The decisions you make in the moments, hours and days after a California car accident can have important consequences for your legal and financial interests. A good way to protect yourself if you have been in a car accident is to know what steps to take and in what order.
Until you have the chance to discuss your case with an experienced lawyer, you’ll be acting on your own. Any serious mistakes you make can expose you to criminal punishment as well as hurting your chance of recovering damages from the other driver’s insurer or your own.
Six Essentials After a California Car Accident
The following recommendations will help you avoid problems while protecting your legal interests in the immediate aftermath of an auto accident in the Bay Area. Then it’s a good idea to discuss your situation with an attorney who can provide additional advice about your legal options. Contact the law firm of Weber & Nierenberg in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose or San Rafael for a free consultation.
Here’s what you need to do right after a car accident in California:
- Stop and Stay at the Scene. If you hit something or someone, stop. If someone hits you, stop. Leaving the scene of an accident until you take care of some essential business is a serious crime and could not only create major problems for your license, it could send you to jail.
- Do What You Can for Injured Persons. Before you leave an accident scene, you and the other driver (if any) should check to see if anyone was hurt and do what you can to help – call 911, render first aid, or take an injured person to the hospital as soon as possible. Don’t worry about getting sued for injuries caused by your efforts in an emergency situation — California’s Good Samaritan Law will protect you from liability.
- Exchange Information With the Other Driver. California law requires you to give the following information to the other driver: your name, address and phone number; your auto insurance carrier and contact information; and your license plate number. You have the right to receive the same information concerning any other driver involved with the accident. If any witnesses stopped, get their names and phone numbers, too. Do not express opinions about whether you are hurt, who caused the crash, or any other matters that could later come up as evidence in a lawsuit.
- Report the Accident to the DMV. State law requires you to report any motor vehicle accident that results in property damage over $750 or an injury of any kind to a person. You need to complete a DMV Form SR 1 (“Report of Accident Occurring in California”) and send it in within 10 days of the accident. It’s not enough to report the accident to local law enforcement, call 911 or give a statement to a police officer.
- Report the Accident to Your Insurance Company. Your auto insurance policy requires timely notification before you will be entitled to receive coverage under your own policy. You are also under an obligation to cooperate with your insurer in its investigation of your claim or any claim against you. That doesn’t mean you should answer all questions right away, though. Give your insurer a bare-bones report of the accident right away, then politely decline to give more detailed information until you have consulted with an attorney.
- If You Were Hurt in Any Way, Get Medical Treatment. In the most serious accidents, victims will be taken be taken by ambulance to the nearest emergency room, then perhaps transferred to a regional trauma center. In the less serious range of accidents, however, people will often be tempted to decline treatment and continue on their way. This is a mistake. Many low-impact car accidents cause apparently minor injuries that will not get better on their own. Get medical treatment right away, if only to get an idea of what symptoms to watch out for.
Once you take care of these six essential steps right after a car accident, it’s time to consider legal advice about your insurance coverage, your right to personal injury damages, or your own risk of getting sued. With four offices throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, the personal injury law firm of Weber & Nierenberg has a regional reputation for excellence in client service and case results in car accident litigation of all kinds.
For a free consultation about your legal options following a car accident anywhere in the Bay Area, contact Weber & Nierenberg in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose or San Rafael. To learn more about our lawyers’ experience and our firm’s approach to auto accident claims, see our website at www.weberandnierenberg.com.