How to Report a Car Accident in California
Involvement in a car accident can leave victims shaken up, confused, and uncertain as to what steps to take next. If an accident seems relatively minor and no emergency medical services are necessary, you or the other driver may want to simply exchange information and be on your way. However, under California law, there are some circumstances under which individuals who have been in an accident are under an obligation to report an accident to law enforcement. These circumstances include the following:
- If the crash resulted in injury to any person;
- If the accident caused any property damage, regardless of the type of property.
If you fail to properly report an accident in these situations, you can risk facing consequences including citations and fines. In addition, failing to report an accident to the authorities can hinder your ability to collect compensation for your own accident-related losses from other negligent parties.
It is understandable that drivers may be unsure of when and how to report a car accident. The information below is intended to help individuals involved in a car accident to report their accident in compliance with the relevant laws and in a way that protects their legal right to recovery. For more information or for advice regarding a specific incident, call a car accident attorney at the GJEL law firm today.
When Should a Driver Report a Car Accident?
Generally speaking, it is best to report an accident as soon as possible. In addition, California law requires drivers involved in an accident that causes injury or more than $750 in damage to report the accident to the California Department of Motor Vehicles within 10 days of the accident. Often, evidence of negligence in a car accident can disappear in a short amount of time. Some examples of evidence may include:
- Tire marks;
- Weather conditions;
- Road conditions;
- Witnesses’ memories of the events; and
- Evidence of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The sooner you report a car accident, the better chance that law enforcement will make note of certain pieces of evidence and include them in their accident reports. If you are unable to report the accident right away, ensure that you do so within the period of time required by law to avoid any unnecessary consequences.
What Law Enforcement Agency Should I Call?
The California Vehicle Code specifies that accident victims should contact the local law enforcement agency in the city in which the accident took place. If an accident occurred in an unincorporated area, drivers or passengers should contact the local California Highway Patrol office. If you are unsure of which agency to call, you should call any nearby agency and they can likely direct you to the right place.
In the state of California, a driver (or a third-party, if the driver is unable) is required to file a written report with either the California Highway Patrol or the police department of the city in which the accident took place. Individuals who are required to file an accident report by law and fail to do so are subject to significant criminal penalties, including jail time, fines, or driver’s license suspension. Fortunately, a lawyer familiar with representing car accident victims can help individuals ensure they are in compliance with the reporting requirements set out in California law.
Filing a written accident report is not only required by law but is also helpful in memorializing your version of events in writing. The law enforcement officers may use your account to help determine what happened and who was at fault.
Do Drivers Involved in Accidents Have to Report Accidents to Their Insurance Company?
There is no law that requires people who are involved in accidents to report accidents to their insurance company. That being said, your insurance company may require it. Nearly every auto insurance contract has a clause requiring the insured to report accidents to the insurer within a reasonable amount of time. Failure to do so may result in denial of coverage.
Therefore, it is advisable to report all accidents to your insurance company, even if California law does not require a report to the authorities. Your insurance company should have procedures for reporting and filing claims on your policy through its website or available to you with a call to the company.
What do car accident reports contain in California?
Car accident reports, whether written by the California Highway Patrol, the county sheriff’s department, or the local police department are going to contain the names, addresses and driver’s license numbers of both parties and will include height, weight, gender, race.
They will typically also contain the police officer’s opinion as to who was at fault. They will usually contain a diagram if there is an injury in the accident, and they will also contain witness statements; not only statements from the parties themselves that were in the accident, but independent witnesses who happened to see them.
It’s useful for an injured person to know that usually when a police officer states an opinion in the police report, it’s just that, it’s just an opinion. It’s not admissible in court, even if the police officer says it’s his opinion that a certain person is at fault.
As a general rule, the police officer did not see the accident and so it’s useful to know that a skilled personal injury attorney will have a number of accident reconstruction experts to turn to and these people will have a lot more time than a police officer to really look at the skid marks, look at the vehicle damage and come to a conclusion as to speed, distance, etc.
Contact GJEL Accident Attorneys Today to Speak with a Skilled California Car Accident Lawyer
If you have been involved in a car accident, you should discuss your legal options with a skilled attorney as soon as possible. In many cases, car accident victims can recover significant compensation for their economic and noneconomic losses, including their medical expenses, lost income, loss of quality of life, and physical and emotional pain and suffering.
The California car accident lawyers of GJEL are skilled personal injury advocates who have recovered more than $850 million on behalf of their clients and have a success rate of more than 99 percent. To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our lawyers, call our office today at 1-855-508-9565 or send us an email through our online contact form.