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How To Handle a California Car Accident Claim

How to handle a California car accident claim

Crucial Need for Understanding the Car Accident Claim Process in California

Handling a California Car Accident Claim

Car accidents can be distressing and chaotic, leaving individuals physically injured, emotionally shaken, and financially burdened. In such unfortunate circumstances, having a firm grasp of the car accident claim process becomes essential, mainly when the incident occurs within the jurisdiction of California.

Understanding how to navigate this complex legal landscape after your car accident empowers injured plaintiffs to assert their rights and seek fair compensation for their losses.

California operates under a fault-based system when it comes to car accident claims. This means that the person found responsible for causing the accident is liable for compensating any injured parties or damaged property resulting from the collision.

However, navigating this process requires understanding various legal concepts and procedures specific to California’s laws and regulations.

Avoiding Mistakes in California Car Accident Claims

To avoid mistakes in filing a California car accident claim, do the following:

  • 1. Not reporting the accident to the police: Report the accident to the police immediately.
  • 2. Not getting medical attention: Seek medical attention for minor injuries.
  • 3. Not documenting your injuries: Document the scene with photos, videos, and witness statements.
  • 4. Not notifying your insurance: Notify your insurance company promptly.
  • 5. Admitting fault: Avoid admitting or discussing the accident with the other party’s insurer.
  • 6. Not keeping records: Keep records of all medical bills and lost wages.
  • 7. Not seeking legal advice: Consult a personal injury lawyer before settling.
  • 8. Not filing an SR-1: File an SR-1 report with the California DMV within ten days.
  • 9. Signing a release: A release is a document that waives your right to sue the other driver. You should never sign a release without first talking to an attorney.
  • 10. Going to court without an attorney: If your claim cannot be settled, you may need to go to court. This can be a complex process, and it’s essential to have an attorney represent you.
  • 11. Sharing on social media: One of the biggest mistakes in a car accident claim is sharing your life on your social media accounts of you being active, on vacations, at work, etc., if you claim to be injured. 

2023 California Car Accident Laws

In 2021, there were over 4,000 fatal car accidents in California.  California requires drivers to carry at least the minimal car insurance coverage requirements for their vehicles. 

  • 15K per person for bodily injury coverage
  • 30K per accident for bodily harm injury coverage
  • 5K for property damage coverage. 

As car accident attorneys, we don’t recommend these minimal requirements as they’ll cover almost nothing regarding financial and property damage compensation.  Insurance companies always brag in their commercials how cheap their policy coverage is, but that’s because it’s really no coverage at all protecting you financially.

We recommend the highest car insurance policy limits you can afford to ensure complete protection. Gap insurance (guaranteed asset protection) is also highly recommended to protect you further. Although gap insurance is not required, it is an invaluable safety net if the vehicle is a total loss, so you are not left owing any deficiency balance. 

California is considered an at-fault state, whereas other states are no-fault states, and those states require PIP (personal injury protection)insurance. 

California statute of limitations for car accidents

In California, the statute of limitations (SOL) is two years or one year from the date of discovering of injuries. If the SOL expires, you will lose your right to file a car accident lawsuit. 

An Overview of the Steps Involved in Handling a Car Accident Claim

While each case may have unique factors, specific fundamental steps remain consistent throughout most claims processes. The initial steps after an accident involve ensuring safety and seeking medical attention if necessary. This includes contacting emergency services promptly to report the incident and checking for injuries among all parties involved.

Gathering information at the scene is crucial; exchanging contact details with other drivers, passengers, and witnesses helps establish communication channels that will be vital during the claims process. Additionally, documenting the accident scene through photographs or videos preserves valuable evidence.

Reporting to authorities and insurance companies is another critical step in handling a car accident claim in California. Filing a police report provides an official record of the incident while notifying your insurance company to initiate your claims process with them.

Reporting requirements may vary based on your insurance policy coverage; however, providing accurate details about what transpired during the accident is crucial for a successful claim. Seeking medical treatment promptly after the accident is essential, even if no apparent injuries are immediately evident. Some injuries may not become apparent until days or weeks later, and delaying medical attention could harm your chances of obtaining fair compensation.

Documenting your injuries thoroughly through medical records, photographs, and other relevant documentation will be crucial evidence in your claim.

Determining fault is a critical part of California’s car accident claims process.

The state follows a comparative fault system, meaning that multiple parties can be assigned a percentage of fault for an accident. Understanding how fault is determined based on evidence, witness statements, and other factors becomes essential when seeking compensation for your losses.

By familiarizing yourself with these vital aspects of handling a car accident claim in California, you can confidently navigate the process and increase your chances of securing the compensation you deserve. Patience and perseverance are essential as each case’s timeline varies based on complexity and cooperation from all involved parties.

