Law Review: What to do if you are in an auto accident
Hopefully you are never in a car crash, but if you are, here are a few tips. These tips are gleaned from a California State Bar publication entitled, “What Should I do if I Have an Auto Accident.” If you would like a copy of this, albeit, outdated pamphlet, send me an email.
The Bar pamphlet lists 14 tips starting with the obvious: you must stop, whether the accident results in injuries or not. You must call the police or California Highway Patrol if the accident involves a death or injury.
In fact, you are obligated to render first aid, if you know how. But don’t move someone who is badly hurt, as you could make the injury worse. Call for help if you need help.
Get the other driver’s name, address, driver’s license number, and other information, including the name of his or her insurance company and policy number. If there are witnesses, try and get their names and contact information, as well. If you can, take pictures of the accident scene and vehicles involved.
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One question we lawyers are often asked is: “Should I volunteer that the accident was my fault?” The Bar pamphlet advises that you cooperate fully, but do not volunteer that the accident was your fault until you speak with your insurance company or a lawyer. I agree. Sign a traffic ticket if a ticket is issued, as that is not an admission of guilt.
Point number six in the little pamphlet addresses drunk driving and driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher, or any percent if you are under 21 years of age. Penalties are severe.
We all know that seatbelts are required in California, but so many people don’t seem to wear seatbelts. I can tell you that failure to wear a seatbelt can be used against you if there is ever a lawsuit concerning the auto accident — yet another reason to buckle up. And remember children under the age of 8 years old must be secured in a car seat or booster seat in the back seat, and children 2 years old or under must be in a rear-facing car seat unless the child weighs more than 40 pounds or is 40 or more inches tall.
Auto insurance is required in California; however the mandatory minimum limits — $5,000 for property damage, $15,000/$30,000 for liability coverage — are ridiculously low. Purchase more insurance than that, and consider adding a usually, not too expensive umbrella policy in addition to the liability coverage. Liability insurance protects you if you injure someone or someone’s property. Collision insurance covers damage to your car, minus any deductible. Your insurance coverage should include medical payments.
If the other person is at fault and does not have insurance or is underinsured, your insurance coverage may have “uninsured motorist” or “underinsured motorist” coverage.
Remember you must report the accident to the Department of Motor Vehicles if the damage to either car is more than $1,000 or if anyone is injured or killed. You can get an SR-1 Report of Traffic Accident form from a DMV office (or online), CHP, police department, or insurance company.
If you want to make a claim for your injuries, or car damage, or if you are sued by the other party, you should immediately notify your insurance company and call me. I mean, call a lawyer.
Remember, generally there is a two-year deadline from the date of the accident to sue for your personal injuries, but sometimes even less, so act quickly.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee, Tahoe City and Reno, Nev. His practice areas include: development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.portersimon.com.
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