Today’s cars are safer than ever. But even with added safety features, car accidents continue to happen on a daily basis.
If you have been in a California car accident, you need to know applicable laws, where to file accident reports, how to collect evidence, when to call insurance companies, and more.
What you do after a car accident in California can determine whether you get your medical bills and car repairs paid. It can also keep you from breaking California laws as well as having your driver’s license from being suspended.
Also, if you were at fault for a California vehicular accident, the actions you take after that can significantly impact your rights.
Our Upland personal injury lawyers advise the following actions to take if you are in a vehicular accident in California:
1. Stay at the scene if somebody else was wounded.
If a person} was wounded} or killed, stay at the scene of the accident until authorities arrive unless you require prompt medical attention.
Leaving the scene of an accident involving injury is an offense under the California hit and run laws. Charges include penalties of up to $10,000 and a minimum of one year jail time, depending if somebody was severely injured or if the accident resulted in death.
If the only damage seems to be property damage, you lawfully leave the scene of the accident after identifying yourself to the concerned parties. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor under the California hit and run law and constitutes charges up to approximately $1,000 and/or at least six months jail time.
2. Look for medical assistance, if necessary.
If you were wounded and also require prompt medical assistance, do not wait for the authorities. Call 911 or ask somebody else to call for you. If another person is taking you to the Emergency Room, see to it that you leave your contact details with the other drivers if you are able.
3. Relocate to a secure location.
If it is safe to do so, move your vehicle to the shoulder or somewhere safe. Vehicles obstructing traffic can cause further injuries to you or other individuals. However, if it poses more danger to move the vehicles, leave them where they are.
Furthermore, unless the vehicles pose a considerable threat, you ought to leave the vehicles as they are if someone was killed or gravely injured.
4.Record details about the other vehicles involved.
Once you have moved the cars (if appropriate) and/or sought medical attention for those injured, document in writing or through photos the following information:
- The license plate number of every other vehicle involved in the accident,
- The year, make, model and color of the other vehicle(s), and
- If possible, the other vehicle(s)’ Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).
You will need the above information in order to report the accident as legally required to the California DMV.
The VIN is usually listed on a driver’s insurance card and registration. But it is a good idea to confirm it physically, especially if the driver is uninsured. If the driver is cooperative, you will be able to check the VIN on the vehicle’s driver’s side dashboard (where it meets the windshield) or inside the driver’s side door. If the vehicle is a motorcycle, the VIN can usually be found on the left side of the steering head.
5. Exchange contact details with the other driver/s and witnesses.
Ask to see the other driver’s license, insurance card, and registration. Write down the numbers. It will be better if you can take a photo of these documents, as well. You should also, if possible, get contact information from everyone else who was involved in, or who witnessed the accident.
If a law enforcement officer arrived at the scene, get the officer’s name and write it down as well.
Make sure you also give your information to the other driver, regardless of who was at fault.
6. Do not admit the accident is your fault.
It is very important not to admit to any wrongdoing even if you think the accident was your fault.
You may be wrong. Or the other driver may be partially to blame under California’s “shared fault / comparative negligence” law. Even apologizing can be misunderstood and keep you from getting the compensatory damages you need from your or the other driver’s insurance company.
However, it is not wrong to ask about the other driver’s condition, if he needs medical assistance.
If the other driver insists that you take the blame, politely ask him or her to call your insurance company.
7. Do not claim you are not injured.
Even if you think you were not hurt, do not tell that to the other driver. Some injuries like whiplash or soft tissue injuries may not be obvious right after a car accident. If you say, you are not hurt, the driver’s insurance company can compensate you for lesser than the amount due to you, if not totally deny your claim. This does not mean you should lie because lying can undermine your credibility. You can merely state that you are not aware of any injuries but will be getting yourself checked, to be sure.
8. Leave your contact details if the other vehicle or property is unattended.
If you hit an unoccupied vehicle or other property, California law requires you to do either one of the following:
- Find the owner and show your driver’s license and registration, or
- Leave a written note with your name and address in a noticeable place on the vehicle or property and immediately inform either:
- The police department of the city wherein the collision occurred or,
- If the collision occurred in unincorporated territory, the local headquarters of the Department of the California Highway Patrol.
By law, a note must include the details of what happened, especially where the collision took place.
9. Take pictures of the scene of the accident
Pictures of the accident scene and the vehicles involved can help your lawyer or adjuster establish what took place. The photos can also prevent false claims against you, that you are responsible for the damages to the vehicle or property.
10. Document your version of the accident right away.
As soon as you can, write down everything you can think of about the accident, no matter how trivial it may seem. It is important that you record the details sooner because there may be instances that, due to a shock of the accident, you will find it difficult to recall important information.
Such information may include, but not limited to the following:
- The date and time of the accident,
- The cross streets and direction of travel of each vehicle,
- Your best estimate of each driver’s speed,
- The color of any traffic lights that were visible, and
- Any adverse road conditions (such as potholes or bad weather).
11. Document your injuries
Take, or have somebody else take pictures of any visible injuries with your phone or camera. If you seek medical attention, ask a nurse or other health professional to take photos of your injuries as well.
As soon as you can, also jot down or record your own impressions of what hurts or is damaged. The more proof of your injuries that is recorded, the better the opportunity of getting the recovery you are entitled to.
12. Report the accident to the California DMV
California law requires you to notify the California Department of Motor Vehicles within 10 days of an accident if:
- Anyone was killed,
- Anyone was injured (even if the injury was minor), or
- The accident resulted in more than $1,000 of damage.
If you are not sure, report the accident, especially if you will be putting the claim through your California auto insurance.
Failure to report an accident to the DMV can lead to suspension of your driver’s license for up to one year.
13. Inform your insurance provider
Lots of people do not file a car accident claim in California for fear their rates will increase. California is one of only two states that lawfully forbid auto insurers from increasing rates if an accident is not the policy holder’s fault.
Furthermore, most auto insurance policies require drivers to report an accident immediately. Early reporting gives your insurer a better chance to defend your claim. It is advisable to report the accident even if you are not at fault. The other party may report it, putting you at risk of a suspended driver’s license and cancelled car insurance.
14. Assess if your situation does not require you to report the accident.
It is logical not to report an accident if there is no other driver involved and your car sustained only minor damage which you can disregard or you yourself can pay to repair.
15. Look into acquiring the services of an Upland personal injury attorney.
Our seasoned Upland personal injury lawyer may help safeguard your rights and establish whether you have a right to compensation. Our lawyer may be able to assist you in finding a doctor who will accept a medical lien if you cannot afford to pay for treatment. Our skilled lawyers may possibly also craft an insurance demand letter that may very likely get you a settlement offer.
Our experienced Upland personal injury lawyer may deal with your own and the other party’s insurance adjusters so that you may get the best possible settlement.
If you or someone you know was in a vehicular accident, do not hesitate to get in touch with our personal injury lawyers for a free consultation.