Personal Injury Frequently Asked Questions

If I am involved in an accident, what should I do?

  1. Be safe. Make sure that you are safe and that all people involved are safe. Donít step out into traffic. Traffic is an extremely dangerous place.
  2. If there is a dangerous or serious situation at hand, do what you can to help or get help, e.g. a car is burning with someone trapped inside, someone is bleeding severely, someone is laying in traffic, etc.
  3. If anyone is injured, call 911. Make sure an ambulance is on the way, call the police.
  4. Document what just took place. Quickly take a note of your perception of what just happened.
  5. Take detailed notes. Get license plate numbers, describe vehicles and occupants, directions, locations, conditions of vehicles, make and models of vehicles, colors of vehicles, vehicle conditions. Take pictures of everything. Document time of day and the date, traffic conditions, etc.
  6. Donít admit any liability at this time. Responsibility will be sorted out later when all of the facts are reviewed. You donít want to damage your case by making rash statements in a stressful situation.
  7. Exchange information with the other parties involved. Get all of their information including insurance info (usually a policy number and carrier name), names, addresses, phone numbers, vehicle tag numbers, vehicle descriptions.
  8. Get witness information Ė names, phone numbers, statements on what they saw and where the witnesses were. Document a description of the witnesses, i.e. gender, race, age, clothing, vehicle tag, vehicle description, etc.
  9. If the police arrive, get the badge number of officer and any information on getting a copy of the police report. Take note on what agency the officer is with, i.e. county sheriff, city police dept (and what city), etc. Record info on the vehicle the officer is in.
  10. Donít leave the scene of the accident until the police have arrived and the necessary information has been obtained. If the police are not coming then make sure you have all above information before leaving.
  11. If tow trucks are involved, get all necessary information on the drivers, trucks and towing companies. Find out where they are taking the vehicles.

What are the legal criteria for eligibility to make a claim for injuries?

If you were injured in an auto accident and the other driver was at fault then that is all that is needed to make a claim for injuries.

What is the minimum required auto insurance in California?

The minimum required auto insurance coverage in California is: $15,000 for injury/death to one person; $30,000 for injury/death to more than one person; $5,000 for damage to property.

How does uninsured motorist insurance work?

If a negligent driver does not have insurance, you may be able to collect for damages from your own insurance company through uninsured motorist coverage.

Uninsured motorist coverage is included by law, as part of every automobile policy sold in California unless you have specifically declined it in writing.

Uninsured and under-insured motorist insurance come into play whenever a person with this coverage is hit by someone with no or very little insurance. There is a differential in the coverage. If the offending driver has $30,000 in liability insurance and you only have $30,000 in uninsured motorist insurance, you canít collect anything beyond the $30,000 in liability payouts. If, however, you have a $100,000 uninsured/underinsured motorist policy, you could collect $70,000 in uninsured motorist insurance payouts.

How do I prepare for an accident in terms of getting insurance coverage?

Think about your assets. Are you wealthy? Do you have a lot to protect? You should have enough coverage to reasonably compensate all involved parties in any potential accident you might be held liable for. The state required minimum coverage is inadequate. If your insurance coverage is not high enough, you could be sued and your assets could be in jeopardy.

When and why should I look for an attorney? What can an attorney do for me?

If the damages were serious and/or there were injuries involved, it may be appropriate to look for an attorney. Check out their attorney websites to get more familiar with the firms and the kinds of cases they handle. Check with the State Bar of California to find out if an attorney has any disciplining or licensing complaints. An experienced attorney can make sure all of the necessary steps have been taken in a timely manner for dealing with insurance companies and parties involved in an accident.

What is a contingency fee?

In some cases, the attorney will work on a contingency basis. This means the attorney does not get paid unless the case comes to a successful conclusion. The attorney fees are then deducted from any award/settlement.

What is a settlement?

Settlement is an agreement to drop the case in exchange for money as full compensation. You release the other party from all liability in this agreement.

What is a lien?

A lien is a method of gaining payment from any award that is made or settlement reached. In addition to attorneys there are medical providers involved in the process that may accept payment on this basis.

What is an adjuster?

An adjuster is an individual who works for the insurance company but is also looking out for the interests of all the parties involved. The adjuster investigates the claim, interviews the witnesses, consults official records and examines property damage. The adjuster attempts to determine what is fair for all involved parties.

Is there a statute of limitations in California?

The statute of limitations (SOL) is two years in California for general personal injury and negligence claims. However, there is a ďDiscoveryĒ rule which means the SOL does not apply until the injury is discovered or would reasonably have been discovered. For wrongful death, there is a one year SOL, except in cases that involve asbestos or medical malpractice. For medical malpractice cases, the SOL is three years.