Frequently Asked Questions About Road Traffic Accidents

IN THE HEAT OF THE MOMENT

What’s the first thing that I should do if I’ve been in an accident?

This is a no-brainer. It should be a matter of absolute priority that you establish that you, any passengers in your vehicle, and any other individuals involved in the accident are not seriously injured. If anyone is significantly injured an ambulance should be called straight away.

Don’t agonise over whether an injury is sufficiently serious to justify calling an ambulance or bringing someone to the nearest doctor’s surgery or hospital A&E department. If in doubt, just do it.

Even if one of the parties involved in the accident does a runner don’t be distracted from this task until you are absolutely sure that appropriate medical attention has been obtained for anyone who needs it.

OK. Everyone who needed medical attention has received it. What’s next?

Once anyone who was injured in the accident has been tended to, your next task is a very straightforward information gathering exercise. You should get the name, address and telephone number of every other vehicle driver and any witnesses who saw what happened.

In the case of each other driver involved you should also look for:

• the registration number of their vehicle;

• details of their insurance policy including the name of the insurance company, the policy number and the renewal date.

• the name and address of the owner of the vehicle (if that’s someone other than the driver).

It goes without saying that you should also provide the other driver with all of these details.

If anyone is being unco-operative when you’re trying to gather this information at the scene you should get the registration number of their vehicle at the very least. This will enable searches to be carried out later on to establish the registered owner of the vehicle.

Should I call the Guards?

If no-one else has already done so, you should establish where the nearest Garda station is (using directory enquiries on your phone if you don’t know) and telephone them to let them know that the accident has happened. They’ll then ask you some questions to determine how serious the accident was. If they decide that there has been no serious injury their usual policy is not to attend at the scene and to let the parties work things out between themselves. Make sure you ask for the name of the Garda you’ve spoken to and make a note of it.

If the Guards decide not to attend at the scene you should call to a Garda station as soon as possible after the accident to give a full account of the accident to the member in charge at the station. This task can obviously wait until all necessary medical treatment has been received and you’ve exchanged the appropriate information with the other parties involved.

Unless the accident is extremely trivial in nature, be suspicious if anyone else involved is urging you not to get the Guards involved. It may be that they’re afraid that they’d fail a drink or drug test or that they’re not properly insured. If you think that there’s anything like this going on try your best to get a Guard to attend at the scene as soon as possible. Do not feel browbeaten by anyone at the scene but use your common sense and certainly don’t risk putting yourself in any danger if someone at the scene is acting in a threatening or abusive manner.

Should I move my vehicle?

Again, safety is the top priority here. Generally speaking, the vehicles should be moved off the road as quickly as it is safe to do so. Obviously, if the accident is a very serious one and someone is trapped in a vehicle, call the emergency services and follow their directions before doing anything that might cause any harm to anyone.

Once I’ve exchanged information with the other people involved, what then?

After you’ve satisfied yourself that you’ve got sufficient information regarding the other driver (or drivers) and the witnesses you should try to record as much detail as possible about the circumstances in which the crash happened.

Nearly everyone now has a pretty nifty camera built into their mobile phone, so don’t just stand there, get snap happy. As for what will be of use later, if in doubt, shoot it! It’s much more satisfying to be discarding irrelevant photographs later on than to be ruing the fact that you didn’t record what subsequently turned out to be important evidence.

Examples of what will be of assistance include:

• The number plates of each of the vehicles involved.

• The insurance disc displayed in the windscreen of each of the vehicles.

• The positions of the vehicles relative to one another and relative to the centre of the road. (Try and get a photo of these positions before the vehicles are moved immediately after the accident, but only if it is safe to do so.)

• Any dents or other signs of damage to any of the vehicles.

• Any skid marks or other road markings.

• Any broken glass or other debris lying on the road.

While photos are great, they’re often focused on very small areas and don’t give a good sense of the overall scene. In this context the ancient Chinese proverb couldn’t be truer: ‘a picture tells a thousand words.’ You’d be amazed how useful that quick sketch on the back of an envelope you did while the facts were still fresh in your mind ultimately turns out to be if the facts become contentious later on.

Should I get an engineer involved?

While common sense has to be followed, the safest answer is: yes, if there is any dispute or doubt at all about who was responsible for the accident. Even if you’ve taken down all the relevant facts, drawn an accurate sketch, and taken plenty of photographs, an engineer will nevertheless be able to inspect the scene with cold detachment relying on a trained eye that may well spot relevant details that a layman could easily miss. They know the telltale signs to look out for and will also be in a position to take relevant measurements which could turn out to be critical down the line from an evidential point of view.

