Car accident data provided by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety illustrates that in the year 2014, there were 705 fatal crashes in Indiana, resulting in 746 deaths. The rate of death from car accidents was 11.3 per 100,000 population, or 0.95 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. In addition to car accident fatalities, there were also 124 deaths involving motorcyclists recorded in 2014, as reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Indiana, specifically Indianapolis, also has one of the highest rates of pedestrian fatalities in the nation. In 2012, the NHTSA reported that there were 15 pedestrians killed in Indianapolis alone, resulting in a pedestrian fatality rate of 1.80 per 100,000 population.
Car, motorcycle, truck, pedestrian, and bicycle accidents all have the potential to be tragic. While no one thinks that it will happen to them, in the blink of an eye, a person can lose their life or sustain an injury that causes permanent scarring, disfigurement, or disability. These instantaneous changes can leave a person scared, confused, frustrated, and anxious about their future – What will you do without your spouse? How will you pay your medical bills, especially if you do not have adequate insurance? How will you provide for your children if you are injured and cannot work?
The following explores some key facets to consider when a car accident occurs, ranging from who was at fault in a car accident, to how to prove that fault and deal with insurance adjusters and more. If this guide does not answer your questions regarding car accidents in Indianapolis, contact an experienced car accident attorney for more comprehensive information immediately.
The Causes of Indianapolis Car Accidents
There are dozens of reasons that car accidents happen. Some car accidents are unexpected and unpreventable – a cat darts across the road in front of your car. To avoid it, you swerve, hitting the curb and causing airbags to deploy. Or, you are driving down the road when another driver’s tire exploded, resulting in the driver swerving into your lane, causing a crash. These accident types, while often tragic, rarely are avoidable; drivers have done everything they can do operate their vehicles safely.
However, the above is not the norm; most accidents are caused because drivers make a choice to not operate their vehicles safely, or because another party acts negligently. Top causes of car accidents in Indianapolis and other parts of the state include the following:
- Distracted driving. Distracted driving is one of the top killers on the roadways in the United States every year. According to Distraction.gov, the Official U.S. Government Website for Distracted Driving, more than 3,000 people were killed in a single year in distracted driving accidents. Children, cellphones, GPS devices, pets, eating, talking to other passengers, changing the radio, etc. can all be distracting.
- Speeding, or driving too fast for conditions, can be equally as dangerous as distracted driving. According to the NHTSA, speeding contributed to 10,219 traffic accident fatalities in the United States in a single year.
- Drunk driving. Driving while drunk or impaired is one of the most dangerous things a person can do. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) reports that in Indiana, drunk driving fatalities represented 25.3 percent of all traffic deaths in 2014.
- Defective cars or car parts. Sometimes, the drivers are not the ones to blame for the accidents in which they are involved; when a car or car part is defective, it may endanger a driver, their passenger, and others on the roads. In 2015, there were nearly 64 million vehicles recalled in the U.S. due to potential safety problems.
- Aggressive driving. When drivers are in a hurry or are frustrated by traffic or the actions of another driver, they may resort to aggressive driving. Aggressive driving is a broad term that may include speeding, tailgating, inappropriate turns or lane changes, failure to yield, cutting off another driver, and more. Aggressive driving is common, and puts emotions above safety.
The above list of causes of car accidents is not inclusive, but it does highlight the most common reasons that car accidents occur. Driver fatigue, poor road or weather conditions, and more can all also contribute to or cause a car accident.
Indiana Car Insurance and Fault Laws
After a car accident occurs in Indianapolis, one of of the most important things that a driver can do is know how the law works in regarding to filing a car insurance claim and recovering compensation. Indiana is a fault based insurance state. This means that the state follows a traditional tort system, and that drivers are responsible for paying for the injuries they cause.
In Indiana, all drivers are required to carry bodily injury liability coverage and property damage liability coverage. The first, bodily injury liability, is designed to pay for injuries that that policyholder causes to others in a crash. The required amount is no less than $25,000 per person, and $50,000 per accident. As such, if you are involved in a crash caused by another driver, that driver’s bodily injury policy should pay for your medical bills.
Property damage liability insurance works the same way – the at-fault driver’s insurance company will pay for any damage to property incurred by the not-at-fault driver. The minimum amount of this type of insurance that a driver must carry is $10,000.
Insurance companies are also required to offer drivers underinsured/uninsured motorist coverage, although this coverage type may be rejected in writing. Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage helps to pay for your injuries and property damage in the event that you are involved in a wreck with another driver who was at fault, but does not have adequate insurance to pay for your damages.
Another extremely important insurance type that can be used to pay for injuries in the event of an accident is medical payments coverage. This type of coverage is not required in Indiana, but is highly recommended. Medical payments coverage will pay a portion of your medical bills (up to your policy limit) following an accident regardless of fault.
After a car accident, the types of insurance that you carry, and that the other driver carries, are incredibly important. However, the fault system also allows you to step outside of the car insurance system and file a lawsuit directly against the at-fault driver if you choose to do so. In no-fault states, filing a civil action is not permitted, with certain exceptions. Sometimes, filing a lawsuit is advisable, as it may yield a greater damages amount. When filing a claim with the insurance company or when filing a lawsuit, it is important that you understand that you will have to prove fault and injuries.
Contributory Fault in Indiana
Another component of the at-fault system, as well as the tort system, that is important to understand is the concept of contributory fault. Contributory fault laws, found in Indiana Code Section 34-51-2-5: Effect of Comparative Fault, read that any degree of fault attributable to the plaintiff shall proportionately diminish the amount of compensatory damages that the plaintiff may recover. This means that if you are found to be five percent at fault for your accident, your award amount can be reduced by five percent. Insurance companies and attorneys representing them, or attorneys representing defendants in a civil action, will surely try to reduce your award amount by pinning some of the fault of the accident on you. To help you prove that the accident would have happened regardless of your actions, and that you are thereby entitled to your full compensation amount, hiring an attorney is within your best interest.
Steps to Take After a Car Accident
In addition to the laws surrounding fault and who is responsible for paying for what in a car accident, it is also important to know what steps to take after a car accident. Taking the proper steps can help to ensure that you recover the maximum amount of compensation possible.
- Report the accident to the police. If you are involved in a car accident in Indiana, it is mandatory that you report the accident to the police if the accident results in death, injury, or property damages. Failing to report an accident could jeopardize your chances of getting the money you deserve.
- Get information from the other driver and witnesses. While you wait for the police to arrive, you should get information from the other driver and witnesses to the accident. Information to get from the other driver includes the driver’s name, vehicle make and model, registration, contact information, and insurance information. From witnesses, learn names and contact information, and make notes about what they saw.
- Take photographs. Assuming your injuries are not severe enough to prevent you from doing so, take photographs of as much as you can at the site of the accident. Things to take photos of include any and all property damage, debris or objects in the road, street and traffic signs, skid marks, your injuries, witnesses, the weather, and anything else that may be relevant in regards to evidence at a later date.
- Seek medical attention. If you have sustained injuries, it is important that you seek medical attention and follow your doctor’s instructions. Even if you do not have health insurance or are unsure how you will pay for the medical services, seeking medical attention may be necessary, and is recommended. An attorney can help you to figure out how to pay your medical bills.