What to Do After Car Accident in California

car accident law

If you are ever in a car crash, you may have immediate safety, health, financial, and legal concerns. Here’s some steps to take for California residents. For more general questions about car accident law, see our Guide to Laws about Car Accidents in California.

Step 1: Take care of emergency health needs

The first step of course is to make sure to take care of any emergency medical needs: Call 9-1-1 if there are any injuries.

Step 2: Get it in writing & photos

When interacting with others involved in the collision, stay calm and do not get emotional. Do not allow others to blame you and do not place blame on others. Tell them that you simply want to get all the information to sort it out later.

If the police are able to come to the scene of the accident, calmly explain to the police officers what happened. Be honest and stick to the facts. Do not get emotional, do not start blaming others, and do not assume it was your fault either.

Let the officer(s) gather the information to write a police report, which will be helpful later on. But don’t rely on the officers – you should also write down as much info about the crash as possible.

You should write up your own ‘report’ regardless of whether the police show up or not.

Make sure to get the following info:

(Note: it may be easier to take photos of some of these things rather than write it all down)

  • Make/model and license plate numbers of all vehicles involved
  • Names, driver’s licenses & contact info of drivers and all passengers
  • Names & contact info of any witnesses
  • Insurance info
  • Time & Location of the incident
  • Police officers’ names and badge #

Step 3: Get a health assessment ASAP (even if you feel OK)

Due to the shock of a crash, sometimes you may not feel any effects until a day or two later. So it’s a good idea to get checked out by a health professional the same day or next day to make sure you’re OK. This is important for 2 reasons: If you do have any latent issues, the sooner you get a diagnosis, the better for your health. Also, you may be more likely to recover compensation for your injuries if you get a diagnosis closer to the time of the incident.

Step 4: Notify the California DMV

Regardless of whether you are at fault or not, you are legally required to report to the DMV within 10 days of any accident with damages over $1000 (this can be even a fender bender), or where there was an injury or death. You must report it using Form SR 1, and include the information collected (see above). If you fail to do so, your license can be suspended.1Cal Veh Code Sec 16000, Sec 16004

Step 5: Talk to a CA personal injury lawyer

A California licensed “personal injury” lawyer can help you understand whether you might be able to receive compensation for your injuries and damage to your car or other property. They can advise you of rights you may not know you have. If the lawyer believes you have a good case, you usually will not need to pay any legal fees unless you win your case. This is called working “on contingency,” and generally involves paying the lawyer a percentage (usually around 33%) of the compensation (usually a settlement, but sometimes from a court judgment).

But keep in mind that if you do not have a favorable case, it will be difficult to get a lawyer to work for you unless you pay them hourly or possibly a flat fee.

It’s important to note that your attorney is the only one really working for your best interest (and if they aren’t doing so, find another lawyer). Neither your insurance company or the other drivers’ insurance companies have you as their primary concern, and the police officers or anyone else won’t necessarily have your back either. Your lawyer is your advocate to try to make sure you get what you deserve.

Step 6: File a claim with your car insurance company

After talking to a lawyer (or two), you should then file a claim with your insurance company. Provide all the info and photos you collected from the incident.


Photo credit: Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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