Traffic accidents happen every single day in California. Some car accidents are serious or even fatal while others are relatively minor. But whether you have been involved in a devastating crash or a small fender bender, you can count on one fact: being part of a traffic accident will be life-changing.
Most people do not know what to do right after a car accident occurs. Some people are so traumatised they even try to leave the scene of the accident, which in itself is a crime. One out of every three California car accidents represents a first time for at least one of the drivers.
You should always prepare yourself in advance because the risk is so high that you will be involved in a traffic accident at some point during your driving years.
These steps outline exactly what to do right after you have been involved in a car accident. Taking these steps promptly ensures your lawyer will be able to give you the very best legal protection.
You need to document everything
It is normal and natural to feel dazed, flustered, scared and confused right after you have been part of a traffic incident. For this reason, we always recommend carrying around a checklist of what to do in your glove compartment or on your smart phone.
This way, you can just get your checklist and go through the steps rather than trying to rely on memory. Not only will this help you stay alert and focused, it will make the job of your Los Angeles accident attorney much faster and easier!
At the top of your checklist should be these words: ‘document everything’. Here is a list of exactly what you should start documenting the moment it is safe to do so:
- How you are feeling emotionally, mentally and physically
- The condition of your vehicle
- The condition of the other drivers’ vehicles
- Write down specifics of each – especially the exact location of any fresh damage
- The condition of the roadway, signage (or lack thereof) and nearby cross streets
- Weather and light conditions (was it light, dark, was there rain, a glare?)
- The presence of road construction, traffic congestion, erratic drivers, and other things
- The steps that led to the accident – explain what happened as precisely as you can recall
- A sketched-out drawing or map of the area where the accident occurred noting the position of each involved vehicle.
This type of documentation is best done when your recall is extremely fresh in the first few minutes right after the incident.
Just write down everything you see – both the information that is on this list and anything else you notice that seems pertinent to your experience. It may not all make sense right in that moment but it may be extremely valuable to your West Coast Trial Lawyers team later.
Call the police immediately
Even before you approach the other driver(s) to exchange information, you should contact the police and ask them to come to the scene to write up your accident report.
It is important to know you do not have to have the agreement of the other drivers to do this. This is your legal right. You may wonder if it is a good idea to involve the police rather than trying to sort things out directly with the other parties. Many California drivers are especially concerned about this since since California is a ‘fault’ state when it comes to processing car insurance claims related to auto accidents.
However, when disputes arise later as they so often do, the only way to avoid your case boiling down to your word against that of the other driver is to involve the police. The police will show up, talk with you, talk with the other driver, get your information and theirs and draft an accident report.
The accident report is an official, legal document that will hold up in court. You will be able to access this report as soon as it is processed and completed to give to your car accident personal injury lawyer.
Be sure to ask the officers for their badge ID numbers and contact numbers so you can get your accident report when it is ready.
Exchange insurance information
After you have contacted the police and they are on their way, approach the other drivers if they have not already approached you.
When you do this, proceed with caution. Car accidents are scary situations and some drivers may react with hostility and aggression. If you are concerned, you can always remain in your vehicle (if possible) and wait for the police to arrive. If you do this, be extra-sure to get the other vehicle’s license number just in case they decide to leave the scene.
Otherwise, remain very calm. Be polite and noncommittal in your tone. Never use any language that makes it sound like you are admitting to any fault in the accident – otherwise, the other driver’s attorney may try to use it against you later in court.
Don’t even say ‘I’m sorry’ because this could be construed as an admission of guilt, especially in the fault state of California.
Never talk with the other driver’s insurance claims agent even though you will likely be asked to do this. This too could be used as an admission of guilt against you later. You are under no legal obligation to talk with their claims agent even if the other driver says that you are. You are only required to notify your own insurer right away if you are involved in an auto accident.
Look for witnesses
After exchanging insurance information, look around you for any witnesses who saw what happened.
Approach the witnesses very politely and calmly and ask if you can talk with them to record what they saw. Always ask if you can have their contact information in case your Los Angeles accident attorney would like to speak with them later.
Take detailed notes of everything they describe. If you have a recording app on your phone, ask if you can record them speaking about what they saw.
By following these steps, you can begin to protect yourself even before the full extent of the damage caused by the car accident becomes known to you. Take as many photographs as you can of your vehicle, the other driver’s vehicle, the area in and around the accident scene, road signs, lighting, weather and road conditions.
More information rather than less is always a good strategy when you have been involved in a car accident. Your car accident personal injury lawyer will sort through it to create the most compelling case for your protection.
Helen Bradfield did her degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. She has an ongoing interest in mental health and well-being.