Ensuring Safety and Seeking Medical Attention if Necessary

In the aftermath of a car accident, ensuring your safety and the safety of others involved should be your utmost priority. Your immediate response can make all the difference in preventing further harm or injuries. The first step is to contact emergency services by dialing 911, reporting the accident’s location, and providing necessary details. By doing so, you lay the foundation for assistance to arrive promptly.

While waiting for help to arrive, take note of your physical condition and others involved, and check for any visible injuries or signs of distress.

If you or someone else requires immediate medical attention, do not hesitate to call an ambulance. Remember that some injuries may not be readily apparent, so it’s crucial to err on the side of caution.

Contacting Emergency Services

When contacting emergency services, remain calm and explain the situation concisely yet accurately. Provide essential information such as location details, whether multiple vehicles are involved, the approximate number of passengers in each vehicle, and any apparent injuries observed. Based on their situation evaluation, dispatchers will guide you on what steps to take next. They may advise you to move vehicles out of traffic or instruct you to wait until authorities arrive before taking any action.

Checking for Injuries and Providing Aid to Others Involved

In addition to attending to yourself, compassionately check on others involved in the accident. Offer assistance if they require aid, but remember not to move them unless it is essential due to imminent danger, such as fire, traffic, or toxic substances from the car.

Some injuries that might not be immediately apparent to you:

  • Whiplash
  • Headaches
  • Back pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Dizziness
  • Knee pain
  • Sprains and strains
  • Concussion or brain swelling
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Memory loss
  • Hearing loss
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Minor internal organ damage (lacerations/tearing)

Gathering Information at the Scene of the Accident

Amidst the chaos and confusion immediately following a car accident, collecting and preserving information becomes essential for future legal actions, including a car accident claim or an attorney. Gathering information ensures you have the evidence to support your case and protect your rights as a plaintiff.

Begin by exchanging contact details with all parties involved in the accident. Obtain their full names, phone numbers, addresses, driver’s license numbers, license plate numbers, insurance policy details (including company name and policy number), and email addresses. This information will prove invaluable during your car accident claim process.

If there were any witnesses present at the scene who observed the accident or its aftermath, ask them for their contact information. Witnesses can provide unbiased accounts that may support your claims later on.

Documenting the Accident Scene with Photographs or Videos

A picture is worth a thousand words – this adage holds true when documenting an accident scene. Use your smartphone or any available camera to take photographs or videos capturing various angles of the scene. Focus on any visible damages to vehicles involved, skid marks on the road surface, traffic signs or signals relevant to the incident location, and any other pertinent details that could help reconstruct events.

Ensure that these visual records are clear and accurately depict conditions at the time of the accident. These images will be valuable evidence when discussing fault assignment and compensation during your car accident claim process. By promptly attending to safety concerns after a car accident while gathering crucial information at the scene, you lay a strong foundation for pursuing a car accident claim in California.

However, these initial steps are just the beginning of an intricate process that requires meticulous attention to detail and knowledge of your rights as a plaintiff.

Reporting the Accident to Authorities and Insurance Companies

When involved in a car accident in California, it is crucial to understand the importance of filing a police report. This step is necessary in cases where there are injuries, significant property damage, or disputes regarding fault.

A car accident must be reported to the police in California if any of the following apply:

  • Someone is injured, even if the injuries are minor.
  • Someone is killed.
  • Property damage exceeds $1,000.

If you are involved in an accident meeting these criteria, you must file a written report with the California Highway Patrol (CHP) or local police department within 24 hours.

You should also file an SR-1 report with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) within ten days of the accident. This report is required for all accidents that result in injury, death, or property damage exceeding $1,000.

By involving law enforcement agencies, you establish an official incident record that can support your car accident claim. To determine when to report an accident to law enforcement agencies, consider the severity of injuries sustained and the extent of property damage.

California law mandates reporting accidents that result in injury, death, or property damage exceeding $1,000.

Even if there are no apparent injuries at first glance, it is advisable to err on the side of caution and report the accident. When filing a police report, provide accurate details about what transpired during the accident. Be meticulous in recounting events leading up to and following the collision.

Include information about road conditions, weather conditions, traffic signals, and other relevant factors that might have contributed to the accident. Providing accurate details helps create an objective record for insurance companies and legal proceedings.

Benefits of filing a police report after a car accident:

  • It provides a record of the accident. This can be helpful if you need to file an insurance claim or sue the other driver. 
  • It can help to establish fault for the car accident. This can be important if you seek compensation for your injuries or property damage.
  • It can help deter the other driver from fleeing the accident scene.
  • It can help to protect your driving record. If you are involved in an accident and do not report it to the police, it could be considered a hit-and-run, leading to serious consequences.

