Charleston Car Accident Lawyer
With close to four decades of combined experience in personal injury, Auger & Auger Personal Injury Lawyers have helped thousands of car accident victims deal with unimaginable consequences. At your first opportunity, a call to our Charleston auto accident attorney will ensure that your rights and those of your loved ones are protected.
Auto accidents are by definition never intentional – that is, unless the at-fault driver is deliberately targeting someone. Inattention is the root cause of most car wrecks. Before cell phones, a simple turn of your radio, reaching down to pick up an item on the floor of the car, or changing the settings on the air conditioner were examples of the distractions that led to car accidents. In the modern era of smartphone usage – texting, reading email, making calls, and searching the web have taken over as the primary cause of car crashes nationwide. However, the path to proving responsibility for an accident has not changed.
How is Responsibility Determined?
The investigating officer usually lists fault in the accident report, but that does not mean the issue is final. Many factors may have led to the wrong decision: the officer may have been in a rush, assumed the cause of the wreck without investigating, only spoken with one of the drivers, failed to speak with an independent witness, or failed to check any area surveillance cameras that may have captured the collision.
Although some types of accidents are one party’s fault, most are not. A rear-end collision is the typical example of an easy determination of fault barring unusual circumstances. An intersection collision can be more challenging, especially when both drivers claim they had the green light.
The insurance companies and their team of well-trained claims adjusters will take over where the investigating officer left off, performing their investigation if their client was the one held at fault. Their first goal is to attempt to get a statement from the injured driver or passenger. They are trained to ask questions that can be misconstrued and taken out of context to help minimize their driver’s fault – which minimizes their responsibility for car repairs, medical bills, and the injuries suffered by one of the parties involved.
Comparative Negligence and Fault in a Car Accident
South Carolina handles personal injury claims using a system called modified comparative negligence, which is designed to acknowledge the fact that responsibility for a crash is often shared between drivers. With comparative negligence statutes, it isn’t necessary to prove that the other driver was 100 percent at fault for an accident to receive damages. They only need to be mostly at fault, or more than 50 percent. Another way to look at it is that if you’re less than 50 percent responsible, you can collect damages from the other driver even if you had some responsibility.
It’s important to remember that if your case goes to court, both parties will be assigned a percentage of fault. If you were found to be 10 percent responsible, you could seek damages from the other driver or their insurance carrier. However, your final award would be reduced by 10 percent (or whatever percent of fault you ultimately had). It’s easy to see why the adjuster may be eager to suggest you’re at fault. Even if their client caused the accident (mostly), they could still save money by convincing the court that you were partly responsible.
Of course, most car accident claims never go that far because typically, these cases settle out of court. Your attorney will try to negotiate with the insurance carrier on your behalf, laying out all the evidence that the other driver was at fault. If they can convince the insurance adjuster that it will be more costly to take the case to trial, where they are likely to lose, the adjuster may be willing to pay your claim. However, in some situations, the insurance company simply won’t budge. When this happens, we’re always prepared to go to court and present your case if necessary.
There are many facts and issues which should be reviewed by a Charleston auto accident attorney to help you prove your case against the at-fault driver. The sooner you retain our services, the sooner we can send our team to investigate the facts of the collision and gather the necessary information to help prove your case.
After an Auto Accident: What Now?
The hours and days following a car accident in Charleston are extremely critical to your accident claim. The first thing to do is keep calm and assess which actions will ensure that your health (and that of others involved) is protected.
- Do not leave the scene, whether you are a witness, the responsible party, a crash victim, or a passenger. You could be charged with a hit and run or with failure to render aid if you choose not to stay.
- Call 911 for medical assistance as necessary, and request that the police come to the crash site so that an official report will be made. You can obtain a copy of your Charleston police report later in person, by mail, or with a telephone call. We can assist with this as well.
- Make a note of the police officer’s name and badge number.
- Be sure that all drivers provide their driver’s license and insurance information, the VIN number of their vehicle (available on the car registration), and the license plate state and number.
- Take pictures of the scene, any injuries sustained, damage to your vehicle, and immediate surroundings. For instance, a defective traffic light or downed sign may have been the initial culprit.
- Gather witness names along with their address, email, and phone numbers. The investigating officers do not always obtain this information or add it to their report. Do not assume that they gathered this information.