As weather conditions and passing traffic can result in evidence being lost from a scene you should ensure that an engineer attends and inspects the scene as soon as possible.

You should ensure that the engineer is a specialist in the area of road traffic accidents and that they will be in a position to give evidence in court, if required.

When can I leave the scene of the accident?

Where it’s clear that the Gardaí intend to come to the scene wait until you get the green light from the Garda who arrives. If the Guards have made it clear that they’re not going to turn up make sure that you given every other person involved your name, address, contact details, vehicle registration number and insurance details.

What do I do if the other driver insists that I shouldn’t leave the scene?

You should be careful here: it’s a crime to leave the scene of an accident without providing sufficient information. The safest way to protect yourself is to ensure that either you or the other driver has contacted the Gardaí and notified them that the accident has happened. If the Guards confirm they’re on their way, stay at the scene. If they don’t intend to come, and you’re satisfied that you have all the information you need, you should write down your name, address, contact details, registration number and insurance details on a piece of paper and politely give it to the other driver. At that point you should be safe to leave the scene, even if this results in the other driver getting into a huff. But if the accident is serious enough in nature and the other driver has arranged for an engineer to attend at the accident scene immediately you should probably stick around until the engineer surveys the scene, as negative inferences could be drawn later on if you don’t.

What happens if I’m involved in a hit-and-run?

If the other driver isn’t properly insured or if they leave before you get their details, don’t worry, all’s not lost. Where, for whatever reason, there isn’t a valid policy of insurance for you to claim against, an application can be made to the Motor Insurers’ Bureau of Ireland (MIBI) provided the accident happened in a public place and that a few other conditions are met. The MIBI will then effectively take over the role as the insurer of the uninsured or unidentifiable driver. Who pays for all this? You and me through our insurance premiums.

Should I admit liability?

Never! While this might initially seem like cynical advice, it’s anything but.

For one thing, it will almost certainly be a condition of your policy of insurance that you must not make any admission of liability and that to do so would invalidate your insurance. You’ve paid dearly for that insurance, so if you do end up needing to rely on it, don’t do anything that might jeopardise your cover..

Apart altogether from this fact, the scene of an accident is neither the time nor the place to get into the finer points of who’s responsible for what. Some people are psychologically hard-wired to think that if they’ve been involved in an accident they must have been somehow to blame, even where this is in no way objectively justified. Remember also that people will often be suffering from shock or be overcome with emotion in the immediate aftermath of an accident – not exactly ideal circumstances in which to be conducting a technical assessment of liability in negligence.

By the same token, don’t try to the get anyone else to admit they were wrong even if it appears to you that this is as plain as the nose on your face. Getting into a barney on the side of the road isn’t going to advance anyone’s case. If someone volunteers that they were in the wrong be sure to make a note of the fact that they did, but leave it at that.

If the other side admits liability, does this mean I can relax?

Let’s hope so. But don’t bank on it. One of two things could subsequently happen which could cause you bother.

The first is pretty obvious: as soon as the other driver has gotten their wits about them they may think better of their admission and decide to deny that they ever said any such thing. If this happens it will boil down to a swearing match between you and them – not a position you want to be in.

The other possibility is that the other driver has declared unambiguously that he was completely at fault so that he can lull you into a false sense of security so that you’ll let your guard down when exchanging details. If you’re not careful you may find out when it’s too late that the lovely chap whose name and address you have doesn’t actually exist. That’s why you should always follow the golden rule: always note down the vehicle registration number having verified it yourself.

WHEN THE DUST HAS SETTLED

Should I seek medical attention after the accident?

If you feel even the slightest bit dodgy after accident then, yes, you should definitely pay a visit to your GP. Shock can often mask the gravity of what are in fact significant physical injuries requiring medical attention. If you don’t get the appropriate treatment early enough this could exacerbate your injuries.

When should I contact a solicitor?

Straight away. Now, before you think “they would say that, wouldn’t they!” remember that a solicitor specialising in this area will have seen this all before and will be able to assist you in dealing with such a traumatic event from the very outset. Remember too that the other parties involved in the accident are almost certainly going to consult solicitors as soon as possible, so why should you leave yourself at a disadvantage?

We have put together these questions and answers based on some of the issues which we encounter regularly when dealing with our clients. Unfortunately, we sometimes encounter situations where clients have failed to consider some important aspect of the matter in the heat of the moment or its immediate aftermath, and they end up kicking themselves afterwards. These questions and answers may seem perfectly straightforward in the cold light of day but may be the furthest thing from your mind if you’ve been unfortunate enough to be involved in an accident. Therefore, in our experience, it is far better to be safe than sorry and to speak to a specialist solicitor immediately who can go through everything with you there and then and can take any immediate action that may be required.

