Monday, November 29, 2010

Accidents are complicated! Traffic Court, Civil Court and DOT are all involved!

A. Police Report/Traffic Tickets/Traffic Court

After an accident involving with $1000 or more in property damage and/or physical injuries to one or more people, Wisconsin law requires that the police department be notified. Call 911 to have a police officer dispatched.

The reporting officer will speak to the drivers and the witnesses and take their statements about what happened. He or she will ask for driver licenses and proof of insurance and then will search the driving records in the computer from the police car. In addition the officer may take photos and/or measure skid marks. The officer will ask about injuries and list them on the report. He or she will indicate the level of damage to the vehicles—none, minor, moderate, severe or very severe. The officer will draw a diagram of the accident and will take down other information to complete the accident report form.

The officer will then determine if a traffic law has been violated and will issue a traffic ticket for any violation that contributed to the accident such as Failure to Yield, Operating Left of Center or Operating While Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs.

Not all tickets issued in an accident are about who was responsible for the accident. For example, you may receive a ticket for driving without insurance, driving without a driver’s license, expired vehicle registration or driving without fastening your seatbelt.

These tickets do not mean that you were at fault for the accident.

It is very important to read your ticket and keep it in a safe place. Note the court date, and call the court right away if you need to request a change in the date or time.

You can request a copy of the accident report from the reporting police agency. If you think that mistakes were made in the accident report, you can call or write to the reporting officer about amending the report. If the error is significant, the officer may file an amendment, such as when there is misidentification of the drivers or the vehicles. You or your witnesses can also request to make a statement about the accident. It is important to review the accident report within two or three weeks of the accident and promptly make your request for an amendment or a statement.

If you receive a ticket, you can plead guilty and pay your fine by mail. Or you can go to court on the date and time indicated on the ticket and talk to the district attorney and the judge about the ticket. The location of the accident determines which court will take charge of your ticket.

If you cannot come to an agreement with the district attorney, you have the right to request a trial on your ticket. You may need to hire an attorney to represent you. If you lose your trial, you will be responsible for court costs in addition to the fines for the ticket.

If you plead guilty to a traffic law violation or if you are found guilty after a trial, points may be assessed against your driver’s license.

B. Insurance Claims/ Civil Court

Driver A, who is responsible for an accident, should report the accident to his insurance company, so that payments can be made under liability coverage. The liability insurance company for Driver A will contact the Driver B and any passengers, investigate the accident and make settlement offers to pay claims for property damage and injury. If Driver B or his attorney or any passenger is not satisfied with the settlement offers made for vehicle damage and/or injury claims, the case can be sued in civil court against the insurer for Driver A.

If Driver A is not insured, then Driver B, his attorney or his passengers can ask Driver B’s insurance company for a settlement under uninsured motorist coverage. After settlement, Driver B’s insurance company can sue Driver A for reimbursement in civil court.

C. Uninsured Motorists/ DOT

If the at-fault driver does not have insurance, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) will contact him or her by letter 8 weeks after the accident. The DOT is an administrative agency that enforces the WI laws making it illegal to drive without insurance. The DOT will ask the uninsured motorist to provide a bond or pay for damages to any property or people that he or she caused in the accident. The DOT evaluates and determines the amount that must be paid.

In some cases there is a dispute about what happened in the accident. Which driver is at fault? The uninsured motorist can ask for a hearing to explain what happened. The hearing is conducted before an administrative hearing officer at the DOT. The DOT hearing will determine if there is a reasonable possibility that the uninsured motorist would lose if he or she were sued in civil court, and the loss would result in a civil judgment against the uninsured motorist. If the hearing goes against the uninsured driver, the DOT will suspend drivers' licenses and vehicle registrations unless payment is made or a bond is provided. If there is no civil judgment against the uninsured motorist within one year, the money is returned and the uninsured motorist can apply to have license and registration reinstated.

For more information, check the website

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