1. If safe to do so, move your car to the shoulder or off the roadway.
Texas Transportation Code Chapter 550.022 says if you are involved in a car accident on the “main lane, ramp, shoulder, median, or adjacent area of a freeway in a metropolitan area” with no apparent serious personal injury or death, you must move your car from the roadway. All too often you see people standing around in the middle of the roadway after fender benders—like some CSI forensic unit is going to land in a helicopter and paint the scene. They’re not. People who block traffic with fender benders are violating the law and putting themselves—and others—in further danger. Just photograph the position of the cars and damage, then quickly steer it and clear it.
2. Exchange driver’s license and insurance information.
Texas Transportation Code Chapter 550.022 also says that, if you are involved in a car accident, you must stop at the scene of the accident (or return to it if you did not stop), then show the other driver your driver’s license and insurance information. Interestingly, you must remain at the scene of the accident until you provide this information to the other driver. I once witnessed an accident in Austin when the driver’s passenger quickly sent the drunk driver away but left the driver’s license and insurance card at the scene with the other driver. Remarkably, the investigating officer was fine with that and did not issue a citation for leaving the scene. I’m not saying she got away with a DWI, but the officers sure seemed disinterested in immediately pursuing her.
3. Give the other driver “reasonable assistance,” including a ride to the hospital if he or she asks for it, or a ride “if it is apparent that treatment is necessary.”
Texas Transportation Code Chapter 550.023 requires you to drive the other driver to a hospital if he or she needs it, or provide other “reasonable assistance.” Notably, “if the injured person requests the transportation,” you must provide it. It’s unclear what “reasonable assistance” includes. For example, it’s doubtful “reasonable assistance” means you must drive that person to the grocery store, the cleaners, and then home. But what’s the harm in offering to drive him or her home? Regardless, if the other driver is hurt, the better course is to simply call 911 and request an ambulance. Do not tell anyone you are “okay” or “not hurt” if you have any doubt about your injuries (see below).
4. No, you do not automatically get a police officer’s accident report. It depends on the injuries and property damage.
Texas Transportation Code Chapter 550.062 says that an officer “who in the regular course of duty investigates” an accident “shall make a written report” if there is injury or death, or property damage to one party more than $1,000. However, the officer is not required to investigate your accident. Texas Transportation Code Section 550.041 says that a police officer notified of an accident with injury or death to a person or greater than $1,000 in property damage “may investigate the accident and file justifiable charges…” So, take good photographs of the cars, the scene, and the damage. Get the names and phone numbers of any witnesses. Finally, if the officer does investigate and interview you—and you have doubts about your injury or are injured—do not tell the officer you are “okay” or “not injured.” The officer will mark that down in the accident report, and it will most definitely come back to haunt you at trial (see below). Many times, back and neck injuries do not significantly manifest themselves until well after the day of the car accident.
5. Report the accident “immediately” if there is injury or death, or damage to a car such that it cannot be safely driven.
If there is indeed injury or death—or damage to a car such that it “cannot be normally and safely driven”—Texas Transportation Code Section 550.026 says you must contact the local police or sheriff’s office “by the quickest means of communication…” So, if someone’s hurt, killed, or cannot drive their car after an accident, call 911. Notably, however, the law does not require the local police agencies to maintain these communications of accidents.
6. In fact, you must make your own written report of the car accident if the police do not complete one.
Perhaps the least known rule on the road is the do-it-yourself accident report. Texas Transportation Code Section 550.061 requires an “operator’s accident report” if the accident is not investigated by the police yet nevertheless “resulted in injury to or the death of a person or damage to property” in excess of $1,000. After over fifteen (15) years of practice, and having tried dozens of car wreck cases, I can honestly say I’ve never seen any such do-it-yourself accident report. Remarkably, though, there’s a form you should use if you ever decide to complete one: http://www.harriscountyso.org/documents/Blue_Form.pdf Note, too, that the existence of this do-it-yourself form reinforces the fact that the police are not necessarily required to investigate your accident, even if it results in death (although they likely will if serious injury or death).
Regardless whether the police come to the scene, there are some fundamental things you should do after the car wreck to protect your rights. First, photograph the cars, the scene, and the damage. Often, car wreck trials turn on the photographic evidence of the damage and the scene, so document it well. Jurors look at the damage to the cars—the greater the damage, the more likely jurors will accept your own testimony of injury. At trial, the insurance lawyer will accuse you of malingering, or not even being injured. Document damage to fight that nonsense. Second, seek immediate medical attention even if you are only sore or unsure about your injuries. This is my most frustrating pet peeve about car-wreck trials. Friendly clients want to assure the other driver and officer they’re “okay” or “not hurt.” But every time, the insurance lawyer uses that against my clients at trial (“See, he told the officer he was okay, then changed his mind after hiring a lawyer.”). Even if you refuse an ambulance, tell the officer you are injured and go get checked out by an ER clinic, or visit your treating doctor as soon as possible. Keep in mind X-rays only show broken bones. The majority of car-wreck injuries involve injuries to the spine’s gelatinous discs, which cannot be seen on X-rays which show bones. Get an MRI as soon as possible, and follow-up with physical therapy or other treatment recommended by your doctor. Trying to “sleep it off” or delay medical treatment beyond the day of the accident will arm insurance lawyers with more ammunition to fire at you at trial. Don’t give them the chance—go get checked out immediately, and if pain persists in the neck of back, immediately get an MRI. And, of course, contact a board-certified personal injury lawyer to protect your rights.