What to do if there is an accident

Driving on California’s highways carries the inherent risk of traffic accidents, ranging from minor fender benders to significant collisions that result in injuries. Being prepared with knowledge on “What to Do if You’ve Been in an Accident” can prevent expensive errors post-incident. This guide highlights the steps to take immediately after an accident and what you should anticipate when initiating a claim with your insurance provider.

For your convenience, an accident checklist is contained herein which can be kept in your vehicle for future reference.

  • When purchasing car insurance, carefully review the application before signing to determine if the coverages, policy limits, and deductibles are suitable for your needs.
  • After you receive the policy, review the declaration page. It contains important information about the covered drivers and identifies the insured vehicles.
  • The declaration also contains the coverage amounts, deductibles, and policy limits that were purchased. Make sure the information is correct and aligns with everything you purchased. 
  • If changes are needed, send your request to your agent and/or insurance company in writing and keep a copy. 
  • Use certified mail and request a return receipt to verify receipt of your documents.

Become familiar with your automobile insurance policy so you will understand it before the need arises to file a claim. Read the policy thoroughly so you know what is covered and what is excluded.

Stop immediately and move only if it is safe to do so

  • Call 911 if there are injuries.
  • Call the police. In some areas, police authorities may not respond to every accident scene. They may consider factors such as the severity and location of the accident (some police authorities will not come to the scene if the accident is on private property).  However, you should attempt to notify the police.  You should also be aware that most policies require notification to the police within a specified time period if the accident is a hit and run.
  • Obtain names, addresses, telephone numbers, and driver’s license numbers from all drivers.
  • Obtain license plate(s) and vehicle identification numbers.  Ask to the see driver’s license(s) and vehicle registration(s) to verify the information is accurate.
  • Obtain names, addresses, and telephone numbers of other passengers and any witnesses.
  • If you have a camera or a cellphone, take photographs of the damage, and the accident scene (traffic controls, visual obstacles).
  • If it is night time when the pictures are taken, be sure to take pictures in broad daylight the following day as these will more accurately show the damage rendered to the vehicle.
  • If the owner of a damaged car or damaged property cannot be located, leave a note with the names and addresses of the driver and owners of the involved cars.
  • Notify your agent and/or your insurance company immediately.
  • If anyone is injured or the vehicle damage exceeds $750.00, you must report the accident to the Department of Motor Vehicles within 10 days. Failure to notify the DMV may result in the suspension of your driver’s license.

If you need any guidance after an accident contact Nordean Law. Our experienced team will navigate you throughout the process.

what to do after accident

Things to avoid

  • Do not argue with other drivers and passengers. 
  • Save your story for the police and your insurance company.
  • Do not sign statements regarding fault or promise to pay for the other parties damages. 
  • If the other party offers to pay your deductible, don’t sign anything.
  • You must show your driver’s license, vehicle registration card, evidence of financial responsibility, and current address to the other driver or persons involved, or to a peace officer.

Important tips

  1. Read your policy.  Don’t wait until after an accident.
  2. If you don’t understand your policy, ask your agent and/or company for clarification.
  3. If you have an accident, call the police. If there are injuries, call paramedics.
  4. Get as much information as possible at the accident scene to furnish to your agent and/or insurance company.
  5. Immediately notify your agent and/or insurance company of an accident.
  6. Cooperate with the insurance adjusters/investigators to aid in their efforts.
  7. If you don’t understand something about the claims procedure, ask your agent and/or insurance company representative to explain.
  8.  Notify your agent or company in writing of any change in your vehicle ownership.

Your rights under the fair claims settlement practices regulations

In general, insurance companies are required to do the following:

  • Advise you of all benefits, coverage, time limits or other provisions of your insurance policy.
  • Acknowledge your claim, start an investigation, provide forms and instructions, and provide reasonable assistance immediately but in no event later than 15 days after receiving notice of claim.  (Notice of claim is any written or oral communication to the insurance company which reasonably apprises the insurer that you wish to make a claim).
  • Respond to communications received from you immediately but in no event later than 15 days.
  • Accept or deny the claim immediately but in no event later than 40 days after receiving proof of claim.  Proof of claim is documentation in your possession which provides any evidence of the claim and supports the magnitude or the amount of the loss such as estimates of repair or police report indicating theft of your vehicle, et cetera.
  • Unless the insurer has provided you with the name of a specific towing company prior to your using a towing facility, the insurer must pay reasonable towing expenses.
  • Offer a fair settlement. If you suffered a total loss, settlement   must include taxes, license and transfer fees.  The settlement must reflect the value of a comparable vehicle of like kind and quality.  If you retain the salvage, deductions from the settlement for salvage must be fair, measurable, and discernible.
  • Once the claim has been accepted, the insurer must pay the claim immediately, but in no event later than 30 days from the date settlement was reached.
  • Advise you whether or not they will pursue subrogation. If the insurance company pursues subrogation, they must include your deductible unless you have already recovered your deductible.

