Introduction to what to do after a car accident not your fault
Being in a car accident can be a frightening and stressful experience, especially when the collision and resulting damages or injuries were not your fault. There are important steps to take after an accident you did not cause, including exchanging information with other involved parties, documenting the scene, seeking medical attention, and contacting your insurance provider. While you are not liable, the actions you take could still affect the outcome and recovery from the accident. Understanding what to do after an accident that is not your fault will help protect your rights and access the compensation you deserve.
At the Accident Scene
The actions you take immediately following the car accident are critical. Though shaken up, try to remain calm and focused on taking the following steps:
- Check for any serious injuries. If you, your passengers, or anyone in the other vehicle appears hurt, call 911 immediately. Provide first aid if you can safely do so while waiting for paramedics.
- Call the police. Alert law enforcement of the accident and request that an officer come to the scene. Be sure to obtain the police report for the accident after it is filed.
- Document the scene. Use your smartphone to take photographs capturing damage to all vehicles, skid marks on the road, weather conditions, street signs, etc. Documenting the scene provides invaluable visual evidence.
- Exchange information. Share your name, driver’s license number, insurance details, license plate, contact information, and any other requested details with the other driver(s). Get their information as well.
- Get witness statements. If anyone saw the accident occur, ask for their contact information so you can reach out later. Witness statements are tremendously helpful in assigning fault.
- Seek medical attention. Even if you do not notice any immediate injuries, see a doctor as soon as possible after leaving the scene. Soft tissue injuries and delayed symptoms can develop. Getting checked out and medically documented is important.
- Contact your insurance provider. Alert your insurer of the accident and provide details of what happened. Cooperate with their investigation and follow instructions about getting repairs, rental reimbursement, and handling bills.
- Refrain from admitting fault. Be cooperative with the other driver’s insurance company, but do not make any written or verbal statements accepting blame for the accident.
- Save evidence from the scene. Keep the pictures, video, audio recordings, accident report, witness statements, etc. that you gather. This documentation will prove invaluable when determining fault and financial responsibility.
- Hire an attorney. Consult with an experienced auto accident attorney as soon as possible about the best way to protect your rights and hold the other driver liable.
After Leaving the Scene
Once the accident scene is cleared and you have received any necessary medical treatment, there are still several steps to take immediately after:
- Report the accident to your insurance provider. Notify your insurer of the collision right away. Ask what steps they recommend and if you need to bring your vehicle anywhere for repairs.
- Do not admit fault. The other driver’s insurance company may quickly contact you requesting your version of events. Do not make any written or verbal statements accepting blame. Refrain from saying anything that could put you at fault.
- Save evidence from the scene. Keep the photos, videos, audio recordings, police report, and any other scene documentation. This evidence will be important for showing the circumstances of the accident and assigning fault.
- Contact witnesses for statements. Reach out to any witnesses who saw the accident and ask them for a written statement describing what they observed. Eyewitness accounts often help determine who is liable.
- Consider hiring an attorney. An experienced car accident lawyer can handle communications with insurance companies, make sure evidence is preserved, organize medical records, and protect your interests.
Managing Insurance Claims
To obtain compensation for damages, medical bills, and other losses, you will need to file an insurance claim following the steps below:
Provide a recorded statement. The insurance companies involved will want to get your statement on what happened. Stick only to the facts you can document. Avoid speculating.
Request a copy of your insurance policy. Review the terms of your policy so you know what is covered. Pay particular attention to MedPay, collision, uninsured motorist, and personal injury protection (PIP) coverage.
Do not accept an early settlement offer. Insurance companies may try to get you to settle right away for a low amount. Wait until the full scope of your damages and expenses is known before settling.
Track communication. Log all communication with insurance companies including emails, letters, and notes from phone calls. Keeping thorough records creates transparency.
Negotiate payment for repairs. Get at least two estimates from body shops and negotiate the fairest deal on repairing or replacing your vehicle. The other driver’s insurance company should cover costs.
Get reimbursed for expenses. Document costs like medical bills, missed wages from work, property damage, and other losses and provide this to the insurance companies. Substantiating these costs boosts your claim value.
Hire an attorney. An experienced lawyer can advocate for your claim and make sure you are fully compensated under the law for your accident injuries and other damages.
Deciding Whether to Sue
If insurance claim negotiations fail, taking legal action may be your best recourse for recovering accident costs.
Consult an attorney about options. Discuss the details of your case with a lawyer to get their professional opinion on whether you have grounds for a lawsuit and your chances of winning.
Calculate damages to determine claim value. Add up costs like vehicle repair or replacement, medical expenses, lost income, property damage, and pain and suffering to quantify your losses.
Factor in time and stress of a lawsuit. Legal action can take months or years to get resolved. Consider whether you are up for the time commitment and emotional toll.
Consider mediation vs. trial. Many lawsuits settle through mediation once both sides present evidence. This avoids the risks and stress of a trial. Discuss options with your lawyer.
Protecting Yourself from Being Sued
Even if the accident was clearly not your fault, you could still potentially face civil claims from other involved parties. Here is how to guard against lawsuits:
Do not discuss the accident. Other than exchanging mandatory information at the scene, avoid making any statements about the accident with the other driver or their passengers.
Seek legal counsel immediately. If you receive any notices that you are being sued or summoned to court, notify an attorney right away. They can respond to the summons on your behalf.
Notify your insurance company. Your insurer will provide legal counsel and likely cover any related lawsuit expenses per the terms of your policy. Get them involved from the outset.
Follow all court orders. If a lawsuit is filed, comply with all court mandated deadlines, appearances, settlements, and other legal orders. Failure to do so hurts your case.
Stick to the settlement terms. If you settle or are found liable for damages, closely follow the monetary payment schedule and any other settlement stipulations so the other parties cannot take further legal action.
What happens when you have a car accident and it’s not your fault?
If you are in an accident that is not your fault, the other driver should be liable for damages. Document the scene, seek witness statements, get a police report, save evidence, and contact your insurer right away. Seek medical treatment as needed. Give an official statement of events only to your insurance company. Try to settle with the at-fault driver’s insurer first before considering legal action.
Should I get a lawyer for a car accident that wasn’t my fault in California?
Getting legal counsel after an accident that was not your fault is highly recommended to protect your rights and access maximum compensation under California law. An attorney can deal with the insurance companies so you can focus on recovering. They will also evaluate whether you have grounds to file a lawsuit.
How much can someone sue for a car accident in California?
There is no set limit on the amount someone can claim as damages in a California car accident lawsuit. The value depends on costs like property damage, medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, and punitive damages if the other driver was grossly negligent. Claims can easily exceed $100,000.
How long after a car accident can someone sue you in California?
Under California statute, the deadline to file a car accident lawsuit is two years from the date of the accident. If the plaintiff fails to sue within this two-year statute of limitations, they forfeit their right to legal action against the defendant.
Will my insurance be affected if it’s not my fault?
Generally, your auto insurance rates should not go up after an accident that was clearly not your fault, especially if the other driver’s insurer accepts liability. However, some insurers may raise premiums after any accident claim, even not-at-fault ones. Shop policies to get the best rates.