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Should you plead guilty to the ticket after a fender-bender?

"Fender-bender" type accidents happen all the time. Usually there's little obvious damage done: Maybe a fender is crushed and a headlight gets broken. Everybody on the scene usually seems fine and no ambulances are called. One of the drivers will probably end up with a ticket, based on the best judgment of the officer who responds to the scene about who caused the accident to happen.

If you're the one with the ticket, should you just go ahead and plead guilty, get your fine, and be done with it?

Not necessarily. Especially not until you are absolutely certain that you aren't injured.

Soft tissue injuries to your ligaments, tendons and muscles may not immediately be felt in the aftermath of an accident, but can take months to heal once they do develop. For example, it isn't uncommon for symptoms of a whiplash injury, also known as a cervical strain or hyperextension injury, to appear slowly. Something like that can end up turning into a chronic pain condition that haunts you for years to come.

You can still pursue a lawsuit against the other driver even if you were the one cited on the scene—but pleading guilty could significantly reduce your chances of doing that successfully.

It's important to keep a clear perspective of what a traffic citation following an accident really is: It is just one person's opinion. The police officer who wrote the citation probably wasn't there when the accident actually happened, so it's only his or her opinion of what might have happened.

Even if you do think that you were partially at fault for the accident, the other driver may have been equally at fault or more so than you. That's something that you can let a jury decide later.

In the meantime, you have other options. You can plead "not guilty" and go to trial on the traffic citation. This could also be a problem, however. If you lose the traffic case, it has the same effect as pleading guilty—which hands ammunition to the defense if you later need to sue.

A better option is to plead "no contest," also known as a nolo contendre plea. That allows you to accept the fine and move on without a trial while still avoiding an admission of any guilt on your part.

If you have any doubts about how to proceed, talk to a car attorney first.

Source: FindLaw, "Nolo Contendere," accessed Jan. 27, 2017

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