The above represents a paraphrased brief overview of some of the Fair Claims Settlement Practices Regulations.

Automobile insurance fraud

Automobile insurance fraud in California historically has   taken several forms. The most common fraud schemes involve automobile property and automobile accidents.

Automobile property – This type of fraud most often involves dishonest auto body and repair shops and/or insureds who may employ a variety of illegal or questionable techniques including:

  • Reporting parts of vehicles as damaged or lost when in fact they were not damaged or lost prior to the shop receiving the vehicle.
  • Making final cost in excess of the original estimate of damage.
  • Billing for repairs that were not authorized.
  • Charging for genuine parts when aftermarket or used parts from a junkyard were used.
  • Pounding out dents or using bondo when charging for brand new auto parts.
  • Falsely reporting stolen vehicles or vandalism of vehicles in order to collect insurance money.

It is always important for the consumer to carefully review all paper work from auto body and repair shops in order to protect against potential fraud.  Also, consumers should be cautious of any auto body or repair facility that makes referrals to medical or legal offices.  This practice may be an indicator of “capping.”  Capping (a felony in California) is the illegal referral of clients to legal offices for a fee.

Automobile accidents – Automobile fraud often involves organized auto accident rings. Staged auto accidents, which are not accidents at all, follow several basic schemes including:

  • Pausing unexpectedly without a clear cause
  • Actively ignoring established right-of-way rules
  • Yielding the right-of-way to create an accident deliberately
  • Including passengers in the claims report who weren’t in the vehicle during the incident
  • Adding witnesses to the report who didn’t witness the accident
  • Claiming injuries that significantly exceed the vehicle damage observed
  • Operating the vehicle with a temporary registration
  • Noticing pre-existing damage on the other vehicle involved
  • Receiving unsolicited contact from an attorney

If you have been in an auto accident, be cautious of any unsolicited referral to a body shop, law office or medical office. Organized accident rings and cappers actively solicit others in the community to participate in the creation of accidents. Often these accidents only exist on paper (referred to as paper accidents), and no innocent parties are involved. Paper accidents have gained in popularity among fraud perpetrators, as they are less dangerous from a bodily injury standpoint, and there is less likelihood of police involvement.

Auto body repair shops

Under California Insurance Code §758.5 an insurance company cannot require that an automobile be repaired at a specific repair shop.  However, an insurance company can recommend that an automobile be repaired at a specific repair shop under the following conditions outlined by law:

  • The consumer specifically requests a recommendation from the insurance company to a repair shop.
  • The consumer has been informed in writing of the right to select a repair shop of his or her choice.
  • If the consumer agrees to use the recommended repair shop, the insurance company must restore the damaged vehicle to its condition prior to the accident or loss with no additional cost other than as stated in the policy or as otherwise allowed by law.
  • If the company makes an oral recommendation to a repair shop, and it is accepted by the consumer, then the company must follow the oral recommendation with the prescribed written notice within five calendar days as specified by law.

If the vehicle is repaired in a shop chosen by the consumer, then the insurance company must pay the reasonable costs to repair the vehicle made in accordance with accepted trade standards for good and workmanlike automotive repairs.

  • The insurance company is prohibited from limiting or discounting reasonable repair costs based on charges that would have occurred if the vehicle had been repaired at the company’s recommended repair shop.
  • Also, the insurance company must stand behind the repairs of the recommended shop if the vehicle is not repaired properly.

