Being involved in a highway accident is a scary and nerve-wracking situation with the potential to bring catastrophic results to all parties involved. It is extremely important to know what you should do after getting in an accident, not only to stay safe but also to do what is necessary to recover compensation for a damaged vehicle or for any injuries sustained during the accident. Thon, Beck, Vanni, Calahan & Powell helps countless drivers involved in highway crashes in California to deal with insurance adjusters in order to receive payment following a crash – here are a few answers to common questions we get every day.

What Are First Steps I Should Take Following a Highway Accident?

The most important step is to check for injuries. If you are able to, check yourself and any of your passengers for obvious injuries such as cuts, broken bones, sharp pain or trouble breathing. If possible, check that the occupants of the other vehicle are okay. If anyone is injured – even if the injuries do not appear to be serious, call 911 and get help right away, as some injuries such as internal bleeding may not be very obvious at first, but can be deadly if not treated.

Next, call the police to report the accident. While you wait for the emergency vehicles to arrive, make sure to find a safe location away from traffic. If your car is still driveable, move it away from the traffic lane in order to avoid causing yet another accident, which is an unfortunate yet very common thing to happen. Finally, if you are not seriously injured and everyone else is in a safe location, it is sensible to think ahead and gather the information and evidence you may need for initiating an insurance claim.

Is Calling The Police Always Necessary After an Accident?

In most cases, it is in your best interest to call the police after an accident on a California highway. Whether your accident was just a fender-bender or resulted in damages above $1000.00, the police can be instrumental in not only securing the scene of the accident and alerting other drivers, but also in producing a police report that you will need to use later for your insurance claim. The police report will also be instrumental in helping determine who was at fault for the accident as well as providing an impartial account of what really happened.

In some areas, a police officer will always come once an accident is reported. In other areas, they may only come if the accident is significant or poses any risks to other drivers. Either way, you should at least be able to demonstrate that you attempted to call the police as some insurance policies will require a police report in order to initiate a claim.

How Long Do I Have to Report the Accident?

When an accident happens, drivers are required to notify their own insurance company as well as the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). If seeking a settlement from an at-fault driver’s insurance, the best policy is to report the accident as soon as possible. Some insurance companies only give drivers 3 days to report an accident, while others may allow several weeks. It is extremely important to read the fine print on your insurance policy to understand your deadline for reporting an accident.

California Code, Vehicle Code – VEH § 16000 requires drivers to report to the DMV significant accidents that resulted in damages over $1000.00, bodily injury or death within 10 days of the date when the accident took place. The only exception to this rule is if the vehicle involved in the accident was owned or leased by a federal, state or local government agency. The report can be done by the driver or by a representative such as an insurance agent or attorney.

What Should I Do If I Was Hurt or My Vehicle Was Damaged and It Wasn’t My Fault?

If you were hurt or had your vehicle significantly damaged after a highway crash caused by another driver, you have a few different options to seek compensation for your losses. You may submit a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance, with your own insurance or initiate a personal injury civil suit when appropriate.

Filing a claim through your own insurance company is the fastest way to receive a settlement, but the main disadvantage is that you will need to pay for the deductible out of pocket, initially. You can file your claim through the at-fault driver’s insurance and not be required to pay for a deductible, but it may take considerably longer for you to receive a settlement offer. Finally, if the other driver was uninsured or underinsured, you should consult an attorney to see if filing a lawsuit for personal injury and property damage is recommended for your case. A civil suit gives you a good chance of getting more money for your claim, as you may also seek compensation for non-economic damages such as pain, suffering and emotional distress. However, it may take several months before a civil suit results in a settlement check.
If you need help filing a claim after an accident or want to know what the best course of action is for your case, contact the legal team at Thon, Beck, Vanni, Calahan & Powell for a free consultation today.