Ultimately, the decision is yours. Some questions to consider are: What are your chances of success if you do contest it? How much will it cost you? Will you lose your driving privileges? A lawyer can help you assess your situation.
If you decide to contest the citation, you're entitled to a trial. If the case is to be resolved in municipal court, a judge will decide the matter. If the case is to be resolved in circuit court, a judge also will resolve it, unless you immediately request a jury and pay the required fee.
If you decide that you don't want to contest the citation, and if someone else's person or property was injured as a result of the accident, you should plead "no contest" rather than "guilty." A no contest plea, unlike a guilty plea, can't be used against you later in a lawsuit.
Wisconsin drivers are now required to carry insurance. As of Nov. 1, 2011, that insurance must have minimum liability coverage limits of $10,000 for property damage, $25,000 for the injury or death of one person and $50,000 for the injury or death of more than one person. There are limited exceptions from this requirement that do not apply to most drivers.
Drivers and owners of motor vehicles are now required to show proof of insurance at traffic stops and accident scenes if requested to do so by law enforcement. Not having insurance or not having proof of the insurance with you may lead law enforcement to issue you a citation for violation of these laws.
Being involved in an accident without insurance can also lead to suspension of your driver's license and vehicle license plates. If someone was hurt or killed or damage to another person's property exceeded $1,000 and the accident report shows you may be at fault, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) may contact you.
You will receive notice that your operating privileges and all vehicle registrations will be suspended for one year unless you:
- file proof to show you were adequately covered by motor vehicle liability insurance at the time of the accident; or
- deposit a specified amount of money with the DOT as security to satisfy any possible judgments that result from the accident; or
- submit evidence that you've settled claims with anyone who was hurt or whose property was damaged in the accident.
You can request a hearing to appeal the DMV's decision. The statutes are designed, however, to require a deposit to protect the other persons in the accident if there is any reasonable possibility that a judgment may be entered against you because of the accident.
If your driver's license is suspended for this reason, to get your driver's license back, in addition to posting the security required for your accident, you will need to file an SR-22 insurance certificate (or deposit $60,000) with the DOT, and keep it on file with the department for three years. Obtaining SR-22 insurance is usually expensive.
Because of the difficulty of winning an appeal after the DMV has made a decision, and because of the expense of obtaining an SR-22, it often is worthwhile to consult with an attorney and obtain his or her assistance in avoiding this type of license suspension if possible. It is important to get your attorney involved early to avoid missing legal deadlines in this process.
A lawyer can help you assess whether the offer made by the other party is fair. The fairness depends on the type and seriousness of your injuries, how much you were at fault, and what would happen if the case went to trial.
Another reason you may want to consult a lawyer is to have him or her look over the papers you'll be asked to sign upon settlement. The lawyer can assure you that you aren't signing away any important rights.
Almost always, and as soon after the accident as you can. Your first meeting with a lawyer gives you a chance to ask about the law, the procedures, and the fees. It gives the lawyer a chance to tell you what he or she can do for you. Most lawyers don't charge for the initial conference in a personal injury case. But if you're concerned about cost, be sure to ask whether the first meeting is free before you set an appointment. After the first meeting, you'll be able to make an informed decision on whether to hire a lawyer.