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what to do after car accident

What to Do After a Car Accident

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Car accidents occur for a variety of reasons, including driver negligence, lack of competence or training of the driver, and driving under the influence, to name a few. But regardless of the reasons behind the accident, you must ensure your safety and safeguard your legal rights, including your right to claim damages, following the accident.

Millions of car accidents occur in the United States every year. In 2021, 294 people were killed as a result of traffic crashes in Los Angeles, an increase of nearly 22 percent over the previous year. While observing basic road safety can help prevent car accidents, you will need to remember the following tips to protect yourself and your interests after a car accident.

Because of the dangers of car accidents in California, it Is imperative to know what to do after an incident. So, what should you do besides calling an attorney? Below are steps you should take to protect yourself when you find yourself in this horrific situation.


Car Accident Checklist

If you are involved in a car accident in California, here’s what you should do:


Stay calm. Stay at the scene of the accident and assess the situation.

Getting into a car accident can be very stressful but it’s important that you stay calm. Take a deep breath and stay in your car for a moment. Don’t try to get out of your car right away before you’ve had a chance to lower your heart rate and bring down the adrenaline. Staying calm helps you think more rationally and less reactive to your situation. You want to avoid making any costly mistakes.

Once you’re level-headed, get out of your vehicle but remain at the scene of the accident. Next, you will need to assess the situation. The most important thing is to make sure that you and your passengers are safe.


Check to see if any parties need medical attention.

Next, check to see if you or anyone else is injured from the accident. If injuries are not life-threating or severe, take photos of any visible injuries. If you’re too hurt to take photos, ask someone else to take them for you. Photos can significantly help your car accident claim to show that you have sustained injuries from the accident.

If anyone is injured, call the authorities for assistance as soon as possible. Although your vehicle may be damaged, that should not be your first priority. Car accidents can leave victims with various types of injuries including back or neck injuries, burns, fractured bones, bruising, contusions, whiplash, concussions, and traumatic brain injuries. Additionally, some symptoms may not show right away and take days, weeks, or months to appear. It’s important to get a medical evaluation whenever you’re involved in a car accident so you can get a full diagnosis from a medical professional.


If possible, move your vehicle to safety.

Regardless of the severity of the accident, you should try to remain at the scene of the accident unless it creates a danger for traffic. In that case, move your vehicle to the side of the road and to a safe location.


Call the authorities & have them create a record of the event with your input.

If anyone is hurt or if there is property damage, call the police. Having a police officer at the accident scene can be an effective way to build a strong legal case. Police officers are required to get a written report of the car accident. Generally, the police officer will write a summary of the car accident containing facts related to the crash. Police reports are important documents that you may need to present when you seek compensation for your injuries. While you should contact the police for any car crash, it is particularly important for serious accidents that result in $500 or more in property damage. Cooperate with authorities and take their business card or badge number so you can later request a copy of the police report. If your vehicle must be towed, take any personal belonging or valuables with you.


Gather driver’s information and exchange insurance information.

Be sure to gather the driver’s personal and insurance information. Important information should you gather include the driver’s name, address, phone number, driver’s license information, and car insurance information.

If you were involved in a hit-and-run, you can still seek for damages. Your car accident attorney may request security camera footage or other evidence to identify the negligent party. A car accident attorney can build your case based on the evidence collected and help recover damages for your injuries.


Gather witness information.

If there is anyone nearby who witnessed the accident, ask for their contact information. If you can, get a statement now when the accident is still fresh in their minds. Ask if they’re willing to speak with you and help you with your car accident case. Try to do this as soon as possible since witnesses can decide to leave the scene at any time. Witnesses can be essential to the success of your car accident claim. Witnesses are also known as a third party who can provide credibility to your statements.


Gather vehicle information.

In addition to collecting information from the driver and witnesses, you should also collect information on the vehicle or vehicles involved in the crash. Make sure you write down or take photos of important information from all vehicles involved in the accident including:

  • The license plate number of the vehicle.
  • The year, make, model, and color of the vehicle.
  • The vehicle’s identification number (VIN).

The VIN number is typically listed on the driver’s auto insurance and registration card. You can also find the VIN on the car which is usually located on the driver’s side dashboard. The VIN can also be found inside the driver’s side door. On a motorcycle, the VIN can usually be found on the left side of the steering head. This information will be needed when you make a report the accident to the California Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV).


Document the damage and accident details.

If you can do so safely, take photos of the accident scene as possible. Take them from various angles and make sure you take photos of the damage to all vehicles involved in the accident. It’s also a good idea to take a video of the entire accident scene that shows all of the vehicles involved in the crash, the surrounding roads, buildings, and the surrounding environment. Take notes of the physical surroundings such as the location of the accident including street names or highway, date, time, and weather conditions.


