Even if you’re a safe driver, accidents can happen without warning on our Orange County roads. After the initial shock of a crash wears off, you may wonder what to do next.
The hours and days following an accident are crucial. What you do during this time can significantly affect the outcome of your case.
Follow these steps for filing a car accident claim to protect yourself and increase your chances of a fair settlement.
Collect Information From the Other Driver
When you have an accident, stop and exchange information with the other driver. You’ll need this information to file an insurance claim. It will also come in handy if you choose to file a personal injury lawsuit against them later.
Information you’ll need includes:
- The driver’s name and address
- Their driver’s license number
- Insurance information
- Vehicle registration number
If you hit an unoccupied vehicle, you must try to find them and tell them what happened. If you’re unable to do so, leave a note with your contact information on their windshield.
Document What Happened
If you’re not too injured to do so, take detailed pictures and videos of the accident scene. Document vehicle damage, other property damage, tire skid marks, and the location of the crash.
If you can find witnesses who saw what happened, talk to them and record their statements. Ask for their contact information, too. Your car accident lawyer may need to call these witnesses if your case goes to court.
It’s smart to write down your account of what happened. Include information such as the street where the accident happened, each driver’s speed, road conditions, and the weather on the day of the crash. Write this report as soon as possible after the accident so you don’t forget anything.
Seek Medical Treatment
Visit the doctor after any car accident, even if you think your injuries aren’t severe. Many injuries aren’t obvious immediately after a crash. You could have internal bleeding, head trauma, spinal damage, and other injuries that worsen over time.
Seeing a doctor also leaves a paper trail regarding the severity of your injuries and your treatment for them. You’ll need this documentation for your insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit. If you skip the doctor, the insurance company will likely pay you less in damages because it can claim your injuries weren’t that bad.
Report the Accident
California law says you must report your car accident to the DMV if:
- The accident injured or killed someone
- The accident caused more than $1,000 in damages
You, your insurance company, or your legal representative must make this report within 10 days of the accident. If you don’t, the state could suspend your driver’s license for up to one year.
Call the Insurance Company
After the accident, you will need to talk to your and the other driver’s insurance company. The process differs slightly depending on who was to blame for the crash.
If You Were to Blame for the Accident
Many people avoid filing a car accident claim with their insurance company because they fear their rates will increase. But it’s better to let them know now before the other driver files a claim against you.
Car insurance claims will pay for car repairs and other damages regardless of who was to blame for the accident. When talking to an auto insurance adjuster, don’t admit fault or downplay your injuries. The insurance company can use anything you say to lower the compensation it pays you.
If Another Driver Was to Blame for the Accident
If another driver hits you, contact your insurance company as soon as possible, ideally on the day of the accident.
Your insurance coverage provides compensation for your injuries if another insurer does not pay for them. It’s also their job to investigate your accident and mount a legal defense if the at-fault driver tries to blame you for the crash.
If Multiple Drivers Share Blame for the Accident
California follows comparative negligence rules. This means that even if multiple drivers share some of the blame for an accident, they can still recover some portion of their damages.
For example, assume another driver hit you because they were talking on the phone and ran a red light. But you might have avoided the accident if you weren’t speeding. In this case, both you and the other driver share blame. You would file a claim with their insurance company, while they would file a claim with yours.
The Insurance Settlement Process
In California, your insurance adjuster has 40 days to decide whether they will accept your claim and pay benefits or reject it. Sometimes, an insurance company will extend this deadline for months or even longer.
This typically happens when the insurer doesn’t know who shares most of the blame for an accident. The insurer might also drag its feet if you’re dealing with disabilities and pricey medical bills it doesn’t want to pay for.
Insurance companies commonly offer a settlement that’s far lower than you expected. The company hopes you’ll take the settlement because you think some money is better than nothing.
Many people accept the initial settlement out of desperation, but doing so is rarely the smartest choice.
Call an Orange County Car Accident Attorney if You’re Unhappy With Your Insurance Settlement
If the insurance company offers you an insulting settlement, you don’t need to take it. A car accident attorney can draft a demand letter that proves how much your case is worth.
At this point, the insurer might accept the demand or make a counteroffer. If the settlement is still too low, you can file a personal injury lawsuit and take your case to court.
Because you only have two years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit, it’s important to act quickly. If you need help negotiating with the insurance company or want to know more about filing a car accident claim in Orange County, call Khalil Law Group at (714) 613-8386 today.