Car Accident Considerations – By Wayne Johnson, Attorney, Oakland, California

If you are injured in an automobile accident in the State of California you should know what to do.   Whether you are at fault or not, you should not say anything to the other party about the accident.   Do not discuss the accident with the other person’s insurance company.  In some circumstances it may not be wise to discuss the matter with your own insurance company.  If the other person does not have sufficient insurance to cover your claim, you may have to pursue your own carrier for uninsured or “underinsurance” motorist’s coverage.

Many times the police will not come out to take an accident report.  If there are no injuries or there is not a traffic problem, they probably will not come out.  You will have to make a report at the station or with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

A police report is not usually admissible in a court because it is a “hearsay” document.  That means it is an out of court statement offered for the truth of the matter asserted.  However, statements of witnesses that are signed and included in a police report may be admissible in court for other purposes.

Many times insurance carriers do; however, rely upon the police reports to decide who is at fault.   Sometimes you may have to go to trial to discredit a witness statement or a police account, that may include distances and witness statements, of an accident.

Some accidents do not require a police report.  California law requires traffic accidents on a California street/highway or private property to be reported to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) within 10 days if there was an injury, death, or property damage in excess of $750. Untimely reporting could result in DMV suspending a driver license.

Duty to Stop at Scene of Accident

California Vehicle Code § 20001.  (a) The driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to a person, other than himself or herself, or in the death of a person shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident and shall fulfill the requirements of Vehicle Code Sections 20003 and 20004.

California Vehicle Code § 20008.  (a) The driver of a vehicle, other than a common carrier vehicle, involved in any accident resulting in injuries to or death of any person shall within 24 hours after the accident make or cause to be made a written report of the accident to the Department of the California Highway Patrol or, if the accident occurred within a city, to either the Department of the California Highway Patrol or the police department of the city in which the accident occurred.  If the agency that receives the report is not responsible for investigating the accident, it shall immediately forward the report to the law enforcement agency that is responsible for investigating the accident.

If you receive bodily injuries, and you want to be adequately compensated for your medical bills, wage or opportunity loss, and / or pain and suffering, you should build a case.   You can build a case on your own; however, attorneys should know the business, like automobile mechanics should know cars, and they may be much more qualified to get you a fair result.

You and your attorney can agree to any form of compensation; however, most attorneys seek compensation based upon a contingency contract.  That means they get a percentage of the recovery, and if there is no recovery you will not have to pay any attorney’s fees.   The percentage is negotiable too.  However, you should consider not just the percentage.  You should consider the ability of the attorney to get you a fair result.  It is better to receive two thirds of $10,000 than 100% of $5,000.

There may be costs associated with pursuing your claim, like postage, telephone charges, deposition costs, filing fees, and process server fees.  Some attorneys advance costs.  That means they pay them at the out set and collect them off the top of any recovery.   Others will require you to advance the costs.  Still other work out a hybrid, where they pay some of the costs and the client advances others.

If you just want to be compensated for your property damage, usually that is an academic procedure that considers the fair market value of the vehicle and the work so you may not want to pay an attorney for assisting you with the vehicle damage.   However, if you are having difficulty, hiring an attorney may be the best route.

If you are seeking compensation for bodily injuries, you may be required to see a physician or other healthcare provider.  In addition, depending on the injuries you may be required to seek physical therapy or chiropractic care on a regular basis for several weeks or months.  If you received a cut you may want to seek a plastic surgeon.   If you have pre-existing injuries you should disclose the injuries to your healthcare provider so that he or she can properly resolve all of your issues.   If you have a pres-existing injury, you may be compensated for any worsening of the condition.

If the accident was particularly traumatic, you may want to visit a psychiatrist or other therapist.   If you do not seek treatment early or frequently you may damage your case.

Occasionally, people are killed in accidents.  There are loved ones who may want to be compensated for the family and economic loss.

After you have been seen at the medical facility of your choice, then you should make an appointment with an attorney of your choice if you decide to take that route.

You should also consider that some of these cases take time to resolve.  Only about 5% of the cases go to trial.   Most factually undisputed cases settle before a lawsuit is filed.

Because Medicare and Medi-Cal have enforceable liens, you are now required to get a clearance from Medicare and or Medi-Cal before settling a case.  Healthcare providers, including Kaiser, also place liens on recoveries.  Family support liens may also take time to resolve.

Should you want to discuss a personal injury case you may contact Wayne Johnson at (510) 451-1166 or   Wayne Johnson does civil and criminal litigation.