A car accident is a distressing incident for everyone involved. Here at Krasney Law, we’ve seen it all and understand how difficult it can be to process what’s happened and figure out the next steps, which is why we’ve put everything we know into this car accident guide. There’s a lot to get your head around — legal considerations and emotional hurdles to overcome. If you’ve recently been in an accident yourself, or you want to learn more just in case, we’re going to take you through everything from the different types of car accidents to the exact steps you need to take if it happens to you.
Here’s what we will cover:
Let’s get started:
Thousands of vehicles are involved in collisions on the road each year in California. Although the number of fatalities on the road is slightly lower than the national average, we think some of these stats will surprise you. Here are the facts you need to know:
- In 2018, there were 3,259 fatal car accidents in California. Responsible for 3,563 deaths, this translates to 9 lives lost per 100,000 of the population. (Source: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)
- Although the overall fatalities on the road fell by 8.3 percent in 2018, teen deaths from car accidents increased by 21.4 percent. (Source: California Office of Traffic Safety)
- In 2017, there were 15,104 people killed or injured in crashes across San Bernardino County alone — the rankings for some other regions were even higher. (Source: California Office of Traffic Safety)
These statistics give some insight into the frequency of car accidents across California. And it’s important to remember these are only the ones that cause injury or death, with many more causing damage to property, vehicles, or the roads. An accident could happen to any of us, and that’s why we’re writing this guide — to help you understand what to do if it ever happens to you.
Before we talk about the processes involved when resolving a car accident, let’s consider the main types of car accidents and why they happen. Car accidents happen for many reasons — sometimes they’re caused by one of the drivers or a pedestrian, and other times nobody is to blame. Here are 10 of the most common types of car accidents we see regularly:
An accident is considered a vehicle rollover if the car flips onto its side or roof during the crash. These car accidents are often hazardous, with one of the highest fatality rates than other types of accidents. For example, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 7,600 people died nationally in rollover accidents in 2010. There are two types of vehicle rollover:
A tripped rollover happens when something outside the vehicle causes it to flip. This “something” could be an impact with another car or something on the road. These are the most common types of rollover, and they often happen in wet or cold conditions (e.g., if the car slides into a barrier or the side of the road).
On the other hand, an untripped rollover happens when something connected to the car destabilizes it. These are rare types of accidents, with most of them happening as a driver swerves to avoid a collision with another vehicle. Certain types of vehicles are more prone to untripped rollovers. Find out if this applies to your vehicle on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website.
As the name suggests, a single-vehicle accident is a crash that involves only one motor vehicle. If you’ve been in a single-vehicle accident, your car (or the one you were a passenger in) will be the only one damaged as a result. This type of accident applies even when another driver caused the accident if theirs was not involved directly. For example, they might have pulled out in front of you, causing you to swerve out of the way and hit another object.
Although your car was the only one involved in the accident, it doesn’t always mean you’re liable. There are some circumstances where you may have acted entirely reasonably but still ended up damaging your car and perhaps other property too. But we’ll cover this later.
Again, this accident type is pretty self-explanatory. A car accident is considered a rear-end collision when one of the vehicles involved hits the one in front of it.
A common misconception is that rear-end collisions are always the fault of the person in the vehicle that drives into another’s back. While this is often the case, there are some instances where the driver at the rear isn’t at fault and not held liable. We’ll tell you what these exceptions are later as well.
This type of crash is one of the most common that people experience. In 2018, rear-end collisions were responsible for 32.3 percent of all car accidents in the U.S. — that’s over 2 million. Thankfully, these accidents often happen at low speed, resulting in fewer casualties.
A T-bone crash happens when the front of one of the cars collides with another’s side, forming a T shape. This type of accident typically occurs at an intersection when one of the drivers fails to yield to the other. For example, they may drive through a red light or not pay attention to a stop sign.
In these accidents, one of the drivers will usually be at fault. There’s no reason for two cars, coming from opposing directions, to be in the intersection simultaneously. If both drivers were following the rules, the accident wouldn’t have happened. Of course, there are some rare exceptions — so it’s always worth talking to your attorney about your particular case.
A sideswipe is an accident involving two cars moving in the same direction. These accidents typically happen when there are multiple traffic lanes or when one car is overtaking another. The driver’s side of one vehicle collides with the other vehicle’s passenger side.
The extent of the damage will depend on the speed at which the vehicles were traveling at the time. As they often happen at high speeds on the highway, they can be incredibly dangerous.
One thing that makes them different from many of the other types of crashes we’ve discussed is the element of surprise. Often, both drivers are focused on the road ahead of them, and neither of them has anticipated the collision. This shock can then lead to a chain of events around them, where one vehicle might swerve and hit another. Because of this, it’s not unusual for sideswipe accidents to involve more than two cars.
Head-on collisions are the most dangerous type of car accident, especially when they happen at a moderate or high speed. Thankfully, they happen less frequently than other types of crashes, but they account for a more significant proportion of the overall deaths that occur on California’s roads. An accident is considered a head-on collision when the front of one car collides with the front of another vehicle. As this type of car accident is theoretically easier to avoid, they tend to happen due to negligent driving from one or both drivers, although this isn’t always the case.
As the name suggests, wrong-way accidents happen when a car travels the wrong way, perhaps down a freeway or highway. A report from the California Department of Transportation suggests the overall rates of wrong-way accidents are low, with around 35 fatalities across California each year. However, following an increase in early 2015, a pilot scheme was launched to further reduce this number.
