You hop in your van and take a trip to Garden Grove. The red light at Magnolia and Trask is taking forever, but you don't mind because Sublime is on the radio, and you're feeling it. Your light turns green, but the dude in the Jeep doesn't realize that his turned red. Now you've got a problem.
If you've been in a car accident in OC, you may be wondering about your rights and responsibilities. It's all very confusing, especially if you don't have a lawyer. This article contains the legal basics to know what to do after a car accident in Orange County.
Stop the Car
After an accident, you're supposed to safely stop the car. If you fail to do so, you could be sent to state prison and hit with a fine of at least $1,000. Remain on the scene until you have provided everyone involved with:
Give the same information to any law enforcement officer on the scene. If anyone asks for it, you must show your driver's license.
The law doesn't require it, but it's a good idea to take a picture of the other party's insurance card. This will help you to more easily make a claim if it appears that the other driver was at fault. Also, take pictures of the vehicles and the road. These may prove to be valuable evidence if there's a legal dispute later. For more tips, review FindLaw's pamphlet, Motor Vehicle Accidents: First Steps (PDF).
Lend a Hand
If you've been in an accident, you have a duty to give "reasonable assistance" to anyone injured in the collision, even if it means taking someone to get medical treatment. You have this duty if anyone requests help or if it looks like treatment will be necessary.
Report the Incident
If an officer isn't on the scene, you'll have to report the incident yourself within 24 hours. If the accident occurred in one of Orange County's incorporated cities (Santa Ana, Anaheim, Fullerton, etc.), report it to the local police department. Otherwise, you can report it to the Highway Patrol's Border Division at the Orange County Communications Center. Call 949-559-7888 for information on reporting a crash.
When you report a crash, it's important to be truthful. It's also important to know that the contents of your report may be disclosed to other parties involved. While the report itself may not be used as evidence in a trial, you may wish to talk to an attorney within that 24-hour filing period.
Notify the Insurance Companies
California has a fault-based insurance system. Generally, the at-fault driver or his/her insurance company pays for any injuries and property damage. For this reason, it's important not to discuss the accident or admit fault after an incident. The insurance companies and lawyers will work that out later. Admitting fault early on could potentially cost you a favorable settlement or judgment, and it may cause the cost of your insurance to increase.
In most cases, you should notify your insurance soon after a crash. Your provider may require prompt notice in order to help you with collision repairs, courtesy rentals, and even legal defense if someone alleges that the accident was your fault. For more guidance, see FindLaw's article, Car Insurance Claims: Dos and Don'ts.
If the other party admits fault, you may be tempted to just contact his/her insurance provider immediately. Be careful. The company may make a settlement offer soon after you contact a representative. In many cases, you should first get a medical opinion or car estimate before accepting any offers. Also, an attorney of your own may be able to help you with the legal aftermath of a car accident.
Obtain and Maintain Records
Save any papers related to any medical treatment or automotive service that you receive. You may also find that you need a copy of the CHP's Collision Report, authored by the investigating officer. The department will have you fill out a CHP 190 form. Follow the instructions, and the department will mail you a copy. If a local police department investigated the accident, contact that department for a copy of their report.
Get a Free Case Assessment
The foregoing may not be enough to know what to do after a car accident in Orange County. A lawyer can help clarify the parties that should be notified, your potential claims or defenses, and the process for receiving compensation. Contact a local attorney for a free consultation to discuss your accident and how best to proceed.
Contact a qualified attorney.