An auto accident can happen in a heartbeat, causing thousands of dollars in damages and even severe personal injuries. If you have been in a collision, it is important to know your rights and responsibilities.
Your responsibilities after an auto collision are very important, impacting not only the safety of those involved in the accident but also your ability to claim compensation and the assignment of fault, which can impact your future insurance rates. These responsibilities include:
- Remaining on the scene of the accident. This is very important, not only because it allows you to carry out your other responsibilities, but because leaving the scene will result in the accident becoming a hit and run, with severe legal penalties.
- Check the other drivers and passengers, and ensure that everybody is safe and unharmed. If somebody has suffered an injury, take whatever actions you need to – such as contacting 911 – to make certain that they get the medical attention they require.
- Reporting the accident to the police. This is required by Ontario law for any accident causing total damage exceeding $2,000 between both vehicles. It is also required in any accident where somebody was injured or damage was done to property outside of the vehicles involved. This reporting can be done by calling the police while on the scene (as is necessary when somebody has been injured), or it can be reported later by going to one of Ontario's collision report centres.
- If it was a minor accident and nobody was hurt, help get both cars off the road, provided it is safe to do so. This ensures that the accident does not cause unnecessary congestion or danger of an additional collision for other drivers.
- Trade information with the driver of the other vehicle. This includes contact and insurance information. This will be very important, particularly as after the accident this information may be needed both by your insurance company and the police.
- If you can, take photographs to document the scene of the accident. Part of processing your insurance claim will be the assignment of fault, and the more information you can provide to your insurance company that you were not at fault, the less likely you will be to see your rates increase.
- Contact your insurance company as soon as possible to report the accident and file a claim, preferably on the same day of the accident or the next. If you wait too long to contact your insurance company, you may find that they will not provide the coverage you need.
While you have a number of responsibilities after being in a traffic accident, you also have a number of rights, both in regards to your insurance coverage and your ability to seek compensation from the other driver:
- If you suffered a personal injury in a collision and you were an innocent victim, or the accident took place due to the negligence of the other driver, you have the right to sue the other driver in a court of law. The compensation you would receive in a personal injury claim would include coverage for lost income during your recovery and – if you were so severely injured that you meet the threshold of being permanently impaired – pain and suffering.
- If you were one of the drivers (or were a pedestrian) and you were injured, you have the right to compensation from no-fault insurance. This is coverage that must be provided by law by your insurance company regardless of who was at fault in the accident. No-fault coverage includes income replacement, caregiver costs, medical and recovery costs, and additional expenses by you and your family due to the accident. Your insurance company may modify the coverage you receive based on the circumstances of the accident – for example, if you had been consuming alcohol prior to the collision, this would negatively impact your compensation.
- If you were struck by a driver without insurance and suffered a personal injury, you still have the right under the law to compensation from the Ontario Motor Vehicles Accident Claims Fund. This is a government payer of last resort, granting compensation to those who have suffered personal injuries in auto accidents when there is no other insurer to provide coverage. A prerequisite to receiving this coverage, however, is that you were not at fault in the accident.
- If the accident benefits insurance company denies you coverage or provides a settlement offer that is far too low, you have the right to appeal or dispute it. If you decide to appeal the decision, you would have to do so using your insurance company's own procedures. If you decide to dispute it, you would need to file a claim with the License Appeal Tribunal, and if you are unhappy with the Tribunal's decision, you may then appeal it in a court of law.
The aftermath of an auto accident can be a difficult one, particularly if you suffered a personal injury. Knowing your rights and responsibilities – and ensuring that you have done what is required after the collision – is one of the keys to quickly navigating the complex insurance landscape and being able to spend the rest of your recovery in peace.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.