Auto replacement parts

In some cases, an auto repair may include replacement of damaged parts with after-market parts.  After-market parts are parts which are not made by the original manufacturer.  After-market parts may be equal or better in quality than (OEM) original equipment manufacturer parts.  Although non-original equipment manufactured replacement parts can be used to repair your vehicle, any such part must be comparable to (OEM) original equipment manufactured parts in terms of kind, quality, safety, fit and performance. Consumers should take note of the following:

  • An auto repair shop is required to provide a written repair estimate of the cost of repairs prior to initiating repairs to the vehicle. 
  • Once the work is completed, the shop must then provide a written repair invoice.
  • State law requires that the type of auto parts used in repairs must be identified on the repair invoice.
  • Consumers should carefully check their invoice to ensure that the auto body shop has identified each auto part replaced as being used, reconditioned, rebuilt, after-market or an original equipment manufacturer part (OEM).

Consejos importantes

 A quick overview for our Spanish readers. So you’ve had an Accident, What Next?

  1. Lea su póliza. No espere hasta tener un accidente.
  2. Si no entiende su póliza, pida una aclaración a su agente o a su compañía de seguros.
  3. Si tiene un accidente, llame a la policía. Si hay heridas, llame a los paramédicos.
  4. Obtenga la mayor cantidad de información posible en el lugar del accidente, para entregársela a su agente y/o a su compañía de seguros.
  5. Notifique inmediatamente a su agente y/o a su compañía de seguros si tiene un accidente.
  6. Coopere con los ajustadores e investigadores de la compañía de seguros.
  7. Si no entiende algo sobre el procedimiento de las reclamaciones, por ejemplo, la cantidad de la oferta de liquidación, pida a su agente y/o a su compañía de seguros que se lo expliquen.
  8. Notifique por escrito a su agente o compañía de seguros cualquier cambio en la propiedad (this translates to “property” so I don’t think that is the right word. Perhaps “el dueño” would work better) de su vehículo.

Talk to the department of insurance

They are the state agency that regulates the insurance industry. They also work to protect the rights of insurance consumers.

Contact the California Department of Insurance (CDI):

  • If you feel that an insurance agent, broker, or company has treated you unfairly.
  • If you have questions or concerns about health insurance.
  • If you want to order CDI brochures.
  • If you want to file a request for assistance against your agent, broker, or insurance company.
  • If you are having difficulty opening a claim with your insurance company.
  • To check the license of an agent, broker, or insurance company.

Frequently Asked Questions

After an incident, your insurance provider will reach out to gather detailed insights about the occurrence, possibly asking for a written or recorded account. There might be a request for an examination under oath as part of their thorough investigation. This includes reaching out to other involved drivers and witnesses. Should you face medical bills or need to file an uninsured motorist claim, it's crucial to compile and submit all relevant documentation covering your injuries, medical costs, and any loss of earnings.

For expert guidance through this process, ensuring your rights and interests are fully protected, connect with Attorney Sam Nordean. He’s here to provide the support and advocacy you deserve.

After reporting your loss, a claim representative should get in touch with you promptly. Yet, there are instances where the insurance company might take as long as 15 days to make contact. Should you find yourself waiting without any communication, don’t hesitate to reach out to your agent or the insurance firm for support. And if you encounter a lack of responsiveness or face what seems like undue delays in getting your claim resolved, it’s advisable to contact the Department of Insurance for assistance.


Throughout this entire process, Nordean Law is ready to stand by your side, offering the help you need to move forward confidently.

A qualified adjuster or appraiser usually inspects the vehicle damage. The adjuster or appraiser then writes an estimate based on the initial inspection. If further damage is found during the repair process, the shop will contact the insurer to get approval for the additional cost of repairs. Keep in mind the insurer may send out an adjuster to re-inspect the additional damages. If the damage is relatively minor, the company may instead ask you to submit competitive repair estimates. Remember, it is your responsibility to sign and authorize the shop to repair your vehicle once you are satisfied with the final estimate and repair facility.

Generally, the company will pay the lesser of the following:       

  • The amount necessary to repair the vehicle or
  • The Actual Cash Value (ACV) of the vehicle.

Read your policy to determine what is covered. Pay particular attention to exclusions and limitations. For example, there is usually limited or no coverage for enhanced aftermarket stereo equipment, telephones, or tires and wheels unless it is Original Equipment installed by the automobile Manufacturer (OEM).  Additional coverage is usually available for such installed equipment at an additional charge.

Notify your agent and insurance company immediately.  Keep a copy for yourself and mail or deliver the original documents to your company.  Do not give statements or discuss the accident with anyone except a verified representative of your company.  If the lawsuit arises out of a covered loss, your company will provide legal defense.

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