What You Should and Should Not Do After a Car Accident in California

California uses an at-fault insurance system. This means that the driver who causes a car accident bears financial responsibility for the resulting damages.

The things that happen after an accident can affect your compensation for your injuries. Saying and doing the right things after a car accident can ultimately help you persuade an insurance adjuster or jury that you did not cause the accident and deserve full compensation.

Here are some of the things that you should and should not do after a car accident in CA.

What You Should Do After a Car Accident in California

After an accident, you will probably feel a rush of adrenaline as your body works through the shock of the accident. Soon after that, you will need to start taking action and making decisions about the accident.

Here are some of the steps you should take immediately after a car accident takes place.

Make Sure that Everyone Is Safe

You should turn on your emergency flashers and place cones, flares, or reflectors around the cars if you cannot clear the road. If you can move the vehicles, you should move them to the shoulder to avoid blocking traffic and triggering additional collisions. 

Check on everyone to determine whether anyone has life-threatening injuries. If anyone has serious trauma, you should call EMTs and provide first aid until they arrive.

If any vehicles are on fire or the accident has started a brush fire, you should call the fire department. Try to move everyone away from the fire. Although you might be tempted to try to extinguish the fire on your own, you should probably leave it to the firefighters since vehicle fires can release toxic fumes and can even trigger explosions.

Call the Police

California law requires you to report all traffic accidents that result in injuries or death to the California Highway Patrol or the local police. 

Calling the police after your traffic accident can have a few benefits, including:

  • Investigation of the accident
  • Help with EMTs and tow trucks
  • Assistance getting the other drivers’ information

Aside from complying with California law, the greatest benefit from calling the police will be the police report of the accident. The police report will explain what happened and list any citations that the police issued. This report will help you to establish liability for the accident.

Even if everyone feels fine after an accident, you should still consider calling the police. In some counties, police will respond to accidents even if they only produced property damage. The police report can help you with the insurance claims. If you suffered a bodily injury that only manifests later on, you will have the documentation to support an injury claim.

For example, a brain injury can result from the brain shifting around in the skull. In some cases, concussion symptoms may not develop until days or weeks later.

Exchange Information

Since California uses an at-fault insurance system, you need the at-fault driver’s information to be able to file a claim. In California, the law requires you to carry proof of insurance at all times. You must provide your insurance information to the other drivers after a traffic collision.

California law also requires that you provide law enforcement and other drivers the names and addresses of:

  • Yourself
  • The car’s owner
  • Injured passengers

You must also show your car’s registration and your ID if anyone asks to see them.

Document the Accident

Before you leave the scene of the accident, you should use your phone’s camera to take some pictures or video of the accident scene. 

Some of the information you might record includes:

  • Vehicle damage
  • Property damage
  • Road conditions
  • Skid marks
  • Injuries

This information will help to support your explanation of what happened in your insurance claim. It can also refresh your recollection if you need to testify in court later on.

Seek Medical Attention

Regardless of how minor your injuries seem, you should always seek medical attention after an accident. This examination could reveal hidden injuries. For example, knee pain might result from torn cartilage, rather than a bruise.

When you file an insurance claim, you will need to document the extent of your injuries and the treatment you need. By seeking medical attention, you will have medical records to support your claim.

What You Should Not Do After a Car Accident in California

After a car accident, you might have difficulty calming down. You might feel anger toward the other driver (or yourself) for getting into an accident. But you need to stay calm because impulsive actions can have serious legal consequences.

Some of the steps you should not take after a car accident include:

Do Not Leave the Scene

California law requires you to stop after a traffic collision, even one that only causes property damage. Failing to stop constitutes a hit-and-run. If you are convicted of a hit-and-run, you could serve up to one year in jail. If the accident results in a serious injury or death, a judge can increase the sentence to four years in prison.

Do Not Lie to the Police

You should always tell the truth when you are talking to the police about the accident. Lying to the police can result in criminal charges. Even if the police do not arrest you for lying, they can note that you gave false or evasive answers in their police report. Insurance companies might interpret this harshly and try to reduce your claim.

Do Not Admit Liability

While you should never lie to the police or the other driver, you should also never admit liability. Stick to the facts when you discuss the accident with the other driver or the police. There is a difference between saying, “I didn’t see the car turn in front of me,” and “It’s my fault for not seeing the car turn.”

Do Not Post About the Accident on Social Media

Insurance companies will do anything they can to reduce or deny your insurance claim. Posting about your accident or your injuries on social media can provide ammunition to a claim adjuster.

For example, suppose that you post that you went to your last therapy appointment and your back feels like new. This post might contradict your insurance claim that you have been permanently disabled and cannot work.

Maximizing Your Injury Claim

What you do after an accident will affect your injury claim. If you comply with the law, follow your common sense, and work honestly with the police, your injury lawyer will have a path toward maximizing your recovery for your injuries.