If you were injured in a California car crash, you have certain rights and responsibilities. You should report the accident to the police if nobody else did so. You should remain at the accident scene until the police arrive.
Of course, if you are seriously injured, your first priority is to obtain the healthcare you need. If paramedics arrive before the police, follow their instructions. You can always talk to the police later.
To protect yourself and to assure the best outcome if you need to make a personal injury claim against the driver who caused the accident, there are certain things you need to do right away. Since it is difficult to make decisions in stressful situations, you should give some calm thought now to the actions you should take if you are ever injured in a traffic accident.
Stop and Stay
Every California driver who is involved in an accident, even if it only involves damage to someone else’s property, is required to stop. A driver who strikes your car and fails to stop is guilty of hit-and-run.
If a driver leaves the accident scene without stopping, don’t chase the driver. You’ll only make a bad situation worse. Try to get the driver’s license plate number and recall as many details as you can about the car, including its make and model, its color, and any distinguishing features (such as dents or broken lights). Call the police to report the collision as soon as you can, but don’t use your cellphone unless you are out of your car or the car is parked.
Every driver involved in an accident that causes an injury is required to offer assistance to the injury victim. That doesn’t mean that the driver should provide medical care, but it does impose a duty to call an ambulance or to take the injury victim to a hospital.
If you were injured in an accident, don’t let the other driver try to move you. Only a trained paramedic should decide whether you can be moved safely. Trying to move someone who has a neck or back injury can worsen the injury, potentially leading to paralysis.
As an injury victim, you have the right to ask the other driver to call an ambulance on your behalf. If nobody at the scene has a cellphone and if you can move safely, you can ask the driver to take you to a nearby hospital or other healthcare facility.
The basic information you need to bring an injury claim will be included in an accident report that an investigating police officer will prepare. Since it may take some time before you gain access to that report, you should write down as much pertinent information as you can.
You and the other driver should exchange:
- Your names
- Your addresses
- Your dates of birth
- Your driver’s license numbers and expiration dates
- Your auto liability insurance companies
If the other driver does not own the car that struck you, ask for the same information about the car’s registered owner. Make a note of the other driver’s license plate number. Ask the other driver to identify the year, make, and model of the vehicle involved in the accident.
If you see people who probably witnessed the accident, ask them for their names and telephone numbers. The investigating officer might also talk to them, but the witnesses might leave before the police arrive. You can help your personal injury attorney investigate the collision by taking note of the witnesses who saw it.
It's important to give those names to your attorney as soon after the accident as you can. Witnesses may forget important details if they aren’t interviewed quickly. Your lawyer might want to get their statements while their memories are still fresh.
Talk to the Police
The law requires you to identify yourself to the investigating officer. You should answer the officer’s questions unless you committed a traffic crime. If you think you did something wrong, say “I need to talk to my lawyer before I answer questions about the accident.”
While it is usually best to avoid offering any opinions to the officer, don’t be afraid to describe any facts that establish the other driver’s fault. “The light was green when I entered the intersection” is an example of a fact that you would want the officer to know.
Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer
Don’t talk to an insurance adjuster about the accident until you’ve discussed it with your personal injury lawyer. An adjuster will often try to put words in your mouth. Any mistake you make when you talk to the adjuster will be used against you later.]
After you obtain any urgent medical attention you need, your first call should be to a California personal injury attorney. The attorney can begin an investigation to preserve evidence of the accident and can contact the other driver’s insurance company to keep adjusters off your back. The attorney can also give you advice that will help you maximize the recovery to which you are entitled under California law.