California roads are some of the most dangerous roads in the United States, as thousands of deaths and injuries occur on them each year. Hence, traffic accidents are a serious public safety concern here. There are countless causes of California car accidents, many of which are preventable—and almost all which stem from someone’s negligence.
It can be hard to cope with an unexpected injury, let alone grasp the seriousness of your situation. You may feel shaken up, angry, stressed, and unsure of what to do next. Here is a 7-step guide with all the details you need to collect the right information and protect yourself after a car crash in California.
Never leave the scene of an accident prematurely. If you’re physically capable, call 911 as soon as possible. If you need immediate medical assistance, do your best to get to a safe space and wait for emergency medical personnel to show up.
Fleeing the scene of an accident involving injury is illegal in California. This is known as a hit-and-run and carries harsh penalties, including fines up to $10,000 and up to one year in jail. Even if you are not at fault and uninjured, other parties involved in the accident may have suffered injuries.
If the only destruction is property damage, you are still legally required to identify yourself to all parties. Not doing so could result in you being charged with a misdemeanor hit-and-run, which is subject to fines up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.
Seek Medical Care
When you are in a car accident, the most apparent damage is the destruction your vehicle sustains. Often, people evaluate the severity of a crash by the extent of property damage rather than looking at the bigger picture. The reality is that car accidents also cause damage to your body that isn’t always immediately visible. The most common injuries car accident victims suffer include:
- Lacerations, burns, and bruises
- Brain injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Broken bones
- Internal trauma
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
Remember to always get a complete medical evaluation as soon as possible after you have been in a car accident, whether it is clear you have been injured or not. A doctor can assess the extent of your injuries and diagnose any latent injuries you may have sustained. This is critical to protecting your health, and better yet, a proper diagnosis can help document and strengthen your car accident injury claim.
Exchange and Document Information with All Parties
If you did not have to be transferred to the hospital and remained on scene, there are numerous steps you can take while waiting for police to conclude their reports. The single most important thing you can do is document all other parties’ contact information, such as their driver’s licenses, insurance cards, and vehicle registration numbers. Snap a photo or jot down the numbers, whichever is easier for you. The more information the better.
Keep in mind “all other parties” includes eyewitnesses and police officers too. Ask for the names and phone numbers of anyone who may have seen what happened, and record any responding officers’ names, badge numbers, and departments. Don’t forget to provide your contact information to everyone else as well.
Collect Evidence and Record Your Version of Events
Next on the list comes obtaining evidence and recording your version of events. This is one of the most overlooked yet essential steps after an accident. Of course, if you are not on scene anymore, you can’t do this. But if you are, don’t make the mistake of skipping this step.
Pictures and videos play an integral role in any car accident case and are among the best ways for you, your lawyer, or your insurance adjuster to reconstruct the accident. It is recommended to take photos and record videos of the accident scene, your injuries, vehicle damage, and any other evidence that may be relevant to your case. Be sure to also note any cameras in the surrounding area that may have recorded the accident. Such footage will certainly be useful if liability is being disputed to set the record straight.
Once you have a thorough collection and can think clearly, it is vital you write down the specifics of your accident from your point of view. Visual and perceptual information that illustrates your memories disappears with time and post-accident shock makes that process even faster. If possible, mark down the time, date, and location of your accident.
Lastly, evaluate the moments leading up to the crash by asking yourself questions such as:
- How fast was the other driver going?
- What color were the traffic lights?
- What direction was each vehicle going?
Assessing the events could help with diagnosing your injuries and proving fault.
Remain Calm and Collected
The most challenging part of an accident is what comes afterward. As you can see by the length and detail of this guide, it is not easy. But the important thing is to ensure that you and anyone else in your vehicle are safe. Remaining calm and collected under such circumstances seems impossible, but if you just take a second to collect your thoughts, you have a much better chance at processing the situation clearly.
You may be tempted to immediately get out of your car to talk to others or make a million phone calls. You may even feel so frustrated that you start crying or yelling. It can’t be emphasized enough how imperative it is to give yourself time. When your emotions are high, you are more likely to make a costly mistake. No matter what happens, keep your thoughts to yourself, do not apologize, refrain from blaming others, and follow each of the steps outlined here.
File a Traffic Accident Report with California DMV
Under California law, you have a responsibility to complete a traffic accident form (SR-1) with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) within ten days of a car accident if there was death, injuries, or property damage of $1,000 or more. You will need your driver’s license, license plate number, insurance information, and the other party’s vehicle and insurance information to complete the form.
You can file the SR-1 accident report online or print it out and bring it to the DMV. Choose whichever method you prefer, but do not delay. Failure to report can result in the suspension of your driver’s license for up to one year.
Contact Your Insurance Company
Most of the time, accident victims put off contacting their insurance company because they do not want their policy rates to rise. The good news is if you are not legally liable for the crash, California is one of two states that have banned auto insurers from increasing your rates.
Regardless, it is wise to look over your policy. Most insurers require drivers to inform them of an accident immediately. Waiting to call your insurance company could result in the automatic dismissal of your claim and bar you from seeking monetary damages under your policy.
You should understand, however, that when you are speaking to your own insurer, or any other insurance company for that matter, to never admit fault. You have rights you can exercise—namely, the right to a qualified attorney and the right to remain silent. Furthermore, there are two things you can be sure of:
1) Anything you say in communications with insurance companies can be used against you, and 2) Your claim will either be denied, or you will be offered a low-ball settlement right off the bat.
Unfortunately, the majority of the time, an insurance company’s first settlement offer is far lower than what you deserve. Regardless of the grim truth, many victims still struggle to accept that insurance companies are not their friends. Do not let insurance companies minimize your losses, and do not risk saying something that could jeopardize you getting the settlement you deserve. Instead, consult an experienced car accident lawyer in California for protection and guidance.
Call Our California Car Accident Lawyers for Help
At Younglove Law Group, we know we can’t change the past, but we can certainly help make a better future. If you have been in a car accident, our Newport Beach car accident lawyers will provide you with timely and effective legal services. We see to it that our clients are compensated for all their losses, including medical bills, lost wages, property damage, pain and suffering, and more.
The attorneys at Younglove Law Group are legal allies who get the results you need. We help car accident victims piece their lives back together and protect their futures after suffering injuries due to another driver’s careless actions in California. Learn more about your rights and potential case in a confidential consultation by calling (844) 810-1800 or by submitting an online contact form today.