Passing Lane Accidents
In California, the law states that the left lane of a multi-lane highway should be used for overtaking. Accidents can happen when people misuse passing lanes by overtaking on the right or not ensuring the path is clear before moving into the passing lane. The latter is critical when you could be entering a portion of the road with an oncoming vehicle to reduce the risk of a head-on collision. Passing lane accidents may also fall into the sideswiped category we mentioned earlier, or a rear-end collision if you don’t leave enough space between you and the other car when returning to your lane.
Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
An accident that involves a driver under the influence of drugs or alcohol can fall into any other category discussed so far, but it’s worthy of its own category too. A driver is considered under the influence when they have alcohol or recreational drugs (e.g., marijuana, cocaine, or heroin) in their system. Although these are the most common drugs involved in DUIs, it’s important to note that many prescription and over-the-counter medications can also impair driving and cause a DUI accident. These medications include some antidepressants, sleeping tablets, and even some antihistamines.
Furthermore, this type of car accident can be hazardous, as drugs and alcohol impair judgment and lead to more reckless driving. In fact, as we’ve discussed, the NHTSA reports DUI is the leading cause of death on the road. We’ll be covering this type of car accident in more depth further into the blog.
The final type of car accident to consider is the multi-vehicle accident. These accidents most commonly happen on the freeway when cars traveling at high speed don’t have enough time to respond to an accident unfolding ahead of them.
Again, this type of car accident is often incredibly dangerous, with several risks to consider. If the accident happens on a freeway, there’s a risk of more cars colliding with your vehicle, which means you should leave your car as soon as possible. However, getting out of the vehicle can also be hazardous as it may involve crossing several lanes of traffic to get to safety. Legal cases involving multiple vehicles can be extremely complex, as the fault is likely to sit with more than one party — and the insurance companies need to figure out who should pay for what damage.
Even minor car accidents can cause serious injuries. It’s essential to consider the injuries that have occurred when working out the insurance settlement. The cost of an injury doesn’t necessarily correspond with the amount of physical damage to the body. For example, even relatively minor injuries can lead to ongoing physical impairment or lasting psychological damage. Here are the most common injuries we’ve encountered while working on car accident cases with clients:
Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI)
A traumatic brain injury is one of the most concerning injuries caused by car accidents, as it involves damage to the brain’s delicate structures. It may happen if the head strikes a surface during the accident or when an external object penetrates the skull.
In mild traumatic brain injury cases, the individual may lose consciousness and suffer from a concussion following the accident. In more severe cases, parts of the brain may be damaged or destroyed entirely, leading to a permanent function loss. In extreme cases, the injured may fall into a coma or die due to their brain injury.
As the brain controls everything our body does, the injury’s location will determine the outcome of the damage. For example, the person experiencing the injury may lose the ability to perform a task, such as walking or communication, or they may develop other symptoms relating to the injury, such as a tremor or persistent headaches. It’s vital to get suspected brain injuries checked out, even if you think you’ve only experienced a mild concussion. On the positive side, the brain has a remarkable ability to heal itself — meaning people can recover from severe injuries.
Broken bones are a frequently occurring injury in car accidents, particularly those that happen at high speeds. Although these injuries are acute and need prompt medical attention following an accident, it’s also essential to consider the potential for long-term impairments resulting from the injury when making your insurance claim.
Spinal Cord Injuries (SCI)
A spinal cord injury is a severe type of injury that happens when the spinal cord, which delivers messages between the brain and body, gets crushed or severed during the accident. Unfortunately, many spinal cord injuries result in a permanent loss of sensation or function. They can have a massive impact on the quality of life of the person experiencing the injury. The extent of the injury’s impact will depend on two factors: the location and the severity of the damage.
A complete SCI occurs when the spinal cord is severed during a car accident. This type of SCI results in a permanent loss of function, with the individual unable to recover from their injury. For example, if the spinal cord is severed at its base, the person will be paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of their life.
If the injury occurs higher up the spinal cord, there will be a greater degree of paralysis. Essentially, all parts of the body below the break in the spinal cord will be paralyzed. The most severe form of spinal cord injury occurs when the spinal cord is severed towards the top, resulting in paralysis from the neck down.
An incomplete SCI happens when the spinal cord is damaged but not completely severed. This means the person with the injury maintains some function and sensation below their injury, with impairment corresponding with the severity of the injury.
Lacerations, Cuts, and Abrasions
Most people involved in a car accident will come out with at least a few cuts and bruises. While these are not always a cause for concern, it’s essential to get any large, deep, or painful wounds examined by a medical professional. These may require stitches to help them heal properly and avoid infection, and there’s a chance broken glass or other debris may need removing from the wound professionally. If you’ve been involved in a car accident, you should use your judgment here. But, if you’re unsure, it might be best to err on the side of caution and get checked out.
Burns might not be the first injury you think of in relation to car accidents, but they’re not uncommon. People may get burned from contact with hot materials, electricity, or toxic chemicals — all of which are possible following a collision.
The severity of a burn injury depends on the type of burn. First-degree burns are minor and should heal without much intervention. Second-degree burns tend to involve blistering and penetrate deeper into the skin. These burns can be excruciating and may require medical attention. Third-degree burns affect all layers of the skin and leave lasting damage. However, as this type of burn damages the nerves, they tend to be less painful than second-degree burns, with the injured person more likely to feel numbness in the area.