- If you are personally involved in the auto accident, notify your insurance carrier, but don’t discuss the case with them – or with the other driver’s insurer. Our e-book details what insurance companies don’t want you to know.
Call our office as soon after the accident as it is practical to do so to obtain professional advice and answers to your immediate questions. Our team will be dispatched to the scene to document the facts for eventually proving your claim, such as interviewing witnesses, vehicle inspections, and taking note of any incidental factors.
Determining Damages in an Auto Accident
You can file an insurance claim with the at-fault party’s insurance on your own, but we advise you to consult a lawyer first to ensure all your damages are accounted for. It’s easy to overlook damages when you should be entitled to compensation. Here are some of the different kinds of damages you may want to include in your claim:
These are damages for which you will receive a bill in most cases or damages you can put an exact cost on. Examples include:
- Property damage. Usually, this means the repair bill for fixing your car or an amount to put toward a new car if the insurance company considers it “totaled” or not worth fixing. It can also apply if other property, like your laptop or smartphone, was damaged in the accident.
- Medical Costs. These can be more extensive than many people realize. There may be an initial bill from the hospital, prescriptions at the pharmacy, follow-up appointments with a healthcare provider, mobility aids like crutches or a wheelchair, and possibly physical therapy appointments or other therapies to help you recover. Additionally, some people get one bill at the hospital, then receive another one in the mail when their health insurance company decides not to cover something. If you were severely injured, you might need continued care for months or even the rest of your life. Your attorney will consider your injuries and whether or not you’re expected to recover fully. If you likely need long-term care, those costs should also be factored into the settlement amount you ask for.
- Loss of income. If the injuries from your accident prevented you from working for a few days, weeks, or even months, you are entitled to seek compensation for the lost wages. It doesn’t matter if you were able to use sick days or paid time off. You still lost that time that you could have used for something else. If you become permanently disabled and cannot return to work at all, you should seek additional compensation for the loss of earning potential.
- Out-of-pocket expenses associated with the crash or your injuries. This can include hiring people to do tasks you can’t do yourself after being hurt, such as house cleaners, in-home health aides, yard maintenance workers, etc. You may also consider transportation costs if you have to see a doctor who isn’t nearby. Include the costs required to change your home to accommodate a wheelchair or other assistive devices to help you get around after you are hurt.
These are damages where it may be difficult to put a dollar amount on your loss, but you nevertheless suffered a loss. Aside from claims against the government, South Carolina does not cap the amount you can recover in non-economic damages. These include:
- Pain and suffering refers to both your physical injuries and emotional trauma or pain.
- Scarring, disfigurement, or permanent disability.
- Loss of consortium or companionship if you lost a loved one in the accident.
- Loss of society or enjoyment of life if you can no longer do the things you loved before your accident.
These don’t apply in most cases, but occasionally they do. Punitive damages are intended to punish the at-fault party rather than compensate the victim (but the victim still receives the damages). To award punitive damages, the jury will need to find that the at-fault driver acted “wantonly, willfully, or recklessly” based on “clear and convincing” evidence. It is far easier to prove fault than to prove “willful, reckless, or wanton” behavior. For example, you might have a traffic cam video showing the other driver running a red light while you had the right of way. Fault is probably pretty clear in this situation. But did the other driver run the light willfully or recklessly? That isn’t as clear.
As a result, punitive damages aren’t common, but in a few situations, they may apply. When they do, they are capped at $500,000 or three times the victim’s compensatory damages. There are a few exceptions where the cap is increased to $2 million, or there is no cap at all, but these are rare. You attorney will advise you if they believe punitive damages might be possible in your case, but there is no guarantee a jury will award them.
Charleston, SC Auto Accident Fatalities Statistics
The states are ranked by most fatal behaviors and fatality rates when it comes to bad drivers. South Carolina has fallen from 1st place in 2014 to 6th place in 2017 on this list. Now ranking in the better half at 29th for drunk driving, it has seen some improvement since Emma’s Law was passed in 2014. However, the state’s worst ranking was 1st in fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles driven.
The table below from city-data.com demonstrates the dominant number of these fatal accidents take place in Charleston when compared with South Carolina as a whole:
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) compiles extensive accident data, categorized by everything from gender to behaviors. Their 2015 Rural/Urban Comparison statistics shine a light on the fact that 72% of South Carolina’s 977 traffic fatalities have taken place on rural roadways.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Report a Car Accident in Charleston the Next Day?
