Navigating California roadways can be challenging and so can navigating California laws if you are involved in a car accident. You need to be aware of your legal obligations - even if you're an injury victim – along with the steps you should take to protect yourself. From assessing your situation in the critical moments after an accident to time-sensitive reporting; it is very important to be familiar with car accident protocol, insurance requirements and traffic accident laws in California. An experienced auto accident attorney can help you understand your legal options and protect your legal rights.
What to Do After a Car AccidentWhile each situation is different, Johnson Attorneys Group has put together the following 7 steps to take immediately after a car accident to help protect you and your rights:
#1 - Stop, Pull Over, Assess the SituationIf you have been involved in a vehicle accident, stop as soon as it is safe to do so and assess the situation you are dealing with. Not stopping at the scene of an auto accident that you are involved in can result in criminal hit and run charges. You need be proactive to determine what type of accident you're involved with to know what steps to take next.
#2 - Seek Emergency Help or Medical Treatment As Soon As PossibleIf you or someone else is seriously injured call 911 as soon as possible or ask a bystander to call for you. If you are still able to move around then you need to call the police and gather vital information at the scene to avoid the trouble of trying to track everything down later. It is very important for you to think of your wellbeing, if you sustained an injury after an accident but do not need emergency care, please seek treatment with your doctor promptly. If you delay seeing your doctor you could be jeopardizing your legal claim or cause a reduced settlement amount.
#3 - Move Your Vehicle After The Police ArriveIf it is practical, do not move your car until the police arrive. After the accident scene is documented you may be asked to move your vehicle or call a tow truck if it is not running or too damaged to drive. Failure to remove your car from the scene could result in an additional headache with towing and impound fees.
#4 - Gather the other driver's contact and insurance information
- Driver's License Number
- Home/Work/Cell Phone Number
- Vehicle License Plate Number
- Insurance Company Name
- Insurance Policy Number
- Insurance Company Phone Number
#5 - Ask Witnesses at the Scene for Contact InformationAlthough you are probably pretty shook up it is important to get witness information including where they were and what they saw when the accident happened. Also gather names, addresses, and phone numbers. It is best to gather this information for yourself and not rely on the official at the scene to do it for you, especially if there is a long response time. Ask those who witnessed the accident for their information before they leave.
#6 - Take Photos of the Accident Scene and Your VehiclePhotographic evidence taken at the scene directly after an auto accident can eliminate doubt about liability. Most of us usually have our cell phones with us at all times; so after gathering the vital information above, you should begin to photo document the accident before the police arrive. Be sure to activate the date/time stamp function on your camera. Keep in mind that the more photos, the better. Try to get a few photos of the following at different angles:
- All vehicles involved in the accident – Try to capture a panoramic scene to demonstrate their position at the time of the accident and the location where they ended up. Get close-up pictures of the damage to your car and all other cars that were involved. Don't forget to take several shots from different angles.
- Traffic Indicators - Photograph traffic lights, yield or stop signs and their proximity to where the accident took place. If the accident occurred because of a failure to obey traffic indicators, try to capture a photo with the vehicle in proximity to the sign as well.
- Skid or Drag Marks - Documenting how dark or light the mark is along with the length and width helps determine the position and speed of vehicles involved in the accident. Take both close-ups and long-range shots.
- Weather Conditions - During daylight hours take photos of rain, snow, fog, clouds and the sun's position with photos of the horizon. Nighttime hours take photos of the sky, moon and weather conditions.
- Participants - Snap a few shots of everyone at the scene including the other driver, witnesses and first responders to help avoid confusion about the identity of those involved. Try to document events like medical attention being administered and evidence gathering.
- Injuries - Photos will help show graphic evidence of injuries directly after your accident like cuts, bruises, and abrasions as well as more serious injuries like broken bones. In the days after the accident be sure to document any latent injuries like contusions or broken blood vessels.
#7 - Report the Accident Within Required Time Limits
- Police or Highway Patrol - If the police or highway patrol show up then you do not need to report the accident to them.
- DMV - You need to fill out, print and mail the Traffic Accident Report (SR 1) to the California DMV within 10 days of the accident involving property damage exceeding $1,000, injury or fatality. This requirement stands even if the accident happened on private property.
- Your Insurance Company - Report the accident to your insurance company as soon as possible to ensure they have all the information necessary to defend a possible claim and to make sure your coverage is not denied.