Legal Ramifications For Parents When In An Auto Accident With Their Family
For many parents, there are few thoughts more terrifying than being involved in a car accident with their children. But when around six million crashes happen on American roads every year, it is important to be prepared. Having a plan can help keep you calm in a stressful situation, and more importantly, can help you reassure your kids and keep them calm as well. Here is a short guide of what to do before and after an auto accident with children, and what legal steps you may be able to take afterwards (source: Abrahamson & Uiterwyk website)
Safety Measures: Be Prepared for the Unexpected
While you certainly can’t anticipate everything that may go wrong on the road, there are a few easy ways to reduce risk. First, keep your vehicle properly maintained and your inspection and insurance current. And when you put your kids in the car, make sure they are properly and safely strapped into their seats according to expert guidelines and the laws in your state.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) publishes a list of recommendations for what type of seat or car seat parents should install for their child based on age, height, and weight. They recommend keeping all children under the age of 3 in a rear-facing car seat, and then gradually move them into front-facing car seats and booster seats as they get older and bigger. They also recommend that any children under the age of 12 should ride in the back seat of the vehicle, even when they are old enough and big enough to graduate to a regular seatbelt. These guidelines are designed with child safety in mind.
Immediate Aftermath of an Accident
Right after an accident happens, your first instinct is to make sure that your child is okay. If staying in the vehicle puts them at greater danger, carefully move them, but ONLY if you feel you have no other choice. If they are still in their seat or car seat and not in immediate danger, leave them strapped in and call emergency services. Your child might be scared, and that’s okay. Making sure they are safe and uninjured is the primary goal.
More serious accidents might require a call for the paramedics, but minor ones may only warrant a nonemergency call to the local police. When the proper authorities show up and take over, do your best to get all of the information that you should gather after any accident: driver’s information, insurance details, pictures of the vehicles and accident scene, etc. Even if you wouldn’t normally call the police if it was just you in the car, it is still a good idea to alert them and have an accident report filled out. You never know how it may be helpful to you in the future.
The Days and Weeks After the Accident
Even though your child may initially seem okay after an accident, signs of an injury may arise in the hours and days following a crash. Watch out for bruising, dizziness, vomiting, and other physical signs something is not right. Even if symptoms seem minor, it is still a good idea to take them to their pediatrician in the days following an accident to make sure there are no underlying issues or other complications. If they do find something, get the child treatment as quickly as possible and make sure everything is documented by their physician. Trust your instincts as a parent, if something seems off, seek a medical professional's opinion.
Dealing with Insurance Companies and Seeking Legal Help
Depending on your state and its insurance laws, the next step to recovery is usually filing a claim with your carrier or the other driver’s insurance carrier. But before you accept any settlement offer, you should seek the advice of a personal injury attorney well-versed in auto accident cases. They can guide you through the settlement process, negotiate with the other parties, or represent you in court if necessary.
Accidents involving children often have specific statutory instructions for how and when a parent or guardian can settle a claim on their behalf. For example, in Florida a parent or guardian can accept a settlement without court approval as long as the settlement amount does not exceed $15,000. In Indiana, the limit is $10,000. And keep in mind that every state has a statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits, which is the amount of time after the accident you have to file. In most states this is two years.
Being in an accident with your child is an incredibly scary situation, and if you or your child has been hurt you may be entitled to compensation. Settlements for minors can be complex, which is why it is important to seek the help of a qualified attorney. And even if your child is uninjured in the crash, you still may be entitled to seek compensation for physical damage to your vehicle or injuries to yourself. If you feel overwhelmed, that’s okay! There is help out there to guide you through a personal injury claim if it comes to that, and advocates who will fight for your rights and the rights of your child.
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