The Alabama State Bar runs a toll free telephone line to see whether you qualify for free legal help, or you can apply for assistance online.
What to do if you have an accident
Once you have made sure all the people in your vehicle are unhurt, you can focus on dealing with the others involved. If people are hurt, call for an ambulance. As a general rule, people who receive early treatment recover more quickly. You should exchange details with the other driver(s) involved, i.e. your name and contact details, your car insurance company and policy number, and details of the other vehicles involved, the amount of damage, whether people are claiming injuries, and so on. Do not forget you are required to carry proof of current liability car insurance with you. It is also helpful to get the names and contact details for any witnesses. Write the report describing how the accident happened. Do not admit the accident is your fault. If the police officer says the accident was your fault and you are uninsured, the Department of Public Safety will usually issue a notice proposing to suspend your license. If this happens, contact a car accident attorney right away.
Your car insurance company will require you to give notice of an accident and a possible claim, usually within seven days. State law requires you to report the accident if anyone is injured or there is more than $250 of damage. You have thirty days within which to file the report with the Alabama Department of Public Safety. Assuming you call the police, you can get a copy of the report form from the police, the sheriff or the local office of the state troopers. It is also available online.
What about criminal liability?
When you are at risk of criminal charges, you should get advice on your legal rights. Although not all charges can be beaten, proper representation from an attorney specializing in criminal law can usually keep the penalties to a minimum. This is particularly important if you are charged with one of the more serious offenses like driving while incapacitated. The blood alcohol concentration limit in Alabama is 0.08% for an adult driving a noncommercial vehicle. Although the test is reasonably accurate, no test is completely accurate. An expert attorney can often argue a result close to the limit should be interpreted to give you the benefit of the doubt. Whether this will succeed depends on the evidence of the arresting officer on how drunk you appeared to be. Remember if you are convicted, you will automatically become a high-risk driver for car insurance purposes. Your annual premium rate will rise fast. If your license is suspended, you will also face other fees and charges. If at all possible, you should avoid conviction.
What about civil liability?
Alabama is an at-fault state, i.e. the ordinary law of tort applies and the person who was the most immediate cause of the loss or injury picks up the bill to pay compensation. If you are at fault, you should first rely on your own auto insurance company to deal with the claims. But should you be uninsured or underinsured, and there is a threat of civil action, you need advice.
If you are the “innocent” party and have been injured, it is essential you have proper advice. The courts in Alabama have established guidelines on the amount of damages payable for different levels of injury. You will need to be seen by a medical expert on your type of injury both to establish how badly injured you are now and how long you will suffer pain and limits to your movement. Only then can you be certain what level of compensation you should expect to receive. The Alabama State Bar will give you a shortlist of car accident attorneys who specialize in personal injury claims.