UNITED STATES—Anyone can get involved in a car accident at any time. In California, there were 3,540 reported motor vehicle deaths during 2019. These deaths include passenger vehicles, light trucks, and motorcycles. Said deaths are only part of the number of car accidents that take place in California.

After every car accident, there are certain things the victim and the at-fault driver should do. You might feel overwhelmed and anxious after a car accident, but you should still be aware of your rights and duties after the disastrous events.

Reporting a Car Accident

The California Vehicle Code provides that the driver involved, or a representative, in a car accident must make a written report within 24 hours from the accident. Such a report shall be made with the California Highway Patrol or police office near where the crash happened, especially if the accident resulted in injuries or death of a person.

Such a written report is separate from the report that the officer will make upon arrival at the scene of the accident. The officer will also make their report regarding the accident for investigation and evidence purposes.

You might also need to report with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).  Any driver involved in a car accident shall report the accident within ten days to the DMV if:

  • The party involved in the crash is injured,
  • Someone died due to the accident, or
  • The accident resulted in property damage for more than $1,000.

Aside from government authorities, you should also make a report with your insurance company. The sooner your insurer knows about the accident, the sooner you can defend your claim. There is a risk that the insurer will refuse your claim if you belatedly make a report with them. The “reasonable time” to file your report depends on the circumstances of your claim.

Determining Fault

California adheres to the at-fault system of compensation claims. This means that the person who caused the accident is liable for the damages and injuries sustained by the other party. There are two ways to determine who was at fault in the car accident: proving negligence and showing a violation of traffic laws.

Proving Negligence

The injured party can prove that the other driver was negligent if you can show that they did not operate the vehicle with the appropriate level of care of a “reasonable person.” This standard means every driver must maneuver their vehicle with a reasonable amount of caution.

After proving that the other driver has failed to perform the appropriate level of care in driving, the injured party must show that their negligence was the cause of the accident. If it can be proven to be the cause of the accident, the injured party is entitled to compensation from the negligent party.

Showing a Violation of Traffic Laws

Another way of determining fault is showing who violated traffic laws. If the other driver has violated any provision of the California Traffic Laws, they are deemed to be the cause of the car accident. The person who violated the law is called to be negligent, per se, as traffic laws were put in place to prevent accidents.

Contributory Negligence

The claim for compensation does not stop at determining who was at-fault in the accident. There is also determining whether or not there was contributory negligence on the part of the injured party that caused the accident.

If the injured party was partially at fault in the accident, their compensation claims might be reduced in proportion with their participation in the accident. For example, if the injured party was 20% at fault, the compensation that they may receive is only up to 80% of the amount they’re entitled to.

Calculating Damages

The purpose of damages is to compensate for the losses and injuries sustained due to the accident. There are two types of damages that the injured party may claim: economic and non-economic damages.

Economic damages are those that you can calculate, such as out-of-the-pocket expenses. These include medical expenses, property damage reparation, loss of income, and other documented bills. Meanwhile, non-economic damages are those that cannot be calculated with bills. These include pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of consortium.

The injured party may settle with the insurance company for the amount of compensation. However, the offer for compensation might not be enough to cover the injuries sustained. Thus, to take the proper amount of compensation, the best thing that the injured party can do is to get the services of an accident lawyer.

If there can be no settlement with the amount of compensation, the injured party can file a civil lawsuit for the claims. The lawsuit should be filed within two years from the date of the accident.

An auto accident lawyer will be helpful in this instance. For example, if the injured party has a case in San Diego, they may seek the legal help of auto accident lawyers in San Diego. But if the accident occurred in other places, such as Sacramento, it’s best to hire a lawyer from that area to ensure faster action on the case.


Accidents can happen to anyone. After an accident, the injured party might feel anxious and afraid due to its impact. Knowing what to do after an accident before an accident happens can help the injured party feel more empowered. They can settle with the insurance company or file a civil lawsuit if a settlement cannot be reached.