Your daughter's 6th birthday party at the Children's Discovery Museum was a big success. After a long afternoon of art projects, present opening and cupcakes, she is exhausted. And so are you, frankly. You load everything up into the car and start heading down Woz Way toward West San Carlos. Next thing you know you are rear-ended by a minivan. What do you do? What happens now? Here is some basic information to help you with your car accident in San Jose.
California law requires that you stop after an accident, exchange information with the other driver, and provide help to any injured person. If the accident results in injury or death you also need to report it right away to the San Jose Police Department or the California Highway Patrol.
Even if you hit an unattended car, or your parked car becomes a "runaway" vehicle and causes damage, you are required to leave a note in a conspicuous place and report the accident "without unnecessary delay" to the authorities.
Failure to comply with the requirements to stop and inform is a serious matter -- you can face fines and jail time -– so make sure to pull over to the nearest safe location, try not to obstruct traffic, and find out if anyone needs medical attention. If so, immediately contact 911. Once any emergency medical concerns are addressed, exchange the following with the other driver:
- Names and addresses of drivers and/or registered owners;
- Vehicle registration information; and
- Driver's license information.
It is also a good idea to exchange insurance information at this time, as well as gather the names and contact information of any passengers or other witnesses to the accident. If you can, take photographs and jot down any noteworthy traffic or weather conditions. Here is a helpful Motor Vehicle Accident: First Steps pamphlet to use as a checklist.
If you are driving in California, you must carry evidence of financial responsibility (usually insurance). The minimum liability insurance coverage in San Jose and the rest of the state is 15/30/5. This covers $15,000 for injury to one person, $30,000 for injury to more than one person, and $5,000 for property damage. You may, of course, carry greater coverage than this.
You will want to contact your insurance company right after the accident to report it. Be truthful and helpful with them, but remember that you do not have to agree to have your statement recorded, nor are you required to accept their estimates or appraisals. Refer to these Car Insurance Claims Dos and Don'ts for further guidance.
Who Was At Fault?
Establishing fault in a car accident case generally involves showing that someone was negligent. Negligence basically means that someone's carelessness caused or contributed to the accident. It is often the case that both you and the other driver were partially at fault. San Jose and the rest of California follow a pure comparative negligence system. This means that even if you were 99% at fault for the accident, you can still pursue an action for that 1% that was not your fault. Your damages will be reduced by the percentage of your fault. So, for example, if you had $100,000 in damages and were 20% responsible for the accident, you would still be able to make a claim as to the 80% ($80,000) that was not your fault.
What Can You Recover? What Are Damages?
Depending on how bad the accident was and how much you were injured, you may be able to recover "damages" (or monetary compensation) from the other driver. Damages can include compensation for things like medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost wages.
Getting A Lawyer
An attorney may be able to help you with the aftermath of an accident and assist you with recovering money for your injuries and/or damaged property. Check out FindLaw's section on Car Accident Legal Help for information on hiring a lawyer and types of legal fees and costs. If you decide to pursue legal action, keep in mind that in California you generally have 2 years to file a personal injury case.