Whiplash is the most common type of injury following a car accident. Many people experience this type of injury following a collision, especially a rear-end collision, which often propels the head forward upon impact. Symptoms of whiplash include pain to the neck and back, headaches, vertigo, numb arms, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Mild whiplash can often be treated at home with rest and painkillers, but more severe or chronic whiplash will likely need some kind of treatment plan.
Wrongful Death Accidents
A wrongful death accident can occur for many reasons and are a tragic way to lose someone you love. Wrongful death applies when someone loses their life in an accident due to someone else’s negligence. Under California law, close family members of the deceased can claim costs associated with the death, including any medical and funeral expenses, emotional support, and the recovery of any financial losses arising from the sudden death.
Finally, not all car accident injuries are physical. It’s not uncommon to encounter emotional injuries following a car accident. These injuries can include the emergence or worsening of mental illnesses, such as anxiety, following the collision. A person involved in the crash may suffer from PTSD or panic attacks following the accident or losing confidence behind the wheel. All of these injuries are just as important as the physical injuries we’ve discussed, with each deserving the appropriate medical or psychological treatment.
There are many potential causes of car accidents. In the following section, we aim to provide an overview of some of the most common, rather than give an exhaustive list. It’s important to discuss the precise details of your car accident with an attorney, who can help you establish the cause and gather evidence to help with your claim. Here are 14 common causes of car accidents:
Distracted Driving Accidents
When a person is distracted while driving, they are more likely to make an error and cause a car accident. According to the California Office for Traffic Safety, 9 percent of all traffic-related deaths in 2017 were caused by a distracted driver. A person can be distracted for several reasons, including other people in the vehicle or something on the road. In recent years, one of the most common distractions has been the individual’s cell phone. Under California law, drivers should not use their cell phones while driving, but this still happens regularly.
Speeding is another common cause of car accidents, and collisions that involve speeding vehicles are more likely to involve serious injuries or death — the NHTSA reports 9,378 speeding-related deaths in 2018 across the country. An accident is more likely to occur when someone is speeding due to increased stopping distances and decreased control over the vehicle. Driving too fast can also cause protective equipment to malfunction or fail, contributing to these worse outcomes.
Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
As we mentioned earlier in the post, drugs and alcohol contribute to the largest number of deaths on America’s roads. Despite ongoing campaigns to reduce drunk driving, it still happens far more frequently than you might expect. But it’s not just alcohol causing a problem on the roads. Marijuana, now legal in California, also significantly impairs a person’s ability to drive safely and many other prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
It can be hard to prove that an accident was caused by someone under the influence of illicit or over-the-counter drugs. For example, unlike alcohol, drivers can’t be tested easily for marijuana impairment. If you suspect the accident resulted from someone driving under the influence of something other than alcohol, it’s important to gather as much evidence as you can to back up this claim while you’re still at the scene of the collision.
Reckless driving by one or more drivers causes a significant proportion of California’s car accidents. The California Vehicle Code describes reckless driving as follows:
A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway (or in an off-street parking facility) in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.
As you can see, this definition covers a wide range of risky practices that put other people on the road at risk. Reckless driving can include speeding, road rage, tailgating, unsafe overtaking, and ignoring traffic signs. However, this is not an exhaustive list, and driving may be considered reckless for any reason that suggests negligence. If you’ve been accused of reckless driving, you should always consult with an attorney, as a conviction can lead to time in prison.
Rain or Slippery Surface
Not all accidents are attributable to the drivers. Sometimes, despite all parties driving reasonably, accidents occur for reasons outside their control. Weather is one example that frequently causes accidents. Heavy rain can reduce visibility, which means hazards may not be spotted until it’s too late to avoid them. Additionally, slippery surfaces may increase stopping times or cause a car to skid or veer out of the correct lane. Inclement weather can also exacerbate the risks associated with reckless driving, so it’s still crucial to consider the events that precede an accident, even if you believe the weather to be a significant contributing factor.
Running Red Light Accidents
A driver running a red light is a frequent traffic violation in California, meaning it’s also a common cause of collisions. As California law permits the use of cameras on traffic signals, it may be possible to prove another driver ran a red light before the accident. This is something your attorney will be able to advise you about.
Night Driving Accidents
When you drive at night, you encounter more risks than you would when going the same route during daylight hours. For example, visibility is reduced, you’re more likely to be tired, and other drivers are more likely to be impaired (e.g., more DUIs).
Car accidents can also be caused by the vehicle itself. Although crashes caused by design faults happen less frequently than accidents related to reckless driving, they’re more common than many people realize. When a design defect comes to light, a manufacturer may recall the vehicle — offering to repair or replace it. If your car gets recalled by the manufacturer, you must follow their recommendations. If you don’t, and you get into a car accident, you could be at fault. On the other hand, if you’ve been in an accident caused by a defect on an unrecalled car, the manufacturer could be held liable for damages and injuries that happened as a result of the crash.
Have you ever been on the receiving end of tailgating? Not only is it annoying and unnecessary, but it’s also dangerous. Tailgating is a leading cause of rear-end collisions because the tailgating driver doesn’t leave enough space to stop in the event of sudden braking. In these cases, attributing fault is reasonably straightforward — the person doing the tailgating has driven into the back of the other car. However, tailgating can also distract the driver who is being tailgated, leading to different types of car accidents. In these cases, proving fault can be more complicated, particularly if multiple parties are involved or the tailgating driver fails to stop at the scene.
