Your daughter had gone on a fantastic field trip to the Oakland Museum of California and had been begging to go back ever since. She had a great time playing docent for the day and showing you all around the Gallery of California History. You made sound effects in the Creative Hollywood section, had cookies in the cafe, and bought a few trinkets in the gift shop. You were both happily tired by the time you started heading home. You were looking for the entrance to Highway 880 when all of a sudden you were rear-ended by a pick-up truck. What happens now? What do you do? Here is some basic information about what to do after a car accident in Oakland.
For a general overview, you may wish to first check out the FindLaw section on Car Accidents. Then return here for some information specific to Alameda County.
Don't Go Anywhere
The most important things to do after an accident are to stop, exchange information with the other driver, and render reasonable assistance to any injured person. Under California law, depending on the circumstances, failure to do these things can lead to imprisonment and fines. So, regardless of whether it is a minor fender bender or a serious pile up, make sure to stop at the scene, check whether anyone needs help, call 911 if so, and provide all relevant contact and registration information to the other driver and police officers at the scene.
Even if you hit an unattended car, stop and find the owner, or leave a note in a conspicuous place, briefly summarizing what happened and leaving your contact information.
Should You Call the Police?
It is generally recommended that you do call the police from the accident scene and that a police report be filed right away. Make sure that you jot down the names and badge numbers of any officers who report to the scene. In the event that no police are called, in Oakland and the rest of California, you should subsequently notify either the Oakland Police Department or the California Highway Patrol or simply call 911.
What Information/Evidence Should You Collect?
The accident scene provides a lot of information and evidence that you may need as you pursue your claim. It is usually a good idea to gather:
Be polite, but try to avoid any discussions of who is responsible for the accident. Saying things like "I'm so sorry -- it was all my fault" might be your inclination, but in the middle of an accident you don't know all the facts -- it's important not to admit guilt unintentionally or unnecessarily.
As you are figuring out what to do after a car accident in Oakland, check out this FindLaw pamphlet Motor Vehicle Accident: First Steps for additional reminders of what to do in the immediate aftermath of a crash. It also has spaces where you can fill in important information.
In order to drive in California you must have proof of financial responsibility for your vehicle. The most common way to meet this requirement is to have a motor vehicle liability policy with minimum coverage of $15,000 for bodily injury to one person, $30,000 for bodily injury to 2+ people, and $5,000 for property damage. You may also carry additional insurance and you may well wish to do so to be more fully protected.
Following an accident, you should report it to your insurer right away. Be honest and cooperative with your insurer, but remember that you don't have to agree to everything they suggest or propose. Refer to these Car Insurance Claims Dos and Don'ts for helpful tips in dealing with insurance adjusters.
You may be able to resolve everything to all parties' satisfaction through the respective insurance companies. However, if you run into problems with your insurer and wish to file a complaint, you may do so through the California Department of Insurance or you can also contact a local attorney to discuss your situation in detail.
Filing A Lawsuit
On that note, depending on the extent of the accident, you may wish to at least consult with a car accident attorney to ensure that you get the compensation to which you are entitled. Most attorneys will offer you a free initial consultation and if you decide to work together will accept the case on a contingency basis, which means that the attorney fees are paid out of any recovery.
In Oakland, your case will likely be filed in the Alameda County Superior Court civil division. Alternatively, you can generally proceed without an attorney in the Small Claims Court if you are seeking $10,000 or less ($7,500 or less in some car accident cases).
Proving Your Case
Most car accident cases are based on one party alleging that another was negligent. Negligence is essentially when a person acts carelessly and that carelessness causes or contributes to the accident. In some cases, however, both parties behave negligently -- what happens then? In a few states, even if you are 1% negligent you are barred from bringing your claim under the theory of contributory negligence. In Oakland and the rest of California, however, under what is called a pure comparative negligence system, even if you are 99% at fault you may still pursue your action for the remaining 1%, although your damages (economic compensation) will be reduced in proportion to your fault. So for example, if you were 50% at fault and your damages were $20,000, you could still make a claim as to the $10,000 (50%) that was not your fault.
What Damages Can You Recover?
Depending on the specifics of your injury, you will generally be able to claim economic damages (including things like medical expenses, property damage, and lost wages) and non-economic damages (including things like pain and suffering). Your spouse may even be able to make his or her own claim for loss of consortium (companionship and services). FindLaw has more detailed information about the types of damages generally available.
Get Legal Help to Learn the Next Steps After a Car Accident in Oakland
If you've been in a car or motorcycle accident in Oakland, you likely have some questions, particularly if you're trying to deal with the insurance companies. If you want to know more about comparative negligence, fault, or any other legal matter, speak with a local car accident attorney today.
Contact a qualified attorney.