In the immediate aftermath of a car accident, it can be difficult to think clearly. Even if you don’t have any apparent injuries, you may still be in a state of shock.
That’s why it’s essential to prepare as much as possible beforehand. That way, in the unfortunate event that you’re involved in a collision, you’ll know how to proceed. Today, we’re sharing what to do in a car accident in California, and why hiring an attorney is a critical part of the process.
1. Move Your Car (If You Can)
The very first thing to do after a car accident is to stop your vehicle. Move it out of the path of oncoming traffic, only if it is safe to do so. This can help you avoid subsequent collisions and keep everyone in your vehicle as secure as possible.
2. Check For Injuries and Call 911
As soon as you’re in a safe location, check yourself and all of your passengers for any signs of injury. Even if you don’t see any, it’s still a good idea to call 911. The police will need to visit the scene of the accident, and they can also help you coordinate emergency medical services.
In some areas of California, law enforcement personnel will respond to every incident, even a minor fender-bender. In other areas, they will assess the severity and location of the accident before responding. For instance, some authorities in the state will not visit the scene if the accident occurs on private property.
3. Collect Driver Information
Once you’ve notified the police, go ahead and get as much information as possible from the other driver and their passengers. Key details to write down include:
Driver’s license number
License plate number
Vehicle identification number
Auto insurance policy information
To ensure the information you’re receiving is accurate, ask to see the other driver’s license and vehicle registration. The data you collect at this point is critical, and you want to make sure it’s correct.
4. Collect Witness Information
It’s possible that there were eyewitnesses who saw your auto accident occur. If they remained on the scene following the collision, your insurance company will want to talk to them to understand what happened. If you hire an attorney to represent your case, they will also want to hear their version of events.
Witnesses can help shed light on the events that led up to the crash. Often, these details can be fuzzy to the individuals directly involved, so having a second or third set of eyes can clear up any confusion. Try to get the contact information of each witness, including their names and telephone numbers.
5. Document the Scene
As time goes on, your memory of the accident may begin to fade. This is especially the case if your recollection of events is already murky. In this case, photos and videos speak louder than words.
Take out your smartphone or camera, and take photographs of the accident scene. Key points to capture include:
Then, visually document any physical injuries that you sustained in the collision. This even includes minor bruises, cuts, or scratches. Finally, capture any property damage sustained by any of the vehicles.
If possible, make sure the license plate is clearly visible in these photos. If you have the resources, you can also write down as much as you can remember about the accident, while it’s still fresh in your mind.
As you discuss the details of the event later with your attorney, you can use all of this evidence to trigger your memory and support your claim. It can also be useful evidence if you need to prove fault.
6. Notify the DMV
California law states that if anyone is injured in the accident or the vehicular damage exceeds $1,000, you are required to report it to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) within 10 days. If you fail to complete this step, the state could suspend your driver’s license.
You’ll complete this report using an SR-1 form. You can access and file the form virtually on the California DMV website.
7. Contact Your Insurance Company
Communicating with the insurance company can be frustrating, especially when you’re in the throes of recovering from a car accident. Still, this is a necessary step. Your insurance company will need to know what happened as soon as possible.
Depending on the details of the accident, your insurance policy may kick in to pay for any damages you sustained. If the other driver was at-fault, their policy may cover those costs.
As you speak with your insurance agent, be careful not to say anything that they could use against you down the road. This includes admitting fault in any way. Remember that these companies aren’t in the business of losing money, and they’ll use anything they can to lower your settlement amount.
8. Hire a Lawyer
Any time you’re involved in a car accident, it’s always a good idea to seek legal counsel. An experienced, qualified attorney will be able to walk you through every step of the claims process. They can even communicate with your insurance company for you, saving you a ton of time and stress.
If the settlement you’re offered isn’t sufficient enough to cover your damages, your lawyer can also represent you if you decide to file a lawsuit and take your case to court. When this happens, there are many timelines to follow, including a two-year statute of limitations, and you’ll need a knowledgeable attorney by your side.
Understand What to Do in a Car Accident in California
When you get behind the wheel, you don’t expect anything to go awry. However, it can happen. When you know what to do in a car accident in California, your next steps won’t seem as intimidating.
The best way to ensure this process goes as smoothly and successfully as possible is to hire an attorney who specializes in car accident claims. At Legacy Accident Lawyers, that’s exactly what we do.
If you or someone you know has been injured in an accident in Tustin, CA or Orange County, we can help. Contact us today for a free consultation.