For example, a lot of vital evidence can be lost within a very short period following an accident and we can assist you in preserving this and advising you on how to protect your interests. This can make all the difference later on.

Bear in mind that a claim arising out of an accident may take months or even years to be resolved. Unless the evidence is recorded carefully by people who know what they are doing when it is fresh, the facts that seem as clear as a bell to you now may be muddied by the passage of time. And remember also that not everyone involved in the accident will be interested in highlighting those aspects of the facts that may support your case.

You may need an engineer on the scene immediately. If so, you’ll need someone who specialises in this type of thing and who knows what they’re doing. We will know the right engineer to contact and should be able to arrange an inspection at very short notice.

When should I notify my insurance company and what should I tell them?

As soon as. Don’t make any mistake about this: losing your no claims bonus is the least of your worries. If you drag your heels you could have the threat of your insurance company refusing to provide cover hanging over you. (They’re good that way.) If you genuinely believe that you’re not at fault, tell them just that. Make sure that you point out that you’re contacting them for the sole purpose of complying with your obligation to notify them that you’ve been involved in an accident and that you’re not making any claim against your policy. This will prevent any attempts to hang you out to dry on the basis that they’ve been prejudiced because they can’t carry out whatever investigations they deem appropriate.

How much time will I have to bring my claim after the accident?

The rule of thumb is that you should have written to the other side through your solicitor within two months of the date of the accident notifying them that you’ve been injured and that you will probably be making a claim. If you ultimately decide to make a claim this must be lodged not more than two years from the date of the accident. While there are some very limited circumstances in which this two-year time limit may be extended, these are few and far between. Don’t be complacent – if you have even so much as a sniff of a suspicion that you’ve been injured make sure your claim is submitted in good time. If you’re out of time the consequences are truly stark: you won’t be entitled to a cent in compensation, no matter how bad your injuries ultimately turn out to be.

Am I automatically entitled to be compensated if I’m injured in a car accident?

Nope. The law is quite clear on this point: you don’t have any automatic entitlement to be compensated just because you’ve been injured. You’ve got to prove that your injuries are someone else’s fault. This is often blatantly obvious, such as where some drunken maniac mows you down when you’re on a pedestrian crossing. But there are often cases where the facts aren’t nearly as clear. For instance, if you drive into a stationary vehicle which has been parked just around a corner, you’ll have to satisfy a court that the owner of that vehicle parked it in a manner that was negligent having regard to all of the circumstances.

Can the passengers in my car sue me if I’m in an accident?

You bet. Before you get too indignant, though, you should bear in mind that most people confine the class of persons whom they honour to be their passengers to their friends and family members. So if you’re involved in an accident which is your fault and your fault alone (perish the thought!), isn’t it reassuring to think that if your kid or best mate suffers an injury at least they’re going to have the peace of mind that there’s a fund to compensate them for their injuries and losses?

Am I liable if I run into the back of the car in front of me?

Probably. Each case is different and is judged on its own facts. But the general rule is that you’re obliged to make sure that you keep a sufficient distance between you and the car in front of you. The fact that the guy in front of you breaks suddenly or acts in some other erratic way usually won’t cut you any slack – you’re supposed to drive in a manner which allows for these possibilities.

Will I be barred from being compensated if the accident was partly my fault?

No, but the compensation which you would have received if you were blameless will be reduced. An all-too-familiar example is where a person is injured when they’re not wearing their seatbelt. If a judge is asked to work out the fair level of damages to which the injured party is entitled they have to take into account the fact that the injured party has, at least partly, been the cause of their own downfall. In situations like this, the judge will decide what a person would be entitled to if they were completely blameless and this figure will then be reduced by a percentage which is seen as reasonable having regard to the extent that the injured party themselves contributed to their own injuries.

Will I lose my no claims bonus?

Not if you were completely blameless. But you’ll generally find that as soon as you’ve notified your insurer that you’ve been in a crash they’ll helpfully remove it no matter what the circumstances. However, if the other side admits liability or if a court finds that you were in no way liable you should demand that your insurer fully reinstates your full bonus at the next renewal date.

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*In contentious business, a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage or proportion of any award or settlement.

John specialises in personal injury and medical negligence claims. His practice focuses on high value compensation cases. He has extensive experience in this area of litigation for over 10 years. Read more