In California, dealing with your auto insurance company after a traffic collision is not always easy.

If you have to deal with a different auto insurance company – the company that insures the at-fault driver who crashed into you – it can be even more difficult.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO AT THE SCENE OF AN ACCIDENT?

But first, it is important to take a look briefly at what you will need to do at the accident scene if you are involved in a traffic accident here in southern California:

1. Summon medical help and law enforcement at once. Even if you do not seem to be injured, have a medical exam at the scene or within 24 hours. It is also imperative to obtain a hard copy of the written police accident report as soon as it becomes available.

2. Get as much information as you can from the other driver: name, address, phone number, email address, driver’s license and vehicle registration numbers, insurance company name, phone number, address, and if possible, that driver’s auto insurance policy number.

3. Take pictures of the overall accident scene, the damage to the vehicles, and your own visible injuries if you’ve been hurt. Be certain to photograph the other vehicle’s license plate so that it can be clearly seen.

4. If there are eyewitnesses, try to get their names and a way to contact them. If a lawsuit arises from the accident, your accident attorney may need their statements or testimony.

5. Your auto insurance policy probably requires you to inform your insurance company, within 24 to 48 hours, that you have been in an accident. Keep that call brief. Make no formal statement. You are required to “notify” the insurance company – nothing more.

6. If the other driver was at-fault, contact his or her auto insurance company too. Drivers who are responsible for crashes may not promptly inform their insurance companies.

WHAT’S THE BEST-CASE SCENARIO AFTER A TRAFFIC CRASH?

The police will investigate the accident to determine if any tickets should be issued or if charges should be brought. The insurance company will conduct its own investigation, which may or may not reach the same conclusions as the police regarding liability and the cause of the crash.

In the best-case scenario, your doctor will tell you that you have sustained no injuries, and the at-fault driver’s insurance company will compensate you promptly for your vehicle repairs or for your vehicle itself if the vehicle has been totaled.

But as you might imagine, the best-case scenario is not the typical scenario. For instance, a car insurance company may pressure you to take your vehicle to a particular body shop for repairs. You should know that you’re free to have your vehicle repaired by whomever you choose.

An at-fault driver’s insurer may also insist it has no evidence that their policyholder was at-fault, and that company may tell you to file your damage claim with your own insurance company.

SHOULD YOU HIRE AN ATTORNEY FOR A DAMAGE CLAIM?

But in most cases, if all that you have suffered in an accident is vehicle damage, you should be able to resolve the matter on your own with one insurance company or the other.

When you have the facts on your side – independent repair estimates, before and after photos, and receipts from previous repairs – you will be in a good position to negotiate for the compensation amount that you need.

In some cases, your own insurance company will compensate you and then seek reimbursement from the other driver’s insurance company.

Unless you are dealing with an auto insurance company that engages in bad faith insurance practices, you probably will not need an attorney’s help with a damage claim.

WHAT IF YOU HAVE AN INJURY CLAIM?

However, you will very much need a California accident attorney’s advice and services if you have been injured in a collision because the other driver was negligent.

That is an entirely different situation, and in southern California, you will need to consult at once with a personal injury attorney.

Your future and your health are priorities. If a careless driver in southern California injures you, it is imperative for you to have an accident attorney’s advice and assistance at once.

The personal injuries that are sustained in traffic collisions are often serious and sometimes permanently disabling. The most catastrophic injuries will require substantial compensation to cover a lifetime of medical care.

WHAT WILL IT COST TO LEARN MORE?

You will need a skilled injury lawyer who knows what it takes to win that kind of compensation.

Most accident attorneys in California will provide the injured with a no-charge first consultation and case review, so it will not cost you anything to learn more about your rights and how the law applies to your own case.

Your personal injury lawyer – a qualified negotiator who routinely handles injury claims – will negotiate your injury claim directly with the insurance company on your behalf.

Anyone injured by negligence in California is entitled by law to complete compensation for all accident-and-injury related medical expenses, lost wages and lost earning capacity, personal pain and suffering, and sometimes more.

WILL YOU HAVE TO TAKE YOUR CASE TO COURT?

If the insurance company refuses to negotiate with your attorney in good faith or to offer you an acceptable settlement, your attorney will take the case to court – but that’s rare. About ninety percent of all personal injury claims in this state are settled privately and out-of-court.

California’s statute of limitations for personal injury cases arising from traffic collisions is two years. If you do not take legal action within that time, you may have no legal standing.

However, there are a number of exceptions to the two-year statute of limitations, so determining precisely exactly when time runs out for any particular personal injury claim is not always easy.

WHEN SHOULD YOU CONSULT AN ATTORNEY ABOUT YOUR CASE?

Do not wait two years to talk with a lawyer if you have been injured. Act at once.

In fact, do not hesitate to contact an experienced Orange County personal injury attorney with any questions about your case, your rights, or personal injury law in California.

If you are injured by negligence in this state, the law will be on your side, but you will have to take the first step. Get the legal help you need. That is your right.

By: Chris Purcell

Attorney Chris Purcell is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara College of Law. He exclusively represents the victims of personal injury and wrongful death. Chris was part of the team that won California’s largest-ever wrongful death judgment – a $150 million verdict for a family devastated by a tragic trucking accident. In 2011, he received the Top Gun Award given by the Orange County Trial Lawyers Association.