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What To Do If You Are In An Automobile Accident

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  1. If I am in an auto accident, do I have to stop?

    Yes.  California law says you must stop – whether you are in an accident that involves a pedestrian, a moving car, a parked car, or someone's property.  If you drive away, you are guilty of "hit and run," even if the accident is not your fault and even if the only damage is a small dent in a parked car or a neighbor's fence.

  2. Should I call the police if the accident causes injuries or death?

    The police officer who comes to the scene will make a written report.  If the other person was at fault, this report will help you and your attorney if you are injured and later file a claim against the other person for damages.

  3. What should I do if someone is injured?

    The law requires you to give reasonable assistance to injured persons.  For example, you may need to call an ambulance, take the injured person to a doctor or hospital, or give first aid, if you know how.

  4. What information should I gather at the accident scene?

    The law says you must show your driver's license to the other driver, if he or she asks to see it.  You also should be prepared to give your car license number and vehicle registration, the year and make of your car, and the name and addresses of your insurance company.  If the car is not yours, give the name and address of the owner as well.  
    Be sure to get the same information from the other driver.  Ask to see the person's driver's license and vehicle registration and copy the information from both front and back.  Get the names and addresses  of any passengers in the car too.
    If there were witnesses to the accident, you will need their names, addresses and telephone numbers.  Ask them to stay at the scene of the accident and talk to the CHP or police officer.  If they insist on leaving, ask them to tell you what they saw, and write everything down.
    If a police officer comes to the scene of the accident, write down the officer's name and badge number.  Then ask the officer when you can go to get a copy of the accident report and when it will be ready.
    As soon as you can, make a simple diagram of the accident.  Draw the position of both cars before, during and after the accident.  If there are skid marks on the road, pace them off.  Draw them on the diagram, noting the distance they cover.  Mark the positions of any crosswalks, stop signs, traffic lights or street lights.
    Make notes, too, on weather and road conditions.  If the accident happened after dark, say whether street lights were working.  Try to estimate your speed and the other driver's.
    Be sure to note the exact time and place the accident happened.
    If the accident caused a death or serious injury, ask the CHP or police officer to take photographs.

  5. If I think the accident is my fault, should I say so?

    Do not volunteer any information about whose fault the accident was.  You should talk to your insurance agent, your lawyer or both before taking the blame.  You may think you are in the wrong and then learn that the other driver is as much or more to blame than you are.  Anything you say to the police or the other driver can be used against you later.   You also should not agree to pay for damages or sign any paper, except a traffic ticket, without first checking with your insurance company or lawyer.
    However, you certainly should cooperate with the police officer investigation the case.  But stick to the facts; do not give opinions.  Be as specific as you can without guessing.  For instance, if you were driving 30 miles an hour, say so.  Do not say, "I wasn't speeding."

  6. Should I see a doctor after the accident?

    You do not have to see a doctor, but it may be a good idea to get a check-up.  You could be injured, even quite seriously, and not know it right away.  If you are in doubt, it is best to at least call your doctor.  He or she can help you decide what your medical needs may be.  The same is true for passengers in your car.  Your automobile insurance may pay for your doctor bills.

  7. Do I have to report the accident?

    Yes.  First, of course, you may need to call the local police or the CHP.  Second, report the accident to your insurance company.  Call or go see your agent and ask what forms you should fill out.  Get in touch right away to make sure there is no question about your coverage.  Ask your insurance agent to help you make other necessary reports on the accident.  Third, both you and the other driver(s) must report the accident to the DMV within 10 days and fill out an SR-1 Form if:
    a) the damage to either car is more than $750 or
    b) anyone is injured or killed in the accident.
    You can get the right form, called the Report of Traffic Accident or SR-1 form, from your local DMV office, California Highway Patrol, local police, insurance company or online from the California DMV's Web site.

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