How to Protect Yourself After a Car Accident in California

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The following are steps to taken when you are involved in a car accident.  Some of these steps are required by law and others are meant to protect your rights and liabilities in the event of a personal injury claim:


California law requires that you stop at the scene when you are involved in an accident.  Regardless of whether the accident involved a moving vehicle, park vehicle, property, or pedestrian, you must stop, even if you are not at fault, or face the possibility of being arrested for leaving the scene of the accident.

Get Help for Anyone Injured

If you are able, the law requires that you provide reasonable assistance to anyone injured during a car accident.  This can mean calling 911 or providing treatment such as CPR if you are qualified.  If you are worried about being sued for helping someone injured in an accident, remember the Good Samaritan law.  As long as you act in good faith, act for free, and do not act recklessly you will be protected against claims.

Warn Other Motorists and Protect the Scene

Turn on your hazard lights, open the car hood, and use road flares or reflective triangles.  If the accident is minor you can move your car out of traffic to a safe area were you can the other drive can exchange information.  If the accident is major or you are not sure who’s at fault you should not move the cars until police arrive.

Call 911 to Contact the Police

A police officer will be able to protect the accident scene and investigate the cause of the accident.  When the accident involves serious damage, injuries, or someone has violated vehicle laws, a police report will be written.  This report is critical for the insurance claims process.  You are required to provide the police officer and the other driver with the following information:  Name, address, telephone number, name of insurance company, policy number, contact information for insurance company representative, and license plate number.

Gather Information

Even if the police write a report about your accident, you may still need additional information regarding the events.  You will need information about the vehicles, the drivers, the collision, vehicle damage, witnesses, the accident scene and conditions, your injuries, police information, ambulance information, towing information.  Under California law you must carry and be able to provide proof of financial responsibility in the form of automobile insurance.  Also, make sure you also take pictures of the accident scene, damage, and injuries.

Be Careful About What You Say

Admissions of guilt at an accident scene can be very powerful during the insurance claims process.  You should not offer any evidence that you are at fault, even if believe you are.  The other driver may be just as much to blame as you and you do not want to be solely responsible.  If the other driver says anything relating to and admission of fault, write down exactly what was said and report it to the police officer so they can write it down in their report.

Notify Your Insurance Company About the Accident

It is always a good idea to notify your insurance company even if the accident was minor.  Even if you and the other driver agree to handle the cost of the accident without notifying your insurance, they may later notify their insurance company and claim injuries because of the accident.  This will make it more difficult to determine who is at fault and lead to increased costs and higher insurance premiums.

Report Your Accident to the DMV

Under California law you must report your accident to the DMV within 10 days if someone was injured or killed or if the damage to either car exceeds $750.

If you believe you have sustained any type of injury resulting from a car accident you should see your doctor right away and contact a personal injury lawyer who can explain your legal rights.

From the author: Orange County Personal Injury Lawyer