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What to Do After a Car Accident in California

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An auto accident is always unexpected and happens so quickly. The chaos of the moment makes it easy to forget what to do when after a car accident in California. Because 77% of us will be involved in a car accident in our lifetime, we all need to protect ourselves. Should you find yourself in a car wreck, the following 10-point list will be helpful. One of the leading causes of an unsuccessful case is not having enough information. Feel free to print this out and keep it in your car.

It is important to note that if there are any injuries resulting from the car accident, make sure you call 9-1-1. Your safety and the safety of others is most important. We hope this list helps you or someone you care about should they be involved in a car accident.

What To Do When You Get into A Car Accident:

  1. Get to a position of safety. If you are able to do so, immediately move to a position where you will be safe from any further accidents. Assist anyone in your vehicle in doing so as well. Evaluate the scene and decide if you are able to assist anyone else.
  2. Call 911. Ask for assistance from law enforcement. Request emergency medical attention if necessary.
  3. Evaluate your injuries. Check yourself and any occupants of your vehicle as well as other vehicles. Take reasonable precautions, such as sitting/lying down, applying pressure to any bleeding, etc., while you await emergency personnel.
  4. Identify and talk to witnesses. If you are able to do so, identify any witnesses and get their contact information. Listen to what they say but do not talk to them about your impressions of how the accident happened.  Leave those comments for the police.
  5. Think before you talk. Reflect on what you are going to say before talking to the police. Be truthful and as detailed as possible, but if you don’t know or remember something, say so. Don’t make conclusions based on matters not actually seen or heard by you.
  6. Take pictures with your phone. If possible, take pictures of all of the vehicles involved and any damage with your smartphone or camera before they are moved. If your vehicle is a hazard to other vehicles, move it off of the road if that can be done safely, and then take pictures.
  7. Exchange information. Exchange insurance information with other drivers but don’t talk to them about your impressions of how the car accident happened.
  8. Report the accident to your insurance company. As soon as possible, report the accident to your insurance company.
  9. See a medical professional. Get medical attention promptly, even if you think your injuries are minor. Often, injuries are not felt as painful until hours after an accident. Also, you may have internal injuries you are not immediately aware of. Depending on your assessment of your injuries, seek an ambulance to a hospital, get a ride to an emergency room or urgent care, and/or see your primary care doctor.
  10. Protect your legal rights. Seek advice from an experienced and proven car accident attorney. An attorney can be much more effective in assisting you if they get involved with your case early. By all means, talk to a lawyer before talking to a representative of the other driver’s insurance company. They will only try to get information from you that they can later use against you.

Filing A Claim After an Auto Accident

After an accident, the parties should contact the insurance companies and give an account of the collision. Always be truthful but do not voluntarily give unnecessary information. The insurance companies will try to settle for the lowest amount possible and likely try to place a percentage of the blame on all drivers involved.

Filing a claim can be accomplished by calling your insurance company or reporting the incident through an online portal. Regardless of who was at fault, all motorists should notify their insurance providers. If uninsured, a driver can file a claim with the other driver’s insurance company if they believe that driver was at fault.

It is likely an adjuster will contact the parties to get a recorded statement. Neither party is required to give a recorded statement. If one chooses to give a statement, simply present the facts with no added details and avoid giving any information about impressions of the accident or saying any statements such as “I’m feeling fine” or “there is no serious damage or injuries.” Anything stated to an insurance adjuster will be used to deny a claim, delay a claim, or lower the potential financial value of a claim.

When Will a Driver Receive a Payout After a Car Wreck?

Insurance companies in California are required by law to conduct a good faith investigation within 15 days of being notified of a claim. It is not necessary to provide notification in writing. The insurer must accept or deny the claim within 40 days after proof. Proving an accident to an insurance company entails proving that the driver is entitled to car accident compensation and how much.

When fault is less clear, the process can take longer, especially if anyone has been seriously injured. If the case involves proving fault, it can take months or even years to resolve.

Filing A Personal Injury Lawsuit After a California Car Accident

If the insurance company has denied a claim or if a settlement offer is lower than the cost of damages, a lawsuit may be necessary. If the insurance company has denied a claim because it determined both drivers were at fault, that does not mean a lawsuit will be unsuccessful.

