After an accident, one of the first things you will wonder about is how you will obtain compensation for your claim. There are specific damages you can recover, and there are rules that govern how this is done. Having a good foundation in what these damages are and what you need to do to recover them is the first step in putting the accident behind you.
Let’s look at what is meant by damages, what you need to do at the accident site, how fault fits in and how a car accident lawyer can help.
What You Need to Do at the Accident Site
You need to document available information at the site of the accident, if possible.
- Notes help: Immediately note anything you can remember about the accident.
- Police: You should call the police if the accident damages exceed $1,000 or if anyone was injured or killed.
- The DMV: Let the DMV know about the accident within ten days if someone was injured or killed in the accident or if the damage exceeded $1,000. Your insurance agent or lawyer may do this for you.
- Contact information: It is important to get contact information from the other driver(s) and witnesses. You’ll need their name, address and telephone number. You might want to jot down the driver’s license plate number as well as the driver’s license number.
- Insurance information: Get the name of the insurance company, the policy number and the holder’s name and address. If the owner of the car is different from the driver, note that too.
- Photos: Pictures of the accident site and the vehicles involved are essential pieces of evidence. Take pictures of the vehicles involved in the accident and their final resting place. If there is damage, take photos of it from every angle. Get a photo of any roadway marks as well as signs or traffic lights in the vicinity. Take special notice of a traffic sign that is partially hidden by foliage or dirt or other misrepair. Note if the traffic lights were working correctly. If you see physical debris on the road, take a picture of that too.
- Witnesses: Witnesses will be an essential part of your case. In addition to their contact information, note if they say anything about the accident. Be careful what you say, though. Most people are upset after an accident and might say something that could be misconstrued as fault. This includes apologizing for the accident.
- Let authorities know: You need to call the police even if you are not sure they will come. If they do, an accident report will be made and serve as an essential piece of evidence.
- Call your insurance company: You’ll need to call your insurance company as soon as possible after an accident. Just give them pertinent information such as where it happened. They may ask if you were hurt. Don’t say no just because you are not sure – just say you don’t know and that you are seeing a doctor. If you were hurt, tell them. Since you are not a physician, don’t try to provide a diagnosis.
- Physical evidence: You might want to preserve physical evidence such as a torn dress. If you have bruises, you might want to snap a picture when you get home.
- See a doctor: You should see a doctor as soon as possible after the accident. This will document your injuries and make sure you are being treated effectively.
Damages You Can Recover
The damages you can recover after an accident are:
- Physical damage to your vehicle
- Medical costs
- Lost income
- Future loss of earnings
- Future medical damages
- Emotional and psychological damage
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium
- Price of a rental vehicle
- Travel costs to and from a medical facility
Fault in a Car Accident
In an at-fault state such as California, you must prove the other driver is guilty of a negligent action. Effective ways of proving fault is documentation of all evidence and showing that the driver engaged in reckless behavior from speeding to driving drunk. The more evidence you have, the more likely the insurer will compensate you for your claim.
California has a system of pure comparative fault in place. This means that the parties to an accident might each receive compensation equal to the damage for which they are not responsible. This means that if you are 40 percent to blame for the accident and the other driver is 60 percent to blame, and you will receive 60 percent of your damages and the other driver will receive 40 percent.
What Factors Affect Compensation
Besides your actual injuries and the cost of repairs, some factors greatly influence your compensation. They are:
- The presence of a police report. While not infallible, a police report is seen as invaluable to the insurance company. If the other driver was cited for an illegal act such as drunk driving or running a red light, this might help prove their negligence. On the other hand, if the police report invalidates your rendition of the accident, your lawyer can challenge it. Your lawyer will also review the police report for mistakes.
- Seeking medical care after an accident helps the insurance company accept you were injured.
- Statements you make at the scene of the accident or to the insurance company can be used against you. It is best to let your lawyer speak for you.
- Preexisting conditions may be used against your claim. Your doctor may be able to determine how much of your pain is new through the use of diagnostic modalities. Also, you may have had a previous injury that was no longer bothering you. In this case, you may be able to prove that the accident not only caused new injuries but reactivated one that happened before.
- Photos taken at the scene are essential in presenting evidence to the insurer.
- Witness testimony backs up your statements.
- Clear evidence of what property damage you suffered helps in recovering compensation for the loss.
- Proof of wage loss is also necessary to show how much you need to recover. This goes for both salaried and contract workers. A contract worker might provide previous tax returns to prove loss or a list of clients and their expectations. A salaried employee needs to show lost wages as well as bonuses, commissions and other benefits that they may have lost.