If you have been involved in a car accident in Southern California you know that it can be a frightening experience. The first concern of course should be whether you or one of your passengers have been injured or if you need medical attention. Once you get through the day and sort things out, there are actions you need to take in order to protect your rights. In fact, these actions should begin the second after you are involved in the car accident. Knowing ahead of time what you need to do if you get into a car accident can be extremely useful because this knowledge will help you act calmly in such a crisis situation.
- Stop and remain at the scene of the accident.
It is illegal under California to leave the scene of an accident. Under California Vehicle Code Section 20001 (a), drivers are not only required to stop and remain at the scene of the accident, but also wait for authorities to arrive, exchange pertinent information with other parties (driver's license, insurance information, etc.) and most importantly provide assistance to the injured victims at the scene. Leaving the scene of an injury or fatal accident can result in a criminal felony charge. Motorists are required to stop and remain at the scene, regardless of whose fault the accident was and regardless of how minor the collision was.
- File a police report.
Even if there are no serious injuries, it is always a good idea to call the police. Also, often, you need a police report or a report from a law enforcement agency to file a claim with your insurance company, even if it is just to make a claim for vehicle damage or repairs. When police arrive at the scene, make sure to tell the investigating officer exactly what happened. Never speculate or misstate any of the facts. For example, if the officer asks you whether you are injured and you are unsure at the time, tell the officer that you are not sure. Get the responding officer's name and badge number as well as a copy of the accident report for your own records.
- Collect critical information from the car accident scene.
It is very important to document the accident scene. Write down as many notes you can including the position of the vehicles, the date, time and place of the accident, the intersection where it occurred and the city where it happened. Take as many photographs as you can on the cell phone camera. Take pictures of the vehicles and any visible damage on them. If you or your passengers have any visible injuries, you should photograph those as well.
While doing so, make sure you do not interfere with the ongoing police investigation. Be polite and courteous to the officials present at the scene. If you are injured and cannot collect this information, have a friend or family member come to the scene and do it for you. Once the scene is cleared, you may miss out on vital information that could be critical to your case.
- Exchange information with other parties involved.
You should get information such as the name, address, phone number and email of all those who are involved in the accident including drivers and passengers. You should also obtain information about the other drivers' insurance policies by asking to see the insurance cards for all vehicles involved. If some individuals at the scene witnessed the accident, you should get their contact information as well so your attorney can contact them in the future.
- Seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Sometimes, the injuries caused by a car accident might not be apparent right away. Some might feel pain or discomfort a day or two after the accident. Some injuries such as whiplash, which can be extremely painful, may not even surface until days after the accident. It is best that you seek medical attention at your local emergency room or follow up the next day by scheduling an appointment with your primary care physician. Never leave an injury untreated. Take your doctor's advise and follow through on the treatment plan or medication schedule.
- Keep all important documents together.
Contact your insurance company to report the accident and create a file of all accident-related documents. Make copies so you never lose them. This information should include the claim number, the insurance adjuster who is handling the claim and all receipts and invoices of expenses that you incurred as a result of the car accident. Keep a journal in the days and weeks following the accident.
Document your recovery process including a daily journal of the activities you can or can't do and the pain you feel. Keep track of the days of work you've had to miss as a result of the car accident. Document other incidental expenses including paying for a housekeeper to do the work you cannot do while you are incapacitated due to the injury or money you had to spend for a rental car because your car is in the shop.
- Contact an experienced car accident lawyer.
This is probably the most important step you can take in the aftermath of a car accident to ensure that your legal rights are protected. An attorney can help deal with your insurance company and other parties' insurers. Your attorney can also provide you with valuable advice and guidance regarding when to settle and which settlement to take. Never sign any agreements or rush into any settlements without first consulting your injury lawyer.
The experienced Los Angeles, California car accident lawyers at Timothy J. Ryan & Associates fight hard to protect the rights and best interests of our injured clients. We understand that the aftermath of a car accident can be not only traumatic emotionally, but also physically and financially. The decisions you make during this time can have an impact on your financial future and your physical and emotional well-being. To obtain more information about your legal rights and options, call our law offices at (800) 838-6644 to schedule a free initial consultation and comprehensive case evaluation.