Continuing on the theme of aggressive driving, road rage also causes many car accidents across California. Road rage collisions may occur as a direct result of the aggression, such as if the driver brakes suddenly or maneuvers erratically. Road rage can also indirectly cause accidents, as anger can trigger the body’s stress response, increasing adrenaline and impairing judgment. The complexity of road rage accidents highlights the need to stay as calm as possible when you find yourself in a confrontational situation while driving. It’s best to slow down in these cases and let the aggressive driver pass or stop for a break if you feel you need to calm down.
Problems with the road may also cause a crash. Over time, what starts as minor damage to a road’s surface becomes a driving hazard. There are three ways such potholes may cause a collision. When a car hits a pothole, it may damage its tires or steering, increasing the risk the driver may lose control. A driver may also hit another vehicle while attempting to avoid the pothole or lose control of the car after driving into one. It might not always be obvious when a pothole causes an accident. So, always check the surface of the road following an accident (as long as it’s safe to do so).
A tire blowout may cause you to lose control of your vehicle in the same way a pothole might. This loss of control is prevalent when tire blowouts happen at high speed, especially on the freeway. When a tire blows out, you’ll hear a loud bang. This noise can be alarming, especially if you’ve never experienced a blowout before. Many people start to panic when this happens and then struggle to control the vehicle as it becomes more difficult to steer.
Animal crossing signs are there for a reason! California is famous for its diverse wildlife, and they don’t always stay confined to the wilderness. In fact, the Federal Highway Administration recently released a report on wildlife and vehicle collisions in the U.S., claiming that these types of accidents are a growing problem. Across the country, up to 90 percent of wildlife collisions involve deer, resulting in injuries. Here in California, you may also encounter other large animals such as coyotes, black bears, and mountain lions.
How you respond following an accident matters. Taking the appropriate steps can help you manage your claim to get the best outcomes. Of course, this is often easier said than done. Collisions are stressful events, and emotions run high in the minutes, hours, and days following the accident. The next section walks you through the steps you should take following an accident — we recommend you print it out and leave it in your car, just in case:
Remain at the scene of the accident
You must remain at the scene of an accident you have been involved in. If you leave the scene of an accident without leaving your details, and someone else was hurt or dies, you may be charged with a hit-and-run felony. This charge comes with a fine between $1,000 and $10,000 — and potentially up to four years in state prison for the most serious cases. The only exemption is when you need to leave the scene to get urgent medical assistance if you’re seriously injured.
If there are no injuries, you may leave the scene once you have exchanged details with the other people involved in the accident.
Seek medical attention if needed
The next step is to assess whether you were injured in the crash. If you are injured, you should seek medical attention at the earliest opportunity. For minor injuries, you may decide to wait until you’ve finished at the scene before taking yourself to the hospital. However, if you think you may be seriously hurt, you should seek medical assistance at the scene as soon as possible.
One of the reasons why it’s so important to seek medical attention at the earliest opportunity is that it will help your case if you need to claim for the injuries later. Sometimes, injuries can worsen after the event. If you had them documented on your medical records as soon as the accident happened, you’d be in a much better position to argue your case further down the line.
Move to a safe area (scene safety first)
Of course, you should exit your vehicle if you can, making sure it’s safe to do so first. This is especially important if you’re on a multi-lane highway or a freeway and can’t move your vehicle over to the side of the road. Take a second to compose yourself, and pay attention when leaving your car. Many people are seriously injured by other moving vehicles when moving around the scene.
If you can, and there are no serious injuries or deaths, you can move your vehicle to a safe place. This is a good idea if it’s blocking traffic or there’s a risk of further accidents. However, you should leave the cars where they are if moving them isn’t possible or safe. You should always leave your vehicles where they are in the event of severe injury or death, as it is a potential crime scene requiring further investigation.
Record all information about the other vehicles, drivers, and the scene
Now that the medical and safety checks are out of the way, it’s time to start dealing with the practical issues. If you have your phone, now is an excellent time to start taking photos of the scene. If the cars are still in situ, these photos can help insurance companies and attorneys piece together what happened in the accident. But don’t worry if they have been moved — the damage to the vehicles can explain a lot.
As well as documenting any damage, make sure you get the license plate number of each vehicle, along with details such as the make, model, and color. You will also need the VIN — or Vehicle Identification Number — which you’ll need to file the necessary legal reports. This will save you time later in the process, but don’t worry if you’re unable to access it at the scene, as there are other ways to obtain the VIN.
As our memories of high-stress events like car accidents can be unreliable, it’s a good idea to note down as much as you can while you’re at the scene. Doing so will help you recall important details when you need them and maintain accuracy throughout the legal and insurance process. The more accurate and complete the data you can provide, the more likely it will help you. Take a note of the other drivers, passengers, and eyewitnesses — what they look like, their demeanor following the accident, and whether anyone admits fault. If you hear someone admit fault, you should also note anyone else who hears the information.
Exchange information with the other drivers and witnesses
Before you leave the scene, you must exchange information with the other drivers. This is a legal requirement, and failure to provide your details can lead to a fine and even up to six months in county jail. This includes the driver’s license number, license plate, and insurance details for any other drivers involved in the crash.
While it’s not a legal requirement, it’s still a good idea to exchange contact details with other drivers and witnesses. Not everyone will want to share their contact details, but it can speed up the process further down the line — particularly if you need to call upon any witnesses that can corroborate your version of events.
Do not admit fault (ever!)
