Dealing with an Accident in Spain

Nobody thinks they will suffer an accident but, if you do, you need to act quickly to make sure you are fully compensated and protected.

This guide describes, in particular, how to deal with an accident in the area of Andalusia/Andalucía – which contains the Costa del Sol.  Please note that certain aspects of the law in Spain vary from one “autonomous community” (comunidad autónoma)  to another. See a map here.  We have – or soon will have – specific guides covering some of the individual areas of Spain.  See the side bar for what is available.

Introduction

When accidents happen, you need not only to take the correct action but also to do so swiftly.

Video guide to dealing with an accident in Spain

You can learn about what to do if you have an accident in Spain by watching this full-length interview (below) with Spanish lawyer Antonio Manzanares, or by scrolling down and reading the detailed guide that he has written with us.

The video guide below is a playlist – split into several parts. One part will play right after the other.

How can a foreigner deal with an accident in Spain?

Immediate action when an accident occurs in Spain

As soon as the accident happens there are some obvious and urgent things that you need to do.

This is not a first aid manual (although we do recommend you get one and read it) but the most important thing to remember at the scene of any accident is not to make it worse. Usually, this means not moving the person who has suffered the accident unless it is vital to do so: for example, if they are in the middle of the road or in a burning building. Moving an injured person can make minor injuries life-threatening.

In most cases, you will need to call an ambulance. To do this phone 112, which is a general number for emergencies (the equivalent of 911 in the USA or 999 in the UK), and they will transfer you to the right department (ambulance, police or fire department) or arrange everything themselves.

You should always try to take photographs of the scene of the accident before anything is moved. Fortunately, most of us now have mobile phones capable of doing this. Take lots of photographs from different points of view. If there is any clear cause of the accident, photograph that cause both close up and from a distance.

It’s also a good idea to make a rough, drawn-out plan showing the layout of the place where the accident occurred. Show on the plan approximate measurements. A long step is about 80cm (2.5ft) and the height of things can be shown by having a person stand in front of them.

Some accidents directly involve two or more people. Others happen as a result of some failure where there is no person present.

If your accident involves two or more people, you are likely to encounter a problem. They will probably speak Spanish (or, on the expat-heavy Costa del Sol, another language that is not your own) and you may not.

In this case it is very important that you neither say, nor could be understood to have said, anything accepting responsibility for the accident.

Even if the accident was your fault it is probably not a good idea to make any formal admissions at this time. This does not mean that you are going to try and get out of any responsibility: just that these things are better talked about when the situation is a little calmer.

You may have noticed that Spanish tend to get a little excited when things go wrong! In fact, it is if things are getting a bit too excited that you will normally think about calling the police in the case of an accident where it’s not compulsory to do so. In that case, you should dial 091 for National Police.

Bear in mind that when the police turn up they, too, are unlikely to speak your language.

If there are any people who have witnessed the accident and you are able to do so it is a good idea to take their names and addresses and – if you speak their language – to ask them what they think happened and write it down in brief form. However, it is likely that the police will do all of this, including your own testimony.

Next steps

If the accident was not your fault

If you do not think that the accident was your fault and that it was not a pure accident (just one of those things that happens where nobody is to blame) go to see a lawyer as quickly as possible. The sooner you do this the better your chance of success in making any legal claim.

Before you see your lawyer, write down – to the best of your memory – exactly what happened immediately before, during and after the accident. Do remember that witnesses (this includes you!) are very unreliable. There is lots of evidence that shows that three different people seeing the same event will have three very different accounts of what they saw, so don’t be surprised if your version differs from the accounts of the other witnesses. This does not mean that they are lying or out to get you.

Take this account to your lawyer. Take also the photographs you took, sketch plan you drew and the names and addresses of witnesses etc that you took at the scene.

Take also copies of any insurance policies that you think might be relevant to your case. These could include your motor vehicle insurance if a vehicle is involved, your healthcare insurance and any travel insurance that you might have.

Your lawyer will then be able to advise you whether there appears to be any possibility of obtaining compensation for your accident. Do not expect this advice to be immediate. It will often require some research and investigation before the lawyer can form an opinion.

