Driving in California is like few other driving experiences in the world. Whether zooming up Interstate 5 or cruising on Land Park Drive, we see things that would probably cause a New York cabbie pause. But unfortunately we don't always have the luxury of being an observer -- sometimes we are the ones on the side of the road waiting for first responders.
After pulling off to the side of the road (if possible) and turning off the vehicle, the first order of business should be to check to make sure everyone is okay. Call 911 if you or someone else needs medical care. Even slight dizziness or some cuts and bruises merit a trip to the doctor if only to document the injuries.
After that, there are several steps that can and should be taken if you are uninjured.
1. Exchange information with the other drivers. This includes insurance, driver's license info and telephone numbers. Take down license plate numbers, makes and models of the cars, and the location of the accident. Get the names and contact info for any eyewitnesses.
2. Call the police. A police report is helpful in making a claim with your car insurance company and those of the other drivers. Let the police draw their own conclusions. Cooperate fully and give as many specifics as possible about the crash. Even if you think it's your fault, its best not to admit to it. Conversely, don't put the blame on others while at the scene of the accident. Don't forget to get the officer's name and badge number.
3. Take lots of pictures. Talk to your insurance agent to tell them what happened and find out what they will need. Use your mobile phone to document the damage to your vehicle as well as the other vehicles involved. Take pictures of the crash site as well. These will all come in handy when you file your claim.
4. Notify the DMV. You must fill out an accident report if anyone is injured or vehicle damage exceeds $750. Even if the police don't show up, you need to do this - failure to comply may result in suspension of your driver's license.
5. Get a lawyer. As you prepare to file your claim, you should also contact an attorney versed in personal injury and property damage here in California. Since California is an at fault state (fault is determined and it is often a percentage of fault falling upon each driver), you can pursue recompense from the at-fault driver's insurance company or file a lawsuit directly against the driver. It's also worth noting that the insurance companies' best interests don't always match those of their clients. The claims adjuster may offer money to settle the claim, but an attorney can forcefully argue for a more equitable amount of money to replace or fix your vehicle.
If you are injured:
1. Get a lawyer. That same lawyer or law firm can also assist with your claim if there are medical issues and lost wages. An attorney can even help to ensure that hospitals and medical providers are not overcharging for services.
2. It is a given that you will need an attorney if your accident case is heading to court. An attorney will protect your rights in front of a judge and jury in effort to recoup money for medical expenses (there are often out of pocket expenses that auto and health insurance don't cover), property damage, lost wages if you are out of work for a period of time, or even a wrongful death claim.
Despite all the accidents or crashes we see on a regular basis, we never think that we will be that person on the side of the road. Fortunately there is legal recourse. While this doesn't ever replace the trauma of getting in an accident, a knowledgeable legal team can alleviate some of the sting from a financial and emotional standpoint.