Yes, you can report your Charleston car accident within 15 days of your collision. You must download, complete, and submit form FR-309 to have an official record of your accident.
However, you should know that filing a report is different than calling a police officer to respond to your accident at the scene. Form FR-309 states that all accidents reported through it are not investigated by law enforcement. This means that there won’t be a police officer to document possible causal factors of an accident. Any alleged at-fault drivers could dispute your claim that they caused the accident. Additionally, insurance providers may attempt to deny your claim since a formal investigation was not conducted. For this reason, you should always consider reporting the accident immediately after it happened and waiting on a police responder as your best option.
Does My Medical Insurance Cover Auto Accidents?
All medical insurance providers are required and will provide the primary coverage for your medical treatment and care after a collision in Charleston. This includes Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurance that you purchased on your own or obtained through your employer. This does not let the at-fault driver and their insurance carrier off the hook. They are still responsible for paying your medical cost, and these costs should be included as part of the total settlement when your claim or case is resolved.
Your health insurer may have a right of reimbursement (typically referred to as subrogation) against your settlement, depending on the type of health insurance you have, as specified above. It will be your lawyer’s job to ensure all the bills are paid and included in your settlement. Your attorney will also be responsible for negotiating a reduction in your health insurer’s lien against your settlement, if applicable — putting more of the recovery in your pocket where it belongs.
What Details Do I Need for My Car Accident Claim?
The most important details to document after a car accident can be found in the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles Traffic Collision Report (FR-309). Necessary details would include the date and time of the collision, the location of the collision according to nearby intersections or mile markers, the weather and daylight conditions, your vehicle’s make and model, which areas were damaged, whether injuries occurred, whether other vehicles were involved, the make and model of other vehicles involved, the contact information of other drivers involved, the contact information of any witnesses, and any other pertinent observations, especially if another driver was suspected to be DUI or to have violated a traffic safety law.
Do I Need a Lawyer for a Car Accident That Was My Fault?
You may wish to obtain legal representation after a car accident that has been documented as your fault. While the most common outcome is that your liability insurance will cover the damages, and your premiums will rise, there is the possibility that someone can sue you directly for excess liability not covered by the policy. Your insurance provider will provide legal counsel and defend against any claims they feel should not be covered under the policy. Consider seeking a legal representative if you feel like someone else is liable for your own damages, your insurance company refuses to defend against a bad faith claim, you are being threatened with a lawsuit by an outside party, or you feel like you were not at fault and should be entitled to damages.
What Do Car Insurance Companies Check When You Make a Claim?
Representatives of the liability insurance carrier you file a claim with will thoroughly investigate each and every claim they receive. This reduces the chances of fraud and affords them the opportunity to reduce the value of a claim by denying coverage for damages that allegedly don’t fall under their policy. Common areas investigated include: whether there is proof that the policyholder is at fault, whether the damages reported by the claimant are realistic, whether the injuries reported by the claimant directly resulted from the collision, whether the claimant had pre-existing conditions that would not be covered under the policy, whether the claimant’s medical treatments were all “reasonable and necessary,” whether the claimant contributed to their own injuries by not following doctor’s instructions, whether the claimant shared partial or complete fault for causing the accident, and whether the estimated future costs documented by the claimant are realistic, etc. If you’ve already made a claim and it was denied, chances are one of the issues listed above is the reason. Don’t give up – call us right away, and we may be able to help you appeal the denial.
Why Auger & Auger Charleston Car Accident Attorneys Should Represent You
Once you have contacted an Auger & Auger Charleston auto accident attorney, you can refer all parties directly to us. There is no need to take calls from the insurance company and wonder if you’re saying the right thing when they ask questions. You can concentrate on your family and healing from your injuries while we focus on you, our client.
We will be working on maximizing the compensation to which you are entitled, fighting to make sure you receive the proper medical treatment and recover damages to pay your medical bills and lost wages.
Whether a settlement negotiation proves to be your best route or a court case is necessary to present compelling evidence to a jury, our firm has a record of successful results in recovering significant sums after severe accidents. As always, your initial consultation is free, and our A&A Zero-Fee Guarantee ensures you won’t be charged anything if we don’t win your case. But don’t worry, we aim to win!
Call (843) 751-4690 today for your free consultation, with no fees due until recovery!