Even if the accident was your fault, you should never admit this at the scene. As we’ve mentioned several times throughout this article, a car accident can be an emotional event — and people sometimes misinterpret events and get things wrong. But if you admit fault, it will be difficult to go back and change this once you’ve had time to reflect on what happened. You need to be careful here, as there are many ways you can imply fault indirectly. Don’t apologize or take accountability, even if the other driver is pressuring you to do so.
Even if you know, without doubt, that you caused the accident, it’s still a good idea to wait until you have spoken to an attorney. Cases are rarely black and white. Under California’s comparative negligence rule, the fault can be shared between multiple parties. This law means that even if you were mostly to blame for the accident, there might be a way to split this blame with another driver and reduce your liability. For example, if you were traveling the wrong way down a road, but the other driver was distracted by their phone, it wouldn’t be fair to shoulder all of the blame for the accident. It might have been avoided if the other driver was paying attention to the road ahead of them.
Do not say you’re not hurt or injured
Similarly, you should avoid telling anyone else at the scene that you’re not hurt or injured, even if you don’t think you are. The goal here isn’t to deceive the other driver — we never recommend you do that — but instead to give you time to be sure you’re not injured. As we mentioned earlier, some injuries can take a while to make themselves known. For example, whiplash can develop as much as 24 hours after the accident, and even spinal cord injuries can take time to become apparent. If someone asks if you’re injured, don’t lie — just tell them you’re not certain and plan to seek medical assistance as and when it may be required.
Leave your contact information if the other vehicle or property is unoccupied
If you’ve damaged someone else’s property, including their vehicle, but the person isn’t at the scene, what should you do? By law, you still have to provide this information to them. Ideally, you should attempt to locate the driver and provide the details directly, but this isn’t always possible. When you can’t locate the owner of any damaged property, you need to leave your details where they will find it on their vehicle, such as the windscreen, and notify the local law enforcement at the earliest opportunity.
Take as many photos of the scene as you can
We already mentioned the benefits of taking photos when you arrive at the scene. Before you leave, have a final look around and take some more pics if they’re required. You’ve likely calmed down a little now, and you have more time to explore the scene in detail. As well as looking at the collision area, you should examine the road around the scene for evidence of any potholes, debris, or anything else that might have contributed to the accident. As we said before, the more you can capture, the better.
Make a record of your version of events immediately
Once you have left the scene and given yourself time to decompress, you should make a full record of your version of events. First, sit down and write everything you remember in one stream of consciousness. You might find it easier to write everything down, or you might prefer to record a voice note or video. How you do it doesn’t matter; the key is to capture as much information as possible while the memories are still fresh in your mind. Once you’ve done this, you can try to piece it together with the information you captured at the scene, providing a basis for your attorney and insurance company to get started on the claim.
Document your injuries
You should also document your injuries as they evolve. If there are visible signs of damage, you can take more photos. You should also record any medical appointments you attend, how much they cost, and the outcomes. Scan results or X-rays can be helpful too. Don’t forget to record any emotional symptoms or difficulties. Remember, mental health is just as important as physical health, and you should be entitled to support if you’re suffering following the collision.
Report the accident to law enforcement
In California, all accidents must be reported to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) within 10 days if someone died in the accident, was injured, or if the accident caused damage above $1,000. If you’re not sure, there’s no harm in filing the report anyway. It doesn’t take long and reduces the risk of unnecessary fines on top of everything else.
Retain a San Bernardino accident lawyer before calling the insurance company
Before you call your insurance company, we strongly recommend you speak to an attorney first. Our aim with this blog is to provide you with a comprehensive overview to figure out your next steps. Since every case is unique, a lawyer can help you understand the exact circumstances of your accident and the implications of that as we advance.
Never give any insurance company a recorded statement
When it’s time to contact your insurance company, make sure you don’t provide them with a recorded statement. They may try to pressure you into this, but there’s no legal requirement for you to consent to a recording. It’s unlikely recording a statement will provide any benefit, but it may be detrimental if you say something that either directly or indirectly implies you may be at fault. For this reason, recorded statements are best avoided.
Even minor car accidents without significant injuries can take a while to resolve. The process can be confusing, especially if you’ve never been through it before. Here’s what to expect:
Stage 1: You have an initial consultation with an accident attorney
Before you do anything, we recommend talking to an accident attorney with experience in car accident lawsuits. We say this not because we are attorneys but because we have seen what happens when someone doesn’t talk to an attorney before starting the process. An initial consultation will enable you to talk through your accident with an expert in car accident lawsuits. They’ll be able to listen to your version of events and give you an idea about what you can expect as you move through the process. Most importantly, the attorney will let you know how they can help, relieving some of the pressure.
Stage 2: We file a claim with your insurance company
Now that you’ve found an attorney, it’s time to file a claim with your insurance company. Having legal assistance when filing a claim is an important advantage. Your lawyer’s input will ensure you include all the relevant details to get your claim up and running. Not only does this save you time, but it also gives you the best shot at the outcomes you’re aiming for.
Stage 3: All parties conduct their initial investigations (including the police report)
The work you did at the scene, collecting photos and evidence to corroborate your version of events, will help you get ahead of the initial investigation and police report. In fact, the photos you’ve gathered may be significant pieces of evidence during the investigation itself. Because police officers have many competing demands at the scene, they don’t always collect the same level of evidence you would expect them to.
That said, the police will likely have access to other materials that can help them determine what caused the accident. For example, they may be able to access surveillance cameras from the local area.
