsuits in Nebraska must be filed against the negligent driver and may not also name the insurance carrier as a defendant. In fact, the jury is not allowed to know that there is insurance coverage available on the defendant. If the jury renders a verdict in excess of the defendant's liability policy limit, the defendant is then personally liable out of his or her own assets for the additional amount.

Medical Payments (Med-Pay Coverage)

When purchasing automobile insurance for yourself, you may seek to include several additional type of coverage other than liability insurance.  One of these types of coverage is called medical payments coverage.

Medical payments coverage is a form of health coverage called by various terms, including "med-pay," "personal injury protection (PIP)," or on occasion "economic loss protection benefits." This coverage is available to the insured driver (the individual who holds the policy which includes med-pay coverage) and any passengers in the insured's vehicle for injuries sustained, regardless of the fault of the driver. It is important to note that the insurance policy of the negligent party does not pay med-pay or PIP benefits to an injured plaintiff. These benefits are limited to the driver or passengers in the insured vehicle, regardless of fault. The plaintiff looks to his own insurance policy or the policy on the vehicle in which he was a passenger for med-pay or PIP benefits.

The amount of med-pay benefits which may be paid to any individual is determined by reference to the policy limit for this particular type of coverage, as stated in the insurance policy declarations sheet for the person who purchased the coverage.

Uninsured & Underinsured Motorist Benefits

Two other related types of voluntary coverage you can (and should) purchase are uninsured and underinsured motorist benefits. These types of coverage protect you against a negligent defendant who illegally does not have liability insurance coverage or has minimum coverage that is inadequate to fully compensate you for your injuries. If you are involved in an accident with an uninsured but negligent individual, we would make a claim for you under your own uninsured motorist coverage. Your own insurance carrier would then have to pay any judgment which may be rendered, up to the limits of the policy which you purchased.

If the person who caused the accident has liability insurance, but the policy limit of his or her liability insurance is less than the uninsured motorist coverage of your policy, we can make an additional claim under your own policy for what is called underinsured motorist benefits, in the event that your damages exceed the limits of the other party's liability coverage. A complicated body of case law has evolved dealing with this type of benefit, and the experience of an attorney familiar with these issues is important in order to obtain the maximum amount of recovery for you.

Collision Coverage

Collision coverage is a type of voluntary coverage you can purchase which provides for the repair or replacement of your own vehicle after an accident, regardless of whether or not you are at fault. This is different than property liability insurance coverage discussed above. An innocent victim of an accident may present a claim for the property damage under his or her own collision coverage or under the negligent defendant's property damage liability insurance coverage. Your own collision coverage normally includes a deductible, whereas property damage liability insurance coverage does not. In an automobile accident case, after a claim has been paid under collision coverage, the insurance carrier who paid the claim may proceed against the property damage liability insurance carrier for the negligent defendant to recover the amount paid out. This process is called subrogation, and does not affect the amount of your recovery.

Auto Damage FAQs

Get answers to common questions about car repair and rental.

Can I control whether my car is repaired or replaced?

This can be a difficult issue. For most people, getting back into their own vehicle, so long as it is safe, is a priority. Normally, the insurance company has the option to either repair or replace your vehicle, depending on whether it costs less to replace your vehicle than to repair it. If this is the case, the insurance company will declare your vehicle a "total loss," and take action to replace your vehicle. If your car is declared a "total loss," the insurance company buys your car for its market value (see below), which can be difficult to determine. If you wish to keep the wrecked car, you may purchase it back from the insurance company for its salvage value. The insurance adjuster can deduct the salvage value from the settlement and you can keep the car.

Often the situation is reversed, and the insurance company chooses to repair a vehicle rather than replace it. In this case, if you are concerned about the safety of the repaired vehicle, you should contact our office to discuss your options.

Can I choose my own repair shop?

Yes. You always have the right to decide who will repair your vehicle, however the cost of the repair is not always determined by the estimate given by the repair facility of your choosing.

What kind of parts will be used in the repair?

You have the right to demand that only original manufacturer parts be used in the repair, so if your car is a Pontiac, you should receive genuine Pontiac (GM) parts. Since your car was probably not new at the time of the accident, however, the mechanic may use refurbished or reconditioned parts.

Claims adjusters are hired because they sound good over the telephone, but they are well trained by insurance company lawyers to ask questions in a manner designed to hurt you and help them. You cannot beat an expert at their game. Do not try it. Simply say “thank you for calling but I am not prepared to discuss this matter with you at this time.”

