Car Accident FAQ
What Should I Do After I’ve Been Involved in a Car Accident?
First of all, stay at the scene of the accident. Leaving the scene of an accident is a crime in the State of California. Even if the accident only involved property damage with no injuries, you could still be charged with a misdemeanor hit and run. If there were injuries or fatalities involved, you could be charged with felony hit and run.
Next, establish that everyone involved in the accident is safe. If there are injuries, immediately notify 911. If there are no injuries, make sure that you still notify the police. It is in your best interest to have the police on the scene handling the accident investigation.
Make sure that you exchange contact and insurance information with the other driver or drivers involved in the accident. Write down or record all of this information yourself. Don’t let anyone else do it for you.
Finally, make sure that you get the contact information of any witnesses to the accident. Ask them what they saw and make notes of what they say. Also, take pictures of the accident scene so that you have a visual record of what it looked like.
What Should I Tell the Police?
Ultimately, the police investigation of the accident scene is for your benefit. Therefore, you should tell the police what happened from your point of view to the best of your ability. Don’t guess at information and don’t elaborate. It’s not your job to fill in the blanks. It’s much better to say “I don’t know” in response to a question than it is to provide information that may be inaccurate. Don’t apologize or say that you’re sorry for the accident and don’t accuse others. Stick to the facts as you know them. Remember that the official police report of the accident could become an important piece of evidence in your favor should a lawsuit become necessary.
Is There Anyone Else I Should Notify?
You have a duty to cooperate with your insurance company in regard to the accident in order to obtain coverage. Therefore, inform your insurer about the accident at the earliest possible opportunity. Depending on the type of car insurance that you have, your policy may cover not only the other driver’s injuries and property damage. It may also provide you with medical coverage for any injuries that you’ve suffered and pay for the repairs to your vehicle.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer?
In general, the answer is yes. Certain minor collisions that result in minor property damage probably do not require a lawyer’s attention. However, if there were any injuries as a result of the accident, then you most likely will require the services of an experienced attorney in order to protect your interests. An experienced California car accident attorney can maximize the amount of money that you recover for your injuries while, at the same time, defend you against potential liability.
How Much Does a Lawyer Charge?
Hiring an experienced California car accident attorney will cost you nothing upfront. This is because most personal injury attorneys work on a contingency fee basis. This means that they will only get paid when your case comes to a successful conclusion. If they don’t recover any money on your behalf, you owe them nothing. In general, when your case is successfully concluded, your attorney will take approximately 33% of the settlement or judgment amount as compensation for their time and efforts. The remainder of the money is yours to keep.
Should I Talk to the Other Driver’s Insurance Company?
Under no circumstances should you talk to the other driver’s insurance company. Remember, insurance companies are in the business of making money. They advertise themselves as helpful and neighborly but, when push comes to shove, they are anything but understanding, reasonable or cooperative. The insurance adjuster or attorney that contacts you from the other driver’s insurance company does not get rewarded for being helpful. They get rewarded for paying as little as possible on the claims made against the insurance policies issued by their employer. Therefore, you should not answer any of their questions or give let them record your statement, no matter how helpful and friendly they may appear to be. Instead, politely inform them that you are not willing to answer their questions and any further inquiries should be directed to your attorney.
What if the Accident Was Partially My Fault?
First of all, fault is a question of fact that, in a car accident lawsuit, will be determined by a judge or jury after looking at the relevant evidence. So, with all due respect, you don’t actually know if the car accident was legally your fault. If, at the end of lawsuit, a judge or jury found that the evidence showed that the accident was partially your fault it still wouldn’t prevent you from recovering damages for your injuries.
California is comparative negligence state. This means that if a person is partially at fault for an accident that caused them injury, they can still recover damages. The amount of those damages are simply reduced by the percentage of fault for the accident that is their responsibility. So, for example, if you were awarded $100,000 in damages by a jury but were also found to be 10% at fault for the accident that caused your injuries, you’re ultimate recovery would be reduced by 10% to $90,000.
How Much Time Do I Have to File a Lawsuit After the Accident?
In California, you have two years from the date of the car accident to file a lawsuit to recover damages for your injuries that resulted from that accident. If you do not file a lawsuit within that two year time frame, you are forever barred from filing any suit based on injuries caused by the accident.