Accidents will happen
Even the best drivers may become involved in an automobile accident.That’s why we should all know what steps to take immediately following an accident to protect the life, limb, property and legal rights of those involved. Here are the steps you should take if you are involved in an accident with another vehicle or pedestrian or in a single car accident with one or more occupants.
Stop your car
Never leave the scene of an accident in which you or your car is involved. No matter how slight the collision, if you fail to stop you may subject yourself to criminal prosecution even though the accident was not your fault. You should stop your car as soon as possible without further endangering any person or property and without obstructing traffic. You are required by law to stop your car at the scene of the accident or as close to it as possible. You are then required to return to the scene and remain there until sufficient information can be obtained. You should do whatever is necessary to warn oncoming traffic of the accident in order to prevent further accidents. Station cones or other traffic devices in a position to warn approaching vehicles and divert them around your accident. At night, use flares, reflectors or a flashlight. As soon as you are safely able to do so, ask someone to summon the police and an ambulance or paramedic unit if there is any question of severe injuries. If someone has been injured, determine if anyone present has medical or emergency-related training, secure blankets and cover injured persons or those in shock, and ask someone to stay with and observe anyone who has been hurt.
Give aid to the injured
New Mexico law requires that any person involved in an accident shall immediately render reasonable assistance to any person injured in an accident if the need is apparent. If any person has been hurt, call 911. Unless you have had training in rendering emergency medical attention, don’t try it. You might make matters worse instead of better. For example, moving an injured person may aggravate the injuries. Persons with internal bleeding or who are in the early stages of shock may be much more severely injured than they appear. Never assume that a lack of apparent injury means someone is not hurt.
Reporting the accident
If you are involved in any accident and are not physically injured, you may suffer from shock and excitement, which makes it difficult for you to think clearly at the time. Let the police take over when they arrive. They can handle any emergency and investigate the accident. Their report of investigation may be helpful to you later if you are sued or if you decide to sue someone else. The law requires that any person involved in an accident shall immediately give notice of the accident as soon as possible to the appropriate police agency. If for some reason there is no police investigation, the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident which results in injuries, death or property damage must file a written report concerning the accident within five days of the accident. In some areas it is suggested that if there is only property damage, exchange information and move from the scene as quickly as possible for safety reasons. If the driver is injured or otherwise unable to file such a report, either a passenger or owner of the vehicle involved in the accident is required to file a written report. Failure to file such a report may result in criminal prosecution, regardless of fault.
Duty to give information
The laws of New Mexico require the driver of any car involved in an accident to give his name, address and vehicle registration number to any other person involved in the accident. If it is requested, the driver is required to show his/her driver’s license to another person involved in the accident. If you leave the scene of an accident without furnishing such information, you could face criminal prosecution even if you were not at fault. If you cannot immediately find the owner or driver of the other car, you are required to leave a note in a prominent place giving the name and address of the driver of your car, the name and address of the owner of your car and a brief statement describing how the accident happened. The best policy is to give no more information than necessary. Do not comment on the cause of the accident and do not admit fault even if you think you were in the wrong. You may discover later that the other driver was equally or more to blame. In addition, immediately after an accident you will most likely be emotionally or physically upset to such an extent that you will be unable to accurately describe what happened. There will be a time for explanations later. No one has the right to force you to give an opinion as to the cause of the accident, at police headquarters or elsewhere. You have the right to consult a lawyer before making any such statement.
Obtain protective information
Just as the law requires you to give certain information to other parties, you are entitled to receive the same information from other persons involved in the accident. Do not fail to obtain this information. In addition to the names and addresses of the persons actually involved, make an effort to find the names and addresses of any persons who witnessed the accident. Witnesses may be important later if legal action becomes necessary. Ask to see the driver’s certificate of insurance. This will tell you if the driver is insured and the name of the company. You may also want to make notes of the important aspects of the collision to help you remember them. If possible, draw a diagram showing the exact position of the vehicles before and after the accident and any important landmarks or identifying objects. If there are skid marks, debris or other items, measure them, make a sketch of their location or otherwise note what happened. If you see other parties to the accident making such notes or measurements, note this as well together with any comments or statements you may overhear about how the accident happened. Such precautions may prove invaluable in the event that legal questions develop.
See your doctor
If you have any doubt at all about your own condition or that of the passengers in your vehicle, see your doctor immediately or go to the nearest emergency room for an examination. Ask your passengers to do the same. Tell your doctor as specifically as you can how the accident happened and what injuries or problems you suffer as a result. Follow your doctor’s instructions to the letter.
Consulting a lawyer
A lawyer can advise you and protect your rights. Your lawyer can obtain statements from witnesses while their memories are fresh and perform functions to ensure that their recollections are preserved. If you have been injured in an accident, you may wish to see a lawyer. You may also want to consider getting a lawyer’s advice before giving any interviews or statements to investigators or adjusters or before signing any medical release. You should ignore any attempt by a representative of the other party to influence you against obtaining or following the advice of your own attorney before settling a claim or admitting fault. In selecting a lawyer, it is advisable to gather as much information as you can. Friends, neighbors or colleagues can give suggestions if they have been in similar situations. The State Bar has a lawyer referral service, which may be of aid, (505) 797-6066. Refer to the pamphlet What You Should Know About Attorneys and Their Fees.
Citations and tickets
Receipt of a traffic ticket or citation, either by you or the other party, does not necessarily indicate legal liability or fault for the accident. However, a statement of guilt or signing a traffic ticket and admitting guilt may be used against you if there is any claim for damages after the accident. You may want to consider getting legal advice before deciding whether to plead guilty, not guilty or no contest in regard to a traffic ticket.
Inform your insurance company immediately
Failure to immediately notify your insurance company of an accident may result in your not being covered by your insurance company. You should contact your agent or adjuster as soon after the accident as possible and provide whatever information is requested of you.
Proof of financial responsibility
Under New Mexico law, no person is allowed to operate a car registered in New Mexico on any road, street or highway of the state unless that person has valid proof of financial responsibility for any subsequent accident. This means that you must have liability insurance covering anyone driving your vehicle. Failure to be able to demonstrate such financial responsibility may result in suspension of your right to drive or to have a car registered in this state. You may also be fined.
If your car is damaged, if you lose work, if you have physical injuries or certain other forms of losses, you may be entitled to recover damages under your own insurance policy if certain conditions have been met. You may also be entitled to damages from the other party to the accident. If you are in an accident, you may be entitled to recover money for the following: 1) the nature, extent and duration of your physical injuries; 2) pain and suffering resulting from these injuries; 3) disability, both temporary and permanent; 4) reasonable medical expenses resulting from the accident including ambulance, doctor’s bills, hospital bills, physical therapy, prescriptions, etc.; 5) loss of income, past and future; and 6) value of damage to your car and other personal property.
Special Note - This information has been issued to inform and not to advise. It is based on New Mexico law in effect at the time of writing. The statements are general and individual facts in any given situation may alter their application or involve other laws not referred to here. You should always seek advice from an attorney if any questions arise. This document is intended as a public service and is not an endorsement of any attorney or law firm.