Seek medical attention.

If you were hurt in a car accident, seek prompt medical attention. Even if you don’t think you’re injured, it’s important to get evaluated by a medical doctor. You may have injuries and symptoms that may not appear right away but may do so in a few days, weeks, or even months after the accident. Additionally, if you don’t seek medical attention in a reasonable amount of time (typically a few days) after the accident, you may jeopardize your ability to file a personal injury claim.


Contact your insurance company.

Many victims do not file a car accident claim in California because they worry their insurance rates will increase. However, California state law legally protects auto insurers from increasing rates if the accident was not the policy holder’s fault.

Most auto insurance policies require motorists to file a report if they were involved in an accident. Even if the accident was your fault, it’s generally a good idea to report it. Even if the other party tells you they will not report the accident, he or she may do so, and this will put you at risk of getting your driver’s license suspended. Additionally, you may also risk getting your car insurance canceled.

With the help of your lawyer, notify your auto insurance company that you’ve been involved in an accident. Speak to your lawyer before giving a recorded statement to the insurance or anyone else. An experienced lawyer knows the tactics that insurance adjusters use on claimants to completely deny their claim or pay them less than they deserve. By working with a personal injury lawyer, you can rest assured knowing that you will not be deceived out of a fair settlement. Report the accident early to increase your chances of defending your personal injury claim in a car accident case.


Notify the DMV.

According to the state law, you must notify the California DMV within 10 days if you were involved an accident that resulted in injury or death or if there was more than $750 in property damage. You must personally contact the DMV; don’t expect or rely on your auto insurance company to do it for you.


Document all medical injuries, expenses, and time taken from work.

If you’re unable to take photos of your injuries, have someone else take them for you. If you seek medical care, have the nurse or other medical professional take photos of you as well. Additionally, write down your personal impressions of where you felt hurt as soon as you can. As soon as possible, document the location of the pain and type of symptoms you’re feeling. The more documentation you have of your injuries the better your chances of obtaining compensation through a personal injury claim.

Car accident victims can sustain a range of injuries ranging from minor to catastrophic injuries. Some common examples include:

  • Back or neck injuries
  • Bruising
  • Burns
  • Concussions
  • Contusions
  • Cuts or lacerations
  • Fractured bones
  • Scarring or disfigurement
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Traumatic brain injuries (TBI)
  • Whiplash

In addition to the physical injuries, may car accident victims also suffer from mental trauma including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and emotional distress.


Contact an experienced car accident lawyer.

If you have been injured in a car accident, you generally only have two years after the crash to bring a personal injury lawsuit. California has a two-year deadline for personal injury lawsuits and if you miss the deadline, you will lose your right to obtain compensation for your losses.

We encourage car accident victims to contact an experienced Los Angeles car accident lawyer as soon as possible to help protect your rights and explore your legal options. A car accident lawyer may be able to help you with handling various tasks such as finding a reputable doctor to treat your injuries or draft an insurance demand letter that will likely get you a settlement offer for your injuries. A personal injury settlement can help cover different accident-related expenses including:

  • Medical bills (current and future)
  • Lost wages (past and future)
  • Disability accommodations
  • Medications
  • Ambulance fees
  • Property damage (including car repairs or vehicle replacement)
  • Physical therapy
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment

In some cases, victims may also get compensated for punitive damages if the defendant was found especially reckless or malicious. Punitive damages are awarded to further punish the defendant for a lack of appropriate care while driving. It is also intended to deter others from acting in a similar careless or negligent manner.


Common Mistakes People Make After Getting into a Car Accident

After a car accident, many victims can feel stressed and disoriented. This can lead to making mistakes which may affect your personal injury claim. Car accidents can be a very traumatic experience and common mistakes people make after getting into a car accident include: 


Leaving scene of accident.

In most states including California, leaving the scene of an accident (even if he or she isn’t at fault) prior to exchanging information with the other driver may result in criminal charges. In California, fleeing the scene of an accident without properly identifying yourself to the other driver is considered a hit and run which is a serious crime. Further, if you were injured, you will need the other driver’s contact and insurance information to seek damages for your losses.

If you were involved in a car accident, stop immediately at the scene of the accident. Do not leave the accident scene until you have exchanged information with the other driver.


Admitting fault.

Even if you think the accident is your fault, never admit fault. You may be wrong, or the other drive may be partially responsible. California’s comparative negligence law states allows the fault to be divided between all parties. In other words, it’s possible that both parties are at fault for the accident.

