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Road accident cases - how to deal with emergencies
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Posted on Fri, Jun 26, 2009 at 08:42 IST (last updated: Wed, Aug 12, 2015 @ 21:59 IST)
Recently a friend of mine was involved in quite a serious road accident where his car hit a bike and the rider of the bike sustained serious head injuries. Now causing or at the least, being involved in a serious road accident in which you are not the affected party can attract either civil or criminal liability or both. It's very important that if you're the driver of a car or a bigger vehicle and has caused serious injury or maybe even death to another road-user (and especially to pedestrians or bike riders) on the highway, that you should not try and rush away from the scene of the accident. This creates a very dangerous situation for the driver and owner of the car (or the bigger vehicle involved) and might be taken as a prima-facie evidence or admission of guilt. Hit-and-run is a sure way to attract severe criminal penalty - at least in India. And when the case involves accidental death, it may even attract a maximum of a 2 years imprisonment (with or without fine) if negligence on the part of the driver is proved (Section 304A of the Indian Penal Code - causing death by negligence). Even if there is no fault on the part of the driver, leaving the scene of the accident at the earliest possible moment is a big mistake. To be on the absolute safe side, it's very, very important to follow these simple rules which can minimize liability (if any) and go a long way to ensuring that you're on the safe side of the Law. Accident cases can be very disturbing and being the accused in a criminal proceeding can be very unpleasant and stressful to the person or persons involved.
Stop and arrange to take the injured person to a nearby hospital
This is a legal duty! When an accident occurs, don't panic... It is very easy to think about running away and escaping, especially if there are no witnesses. Even without direct witnesses, the police can trace vehicles involved in highway road accidents by the process of elimination - even if it takes a long time. One such way is to get the records of toll collection and police check posts and finding out the registration numbers of which cars passed through around the time and date of the accident in question. It's extremely important that the question of responsibility or guilt should come second if the person involved in the accident is seriously injured and is losing blood. It is common humanity to arrange for emergency medical care to the injured party as quickly as possible to save a life. If it is absolutely impossible to personally attend, a close trusted friend who will take all responsibility on your behalf should be left behind to attend to the injured. Calling a nearby ambulance service is highly recommended.
Note the name, address, vehicle number and contact details of the injured person(s) and their friends/relatives
This is another step to ensure that you are not caught unawares if the police are investigating the accident and you are not denied the chance to put forward your side of the case or defence in time. If you wait for the police to catch up with you before you admit involvement in the accident, it can create a bad impression. Noting the names and addresses of the injured party will at least give you a solid piece of evidence that you HAD cared to stop and attend to the injured if the police do eventually arrive and inquire at your doorstep several weeks after the incident. Keep your temper under control Even if you do stop voluntarily, you might be tempted to leave when it appears that there will be trouble over the event. Especially on highways, the local townsfolk or villagers will gather together in hostile attitude near the scene of the accident. Tempers might flare up for a short duration, but avoid getting caught in a heated verbal altercation or a scuffle with the local populace. Even if there appears that there won't be trouble, never take anything for granted. Particularly, don't trust local persons who tell you to leave the scene of the accident or those who try to act as mediators and take money from you promising to discharge you of liability. Your actions might still be taken as hit-and-run when the police ultimately arrive on the scene. Implicating the absent party is not only possible, but highly probable in such scenarios.
Inform the police of the accident and register a counter-complaint if warranted
If you are not at fault or at least there is a chance that the accident has been caused, in part, by the negligence of the other party, filing a counter-complaint at the local police station near where the accident has taken place as soon as possible will give you a better chance of avoiding criminal liability. Here I'll say one more thing. It's important not to make a deal with the police without getting a written assurance from the other party that they will drop charges if you offer them some kind of monetary compensation. Never take the assurances of the police for granted! In the less serious accidents, compromise is often possible and indeed desirable from everybody's point of view. But compromises should be made in the proper manner and the police should not be given a chance to take advantage of your absence to establish and file charges. Trying to bribe policemen can be a double-edged weapon and very dangerous! Be very careful in such a situation. Inform your lawyers immediately If there is a good chance of getting charged on a criminal offence, it is important to get in touch with a good lawyer as soon as you can and let them know the whole facts of the case. A lawyer can definitely be a help and a support in dealing with the situation and in the worst case scenario, a lawyer will help you wade through the technicalities of criminal proceedings. If there are regular hearings of the case, you might be able to get the court's permission from having to appear in every single hearing. That's about it. Being involved in road accidents is never pleasant and is nearly always stressful and panic-inducing. Following these tips will not be easy or natural, but it will save a lot of trouble in the long run.
Update (12-Aug-2015) : Inform your insurance company of the accident
Don't forget to inform your insurance company in writing about the accident immediately upon filing the police complaint so that steps can be taken by them in respect of your own-damage claim (if you have comprehensive cover) and also about third-party liability (which is mandatory by Indian Law). In most accident cases where injury or death of a third-party is involved, your insurance company will incur liability and would most likely opt to settle the claim if there are no legal grounds to deny their liability. Informing your insurance company is vital in accident cases.
Disclaimer: At the time of writing this article I was not a qualified lawyer (still a student of law). At present I am a full-fledged legal professional. Information in this article will be reviewed periodically in the light of knowledge and experience and may be revised for accuracy. It is recommended that first-hand legal advise from a qualified lawyer is always taken in accident cases and not to rely entirely on this article.
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- The art of drafting contracts
- Two methods of learning in the legal profession
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- Legal ethics: how can a lawyer defend the guilty?
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- On Legal Opinions