An automobile accident can be devastating to your life and wreak havoc on your finances, whether you're a pedestrian, motorcyclist, or car driver. Even if you've done everything you can to protect yourself (driving defensively, wearing your seatbelt, not drinking and driving, etc.), another person's negligence can cause grave injury to you and your passengers.
However, once an accident has occurred, there are several actions you can take to minimize the harm by preventing further injury, collecting relevant information, and getting quality legal help.
What to do at the time of the accident
If you're involved in an accident, preventing further injury is the primary concern. Here are some initial considerations right after the accident:
- Don't leave the scene. You could be charged with a hit-and-run even if you were not at fault.
- Unless you have specialized training, it is generally considered best to not move an injured person unless there is a greater threat, such as from a car fire or being hit by another vehicle. If no one is injured, try to move the cars to the side of the road and out of the way of traffic, if possible.
- Take steps to warn other drivers of the accident, such as by putting up the hood or using flares, hazard lights, or a flashlight.
- As soon as possible, call 911.
Once the scene is secured, the injured are tended to, and help is on the way, the next consideration is gathering information. If safe to do so, try to do the following:
- Take pictures of the scene.
- If there are any witnesses, ask them to stay and talk to the police. If they refuse, obtain their name and contact information (address, phone number, email, etc.), or try to identify them in some way (i.e., license plate number or place of work).
- Obtain as much information as you can from the other party to the accident, including:
- Date of birth
- License number and state
- Insurance company, policy number, and policy expiration date
- Name and contact information for policy holder (if different than driver)
- Name and contact information for vehicle owner (if different than driver)
- Vehicle information, including make, model, year, VIN number, and license plate number and state
- Name and contact information for the other party's passengers
- The nature and extent of any injuries to the other party or parties
- Obtain information from the responding police officer, i.e., name, badge number, and where to get a copy of the accident report.
- While the events are still fresh in your memory, try to take notes or write down the following information:
- The date, time, and location of the accident
- How the accident happened, including the approximate speed of both drivers, and what happened during the crash (i.e., if you hit your head or were struck by a loose item)
- Environmental conditions, such as the weather, road conditions, time of day, and lighting
- The position of crosswalks, stop signs, street lights, and traffic lights (including who had green or red)
- Statements made by the other driver (such as an apology, description of injuries, or admission of fault)
- Observations about the other driver (such as whether he or she was texting or talking on the phone, eating, listening to loud music, or wearing sunglasses at the time of the accident)
- A diagram of how the accident happened
Car accidents are often sudden and shocking, and can result in losing your temper. However, try to stay calm and resist the urge to lash out at the other driver. Anything you say might be used against you later.
Cooperate with the police officer, but don't try to place blame or accept blame for the accident. If you receive a ticket, you can sign it (but talk to a lawyer before paying a fine or pleading guilty). If the other driver has no insurance or no license, let the police know.
What to do after the accident
After the accident, there are several things you should do:
- Contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
- You must notify the police or California Highway Patrol if the accident resulted in death or injury. If no officer arrives, you need to file a written report as soon as you can.
- Notify the DMV within 10 days if the accident resulted in death, injury, or over $750 in property damage.
- You will need to file a claim with your insurance company (but it is best to talk to a lawyer first, especially if they ask you to sign something, admit fault, provide evidence, or release your medical records).
- Schedule a checkup with your doctor, if necessary.
- Keep track of your injuries, their progression, doctors' appointments, and any missed work or costs incurred because of the accident. It is best to keep a journal for this purpose.
California is a comparative negligence state, which means that you can still recover if you were partially at fault. Your recovery will be reduced according to your own negligence. An illustration of this is a pedestrian who is hit by a motorist, but was jaywalking at the time. Let's say the driver of the car was speeding or negligent in some way, and found to be 75% at fault, while the pedestrian was 25% at fault. A judgment in favor of the pedestrian will be reduced by 25%.
Determining who is at fault, and by how much, in a given situation, is not always clear. This is why it's important to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney who can help determine your rights.
Helix Law Firm can help you obtain the compensation you deserve
We understand how life-changing a serious injury can be. Whether you were involved in an automobile accident as a driver, pedestrian, or motorcyclist, we can help. The sooner you get in touch with us, the sooner we can start working on your behalf.