Even if both drivers bear some percentage of fault, it is still possible to collect damages in a personal injury lawsuit. When filing a lawsuit, the plaintiff has the burden of showing the defendant was liable for the accident by providing evidence of negligence.

Filing a lawsuit requires some investigation into the car accident and collecting all evidence. It is important to keep any documentation of the crash, a car accident report, all receipts from repairs, and all medical and hospital bills. This will help you collect a higher amount of damages in a lawsuit.

Proving Negligence After a Car Accident

The burden of proof is on the plaintiff to show that the defendant was responsible for the car accident. Showing someone was responsible for an accident is typically done by proving negligence, which includes the following four elements:

  1. Duty of care to other drivers
  2. Breach of the duty of care
  3. The breach caused the accident
  4. Damages resulted from the breach

When showing negligence after an accident, the first element of duty will always be present because all drivers owe all roadway users a duty of care. The breach of this duty can be the most difficult to prove, but common examples of a driver breaching their duty of care to others with whom they share the roads include:

  • Texting while driving
  • Drunk driving
  • Excessive speed
  • Not obeying traffic signals and signs
  • Distracted driving

When a driver is not properly adhering to all the rules of the road, then they are likely in breach of their duty of care. Once a breach has been established, then it must be shown that the breach caused the accident. This will require some type of evidence to prove, such as police reports, victim testimony, and statements from a witness.

The last element – damages – is generally easy to show because when there is a car accident worth filing a lawsuit over, generally it will involve property damage and personal injury or death.

Types of Damages One Can Collect After a Roadway Accident

When filing a claim with an insurance company, drivers will be able to collect compensation for any damages to their car and injuries sustained in the auto accident. However, the insurance company can limit this through settlement offers or by denying a claim.

In a car accident lawsuit, the judge or jury will ultimately decide the award of compensation. The plaintiff can sue for both economic and non-economic damages.

Economic damages can include but are not limited to:

  • Emergency medical costs
  • Hospital bills
  • Medical bills and medical costs related to the injury
  • Recovery and therapy costs
  • Repair costs
  • Lost wages from missed time at work

Non-economic damages can include but are not limited to:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Disability
  • Loss of consortium/partnership
  • Loss of future pay/ability to work

Economic damages are easier to prove because they can typically be shown through evidence and/or receipts or bills. Noneconomic damages are harder to quantify because these types of damages are for intangible suffering.

Common Injuries Sustained After a Car Accident

A car accident can cause any type of injury ranging from minor cuts and bruises to life-altering injuries or death. Back and neck injuries are the most common type of injury after an auto accident, especially in rear-end or head-on collisions because of the whiplash motion.

Other types of car accident injuries include broken bones, hand injuries, facial injuries, burns, traumatic brain injuries, lacerations, internal bleeding and organ damage, and paralysis.

Regardless of the type of injury, anyone involved in a car accident should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Some injuries, like internal bleeding, are harder to recognize, and with emotions running high after a crash, such injuries can go undetected.

It is important to keep track of the medical bills associated with the injuries caused by a car accident. Evidence of injuries can be submitted as part of an insurance claim and/or pursued as damages in a civil lawsuit. This will allow the injured party to receive financial compensation for all damages sustained.

Car Accident Statistics in California and The U.S.

There are, on average, over 175,000 injury-causing car accidents each year in California, according to statewide data. Of these injury-causing accidents, roughly 3,600 result in death each year.

Half of all auto accidents reported in the United States result in some type of injury. Over six million accidents occur in the U.S. each year, and six percent result in fatality.

Most car accidents that occur in California are caused by an impaired driver under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. The second most common reason for car accidents in California is distracted driving, with cellphone use being the top cause.

Hiring An Experienced Personal Injury Attorney After a Car Accident

After a car accident, whether you are filing an insurance claim or thinking of pursuing a lawsuit, a personal injury lawyer should be consulted. Car accident attorneys can handle the conversations with insurance adjusters, as well as all communication with the other side. Most cases will result in a settlement, and attorneys can help ensure maximum available compensation is awarded through negotiations.

If you or someone you know has been injured in a car accident, our California car accident lawyers are available for a free consultation.