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California Car Accident Report Basics

There is no good time to have a car accident. At best, it's an inconvenience, but it can also be a life-altering event. In the confusion and chaos that follow, knowing what to do and your legal responsibilities can be difficult.

This article will help you understand what's required from you in the aftermath of an auto accident in California. You'll learn what you should and shouldn't do at the scene of your accident. We'll demystify accident reports, police reports, and what the California Department of Motor Vehicles expects from you after a crash.

In addition, we'll touch on insurance claims, injury claims, who has to pay, and dealing with auto insurance companies. Together we'll learn everything there is to know about California accident reports and what you should do in the wake of an accident.

After You're in a Car Accident - What To Do

Right after an auto accident, things are going to be confusing. Your ears may be ringing and your pulse racing as you try to make sense of the traumatic event you were just part of. Unless you're still in immediate danger, try to take a deep breath and remember what needs to be done.

The health and safety of everyone involved is the most important thing. Property is replaceable, but lives aren't. If you're OK, check on the well-being of others involved. Your next step should be to call 911. Alert the operator to any injuries and how severe they are.

Do not leave the scene of the accident. If you do, you risk being convicted of a hit-and-run crime, which carries severe penalties. If nobody is injured or killed, move your vehicle off the street or highway while you wait for the police. If there are witnesses, get their contact information.

When the police arrive, answer their questions truthfully to help them fill out the accident report. Alert your insurance company as soon as possible. All accidents are reported in California, and you must file an SR-1 report with the California DMV. We'll dig a little deeper into that process below.

If you were injured in the accident, seek medical attention. Keep copies of all medical bills and treatments. Your insurance company will require these at some point. If you encounter difficulty at any stage, consider speaking with a car accident lawyer.

For a detailed rundown of what you'll encounter as you seek recovery, look at FindLaw's California Car Accident Settlement Process and Timeline article.

California Auto Accident Laws - An Overview

As laws differ from state to state, knowing California's driving statutes is an absolute necessity. While nobody wants to be in an accident, knowing what to expect afterward can help you have a better outcome.

Basic California Automotive Accident Laws

While operating laws are pretty much the same in each state — have a valid driver's license and registration, follow traffic signals, and so on — when it comes to accidents, California handles some aspects in its own way.

If the car accident resulted in death, injury, or property damage exceeding $1,000, the accident must be reported within 10 days to the state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

You must report the accident even if a police officer or the California Highway Patrol (CHP) writes and files a police report on it. Failure to report the car accident to the DMV within 10 days can result in you losing your driving privileges.

Fault and Negligence in California

After an accident, it's common to wonder who must pay for all of the damage. California is an at-fault state, which means that the person deemed most responsible for the accident pays the damages and medical expenses of the others. They are also able to be sued by the accident victims for further recovery.

California also follows the doctrine of pure comparative negligence. This system determines how much each person was responsible for the accident and then adjusts the amount they can recover accordingly. If your damages were $20,000 and you were determined to have been 10% at fault, you'd be awarded $18,000.

Since it's pure comparative negligence, even someone 99% at fault for an accident could recover 1% of their damages. For a better understanding of how seeking recovery works in California, dive into FindLaw's California Car Accident Compensation Laws article.

California Auto Insurance Requirements

In California, you cannot legally drive without some form of liability insurance. There are a few different types of insurance available:

  • Motor vehicle liability insurance policy
  • Cash deposit of $35,000 with DMV
  • DMV-issued self-insurance certificate
  • Surety bond for $35,000 from a company licensed to do business in California

Contact the California Department of Motor Vehicles Financial Responsibility Unit at (916) 657-6677 for information about cash deposits or self-insurance.

Minimum amounts of liability coverage must be carried in accordance with California law, including:

  • $15,000 for injury/death to one person
  • $30,000 for injury/death to more than one person
  • $5,000 for damage to property

You must be able to provide proof of insurance on demand. Failure to have proper insurance will cause the revocation of your vehicle registration.

California Car Accident Report Summary

The table below offers a recap of the information covered above, along with a list of what you'll need when filing your accident report.

Relevant California Accident Statutes

California Vehicle Code section 16000

When To Report an Accident in California

If you are involved in a vehicle accident that occurred in California, you must report it to the DMV if:

  • There was property damage greater than $1,000
  • Anyone incurred a personal injury, no matter how minor
  • Anyone was killed

How To File a Car Crash Report in California

To file a car crash report with the DMV in California, you, your insurance agent, or your legal representative must complete the Report of Traffic Accident Occurring in California (Form SR-1).

To fill out the form SR-1, you will need to gather the following information:

  • Scene of the accident and time of the accident
  • Other driver's contact information (name, address, and date of birth)
  • Other driver's license information (state of license, driver's license number)
  • Other driver's license plate number and state
  • Other driver's insurance information (driver's insurance company, policy number, and expiration date)
  • The name and address of all insurance policyholders
  • The name and address of all vehicle owners of vehicles involved in the accident
  • An explanation of injuries or property damage
  • The name and address of any people complaining of bodily injury after the accident

Note: State laws are subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts that include federal decisions, ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law you are researching.

More To Know About California Car Accident Report Basics

Every accident has unique aspects, but there is often shared common ground. You may find the following answers useful.

Are there exceptions to California car accident reporting?

According to California law, a report of an automobile accident is not required if the car or motor vehicle involved in the accident was owned, leased by, or used under the direction of the United States, California, another state, or a local agency.

If none of the parties involved in an automobile accident reports the accident to the DMV within one year after the date of the accident, the DMV is not required to file a report on the accident, and the state's driver's license suspension requirements will not apply.

The accident wasn't my fault, but does it still go on my insurance record?

If you weren't assigned any of the blame, then the accident shouldn't show up as a negative on your insurance record. If you were even 1% at fault and law enforcement filed a report with the California DMV, the accident will be on your record.

I was in an accident, but it was mostly the other person's fault. I still have to fill out the SR-1 form for the DMV, right? What's involved?

You are correct that you need to file a report with the DMV by using the SR-1 form. You'll also need copies for your insurance carrier and your attorney, should you choose to file a lawsuit.

You should have the following information at hand:

  • Your driver’s license or identification (DL/ID) card
  • Your vehicle’s license plate number or vehicle identification number (VIN)
  • Your vehicle’s insurance information
  • Other party’s vehicle and insurance information, if applicable

You can file through the DMV's online portal. If you'd rather fill out a copy and print it out instead, a PDF form is available.

Research the Law

Learn More About Car Accident Reports in California From a Lawyer

If you're still uncertain whether or not you need to report a car accident under California law, have questions on how to file a car crash report in California, or need to know more about insurance coverage and your possible financial responsibility for an auto accident, you may want to contact a skilled car accident attorney today.

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