Over two hundred thousand people sustain injuries or die due to car crashes in California annually. Car crashes happen so fast, leaving those involved without the time to process what has just happened, which might lead to poor decisions. What you do after an accident will determine how you successfully deal with the recovery and compensation process. When you find yourself in a car crash, The LA Personal Injury Law Firm is here to offer guidance. We will help you understand what to do after an accident by discussing the first steps to take after the collision and collect the needed evidence. We will also guide you where and when to report accidents and when to reach out to your insurer.
Actions to Take Instantly after a Car Accident
The first steps that you take after a collision are critical in determining how you will be compensated for the injuries and property damages. Here are some of the things that you should do at the scenes of collision and afterward.
- Don’t Leave the Scene
The majority of people charged with hit and run are those that flee the scene of the accident. Therefore, whenever you are involved in a collision, do not leave the scene until it’s safe to do so. You can choose to wait for the police to arrive or the other drivers involved to leave the scene. If you panic and decide to flee, you will have violated the law that requires you to pull over at a secure location after an accident.
- Check on All Parties Involved in the Accident
After stopping, you should check on the driver and passengers of the vehicle(s) involved in the crash. Under California law, drivers must offer reasonable assistance by check on the victims of the accident and help those who have sustained injuries access medical services when they have not suffered any injuries. People are also advised not to move unconscious victims or those claiming to have back and neck injuries since such injuries can be catastrophic. Wait until medical professionals arrive so that they can give way forward.
- Call 911
Call the police or a 911 operator and report any significant damages on properties, injuries, or deaths. If the police are at the scene, request them to file a police report about the accident. Get their badge numbers and names, because you might need to go through the report later.
If you are talking to an operator, remember to give information about your location. Giving a street name or a landmark will help the rescue team locate the scene of the accident quickly, hence quicker response. Share with the operator information about the condition of the injured. Be sure to mention if anyone is still trapped in the car. This information will help the rescue team know what to expect at the scene.
Also, note that the police will not always respond to an accident primarily if the accident has not caused any significant injuries or blocking traffic.
- Gathering of Evidence
Accident scenes do not last for long. The damaged cars will be towed away, the injured taken to the hospital, and witnesses will leave. So, if you haven’t sustained any injuries, you should begin to collect evidence. Otherwise, leaving the scene with no proof will make compensation almost impossible. Make use of the collision window and do the following:
- Exchange Information
Drivers involved in an accident have legal duties. The legal duties require you to:
- Share your name or the name of the vehicle owner with the other driver
- Give the registration number of the vehicle you were driving at the time of the accident, and
- When requested, show your driver’s license to the other driver and authorities at the scene
Other details that should be shared among those involved in an accident include necessary insurance information and the current physical address of the driver or car owner. The vehicle identification number is also essential, but most people find it difficult to spot the number. Check the VIN on the door jam on the driver's side or in the insurance card of the driver.
When exchanging information, be very careful not to apologize for whatever mistake you made that caused the accident since you will be admitting legal liability or that you were the driver at fault. The fault is not determinative. Therefore try not to admit guilt by way of apologizing.
- Speak to Eyewitnesses
Once you have exchanged information with those involved, speak to those present at the time of the accident. Witnesses can help by sharing what they saw, which will be suitable for your evidence. Before leaving the scene, ensure you get the full names, numbers, current addresses, and statements of these witnesses so that they can help make your claim successful. After getting these details, ensure the witnesses sign and indicate the date against their report. However, keep in mind that witnesses are not obligated to speak to you, which means you might get only a few accounts from those that are willing to talk.
- Recording Videos and Taking Photos
Substantial evidence or proof is pivotal in building a stronger claim. Therefore, record videos and take pictures of the accident in your phone or any other device and ensure they are clear and can show the extent of damage done to your car and physical harm. Insurance adjusters rely on photos or videos from the scene to determine how much you will be paid for the costs incurred. If you have pictures, but they don’t show all the angles of the accident, then it will be difficult to prove the extent of the damage caused by leaving them to settle on any figure as compensation for damage on the vehicle
Taking photos is a way of preserving evidence. To make compelling pictures at the scene, you should use the following pointers:
- Capture the images of traffic lights and signs
- Take photos of the weather conditions
- Take photos of other objects damaged due to the crash such as trees
- Capture images of the license plates of the cars that crashed and insurance cards of the drivers of these cars
- Take photos of the injuries sustained, and
- The conditions of the roads and areas surrounding the scene of the accident
Such photos are crucial to building a shred of substantial evidence.
