Being involved in an auto accident is a traumatic and stressful experience for anyone. Even a seemingly minor impact can leave you with injuries, lost days at work, and property damage. You likely have questions about what you do next and who is going to pay for your expenses. You may not realize that the steps you take immediately following a car accident in California can help or hinder you during the claims process.
One of the most important things you can do following an accident is to remain calm. You may still be in shock in the first moments following the accident, which can be dangerous. It’s crucial to know how to be prepared if you get into a collision. Here’s a look at what you should do after an auto accident in California.
Assess the Situation and Evaluate Injuries
The first thing you should do is evaluate the situation. Are you injured? Is anyone else in your vehicle or other involved cars injured? How many cars are involved? Do not leave the scene—even if you don’t think there is any damage or you are not injured.
Get Scene Photos
Depending on the circumstances of the accident and injuries, it’s essential to get scene photos. If you can safely do so, take photos immediately following the collision before you move your vehicle. However, you should not endanger yourself or anyone else to get scene photos.
In general, you want to get photos of the damage to all vehicles and the surrounding scene. Document skid marks on the road or any debris that fell from the cars. Be sure to take close-ups and wide shots that clearly show the involved vehicles and the scene. Look for other factors that could provide vital details during the investigation, such as overgrown landscape blocking a street sign, potholes, and debris in the street. Also take note of slippery roads due to rain, fog, ice, or snow.
Scene photos can be very beneficial during the claims process, especially with cases involving disputed liability.
Move Your Vehicle to Safety
The important thing is to get yourself to safety and move your vehicle out of the way of traffic if possible. If your car is too severely damaged, you need to get yourself out of danger, provided your injuries are not too severe that you cannot exit your vehicle.
If anyone is injured or your vehicle is blocking traffic and creating a hazard for approaching drivers, you need to contact the police right away. You may need a tow truck to move your car and emergency services to respond to all injured parties.
Be mindful of what you say when the police respond. Never admit fault at the scene, either to the police or when speaking with the other parties. Even something as simple as “I’m sorry” could be construed incorrectly.
Exchange Information with All Parties
Exchanging contact and insurance information at the scene of a car accident in California is mandatory. Failure to do so could put you at risk for a hit and run, a crime under California law. If you hit someone else’s property or a parked vehicle, leave a note with your information. Take a photo of the message you leave on the car, so there is no question about whether you followed the notice requirement.
Did anyone stop as a witness? Be sure to get their contact information as well. Try to ask for multiple methods of contacting them. People change phone numbers, move, or get new email addresses. Your lawyer may need to track down a witness one or two years later, which is why it’s best to have multiple methods of contact whenever possible.
Seek Immediate Medical Assistance
If your injuries are severe, you may be transported to the hospital from the scene of an auto accident in California. If unnecessary, you will need to schedule an appointment with a medical provider on your own. Do not assume that you don’t have any injuries because you feel “ok” in the immediate moments after the accident. Your body is in shock.
You could also have internal injuries that aren’t visible. Even if you assume nothing is wrong, scheduling an appointment is crucial. If you wait a month after the accident to see a doctor, the other driver’s insurance company will use that against you. They might claim that something else besides the auto accident caused your injuries.
If your doctor gives you a treatment plan, be sure to follow it. That is another thing insurance companies look at. If you do not follow your doctor’s recommended treatment, the claims adjuster will assert that you made your injuries worse and their insured is not responsible.
Contact Your Insurance Company
It’s important to set up a claim with your insurance company right away. You may have notice requirements in your policy that say you must report an injury claim within a certain amount of time.
The other driver’s insurance company may contact you. Be very cautious what you say when speaking with the insurance adjuster, especially if you are not represented by an attorney. Never agree to give a recorded statement to the other insurance company without legal representation. They are hoping you say something that shows you admit fault on a recording. By placing the bulk of the blame on you, they can reduce or maybe even eliminate their exposure.
Contact a California Auto Collision Lawyer
Contacting an attorney early in the claims process is highly recommended. The other driver’s insurance adjuster will try to dissuade you from legal representation. The reason is that they know injury lawyers are well-versed in the unscrupulous tactics that insurance companies use. When you have an attorney representing you for a car accident in California, your rights are protected. The other driver’s insurance company cannot contact you directly; they must speak with your lawyer. Your lawyer will handle all negotiations, so you don’t have to deal with the insurance company at all.
If you sustained injuries in an auto accident in California, let the skilled attorneys at Henderson Law assist you. We have over two decades of experience and have recovered over ten million dollars to date for our satisfied clients. To learn more about how our attorney can help you recover the compensation you are owed, contact our office today to schedule a consultation.