Notifying Your Insurance Company

In addition to reporting the accident to authorities, promptly notifying your insurance company after a car accident is vital for initiating your car accident claim process. Understanding your insurance policy coverage and reporting requirements ensures you adhere to insurance contractual obligations.

Before contacting your insurer about the accident claim, familiarize yourself with your insurance policy coverage details. Reviewing these provisions will help you understand what expenses may be covered under certain circumstances and enable you to communicate effectively with your insurer.

When informing your insurance company about the accident claim, provide all necessary information accurately and comprehensively.

Be prepared with essential details such as the date and time of the incident, location, names of individuals involved, including other drivers’ contact information, and any witness accounts. This information assists in expediting the claims process while ensuring accuracy.

Dealing with the Insurance Adjuster Correctly

To have the best outcome of your car accident insurance claim, you must speak their language and realize they are not trying to help you. 

The insurance adjusters are rewarded when they save money for the company, so their primary goal is to get you to accept as little as possible in your settlement. 

Remember, insurance adjusters have a limited amount of authority and compensation limits. If they can’t get you to accept their offer, they have to take it to a supervisor, which they want to avoid.

  • Q: What should I tell the insurance adjuster to get the most money back for my vehicle?

If your insurance adjuster isn’t giving you a fair settlement, provide them with online postings about the type of vehicle in your area and what it is selling for. This way, you can prove they are lowballing you on its overall value. 

If you recently put a lot of money into the car, like new tires, brand new paint job, rebuilt engine, etc., provide receipts of the added loss you suffered by spending money to improve the vehicle.  This is called aftermarket improvements.

  • Q: I told non-emergency medical staff details about my accident, and the insurance company used it against me. Is that legal?

You should limit what you say to others about the accident. If it’s not a nurse, doctor, or privacy covered by HIPPA laws, you can put your car accident claim at risk because the insurance adjuster has the right to interview whomever they want. 

  • Q: If I signed a release of liability, do I lose all future opportunities to sue?
  • Do not sign a release of liability until you consult with an attorney. The insurance company always wants to settle fast and will temp you “fast cash.” You could be leaving thousands on the table. 
  • Q: If I didn’t seek follow-up medical care, do I still have a valuable insurance claim for my car accident?

One of the biggest reasons a case isn’t valuable is the lack of medical care. You cannot claim injuries and suffering after only seeing a doctor once or twice. Follow-up care is essential to a good personal injury claim.

  • Q: Should I call the insurance adjuster at the accident scene or after?

If you and the other driver are arguing about who is at fault, you can call your insurance company while at the scene to protect yourself from future claims from the other driver that may be false. Many times, the at-fault driver will later claim that they were not at-fault, and unless you have it on video, it can be hard to claim.

  • Q: If the other driver is 100% at fault for the car accident, do I have to give them my insurance information? 

If a police report is filed and there is an injury, both parties should share insurance information. Just because you are not responsible doesn’t mean you should not provide details of who insures your car because that information is easy to obtain through your license plates.

Seeking Medical Treatment and Documenting Injuries

Following a car accident, it is crucial to seek medical attention promptly, even if there are no apparent injuries. Some injuries may have delayed symptoms or internal damage that is not immediately noticeable. By visiting a healthcare professional after an accident, you ensure your well-being and create a documentation trail of injuries sustained.

Doctors can perform thorough examinations and order diagnostic tests to identify hidden injuries that could worsen without proper treatment. This proactive approach to seeking medical attention strengthens your car accident claim as it demonstrates the immediate impact of the incident on your health.

The Importance of Seeking Medical Attention Even if There Are No Apparent Injuries

It is imperative to emphasize that seeking medical attention should not be neglected, even with no apparent injuries. Specific health issues from car accidents might manifest days or weeks later. Conditions such as whiplash, concussions, or soft tissue injuries may take time to become symptomatic but can have long-lasting effects if left untreated.

Documenting Injuries Thoroughly for Future Reference

To support your car accident claim, document all injuries thoroughly for future reference. Take photographs of visible bruises, cuts, or abrasions. Keep copies of medical reports, test results, and doctor’s notes regarding the diagnosis and treatment plan.

Maintaining this comprehensive documentation helps establish a clear connection between the accident and resulting injuries.

Keeping Track of Medical Expenses and Records

Meticulous organization is critical when dealing with medical expenses related to your car accident claim in California. By organizing medical bills, receipts, and invoices related to treatment costs, you create an accurate record of expenses incurred due to the accident.

Maintaining a record of doctor visits, diagnoses, medications prescribed, and other relevant medical details is crucial. This comprehensive documentation serves as valuable evidence to substantiate your car accident claim and helps determine the financial compensation you are entitled to receive.

Personal Injury Settlement Calculator

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The Ultimate California Car Accident Guide 2024

california car accident guide cover

Click below to download The Ultimate California Car Accident Guide 2024, produced by Bisnar Chase.

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