It may feel natural to want to apologize after an accident but it’s highly inadvisable.

Apologizing may be misinterpreted as admitting fault and may prevent you from obtaining compensatory damages from the other party’s insurance company.


Not calling the police.

One of the most common scenarios car accident victims may encounter is deciding if it is necessary to call the police. It may seem unnecessary to call 911 if there are no apparent serious or life-threating injuries, but it will be a mistake not to do so. One of the most important reasons why you need to call the police after an accident is to get a police report. The police report will contain important information for your personal injury claim including contact information for all drivers involved in the crash, contact information for witnesses, details about how the accident happened, statements from the drivers and witnesses, and the police officer’s conclusion as to who caused the accident.


Failing to collect adequate witness, photo, and video evidence.

The situation can feel very hectic after a car crash and the police will likely try to clear the accident scene quickly so traffic can return to normal. However, even with everything that is going on, don’t forget to collect evidence and obtain essential information before the accident scene gets cleared.


Saying you are not injured.

Even if you don’t think or feel pain at the time of the car crash, do not tell that to the other driver or anyone else on the scene. Typically, car accident victims will look for physical injuries after a crash such as cuts, bruising, broken bones, or blood. However, after a car accident, your body releases a surge of adrenaline which can increase the body’s pain threshold. This adrenaline can last a few hours or until the following day. Because of this, some victims may not feel pain immediately after the crash. You won’t know if you are injured until you seek medical attention and get a full diagnosis.

Additionally, stating that you are not injured or hurt may give the other party’s insurance company an excuse to completely deny your claim or offer you a settlement less than its worth. If asked, simply state that you do not know how you feel at the moment and will be seeking medical attention. 


Underestimating your injuries and skipping the doctor.

One of the most common mistakes car accident victims make is underestimating their injuries and skipping the doctor. As mentioned earlier, the body can release a surge of adrenaline after a car accident and victims may think they’re not injured because they’re not feeling pain right away. Sometimes, victims may think that it’s normal to feel sore, stiff, or disoriented after a crash and disregard these symptoms. While you may think these are minor issues, it could be a sign of a more serious injury.

For example, soreness may be a sign of soft tissue strain or sprain. You may hope that the discomfort will go away on its own in a few days, but without property diagnosis or treatment, the symptoms may worsen. Car accident victims also commonly report feeling confused or disoriented, having blurry vision or difficulty concentrating after a crash. These immediate or delayed symptoms could be signs of a traumatic brain injury (TBI). TBI are serious injuries that affects how the brain works. Anyone can experience TBI, and it is a major cause of disability and death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), motor vehicle crashes are one of     the top common causes of TBI.

Underestimating your injuries may negatively affect you in multiple ways including:

  • Insurance companies may question the severity or validity of injury claims.
  • Prolonging your medical treatment if the injury is more serious than you originally estimated.
  • Disputes over the medical bills that the responsible party should cover.

It may be natural to downplay the severity of your injuries, but it doesn’t help you to do so. Don’t say you’re okay because you won’t know until you seek medical care. It’s best to have a doctor give you a full evaluation to check for injuries. It is also extremely important to visit the doctor to document any injuries you may have sustained from the crash. You will need verifiable injuries to obtain compensation from your personal injury claim.


Discussing accident with anyone other than your insurance, lawyer, or officer on scene. 

Do not discuss details about the accident with anyone other than your insurance company, lawyer, or police officer on the scene. Sharing accident details with anyone else may compromise your ability to seek damages from the parties responsible for your property damage and injuries. If you’re injured and unable to think clearly, don’t attempt to answer any questions about the accident. If you say something that is inaccurate or make any indications that you’re not injured, you may compromise your ability to file a personal injury claim. If the police officer on the scene asks you something you’re unsure of, say you’re unsure. Don’t let anyone on the scene pressure you to answer questions you’re not comfortable or not ready to answer. When you are feeling better and thinking clearly, you will have the opportunity to provide additional details as necessary.


Posting on social media.

It can be risky to use social media after a car accident. If you do, make sure you do not

post anything accident-related on any social media platforms including your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat. Avoid commenting, sharing, or venting on social media as this information can be used against you in your personal injury claim. Many insurance adjusters use social media to spy on claimants to find anything that may contradict your statements about your injury. Even a seemingly innocent photo or comment can be twisted by insurance adjusters to weaken your injury credibility.

For example, a friend on Facebook posts a comment on your account asking how you are feeling. To answer your friend, you may say that you’re feeling better. With this answer, an insurance adjuster may argue that your injuries weren’t really serious at all and that your pain and suffering is over since you stated that you’re now feeling better.