Actions to Take After Leaving the Scene of the Accident
Apart from the information you collect from the scene, you need to have proper records. Do not forget that the reason why you are submitting a claim. The damages to be recovered include:
- Healthcare costs
- Pain and suffering
- Lost wages
- Out of pocket expenses for buying medication, expenses for traveling to the hospital and medical equipment like crutches, and
- Diagnostic tests
Keep track of your medical treatment. Every time you pay a visit to a chiropractor or a therapist, ensure you request for medical bills and reports. Make copies of all these, including the invoice for the medication you purchase for the treatment. Any out of pocket expenses like the cost of commuting to the hospital should also be well accounted for. Those who lose income because they were unable to work after the crash should also have copies of documents that can verify they haven’t received any wages for that duration.
When it comes to pain and suffering, it becomes difficult to prove you were undergoing pain. Giving an account of how the accident has impacted your daily life can, however, act as evidence. Ensure to make notes on places you feel hurt and how the pain is affecting your healthy life.
Role of Law Enforcers at the Scene of Accident
As stated earlier, law enforcers will only come to the scene of the accident if the accident has caused severe injuries, fatalities, property damage, and disrupted the flow of traffic. If they fail to show up at the scene and people were injured, make sure you notify them of the occurrence within twenty-four hours. The role of the police when they arrive at the scene of the collision is to:
- Secure the collision scene
- Assist in coordinating reasonable care and how those who sustained injuries can access medical treatment
- Collect evidence at the scene and establish the cause of the crash, and
- Conduct field sobriety tests (FSTs)
When the investigating officer gets to the scene, he or she has no obligation to listen to your side of the story. So, if you begin to explain what happened trying to prove that you were not at fault and the other driver was, the police officer might not listen to you at all. You might get arrested if you continue arguing with the officer. The best way to go is to cooperate with the police and do as requested.
The other role of the police is issuing \traffic citations to traffic violators. When issued with one by the officers, do not resist or try to convince the law enforcer not to publish the subpoena. Once it is released, the only place arguing will help you is in court. Remember not to worry much after receiving the subpoena since it doesn’t mean you are guilty. Guilt is left for the court to prove.
The police report is your primary evidence when submitting a claim. In particular, insurers will be willing to deny you compensation just because you don’t have the police statement. Therefore, remember to get a copy of the report before going to the insurer who will receive your claim.
Reporting the Car Crash to the Insurance Company
Promptly inform your insurance company about the car crash. The role of the insurer is to protect you when you are involved in an accident if that is what the insurance contract between you and the insurer states. Although the insurer has the responsibility to provide protection, you have to share the truth about the events that unfolded, leading to the accident. Request the investigating officer for a copy of their report so that you can support your claim on the person who is liable for violating traffic laws. Don’t try and lie to your insurer because doing so means that if the insurer conducts an independent investigation and finds out you lied about something, then you might be denied compensation for the accident.
In every insurance policy, there is a cooperation clause and a notice of occurrence. Having these two in your plan means you should be ready to inform your policy carrier when you are involved in an accident and cooperate fully during the investigations leading to the recovery of the damages. Failure to comply with the cooperation clause in your policy might lead to the cancelation of your plan, increased insurance premiums, and nonrenewal of the existing policy.
Remember, even if you didn’t sustain any injuries, notifying the insurer is critical. It helps keep them alert in case the other driver you were involved in the accident and was not injured at the time decides to hire an attorney days after the collision because his or her injuries had delayed symptoms. If your insurer is contacted for compensation and they were not aware of the accident, it will put them in the wrong position. The following are some of the reasons why you should notify your insurer about an accident:
Some injuries do not appear instantly after a crash. They might take hours or days before appearing. Because you are not sure if the victims in the other vehicle that you crashed with have delayed symptoms, you should notify your insurer so that by the time these injuries appear, and the victims decide to recover damages, your insurer will be prepared.
Lack of Insurance Coverage
Not every driver out there has property and liability insurance, which is illegal. Many of these drivers, when they cause a crash, will try and conceal the truth that they don’t have proof of responsibility. If the police arrive at the scene and they are still there, they risk being arrested for not being insured. It’s therefore vital to inform your insurer about accidents so that such uninsured drivers can be held liable.