At the same time as the lawyer gives you an opinion, they should be able to give you some sort of estimate as to how long it is likely to take to deal with your claim and the likely cost of doing so. Expect these estimates to be very imprecise. This is not because the lawyer is being difficult but because it really is impossible to give you much idea at this point.

Occasionally, the other person involved might immediately accept responsibility and offer compensation. In other cases, you might have to go to court. The loser might appeal and the process could take years. Clearly these things have an impact not only on the length of time the case will take but also the cost of pursuing it.

From this point on you will be guided by your lawyer as to the steps that will be needed. Some of them will be very different from the steps that might be required in your own country. It is human nature to think that something done differently from what you’re used to is something done worse. This is usually not the case. It is just different. It is part and parcel of being in another country.

If you think the accident was your fault

Still definitely go to your lawyer. Lawyers love accident work because both sides need their services.

Take all of the items referred to above.

If you think the accident was your fault then it is important to establish whether this is indeed the case as quickly as possible and, if it was, to pass the case to your insurance company or settle it without delay. Delay makes the whole thing much more expensive and frustrating.

Medical treatment

You may well require ongoing medical treatment following an accident. You will need to keep your lawyer updated about the progress of such treatment and to give the lawyer all the paperwork related to your treatment, including your doctor’s report (informe medico).

Lasting disabilities or scarring

If you are unlucky enough to suffer either of these you will again need to liaise closely with your lawyer as reports will need to be prepared.

How long will it take to settle my case?

These cases can take a long time. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. If the case involves injury, it often takes quite a long time for the true extent of the injuries or long term consequences of them become clear. You would not want to settle your case and then find that there was some hidden but serious problem for which you could have received substantial compensation.
  2. The court system in Spain – as in most other countries – is overworked and under-resourced.

As a general estimate, if your case is serious and has to be settled through the courts, it will take a minimum of 2-3 years. Unfortunately, the culture in the Costa del Sol (as in the rest of Spain and in many other Mediterranean countries) is that a very large percentage – perhaps 90% – of the people who lose court cases go on to appeal against the decision. This is frustrating and can add a further two years to the process.

Bringing your case to a conclusion

As we outlined above, this will take time and will depend on the circumstances; and on whether the parties get to an amicable agreement on an early stage.

This can be a particular problem if you are a tourist rather than a resident on the Costa del Sol, as you may have to take steps when you are no longer in the country. It is worth discussing this issue with your lawyer at an early stage and get a rough and very provisional timetable for what is likely to be necessary. Granting a litigation Power of Attorney to your lawyer will be necessary so the process can be taken care of while you are abroad ‘back home’.

Levels of compensation for an accident in Spain

The legal system in Spain has a number of rules governing the compensation that the victims of accidents are likely to receive.

Broadly speaking, if the accident was not your fault but can be shown to be the legal responsibility of some other person, you will be entitled to compensation for your direct losses (e.g. damage to your car or clothing); compensation for loss of earnings (though this is often subject to a cap imposing a maximum daily amount that will be awarded – tough luck if you’re a high-flying banker or a pop star!); and compensation for any injuries that you have suffered. These are often calculated by reference to scales.

For example, as far as the injuries are concerned, if the movement of your right arm is limited by 10%, you receive €X, if the movement is limited by 30% you receive €Y and if it is limited by 70% you receive €Z. This makes the preparation of medical reports of great importance. These are normally prepared by court-appointed experts but your lawyer will feed information to the expert to help them decide the appropriate level for your case.

Of course, if the accident was your fault then it will be you or your insurance company who has to pay this compensation. It is important to have good insurance when living in or travelling to the Costa del Sol. See our guides to insurance for more information about this.

Expats’ Tips

Have you suffered an accident in Spain? How did you deal with it? Did you get the outcome you wanted? Email office@guides.global to share your tips with others.

Conclusion

In Spain, like everywhere else, when you have an accident it is of major importance to keep calm, take every step carefully, and do your best to document everything, so you avoid confusion or contradiction playing against you at a later stage.

And always seek legal advice to ensure that you are covered and compensated.

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