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30 Nov 23

California Car Accident Laws – 15 Steps to Take After a Crash

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Last Updated on: 14th December 2023, 04:43 pm

California Car Accident Laws – 15 Steps to Take After a Crash

Getting into a car accident is scary and stressful. Even minor fender-benders can leave you feeling shaken up. And if anyone got hurt or there’s major damage, it can be downright traumatic.

But it’s important to keep a level head. There are a bunch of time-sensitive steps to take after a crash to protect yourself legally and financially. This article will walk you through exactly what to do, step-by-step.

1. Make Sure Everyone is Safe

First things first, check that all drivers and passengers are OK. If anyone seems injured or complains of pain, call 911 immediately. Don’t try moving an injured person unless they are in immediate danger.

2. Turn on Hazard Lights and Set Up Road Flares

Put on your hazard lights to alert other drivers. If it’s dark or visibility is poor, set up road flares or triangles too. This keeps the scene safe until help arrives.

3. Gather Info from Other Drivers

Politely ask the other driver(s) for their name, phone number, insurance details, and driver’s license number. Note down their car make, model, color, license plate, and any visible damage too. The more info you collect now, the easier things will be later.

4. Document the Scene Thoroughly

Take lots of photos capturing damage to all vehicles involved and the whole accident scene. Get wide shots showing street signs, traffic signals, road conditions…anything relevant. Close-ups of dents, scratches, broken parts etc. are useful too. If safe, make some voice memos describing what happened while it’s fresh in your mind.

5. Obtain a Police Report

For any accident with injuries, major damage, or other “complex” factors, you must file an accident report with the police. An officer will interview everyone, assess fault based on physical evidence, and file an official report. Get their badge number and a copy of the report, or at least the report number to request one later. This independent record of what went down will be invaluable if disputes arise over who’s responsible.

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6. Seek Medical Attention

Adrenaline can mask pain after an accident. So even if you feel fine initially, get checked out by a doctor ASAP. Ignoring injuries and trying to “tough it out” can seriously harm your ability to make an injury claim down the road. Tell your doctor exactly how the accident happened too, as their notes will become evidence. Consider calling an experienced personal injury attorney for advice as well.

7. Report the Accident to Your Insurance Company

You must notify your insurer “immediately” per California law. They’ll open a claim file and walk you through next steps. Be upfront about what happened, but avoid speculating about who’s at fault. Ask what info they need from you now versus later. And inquire about your policy’s injury, loss-of-use, and uninsured motorist coverage too.

8. Determine Fault and Applicable “Negligence” Laws

California follows “comparative negligence” rules. If multiple parties share blame for an accident, damages owed get split by percentage of fault. So it’s critical to gather evidence about who did what leading up to the crash. Skid marks, debris fields, and witness statements help establish speed, traffic control compliance, distraction violations etc. If you believe the other driver acted negligently (drunk, ran a red light etc.) mention this to your insurer so they can investigate and try to recover your damages.

9. Calculate Damages and Track Expenses

Make a detailed log of all accident-related costs as they come up. This includes:

  • Vehicle repair/replacement
  • Medical treatment
  • Lost wages from missed work
  • Costs of rental car/rides while yours is in the shop
  • Property damage (glasses, clothes, items in your car etc.)

Hang onto every receipt too. Understanding the full financial impacts will help when negotiating a settlement.

10. Don’t Rush Into Signing Any Releases

The at-fault driver’s insurer may pressure you to sign a quick “release of liability” stopping you from seeking more compensation later. Don’t do it until speaking with your attorney! Settlement amounts that seem OK initially often prove inadequate once all costs are tallied up. Protect your right to a future claim unless offered an amount you’re certain covers everything.

11. Explore “Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist” Options

Surprisingly common in California are crashes with:

  • No insurance
  • Lapsed insurance
  • Very low policy limits

So if the at-fault driver’s coverage can’t fully compensate your damages, look into making a claim through your own UM/UIM coverage. This additional protection is worth checking into ASAP.

12. Don’t Post Accident Details on Social Media

Insurers scour Facebook, Instagram etc. looking for evidence to deny or limit payouts. Even totally innocent posts can be misconstrued. So keep accident details off social media until your case fully resolves. Ask passengers to do the same.

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13. Explore Rental/Loss-of-Use Reimbursement

If your car is undriveable post-accident, you can likely recover rental car costs or other transportation expenses. But there’s often a daily/total limit defined in your policy. So research the details instead of assuming you’ll be fully covered. Renting something similar to your own vehicle is best, vs. upgrading to a pricier option. Save receipts for reimbursement submission.

14. Weigh the Value of Speaking with the Other Driver’s Insurer

The at-fault driver’s insurer may reach out asking your “version of events”. Politely decline to give any official recorded statement until discussing with your attorney. Anything you say can be used against you later! But after some thought, you may decide there’s strategic value in cooperating with their investigation. So weigh this decision carefully.

15. Be Wary of Quickie Repair Shop Referrals

Both your insurer and the at-fault driver’s have deals with certain auto body shops and may try steering you their way. But you ultimately get to choose who fixes your car. So do some research, read reviews, and select a shop you feel good about. Subpar repairs could impact your vehicle’s value down the road. And you may have to return to court for compensation if issues crop up post-settlement.