Cases of false claims are on the rise in California. You should not be astonished if you are involved in a car crash with another driver, but then they submit applications about personal injuries that are exaggerated or false. Your insurer can deal with such false claims better before paying hefty amounts of money. But if they were not notified about the accident, they will be caught by surprise and end up compensating people for a fraudulent claim. They will suffer losses, and although you might not feel the effect, there will be consequences for not reporting the accident.
If the other driver claims that you are the at-fault party, do not admit to the allegations. Also, do not try to settle the matter at the scene by making payment straight to the other driver for the damages. They might come with more demands later, leading to further responsibility on your side. Therefore, if the other party says you are liable for the negligence, don’t admit even if it’s the truth. Wait for the police report and submit it to your insurer for further investigation. If then it becomes clear you were responsible for the collision; the insurer will pay the victim. Before compensation, insurance firms always require the person being paid for signing a release that shields you from further responsibilities.
As a precaution, it’s essential to know that with the current advancements in technology, you can easily find an app for reporting a car accident. These apps allow you to collect evidence, gather or exchange information, show the location of the accident, record witness statements and their details, take videos and photos of the scene, draw sketches of the scene and send a notification to your insurer. The app simplifies things hence the need to have one installed in your mobile device. Some of the apps you can use are Progressive, State Farm, and Allstate Mobile.
Things to Keep in Mind when Reporting a Car Accident to the Insurer
Although it’s advisable to say the truth to the insurance company about the accident, you are not under any obligation to disclose everything. Below are some of the things to remember when reporting:
- When reporting an injury, withhold the details of the injuries and only communicate about the type of injury sustained if you have not yet seen a registered professional doctor for a diagnosis. It will help prevent self-diagnosis reports, which can get you charged with insurance fraud.
- Do not present any written or recorded statements to the insurer if you aren’t aware of the legal effects of such statements and if you are not sure whether they are valid. You can consult with your personal injury attorney for proper guidance.
- When answering questions, only give the information that the questions seek to address and keep any extra information to yourself.
- Stick to the truth and avoid exaggeration of facts.
- Do not accept or agree to any settlement offers that come early. The majority of those persons who agree to early offers end up regretting the decision when they realize later on they could have gotten a better settlement. When you sign a release, you can’t go back requesting for more compensation. What you get is final, so there is a need to evaluate your options before settling for a specific settlement offer.
Property Damage Valuation
Before receiving compensation from an insurer, their insurance adjuster will assess the damage and determine if you are eligible for reimbursement or not. If they decide to reimburse you, but you feel the amount they are offering is not enough, you can reach out to the adjuster and raise your concerns. If the insurance adjuster doesn’t help, visit two or more licensed auto repair shops and get repair quotes from each. If any parts are to be replaced, get replacement estimates too. With these quotes, you can try and convince the insurer to reconsider the number of recoverable damages. If they fail to do so, reach out to an attorney so that they can help you negotiate a better deal or sue the company.
California is a 3rd party liability state, which means the victims of a vehicle crash can only recover damages from the driver who was at fault. Therefore, if you have suffered physical injuries or property damage, you can file a claim against:
- Your insurance company
- The insurer of the driver whose negligence caused the accident, or
- File a lawsuit against the driver at fault
When it comes to pure comparative negligence rule, the victim will have the recoverable damages reduced by a certain percentage based on the degree of negligence shared. So, if the victim or the person who sustained injuries or property damage is liable for the accident to a certain extent, then the amount of compensation to be received will be reduced.
Deciding if you will Need an Attorney
Some losses resulting from a car crash do not require the help of a specialist. But in incidences where the victims have suffered catastrophic injuries, for instance, soft tissue and hard tissue injuries, it’s vital to have a personal injury attorney represent you. With such injuries, one is likely not to have the skills and resources to have the power to convince an insurance adjuster to award a fair share as compensation for damages. Attorneys can, however, do a better job in mediation or even sue the insurer in court if a settlement isn’t reached.
Statute of Limitations for a Car Accident
The limitation is a deadline by the law to settle a claim or file a lawsuit. Failure to meet this deadline deprives the victim of the legal right to pursue reimbursement. Therefore, after an accident, you have two years from the date of the crash to seek compensation.
Find a Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
The action you take after a car accident is critical in determining if you get compensated for the injuries and the number of damages to be awarded. If you are not sure what to do after an accident, reach out to The LA Personal Injury Law Firm through 310-935-0089 and talk to one of our attorneys. We will guide you on what to do and what not to do at the accident scene and after you leave the scene to ensure your interests are protected.