Even posting a photo of yourself on a trip or celebrating a friend’s birthday may be used against your claim. The insurance adjuster may argue that since you’re able to travel and celebrate special occasions, the injury hasn’t negatively affected your life (even if this may be untrue).

So, what should you do? If possible, disable all of your social media profiles until the case is over. If you’re unable to do so, avoid posting or sharing any sensitive or personal information on the internet. If friends or family asks how you are doing, it is best to answer them privately. 


Trusting insurance companies. 

Trusting insurance companies is another common mistake car accident victims make. Insurance adjusters are there to protect the company and their goal is to pay you as little as possible. They know that victims are under a lot of stress and can be vulnerable to their tactics. Insurance adjusters will attempt to appear very friendly so they can gain your trust. However, trusting them without having your own legal representation may end up costing you. Without understanding the fair value of your claim, you may mistakenly accept a lower settlement amount than your claim is actually worth. An experience car accident attorney can help calculate the fair value of your personal injury claim and make sure you get the compensation you deserve.

Additionally, don’t provide insurance companies with any more information than necessary. Do not talk about your injuries and do not apologize for any reason. Do not give a recorded statement since anything you say can be used against you. If the other party’s insurance company wants information, tell them to speak to your car accident lawyer. Once you have legal representation, your lawyer will handle the communication with insurance companies and will not have to deal with them.


Settling with insurance.

On the surface, a quick settlement may sound like a good thing. If you lost time from work, the money could help pay for certain bills and living expenses. Unfortunately, settling too early will only benefit the insurance company.

Typically, the first settlement offer is usually the lowest and worst offer. Although it may be tempting to want to resolve your case as soon as possible, you’re likely to obtain a fair settlement amount if the other party believes that you are serious about pursuing your personal injury case to the fullest extent. Insurance companies will try to persuade you to take the first offer hoping that you don’t know the amount your claim is really worth. They also know that you are likely in financial stress, so they’ll try to convince you that accepting a quick settlement is the best way to move forward.

But a quick settlement doesn’t necessarily mean a fair settlement. Do not let the insurance company pressure you to accepting a lowball amount and accepting compensation less than you deserve. Take your time and don’t rush into accepting a low settlement offer from the other party. Your attorney will be able to calculate the total damages you are entitled to and advise you of the fair settlement amount of your personal injury claim.

It is important to remember that once you accept a settlement, you cannot reopen your case. Even if you later discover your injuries are more serious than you realized or if your recovery takes longer than expected, you will not be able to seek additional damages for your injuries. For example, many car accident victims fail to consider the following expenses:

  • Medical bills for treatment they may need in the future.
  • Lost income from time off work (this could be hours, days, weeks, or months).
  • Lost future earnings (some victims end up having to change jobs after the accident due to their injury).
  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental trauma
  • Other intangible losses

Damages for personal injury claims can be difficult to calculate, especially non-tangible losses like pain and suffering. Victims who try to calculate the losses without the help of a personal injury attorney often undervalue their losses. If you have been injured in a car accident in Los Angeles or anywhere in California, it is highly recommended that you seek assistance from a car accident attorney who can help you evaluate the full value of your personal injury claim. Remember, once you have accepted a settlement, your case is permanently closed, and you will no longer be able to seek additional compensation.


Waiting too long to file a claim. 

In California, there is a deadline, called statute of limitation to file a claim. Statute of limitation exists to ensure fairness. Often, evidence gets lost or destroyed as time passes, memories start to fade, and witnesses move away. The deadline period encourages victims to diligently pursue their claim in a reasonable amount of time.

Typically, car accident victims have two years from the date of the accident to file a personal injury claim. If the injury was not discovered right away, the victim has one year from the date the injury was discovered to file the claim. Claims against a government agency or employee have an even stricter deadline; they must be filed within six months of the injury. There are some exceptions to the statute of limitations but generally after the deadline has passed, you will no longer have a legal right to sue the other party.


Signing documentation.

Just like how you should not give any statements to any insurance company before speaking with your lawyer, you also should not sign any paperwork. Even if you sign without fully understanding the terms of the agreement, the signed documents are still legally binding. If you are presented with any type of paperwork that requires a signature, have your car accident lawyer review it first before you sign it.

