Do not rely on the other person involved in the accident to accept liability for causing the accident after you both leave the scene of the accident. Many times, someone who admitted fault verbally will change their mind and will decide that they are not going to continue to admit fault. For this reason, it’s always best to call the CHP, if the accident occurred on the freeway, or the local police department, if the accident did not happen on the freeway. Reporting an accident is mandatory, within 24 hours, pursuant to California Vehicle Code Section 20008, if the accident resulted in injuries or death of any person. Even though a person can wait up to 24 hours to report the accident, it’s best to call law enforcement within minutes after the accident so that they can get to the scene of the accident while the marks on the roadway are still fresh, witnesses may still be in the area, and the position of the vehicles may be at their resting points after the impact.
If you feel any type of pain, discomfort, mental disorientation, change in vision, feeling off balance, loss of memory, not being able to speak clearly, and you did not feel this way prior to the accident you can say that you might be injured when speaking with law enforcement. You are not a doctor, so you will need to go to the emergency room to get examined by a doctor.
When you first call law enforcement to report the accident, they are going to ask you if anyone is injured. You cannot say “no,” because you are not a doctor and even if you are, you have not examined everyone, including yourself. One potential answer to this question is “I don’t know,” because you truly do not know if you cannot see injuries and you are not sure if you are injured or not. Another potential answer is “yes,” if you know that you are injured, or you can see that someone else is injured. Many times people will say they are not injured and then the officer will tell them to just exchange information with the other driver. The problem with this is that the next day the person who said they were not injured may wake up feeling injured, but at the scene they told the other driver and a law enforcement officer that they were not injured.
If you do wake up the next day after an accident feeling aches and pains, get medical treatment that same day, so that you can document the injury(ies) as close to the accident date as possible.
The benefits of having law enforcement come to the scene is that they will investigate how the accident occurred, will talk to potential witnesses, will document what each driver said about how the accident occurred, and will prepare a report which is likely to include an opinion regarding who the officer believed was at-fault for causing the accident.
Do not rely on the investigating officer to take pictures or to collect video evidence; however, do follow-up with the officer within a few days to see if anyone offered or later provided pictures or video of the accident.
Since you cannot rely on the officer to take pictures or video, you must try to do it yourself, or have a friend or relative do it. Images and video of the vehicles after the accident, from various angles is good to get. Images and video of the roadway is also good to get, but you should not put yourself in a dangerous position to get it.
Sometimes, after you receive a police report you may notice that it is inaccurate. If this happens, you can go to the CHP office or the police department and ask to submit a supplemental report to address the inaccurate information. It’s important not to leave wrong information unaddressed. What seems like a small and unimportant detail initially, may later be the very thing that causes you to win or lose your claim / case.
When you call a lawyer to represent you for your auto accident injury claim, you should provide the lawyer with a copy of the traffic collision report, if you have a copy of it. There is no need to wait for a copy of the report before contacting a lawyer, but if you have a copy, be sure to provide it to the lawyer. The report will have a lot of useful information for the lawyer to consider when deciding whether to represent you.
If the CHP or police department charges you for the report but you cannot afford to pay for it, ask them if they waive the charge for people who cannot afford to pay for the report.