More than 31,000 car accidents took place in Bergen County alone in 2013, resulting in 5,700 injuries and 32 deaths. Between dealing with doctors, insurance adjusters, and the police, the aftermath of a car accident can be a nightmare. But when the car accident involves a city or state vehicle, things can get much more complicated.
Car accidents involving municipal vehicles involve special steps, rules, and time limits. This umbrella of “municipal vehicles” could include school buses, commuter buses, garbage trucks, utility trucks, subways, law enforcement vehicles, ambulances, fire trucks, snowplows, and more.
In order to protect your rights and preserve evidence, follow these six steps after an accident involving a government vehicle:
- Seek medical attention. Whether or not you think you are seriously injured, it is important to seek medical attention right away after an accident. Certain types of injuries, such as whiplash or internal bleeding, are not obvious right after an accident, and seeing a doctor right away can greatly reduce the long-term effects of these injuries. Plus, if you later decide to file a civil lawsuit, visiting a doctor right away will give you reliable post-crash medical records and show that your injuries were serious enough to necessitate medical attention.
- Get a police report. Most car accidents, particularly serious ones, involve the police in some way. If the police come to the scene of your accident, make sure to obtain the police report; this report will show the parties involved in the crash, their names (and maybe contact information), and a brief description of the events surrounding the crash.
- Make sure the other party is the government. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s not always so simple. Some vehicles may look or seem like they are operated by the government, but in reality they are owned and operated by a private company. Whether it’s a garbage truck, a school bus, or a utility truck, it’s worth double-checking who owns the vehicle to know what you’re up against.
- Find the right government agency. This goes hand-in-hand with the last step. Once you’ve identified that the other vehicle was, in fact, a government vehicle, you must determine which government agency is responsible for the vehicle. For example, it’s not always enough to know the utility truck was owned by the city of North Bergen. It’s more helpful to know the truck was owned by the city of North Bergen Parks and Recreation Department; now you can proceed with a civil claim, knowing the parties involved.
- Move quickly to file a claim. The help of an experienced personal injury attorney is invaluable once you get to this step. In a typical personal injury case, you have two years from the date of the accident to file a civil lawsuit; however, this timeline is shifted up in a governmental vehicle case. After an accident with a city- or state-owned vehicle, you must give formal notice of the claim to the appropriate government agency within 90 days of the accident. It is very important to move quickly and have an experienced attorney help you collect the necessary documents because if you wait too long, you could lose out on your right to compensation. (After this 90-day notification window, you must wait a period of six months before you can file an official personal injury claim. The government agency will typically reach out to you during this waiting period to try and resolve your claim.)
- Organize your documents. Government agencies usually retain expensive, experienced legal teams to fight personal injury claims. That being said, it’s important to have all your ducks in a row. Make sure you—or your attorneys—have photographs, papers, documents, bills, and any other necessary documentation in order. It is important in this type of case to be taken seriously by the government agency, and being well-organized and prepared is one way to bolster the validity of your case.