Examples of documentation an insurance company may ask you to sign include:

  • Release forms – When you accept a settlement for a claim, you will have to sign a release form. After signing a release form, the other party will be free from any further financial obligation. Essentially, by signing a release form, you are agreeing that you will not pursue legal action again for a claim after you have received the compensation for those damages.
  • Medical authorization forms – When you sign a medical authorization form, you are allowing the insurance company to review your medical history. We strongly discourage car accident victims from signing these authorization forms because allowing access to your medical history could negatively impact your claim. For example, the insurance company could use your past medical history to reduce or deny your claim. If you had an injury years ago that has already completely healed and an insurance company investigates your past medical records and sees this, they could try to claim that your current injury from the car accident are actually pre-existing conditions and related to your previous injury. Even if this allegation may be false, it can still hurt or delay your claim.

Keep in mind that the insurance company’s main goal is to pay out as little as possible so they can keep the profits. Be extra careful before agreeing to anything, either verbally or in writing. Always have your personal injury attorney review all paperwork before you sign.


How to Report a Car Accident 

Most insurance carriers require insured motorists to report accidents as soon as possible. If there is property damage or someone gets injured, make sure you call the police. Once a police officer arrives on the scene, tell them what happened but do not speculate or say anything you are unsure about. Only provide factual statements. More importantly, never admit fault or apologize because it can be used against you in a court of law.

You may be asked if you are hurt or sustained injuries after the crash. Some symptoms do not appear immediately but will appear days or weeks after the accident. Even if you’re not feeling symptoms immediately, refrain from saying that you’re okay or that you aren’t hurt. Instead, you can say that you will be seeking medical attention.

Seeking prompt medical attention is essential for several reasons including an opportunity for you to get a full diagnosis and for any injuries to get documented. Documentation of all expenses and bills related to your car accident injuries can be very helpful to your car accident injury claim.


Do I Need a Car Accident Lawyer?

Car accidents can get really complicated, especially if it involves multiple parties. If the other driver is uninsured or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it can complicate matters even more. An experienced car accident lawyer will not only protect your legal rights after a car accident, but also obtain fair compensation for your losses.

Having legal representation also ensures that you will not get taken advantage of by insurance companies who are notoriously known for offering victims lowball settlements. Mesriani Law Group has over 20 years of experience and an impressive track record of obtaining the maximum compensation for our clients.

If you or someone you know has been hurt in a car accident, contact our law office to learn more about your legal options. We accept clients on a contingency basis and do not charge you anything if we do not win your case. Remember, there is a strict deadline for filing personal injury claims so do not wait to start your claim. Contact us today for a free consultation.


Car Accident FAQ

What do I do immediately after a car accident in California?

After a car accident in California, the first thing you should do is to check and make sure everyone is safe. Next, move your vehicle to a safe location once it is safe to do so. If anyone is injured, call the police and get a copy of the police report. Get the contact information of the other driver and witnesses. Don’t forget to gather vehicle and insurance information and seek prompt medical attention.

Do I have to call the police after a car accident?

It may seem excessive to call 911 if there are no apparent serious or life-threating injuries, but not doing so may be a costly mistake. One of the most important reasons why you need to call the police after an accident is to get a police report. This report will contain important information for your personal injury claim including contact information for all drivers involved in the crash, contact information for witnesses, details about how the accident happened, statements from the drivers and witnesses, and the police officer’s conclusion as to who caused the accident.

What are the steps to take after a car accident?

After a car accident, it is important to stay calm and to remain at the scene of the accident. Check to see if anyone needs medical attention, move your vehicle to a safe location, call the authorities for a police report, exchange contact information (including vehicle and insurance information) with the other driver and witnesses. As soon as possible, seek medical attention, notify the DMV, and document your medical injuries and expenses. Additionally, contact an experienced car accident attorney to discuss your legal options on how to seek compensation for your losses.

What to do after a minor car accident?

California law requires all drivers to stop after an accident, no matter how minor the crash. If the accident resulted in an injury or death, you must call the police. If there are no injuries, then the law does not require you to call the police. However, even if you don’t believe you were injured or if you only believe your vehicle was minimally damage, you should still call the police. Some injuries and symptoms don’t appear right away but may appear days or weeks after the car accident. Protect your legal rights and strengthen your personal injury claim by calling 911 right away and obtaining a police report.

About the Author
Picture of Rodney Mesriani
Rodney Mesriani

Rodney Mesriani is the principal partner of the Los Angeles and Santa Monica based Mesriani Law Group. He specializes in personal injury and employment law while also being an accomplished litigator and trial attorney. Rodney is an aggressive negotiator and a well-known and respected attorney in the areas of practice he specializes in.

He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from California State University Northridge before attending Southwestern School of Law where he received his Juris Doctorate. While being an accomplished personal injury and employment lawyer, Rodney Mesriani has made it a point to attend numerous State Sponsored MCLE events and seminars over the years as a law practitioner to be informed of the latest laws and litigation strategies.



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