Things to Do Before a Car Accident Happens to You

In a car accident, certain things are beyond the point of no return, while some are well within an individual's control. Here's how to stay legally prepared.

Car dashcam recording street ahead

Ellie Shaffer

May 20, 2024 12:00 AM

By the time someone calls an attorney after an accident, certain things are too late to change. Here are two tips to be proactive and help yourself before you are involved in a motor vehicle collision and need a personal injury attorney.

Increase Your Motor Vehicle Coverage

Most insurance companies encourage liability coverage when you sign up or renew your coverage. Liability coverage will cover what you owe another person if you are at fault for the collision. In Arizona, the minimum liability coverage one must carry is $25k/$50k. If you carry the state minimum, hit someone, and are at fault, your insurance will only pay $25,000 maximum for the person's injuries. If two or more people in the car are injured, the maximum amount your insurance company will pay is $50,000. You must also have enough liability coverage to protect your assets, such as your home's equity, savings, etc.

But what if you are not at fault? Many people focus on protecting themselves from liability but often do not consider how to protect themselves if someone hits them.

If you already carry the state minimum insurance for liability, you likely have state minimum insurance for uninsured or underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage. Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage is coverage for yourself if another person hits you, is at fault, and only carries low, minimum, or no insurance.

For example, say you are in the crosswalk and hit by a vehicle without insurance, and you only carry minimum insurance. This means that, despite your injuries, even if you are in the hospital for weeks, the most you can recover is $25,000. If the driver of the vehicle that caused your injuries only carries the state minimum policy of $25k/$50k, then the most you could recover is $50,000: $25,000 from the at-fault driver's insurance and $25,000 from your insurance.

Because uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage protects you if you get seriously injured by an uninsured and underinsured driver, it is recommended that you get as high of a policy as you can reasonably afford. Unfortunately, many drivers in Arizona carry only the state minimum or no insurance at all. Be prepared and protect yourself. If you have umbrella coverage (extra insurance that protects existing limits and coverages of other policies), call your insurance company to ensure that it also includes UM/UIM coverage, as it is only sometimes guaranteed and must be specifically requested.

UM/UIM is the only way to ensure that you receive full compensation for your injuries in a collision that is not your fault.

Utilize a Dashboard Camera

In Arizona, drivers can legally mount a dashboard camera in their vehicle to record the road while driving. The only rule with dashboard cameras, pursuant to ARS § 28-959.01, is that the camera must be mounted immediately behind, slightly above, or slightly below the rearview mirror, or, if the motor vehicle is without a windshield-mounted rearview mirror, mounted where the rearview mirror would commonly be positioned. Simply put, you want to mount your dashboard camera just below your rearview mirror in the middle of the window.

The dashboard camera that I use is the Garmin Dash Cam 47. It is straightforward to mount, and you can watch the video on your phone in real-time. It also alerts you to lane departure warnings and speed cameras so you can practice safer driving.

I recommend your dashboard camera record only the exterior of the car. Unless you are a commercial or rideshare driver and want to record passengers for safety purposes, recording inside the vehicle has little value to most drivers and, conversely, can do more harm than good for your case. I also recommend turning off audio recording, as that is often irrelevant to proving who is at fault and will likely only give ammunition to the defense to place some level of fault on you, such as arguing that the music was too loud and distracting. Plus, do you really want a jury to listen to your rendition of "All-Star" by Smash Mouth? That wouldn't make you "the sharpest tool in the shed."

The biggest reward of a dashboard camera is that it eliminates any he said/she said argument. I often hear from drivers who state that another driver caused the collision by running a red light, but the other driver states it was them who ran a red light. Without witnesses, who are insurance companies to believe? The answer is neither. Regardless of how truthful you are, your insurance company will not pay for your injuries without proof. Dashboard cameras eliminate that risk.

Another benefit of dashboard cameras is that they can also help other drivers on the road! One day, I was driving home after work when I saw a car turn directly into the car ahead of me. The vehicle at-fault happened to have a police officer in the car, and when the responding police arrived, the officer believed the at-fault driver's story, which I (and my camera) knew was a lie. It was not until I told them I had it recorded that they changed liability. You never know what kind of help you can be to another driver in need!

As with all things, using a dashboard camera comes with risk; primarily that just as it can catch someone else at fault for a collision, your camera can also catch you at fault. You cannot delete videos that harm your case, as tampering with evidence in a case is illegal and can result in other sanctions. Therefore, anything your dashboard camera records relating to a collision is a video the other side can get.

To summarize, increasing your uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage and using a dashboard camera are two simple and effective ways to protect yourself before you become a victim of a car accident.

Eleanor “Ellie” Shaffer is a plaintiffs personal injury attorney at Gallagher & Kennedy in Phoenix, Arizona. She dedicates her practice to representing injured victims and their families in catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases, with a particular emphasis on injuries arising from motor vehicle accidents, defective products, medical malpractice, and premises liability. A fierce client advocate both in pre-litigation and during trial, Ellie has obtained millions of dollars in compensation for her clients.

Headline Image: Adobe Stock/waranyu

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