Even if they didn’t capture the accident itself, footage of the vehicles from other locations might provide important clues. For example, in the case of accidents caused by DUI or reckless driving, the police may be able to find evidence of erratic driving before the accident. This, combined with the statement you provided after the accident, can be powerful in determining fault — even in the absence of concrete proof of drug or alcohol use.
Stage 4: Continue to receive treatment for your injuries
By this stage, we’d hope you’d already taken our advice regarding treatment for any injuries obtained in the crash. Not only is it important to receive treatment promptly, but you should also follow up with the recommended treatment plan where required. Depending on the type and severity of the injury, this may include rehabilitation, medication, and even surgery.
If you have an ongoing injury, it’s crucial you continue to receive treatment throughout your case. Otherwise, it can be difficult to prove you still require the treatment if it looks like you’ve stopped receiving it. Recovering from a car accident can take its toll emotionally as well as physically, so also consider psychological support if you’re finding it hard to adjust.
Finally, you may need time away from work if you’re recovering from an injury that affects your ability to perform your job. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to obtain a written declaration from your doctor so you can add any lost income to your claim. This also applies to time away from work for medical appointments, so keep a folder with all your paperwork.
Stage 5: We calculate your liability and medical costs
At this point, it can seem as though proceedings slow down and not much is happening. In reality, a lot is going on behind the scenes as the relevant parties conduct their independent investigations into the accident’s circumstances. If you’re working with an attorney, they will carry out an additional inquiry on your behalf, using the statements you’ve provided as their guide. Your attorney will keep a detailed record of any impacts the accident has had on your life, including a comprehensive account of any medical treatment you’ve received and the associated medical bills.
Depending on the nature of your injuries, it may take a while to gather sufficient information to make a claim. We understand this can be frustrating for you, given the cost of medical treatment and the stress of an ongoing insurance claim. However, it’s crucial to submit as much evidence as possible with your claim to ensure you receive a full and complete settlement, accurately reflecting the injuries and losses you’ve experienced following the crash.
Stage 6: We make a settlement demand on your behalf
Once we’ve completed our internal investigation and have sufficient medical data to calculate how much you need, we’ll start to put together the settlement demand. In essence, this demand is a request we make to the insurance company for the amount you need to cover the costs associated with the accident.
At this point, you may have already received an offer from the insurance company. It’s essential you don’t respond to this without speaking to your attorney first, as it’s likely significantly less than you need or deserve from the settlement. We will continue to negotiate on your behalf until we’re certain we’ve reached the limits in place at the insurance company.
Stage 7: Decision time
Once we’re confident we’ve reached the end of our negotiations with the insurance company, you need to decide what happens next. We can support you in making this decision, explaining whether we think the insurer’s settlement figure is fair and sufficient to cover your costs. Although we can’t decide for you, we have a significant amount of experience in this area. If you have any questions, we will work through them together.
Stage 8: What happens if you refuse the final offer?
If you’re not happy with the insurer’s final settlement offer, it’s time to file a lawsuit. It’s important to understand that a low settlement offer doesn’t always reflect your chances of winning a lawsuit. Insurance companies profit from low settlement offers, and they know most people want to avoid going to trial. If the settlement offer is too low, a lawsuit is often the best course of action to ensure you don’t end up out of pocket.
Stage 9: What happens if you decide to go ahead with the lawsuit?
If you decide to go ahead with the lawsuit, you will move through the following process:
During the discovery phase, we will talk to the other parties involved in the accident to hear their version of events. These discussions are crucial to the success of the lawsuit, as they help us develop our understanding of others’ perspectives. In turn, this knowledge helps us prepare for any issues or challenges that may arise during the lawsuit. It’s also likely you will need to communicate with attorneys on the other side, and you may need to share documentation with them (e.g., the photos you took at the scene).
Next, we enter into the mediation phase. Here, we will try to resolve the case without going to trial. A third party will hold a discussion between all parties involved to attempt to reach an agreement on a voluntary settlement. Your attorney will be present with you throughout the discussions to advise you. If you manage to reach an agreement in this phase, you can avoid going to trial.
Sometimes, claims are still unresolved following mediation, despite everyone’s best efforts. When this happens, the courts will schedule a date for the trial — and then we wait.
During the trial, you must be able to demonstrate that the other driver caused the accident through negligence. This burden of proof is why we’re trying to help people understand the best way to capture information in the immediate aftermath of a car accident. When time is taken upfront to gather photos and other evidence, the trial can be relatively straightforward. Of course, this is not always the case — but by collecting as much proof as you can from the scene of the accident, you’ve given yourself the best possible opportunity of being awarded the claim at trial.
We must also demonstrate why the previous settlement offers were insufficient, providing evidence for the damages you’re claiming. Following testimonies from drivers and witnesses, the jury will make a decision. This isn’t always a black and white decision, however. Due to California’s comparative negligence laws, it’s possible the jury may find you partially responsible for your own injuries and split the claim accordingly.
We hope you now realize how critical it is to prove who is at fault in a car accident. In this section, we’re going to elaborate on this and give you some more helpful tips:
Proving negligence in your car accident
Ultimately, determining fault all hinges on negligence. A valid claim — one that holds up in court — will be able to demonstrate negligence in accordance with the following components, as set out in Californian law: duty, breach, damages, and cause.