What about license & registration fees that I had to pay to drive the car?

In order to drive your vehicle, you had to pay a tag fee and registration fees. In some cases, you may be entitled to reimbursement for the prorated amount of these costs that are unused. The insurance company may also reimburse you for tag transfer fees and, in some cases, a prorated amount of sales tax on the actual cash value of the car at the time of the accident.

What kind of rental car am I entitled to?

The insurance company has to pay for the reasonably incurred rental cost of a substitute vehicle. Often, there are disputes as to what qualifies as a "substitute" vehicle. Essentially, it should be a vehicle of similar quality, within the confines of what is available for rent.

Should I purchase any extra insurance on the rental car provided to me?

Your own insurance policy should cover you while driving the rental car, but you should call your insurance agent to be sure that you are covered. The other driver's insurance company is not required to pay for additional insurance if you choose to purchase it from the car rental company.

How is the market value of my car determined?

You are entitled to recover the "fair market value" or the "actual cash value" of your vehicle immediately before the accident. One common source used to estimate fair market value is the Kelley Blue Book. Other sources of information are the local newspaper or the Auto Trader, which may list the for-sale price of cars of the same make, model, and year as yours. Occasionally, an expert vehicle appraiser is used to help prove the value of your vehicle.

What if I am "upside down" on the loan for my car?

If you owe more money on the loan for the car than the fair market value of the car, you are "upside down" on the loan. Unfortunately, if your vehicle is a total loss, the insurance company is not required to pay more money to you simply because you are "upside down" with your car loan. They are only obligated to pay the "fair market value" of your car.

What if my car already had some damage before the accident?

If your vehicle had damage to it prior to the accident, it can be difficult to determine exactly what portion of the damage was caused by the accident itself. For example, if your car has a mechanical problem, the insurance company may claim that it existed prior to the accident if some evidence indicates that there was substantial wear and tear. Therefore, it is important that you prove the connection between the auto accident and the damage you are claiming. Ordinarily, mechanics and collision repair personnel can help to prove the age of body damage or the cause of a mechanical failure. They can assist to convince the insurance company that the auto accident caused the damage you are claiming

Will I have to pay the towing and storage costs?

In most cases, unless there is a dispute as to who was at fault in the accident, the insurance company for the driver who caused the accident will pay the reasonable towing and storage costs (if necessary) of your car. After evaluating the vehicle, if the insurance company declares the car a total loss, they will have the car moved to a wrecking yard or a free storage area. If you refuse to allow the insurance company to move your car, however, you will have to pay the storage costs from the day of your refusal forward, or you can pay to have it towed to your home.

What if I need a rental car? Do I have to pay for it while my car is being repaired?

If you caused the accident, or if there is a dispute over who is to blame, then you must either pay for the rental car yourself or seek coverage under your own insurance policy if rental coverage is available. Many insurance contracts do not provide for rental coverage for their own customers, so you need to contact your insurance agent to determine what coverage exists. If the other driver is at fault, then we will demand that the insurance company for the person who caused the accident provide you with a rental car for the time needed to repair your vehicle. Sometimes, you must pay the rental car bill first, with reimbursement coming from the insurance company later.

Large Truck Accidents

Learn why large track or tractor-tailor accidents are handled differently than other auto accidents.

Accidents involving large trucks are among the most serious and most deadly in the United States. At The Law Office of Ronald J. Palagi, we recognize that handling these cases requires a thorough understanding of commercial vehicle regulations on both the federal and state level. Trucking companies are required to follow Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations concerning their equipment and their drivers' hours of service. Driver fatigue is a common problem, as hours of service regulations are routinely violated. Careful examination of records after an accident often shows serious and even fraudulent violations of those safety regulations. However, trucking companies are only required to maintain many of those records for six months. Without obtaining those records before they are destroyed, the injured person or survivors of a person killed in a truck wreck has a much more difficult time proving the trucking company's negligence.

The following represents facts and figures regarding large truck accidents and the serious damages they inflict on our roadways every year. In 2010 11% of all traffic fatalities resulted from a collision involving a large truck. In 2010, 276,000 large trucks (gross vehicle weight rating greater than 10,000 pounds) were involved in traffic crashes in the United States. A total of 3,675 people died (8 percent of all the traffic fatalities reported in 2010) and an additional 80,000 were injured in those crashes. In 2010, large trucks accounted for 8 percent of all vehicles involved in fatal crashes and 3 percent of all vehicles involved in injury and property-damage-only crashes. Seventy-six percent (76%) of fatalities in large truck crashes were occupants of other vehicles involved in the crash. Only 14% of fatalities involved drivers or occupants of large trucks.

