State Bar of Montana

What To Do In Case of An Auto Accident

Accidents will happen. All drivers face the risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident. Even the best driver, someday, may be involved in an accident. Therefore, you should know your legal rights and duties in the event of an accident. Here are the steps you should take if you are involved in an accident with another vehicle, property, or pedestrian:

Stop your car. Stop immediately at the scene of the accident or as close as possible to it. No matter how slight the collision you must stop or you may subject yourself to criminal prosecution, even though the accident was not your fault. When you stop, avoid obstructing traffic as much as possible. Return to the scene and remain there until you have done the things discussed in the next four sections.

Give aid to the injured. Montana law requires that any person involved in an accident must render reasonable assistance including arranging for carrying the person to a physician or hospital for medical treatment if it is apparent that treatment is necessary or if requested by the injured person. Be careful, unless you are trained in rendering emergency medical attention, don't try it. You might make matters worse instead of better. The minimum the law requires is that you make arrangements for carrying the person to a physician or hospital.

Duty to give information. The law requires you to give your name, address and vehicle registration number to any other person involved in the accident. If requested, you as the driver must show your driver's license to the other person involved in the accident. If you strike an unattended vehicle, attempt to locate the operator or owner of the vehicle, or leave a written notice in a conspicuous place on the vehicle. Give your name, address, and circumstances, and if you are not the owner, give the name and address of the owner of the vehicle you were driving. If you strike property upon or adjacent to a highway, attempt to locate and notify the owner or person in charge of the property. Give this person or the owner your name, address and vehicle registration number. If requested, show your drivers license. The best policy is to give no more information other than that which the law requires. Thus, do not comment on the cause of the accident and do not admit fault even if you think you were in the wrong. You may discover later that the other driver was equally or more to blame. You have the right to consult a lawyer before making any such statement.

Call the Police, County Sheriff, or Highway Patrol. Law enforcement officers are trained to handle situations involving accidents. Let the officer take over when you arrive. They can handle any emergency and investigate the accident. Their report of investigation may be helpful to you later if you are sued or if you decide to sue someone else. The law requires you to give notice by the quickest means of communication of an accident resulting in injury to or death of a person to the local police department. You must also give notice to the police department if there is property damage which may equal or exceed $500.00. If the accident occurs outside the city limits then notify the nearest county sheriff or office of the highway patrol. If no police investigation occurs and the accident results in injury, death, or property damage to any one person in excess of $1,000.00, you as the driver must file a written report concerning the accident with the Department of Justice within ten days after the accident. Your local police can assist you on how to file this report.

Obtain protective information. Just as the law requires you to give certain information to other parties, you are entitled to receive the same information from other persons involved in the accident. You should request this information. Additionally, try to find the names and addresses of any persons who may have witnessed the accident. Witnesses may be important later if legal action becomes necessary. Also make notes of the important aspects of the collision to help you remember them. The police will usually measure skid marks. However, if this is not done you should measure them and make a sketch of their location and the location of any debris or other items. Such precautions may prove important in the event that legal questions should arise.

See your doctor. If you have any doubt at all about your own condition, see your doctor immediately or go to the nearest emergency room for an examination and ask your passengers to do the same. Follow your doctor's instructions to the letter.

Consult your lawyer. You should find out about your rights before making any decisions arising from an accident. A lawyer can advise you and protect your rights. You should consider getting a lawyer's advice before giving any interviews or statements to investigators or adjusters, before signing any medical release, and before settling a claim or admitting fault.

Inform your insurance company immediately. Failure to immediately notify your insurance company of an accident may result in your not being covered by your insurance company. You should contact your agent or adjuster as soon after the accident as possible and provide whatever information is requested of you.

Damages. If your car is damaged, if you lose work, if you have physical injuries or other forms of losses, you may be entitled to recover damages under your own policy of insurance. You may also be entitled to damages from the other party to the accident. Awarding money damages is the law's method of putting the wrongfully injured person as closely as possible into a position equal to that before he or she was injured. If you are in the right, you may be entitled to recover money for the following:

  • The nature, extent and duration of your physical injuries.
  • Pain and suffering resulting from these injuries.
  • Disability, both temporary disability and permanent disability
  • Reasonable medical expenses resulting from the accident including ambulance, doctor's bills, hospital bills, physical therapy, prescriptions, etc.
  • Loss of income, past and future.
  • Value of damage to your car and other personal property.
  • Change in lifestyle. A lawyer can explain these damages as they apply to your personal circumstance.

Last updated January 2003


This information is intended to inform you about Montana law generally. It is not intended as advice. You are encouraged to speak to an attorney regarding the specifics of your situation.

Lawyer Referral & Information Service. If you need legal assistance and do not know an attorney, call the Montana Lawyer Referral & Information Service. You will be referred to a lawyer appropriate to your location and problem. Call 406-449-6577.

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