In other words, you need to be able to prove the other driver failed to uphold (breached) their duty to drive safely and follow the law. You must be able to prove you experienced damages (e.g., financial losses, injury) as a direct result of the accident and that the actions of the other driver were the cause of these damages.
Throughout this article, we’ve provided many examples. Some of these cases would be easy to prove, while others would be more difficult. For instance, an accident caused by a driver found to have a high blood alcohol level at the time of the accident would be easy to prove, using the police report and your medical records.
On the other hand, a case that involves a distracted driver in wet weather conditions would be more complex unless you had strong evidence or witness statements to prove, beyond doubt, that the other driver was to blame. However, working alongside your attorney to establish this evidence before the trial will improve your chances of a successful outcome.
Sometimes, expert witnesses may be brought into the case to interpret photographs or police reports on the vehicles’ damage or their location at the scene. These experts may be able to prove the other driver’s negligence from the damage to the cars. For example, they may be able to explain how the damage indicates the other driver was speeding.
What about comparative fault?
Proving the other driver’s negligence is not always enough, especially if the driver can prove you also played a role in the crash. Let’s illustrate this point with an example:
In your initial statement to your attorney, you disclosed you were certain the other driver was speeding. The road was wet, and they lost control on a bend in the road, crashing into your vehicle head-on. The expert witness called in by your attorney corroborates your version of events, using the damage to the vehicles to estimate the driver’s speed.
However, the other driver claims your windscreen wipers were not in use at the time of the accident, reducing your visibility and preventing you from responding appropriately to the hazards ahead of you. Furthermore, one of your headlights was out at the time. Surveillance cameras close to the scene confirm this, demonstrating you were also negligent during the crash.
In this scenario, although the other driver caused the crash with their reckless driving, you could have averted it if your car was properly maintained. For this reason, the courts will likely assign a portion of the blame to you, reducing the amount you can claim.
For this reason, it’s important to disclose any potential counter-claims the other driver may make against you. This knowledge will help your attorney prepare accordingly to reduce your share of the liability as much as possible.
Liability involving low maintenance of vehicles
As you can see from the above example, a poorly maintained vehicle is considered negligence. This is a common way for at-fault drivers to counter-claim during a trial, and defense attorneys will examine any evidence available to them in an attempt to find fault with your vehicle. These counter-claims can be easily avoided by ensuring your vehicle is properly maintained at all times. Fix any problems with your car promptly to protect yourself from such claims in the future.
All drivers in California must have liability insurance. But what is it, and how does the claims process work? Keep reading to find out.
How does liability insurance work? How is it decided?
Liability insurance provides compensation for injuries and damage to vehicles when you’re at fault. The law sets out minimum limits each insurance policy must cover, although some insurance policies go beyond these figures. You can also opt to have other types of insurance on your policy, which we’ll move on to soon.
When you’re involved in an accident that isn’t your fault, you need to file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. The insurance company will then gather evidence from all drivers, witnesses, and any police officers or medical professionals who attended the scene and use what they have available to decide the claim.
What will happen when I file an insurance claim?
When you file a claim, and the insurance company determines the other driver was at fault, your case will be passed to an insurance adjuster. An insurance adjuster is employed by the insurance provider to settle these claims. Their job is to negotiate with you, settling the claim for the lowest amount possible.
The number one rule: Don’t deal with the insurance adjuster yourself
It’s critical to understand that insurance adjusters are highly skilled negotiators who know how to make you think you’re getting a good deal. But it’s a trap! This trick is why we recommend you never deal with the insurance adjuster yourself.
As specialist car accident lawyers, we know exactly how the insurance industry works. And the adjusters know that! Because of this, our discussions with insurance adjusters tend to be franker and to the point. They know we’re not going to accept less than you deserve, and they know their usual traps won’t work on us. Consequently, you’re likely to get a higher first settlement offer when you follow our first rule and let an attorney communicate with the adjuster on your behalf.
How long does it take to process a claim?
In California, insurance companies must respond to a claim within specified time limits. They must open your claim and notify you within 15 days of you filing it with them. Once you have provided evidence to establish proof, they must respond within 40 days to let you know if they have accepted the claim. However, it can take much longer than 40 days when the accident is complicated and there are difficulties establishing who is at fault.
Other types of insurance policy
As discussed, some people may have additional insurance policies on top of the standard liability insurance. These may include:
Personal Injury Protection (PIP)
If you have personal injury protection, you may recover costs from your own insurance company, even if you weren’t to blame for the accident. This can help if you need assistance for medical expenses and can’t afford to wait until a claim is processed with another insurance provider.
Uninsured motorist (UM) and Underinsured motorist (UIM)
Liability insurance doesn’t account for uninsured drivers. An uninsured motorist policy covers you when you’re involved in an accident caused by someone who doesn’t have their own insurance. Similarly, a policy that includes coverage for an underinsured motorist ensures you receive full compensation when the at-fault driver doesn’t have sufficient insurance to reimburse your losses.
MedPay is an insurance add-on covering medical costs for passengers injured in your vehicle, even if you weren’t at fault.
Rental Car Coverage
Provided everyone involved is safe and well, the most frustrating thing about a car accident is being left without a vehicle. If your policy includes rental car coverage, this means you can hire a vehicle in the event yours is not usable following an accident. Even if the other party is at-fault, this rental car coverage will pay out immediately — you don’t have to wait for the claim to be settled.
