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What to Do After a Car Accident in San Diego

It had been a fun, but long, day at SeaWorld. Your daughter was exhausted, hungry and sunburned and you needed to get her home. You packed her in the car and headed back, visions of dolphins and penguins dancing in your head. By the time you got onto I-5 she had already fallen asleep in the back seat. You were singing along to the radio when the traffic up ahead came to a stop. You slowed down just in time, but the car behind you did not. The impact was hard and your daughter is crying. What happens now? What do you do? Here is some basic information to help you decide what to do after a car accident in San Diego. 

For a general overview, you may wish to check out the FindLaw section on Car Accidents. Here you can find information geared specifically towards America's Finest City.

First Steps

The law in California requires that you stop at the scene of the accident, provide basic information about yourself and your vehicle to the other driver, and help anyone who is injured. If you fail to do these things, you can be charged with a crime and face fines and/or imprisonment. So be sure not to just drive away, even if it seems like a minor collision, and call 911 immediately if anyone is hurt.

When you are consulting with the other driver, try to make sure to get his or her name, address, phone number, driver's license number, license plate number, vehicle registration number and insurance information. You may also want to take photographs and jot down any weather or traffic conditions if you can.

If there are any passengers in the other cars, or other witnesses, gather their contact information, as well. Although emotions are typically high after an accident, be cordial and polite to everyone involved and try not to get into any discussions about who was at fault. You can sort that out later and you don't want something you said in the heat of the moment to be used against you later.

As you are figuring out what to do after a car accident in San Diego, you should download a useful FindLaw pamphlet here that has spaces to record the information you collect, plus a checklist of actions to take both at the scene and afterwards.

Reporting to the Authorities

If the accident results in injury or death, you are required to make a report within 24 hours to either the California Highway Patrol or the San Diego Police Department, depending on where the accident occurred.

In addition, within 10 days, you must make a report to the California DMV in the case of injury, death, or property damage of more than $750.


As the California DMV explains, proof of "financial responsibility" is required on any vehicle "operated or parked on any California roadway." There are different types of financial responsibility, including self-insurance and cash deposits with the DMV, but the most common type is an automobile insurance liability policy. If you carry insurance, you must carry minimum liability coverage as follows: $15,000 for injury or death to one person, $30,000 for injury or death to 2 or more people, and $5,000 for property damage. You may carry coverage in addition to this, and many drivers do so for increased protection.

You should call your insurance company right away after an accident and be honest and forthcoming with them through the process, but it is generally recommended that you not sign any waivers or releases until you get legal advice and that you not cash any checks that say "final payment" unless you are ready to do so and understand the implications.

If you run into an issue with your insurer, you can file a complaint with the California Department of Insurance. Their website also has some Automobile Informational Guides which you may find useful, including a glossary of commonly used automobile insurance terms.

Taking Legal Action

You may decide to bring legal action, in which case you would likely file suit at the San Diego Superior Court. Going to small claims court is an option for you if the amount you are seeking does not exceed $10,000 (or $7,500 where the person you are suing is insured). Keep in mind that there are time frames (called statutes of limitations) within which you must bring your lawsuit or lose the opportunity forever. In San Diego, you will generally have 2 years to bring your suit.

Your lawsuit will typically claim that the other driver acted negligently. To act negligently is essentially to act carelessly and for that carelessness to cause or contribute to the accident.

It might be the case that you acted somewhat negligently, as well, and are partially to blame for the accident yourself. What happens then? States handle this in different ways, but California follows what is known as the "pure comparative negligence" doctrine, which means that you can still pursue your action even if you were partially to blame, but your recovery will be reduced by the percentage of your fault. So for example, if you were claiming $100,000 in damages, but were 50% at fault, your recovery would be reduced by 50% ($50,000).

Get Legal Help with Your San Diego Car Accident

Car accident cases can be complicated and confusing. You may wish to simply focus on recovering and let an attorney handle the legal and administrative aspects. For information on hiring a lawyer, types of legal fees and costs and more, speak with a local personal injury attorney today.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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