Large trucks were much more likely to be involved in a fatal multiple-vehicle crash – as opposed to a fatal single-vehicle crash – than were passenger vehicles (82 percent (82%) of all large trucks involved in fatal crashes, compared with 58 percent (58%) of all passenger vehicles). Most of the fatal crashes involving large trucks occurred in rural areas (65%), during the daytime (66%), and on weekdays (79%). The percentage of large-truck drivers involved in fatal crashes who had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or higher was 2 percent (2%) in 2010. The BAC level for all commercial vehicle operators in every state in the U.S. is .04 g/dL, half of the legal limit of .08 for all other drivers.

Motorcycle Accidents

Learn more about how courts decide who is at fault in an auto accident.

Motorcycles are becoming an ever-more popular mode of transportation in the United States. However, the increase in the popularity of motorcycles inevitably leads to an increase in motorcycle accidents.Per vehicle mile traveled in 2006, motorcyclists were about 35 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a motor vehicle traffic crash and 8 times more likely to be injured. While motorcycles made up no more than 3% of all registered vehicles in the U.S., motorcyclists account for 13% of total traffic deaths. Unfortunately, when motorcyclists are involved in accidents with passenger vehicles, motorcycle riders and their passengers are also more likely to suffer serious injury and death as a result.

Per vehicle mile traveled in 2010, motorcyclists were about 30 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a motor vehicle traffic crash and 5 times more likely to be injured. While motorcycles made up no more than 3% of all registered vehicles in the U.S., motorcyclists account for 14% of total traffic deaths. In 2010, 35% of all motorcyclists involved in fatal crashes were speeding, compared to 23% for passenger car drivers, 19% for light-truck drivers, and 8% for large-truck drivers.

In Nebraska, motorcyclists are subject to the same speed restrictions as other vehicles. N.R.S. § 60-6,306. All motorcyclists are required to drive at a speed that is reasonable and prudent. Any speed in excess of the following speeds is evidence of unreasonable driving:

  • 20 mph in a business district
  • 25 mph in a residential district
  • 75 mph on interstate highways
  • 65 mph in other locations

In another example, if a mechanic fails to properly repair a vehicle, and the failure causes an accident, the person who improperly repaired the automobile, and the repair shop, may be liable for injuries sustained. Other factors such as poorly maintained roads and malfunctioning traffic control signals can contribute to the cause. Improper design, maintenance, construction, signage, lighting or other highway defect, as well as improper striping on the road's passing lanes, a sharp obstruction or problem with the roadway that limits the drivers' vision, or poorly placed trees and utility poles can also cause serious accidents. Finally, if an accident is caused by an intoxicated driver, a bar or social host may be liable for damages sustained if they served an obviously intoxicated guest, who then drives and causes an accident.

Tips for preventing Motorcycle Injuries

Simple safety precautions can mean the difference between a minor injury and a serious injury if you are involved in a motorcycle crash. The following list offers tips that may help prevent serious motorcycle injuries:

  • Always wear a helmet. Helmets are your best defense against serious or fatal brain injuries. The best defense against injury is wearing a helmet equipped with eye and face protection.
  • Wear protective clothing, such as long pants, boots, gloves, and a long-sleeved jacket to prevent your skin from being exposed to asphalt. Reflective clothing is recommended.
  • Never operate a motorcycle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Diligently obey traffic laws, including posted speed limits. Forty percent of motorcycle accident deaths are caused by speeding.
  • Be alert for road hazards and distracted drivers.
  • Always turn on your headlight.
  • Ensure that all passengers who ride with you wear a helmet and suitable protective clothing.
  • Make sure your passenger always sits behind you on the motorcycle.
  • The passenger’s feet should be able to touch the footrests during the entire ride, even during stops.
  • Start the motorcycle before allowing passengers to get on.
  • Instruct your passengers how to lean into the turn.
  • Insist that passengers hold on to your waist at all times.
  • Passengers should be instructed to keep their movements and talking to a minimum.
  • Passengers should avoid touching the muffler to prevent burns to their legs.