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The aftermath of a car accident can be quite confusing.  It is often difficult for those involved to immediately recall or understand what happened in the moments leading up to the accident.  And even after those involved have had time to organize their thoughts and think about the events, individual perspective does not always tell the entire story.   At the scene of an accident it is usually not wise to discuss with the other driver, witnesses or even the police your opinion as to the cause of an accident.  Instead, it is a better to provide the other driver with only the information that state law requires, and to provide the police with just the facts.  Once law enforcement is able to gather evidence from the scene, it will become much more evident what caused the accident and who was at fault.

Oftentimes state law determines fault in a car accident.  A driver who violates a traffic law is typically deemed as driving negligently.   Should an accident occur because a driver violated a traffic law, that driver will likely be at fault.  For example, it is illegal to fail to stop at a red traffic light.  A driver who drives through a red light and ends up colliding with another car that is in the intersection lawfully will be deemed at fault.  Likewise, it is against the law in North Carolina and virtually all jurisdictions to drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.   A driver who breaks such a law and injures another will be found to have negligently caused the accident and may be required to compensate the injured victim in a personal injury lawsuit.

In the case where a driver was under the influence, or where witness evidence clearly points to a driver breaking a traffic law such as failing to stop at a stop sign or a red light, it is fairly easy to pinpoint fault.  However, where third-party witness testimony is conflicting or nonexistent, law enforcement will rely on other types of evidence to determine fault.  For example, skid marks may help determine how fast a vehicle was traveling.  Red-light cameras often record valuable information as to what may have caused a collision.  If the accident was serious, particularly if there was a fatality, accident scene reconstruction personnel will review evidence at the scene to determine what happened and pinpoint fault.

Those involved in car accidents should take steps to preserve evidence at the scene.  Of course, the first priority should be to seek medical attention if injured and contact the police.  However, if possible you should take photos of the scene, including both cars from multiple angles and any skid marks.  Unless the circumstances or local law requires you to move your vehicle, leave your vehicle where it stopped after the accident so that law enforcement can examine the position of the vehicles. 

Even if you do all that you can at the scene of an accident to understand what occurred and preserve evidence, ultimately it is important to contact an attorney with experience handling cases involving car accidents.  An experienced attorney will be able to make sure that all available accident scene evidence is properly gathered, preserved, and reviewed.  If you are injured in the accident, such evidence may prove critical in determining the amount of compensation to which you may be entitled. 

This guest post was contributed by Hardison & Cochran, a Raleigh, NC personal injury and car accident firm.   For more information visit  

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