Umbrella policies mean you are covered in the event that the person to blame for the accident doesn’t have sufficient coverage. This includes excess Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage, which pays out when the at-fault driver doesn’t have any insurance, and Underinsured Motorist (UIM) coverage, which pays out when the at-fault driver has insufficient policy limits to cover the damage.
Finally, here are some of the frequently asked questions we’ve not covered elsewhere in this article:
Will I have to go to court if I file a personal injury claim?
Not always! Most insurance providers and drivers prefer to settle their claims outside of court. Sometimes, the settlement offer negotiated with the insurance company is sufficient, and the claim ends there. This is most likely when it’s obvious who caused the accident, and there’s clear evidence to support the claim. However, more complex cases are often resolved at this stage too.
When an agreement isn’t reached directly with the insurance provider, it’s time to file a lawsuit. However, as we explained earlier, this doesn’t always mean a trip to court. Mediation can be an effective way to resolve disputes in more complex cases, and a more appropriate settlement figure can be obtained through this process.
If mediation is unsuccessful and you still want to pursue the personal injury claim, you will need to go to court. However, the decision is yours — you can always choose to accept a settlement offer if you prefer not to attend court, but you may receive less if you do.
Should I seek medical treatment after a car accident even if I feel fine?
As much as we’d love to provide a concrete answer to this question, we can’t because it depends. Seeking medical treatment after a car accident is often a good idea, even when you feel fine. This decision will often depend on the nature of the car accident you were involved in. For example, if you took a blow to the head in a high-speed collision but you feel fine now, it might still be worth getting checked out. Sometimes, injuries aren’t immediately apparent, but early intervention can significantly improve outcomes.
As we’re lawyers and not medical professionals, we can’t provide you with detailed medical advice. That said, our opinion is that it’s always best to err on the side of caution and seek the appropriate advice if you’re unsure. A quick trip to the ER may put your mind at rest, making it a worthwhile investment.
From a legal standpoint, an early medical opinion can help if you experience difficulties further down the line. However, there’s always a chance they won’t find anything during your initial appointment, but problems may arise at a later date. This can complicate matters slightly, but detailed medical notes highlighting why the problem was missed initially can help.
Should I release my medical records to another driver’s insurance company?
When processing your insurance claim, the driver’s insurance company may ask you to sign a medical release form. This form, if you sign it, allows them to access your medical records. In general, we recommend you don’t sign this form. It will give them access to any of your medical records, which they could use against you if they choose to deny your claim.
If you’re claiming medical expenses, there will be certain records they need to see as part of their investigations. If you don’t show them the records that confirm the injuries you’re declaring, it’s unlikely your claim will be approved. However, we recommend you provide only the relevant documents directly, rather than releasing your entire medical records to them.
Your attorney can work with you to ensure you provide sufficient proof to get your claim approved without giving the insurer access to anything more than necessary.
What if I think the accident was at least partly my fault?
Like the answer to many of these questions, it depends! This question is where an attorney can really help you establish the accident’s facts and work out who is at fault. When people are involved in a car accident, they often make mistakes in interpreting what happened and who is to blame, either overestimating or underestimating the role they played.
You should always be honest with your lawyer about your concerns so they can help you figure out the most appropriate way to handle the case. For example, you might think you’re to blame because you were thinking about something other than the road at the time of the accident. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you were negligent. People often think about other things while they’re driving while still paying attention to the road. What’s important is that you figure out precisely why you think you might be at fault, and then your lawyer can help you figure out if you actually were to blame.
The bottom line: talk to your car accident attorney!
What if the at-fault driver doesn’t have enough car insurance?
If the at-fault driver doesn’t have enough insurance, you have a couple of options. If you have Underinsured Motorists (UIM) coverage, you will be able to claim from your own insurance, providing you are not at fault. Alternatively, if you don’t have UIM insurance, you can accept the maximum amount the at-fault driver is covered for.
UIM is distinct from UM coverage in that it covers you when the at-fault driver does have liability insurance, but the limits on their policy aren’t enough to cover the damage. When this happens, the at-fault driver’s insurance will pay the appropriate amount up to their policy limits, and then your provider would make up the difference.
In contrast, Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage pays out when the at-fault driver doesn’t have any insurance. Therefore, it can be a great idea to make sure you have both UIM and UM coverage with your insurer.
How can an accident attorney help me prove the other driver was at fault?
Now that you’ve read this post and understand more about the process of claiming for a car accident in California, we hope you appreciate the value an accident attorney can bring to your case. As we deal with cases like yours every day, we know how to get the best results. We understand how and why accidents happen, and we know how to prove it.
There are many ways to prove another driver was at fault, with important actions at each stage of the claims process. We can help you by conducting our own investigation, scrutinizing the available evidence, and consulting with independent expert witnesses when required. We can also access additional evidence on your behalf, for example, by contacting businesses close to the scene of the accident to obtain CCTV footage. Not only that, but we can communicate with third parties on your behalf, ensuring we say the right things at the right time. In summary, there is a multitude of ways we can help you succeed with your car insurance claim — and we will work tirelessly to get you the best results possible.
Why Hire Krasney Law for Legal Representation in California?
Here at Krasney Law, we’re industry experts with many years of experience between us. If you’ve been injured in a car accident that wasn’t your fault, you deserve fair and full compensation to help you recover and get back on your feet as soon as possible. We know how distressing car crashes can be, and our goal is to make the claims process as straightforward as possible so you can focus on the things in life that really matter to you.
To find out more about how we can help you, please get in touch to arrange a no-obligation consultation.