By Grant J. Rogers, Associate Attorney
In Texoma, citizens look out for one another. Whether it’s a crisis related to criminal activity, inclement weather, or even a family burdened with unexpected medical bills—our community comes together.
If you’re crossing the Red River on I-44, or perhaps traveling down Kemp Blvd. in Wichita Falls, and you witness a car wreck, do you know the best way of handling the situation to be most helpful for those involved?
If you happen to witness such a crash, Altman Legal Group wants you to be prepared and informed. Below are some key dos and don’ts to keep in mind.
DO: Dial 911
As soon as you can safely do so, call 911. As accurately as possible, describe the location, the wreck scene, and any other details that might be helpful to first responders (such as if you see smoke or some other imminent danger.)
DON’T: Just Keep Driving or Assume Others Will Stop
If you saw what happened you are needed at the scene, even if you’ve called 911 and the wreck did not appear to do significant damage to the vehicles.
Be sure to pull your car off the roadway so you are not blocking traffic. Stopping your car in a lane of traffic places you in danger and risks blocking emergency vehicles from entering the scene.
Of course, stopping is most important because the severity of damage to the cars is not always an accurate indicator of if there are injuries. Never assume everyone is fine. There is no way of knowing the physical condition of the occupants without pulling over to check on them.
Secondly, beyond the health and safety concerns, eyewitnesses are a critical piece of the puzzle for investigating officers and for insurance purposes. If the two motorists involved in a crash disagree on facts such as what color the light was, or who had the right of way, an eyewitness can save victims from being unfairly burdened with thousands of dollars in property damage and medical bills.
DO: Stay Calm and Know the Law
You did the right thing in stopping to check on the occupants. But what should you do next?
If the victim is unconscious, do not move them unless you observe immediate danger requiring it. It is best to wait for medical professionals to move a victim so you don’t risk causing unintentional further harm.
If the victim is conscious, ask if they need assistance and go from there. Use your best judgment under the circumstances. Many of our injured car wreck clients have shared stories about calm, encouraging witnesses waiting with them for first responders to arrive; it meant to world to them in that moment.
Road & Travel Magazine shares more specific tips for when you’re the first on the scene of a crash. It similarly recommends doing things as simple as holding a victim’s hand while waiting on an ambulance.
Don’t be scared of the legal consequences of rendering aid. If it’s clear something needs to be done quickly, before first responders arrive, do it. While the wording varies by state, all 50 states have some type of Good Samaritan Law (such as Texas’ Good Samaritan Act) in place to protect you in these situations. Here in Texas, the law states, in part:
“A person who in good faith administers emergency care is not liable in civil damages for an act performed during the emergency unless the act is wilfully or wantonly negligent…”
In other words, you can render aid in an emergency situation without fear of getting sued for it later, so long as you handle the situation reasonably, and don’t do anything blatantly negligent. (Exceptions to this general rule and more specifics can be found at the above link, with a focus on Subchapter D. Emergency Care)
Now you’re prepared for if you witness a wreck. Be sure to also read our blog post here, urging drivers to review their own auto coverage to be sure it’s sufficient for every possible situation.
And of course, if you or a loved one ever becomes the victim in such a devastating wreck, please contact our office immediately for a free consultation to explore your options.