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You will have 4 wrecks in your life, on average

You could be the most careful driver in the Tarheel State, but if you've been driving long enough, the odds are against you. According to some auto insurance industry reports, the average driver will be involved in a car accident once every 18 years. This means 4 wrecks over the course of a lifetime. Sooner or later, no matter how careful you are, some idiot is going to run a red light or change lanes without any warning.

While North Carolina ranks somewhere in the middle of all states when it comes to auto accidents and personal injury, statistics don't mean much when it's you that gets hurt. If you travel in one of the major cities like Charlotte or Raleigh, the congested highways and roads packed full of drivers who are often distracted and in a hurry put you at risk. If you drive in some of the rural areas, then you have to contend with two-lane roads that can be harder to maneuver and often have higher speed limits than around town.

Here are some things you'll want to know if you are (inevitably!) involved in a car accident and suffer a personal injury. Let's start with what you need to do immediately after an accident to cover your ass.

What you do right after an accident sets the stage for personal injury cases

Assuming you are able, here is a list of what you should do to protect yourself after any car accident.

Pull over. If you are involved in a car crash, North Carolina requires that you avoid obstructing traffic by pulling over to the side of the road. Law or not, this is good advice. Just think of all those YouTube clips of car wrecks where other drivers just keep plowing into cars that have already been in a wreck, and you'll understand why this is a good idea.

Call the police. This is another great idea and another requirement in North Carolina. Drivers involved in car accidents are required to notify local law enforcement by the quickest means possible. This isn't a requirement if the accident doesn't involve property damage, personal injury or death. But it's still a good idea. You will want an official report of who is at fault to protect yourself.

Get those statements. Another auto accident law in North Carolina requires that each driver involved provide other drivers involved their name, address, license number, and vehicle registration information. It's not mandatory, but exchanging auto insurance information is always a good idea too.

Watch your mouth! It's a good to cooperate with the police and provide some basic facts, but remember what we learned from watching SVU and CSI: ANYTHING YOU SAY ABOUT THE ACCIDENT, VERBALLY OR IN WRITING, CAN BE USED AGAINST YOU! We know you're going to be shaken up, but always try to keep this in mind.

Can I get a witness? Try to get the name, telephone number and address of any witnesses who might have information about the accident. Regardless of how sure you are that the other drive is obviously at fault (more on that later), you should try to get as many sides of the story as possible.

Keep notes. From the accident and diagram report you fill out at the scene of the car accident to the ensuing doctor's visits, you need to keep notes throughout the process. Get out that phone and take your own pictures of the accident and continue to document your side of the story for future use.

See a doctor. Even if you don't think you were seriously injured, you should always see a doctor as soon as possible. Injuries can show up days or even longer after the accident. When you visit the doctor, explain that the car accident caused your injuries.

Call the insurance companies. Report the accident to your insurance company and get all the details about your coverage. And don't count on the other driver to contact their insurance company. Call them too and notify them of the accident. Just like before, watch what you say. You aren't required to give them any information or your opinion of the accident.

Know the rules

Who's at fault? North Carolina is a “fault” state, which means that if you are injured in an auto accident, you can recover damages from the driver who is “at fault.”

If you get hurt in a car crash in North Carolina, you can receive compensation for your personal injuries from:

  • Your own insurance provider, who will then seek reimbursement from the at fault driver’s insurance company
  • The at-fault driver by filing a lawsuit for personal injuries
  • The at-fault driver’s insurance company in a third-party claim

Be aware that the at-fault driver may not always be the driver of another car in the accident. If the driver of the car where you are a passenger is at fault, then you may have a case against them.

But…

North Carolina also follows a “modified comparative negligence rule.” This means that the amount of compensation you're entitled to receive will be reduced by whatever percentage you are found to be at fault. If the court finds that you are more than 50 percent at fault, then you are shit out of luck. You won't be able to collect a dime.

What about insurance?

North Carolina requires motorists to carry the following minimum automobile insurance amounts:

• $25,000 per single person claim for injury or death
• $60,000 maximum coverage amount per incident
• $25,000 for claims of property damage

UM and UIM coverage is required

North Carolina also requires drivers to carry uninsured motorist (UM) and under-insured motorist (UIM) coverage. UM coverage allows you to file a claim with your own insurance company if you are injured in a car crash and the at-fault driver doesn't have insurance. UIM allows you to file a claim when the at-fault driver doesn't have enough insurance. These mandatory types of coverage protect you and your insurance company.

How long do I have to file a personal injury lawsuit?

Regardless of the circumstances, you have a specific window of opportunity to file a personal injury claim. Known as the statute of limitations, this North Carolina law says that you have three years from the date of the car accident to file a lawsuit.  Miss this window and you forfeit any chance of getting compensation for your injuries.

Is there a limit to how much I can get for my personal injuries?

In North Carolina, you are entitled to recover compensation for any actual damages. This means that you can recover the amount of money it would take to fully compensate you for any losses such as medical care, property damage, car rental expenses, and loss of earnings. You can also receive compensation for pain and suffering, mental and emotional suffering, physical impairment, inconvenience, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, and more.

So there you have it. Sooner or later, you will probably be in a wreck. We hope it's just a fender-bender, but if you are unfortunate enough to be injured, you'll know what to do to protect yourself and what you'll need to know for a personal injury claim.

Need to find a personal injury lawyer in NC?

Find one with BernieSez.  It's a free service, so what do you have to lose, other than a coupe of minutes of time?  Click/tap below to post your case.