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Auto Injury

Question: Do I need auto insurance?

Answer: Yes, recent changes in the law (Proposition 213, an act of 1996)allowpolice officer to ask you to prove that you have auto insurance. If you are in an accident, you must show the name of your insurance company and your policy number to the other drivers involved in the accident. If you are not insured, you will be fined and lose your license for at least one year. If you tell the officer you have insurance when you do not, you can be fined, sent to jail, or both.The law says that you can prove your financial responsibility in one of these ways:

  1. Insurance – you may have liability insurance that provides at least $5,000.00 coverage for property damage for one accident, $15,000.00 for one person injured or killed in an accident and $30,000.00 for two or more people killed or injured.
  2. Cash – you can deposit $35,000.00 with the DMV.
  3. Bond – the DMV will also accept a bond for $35,000.00. However, few bonding companies issue financial responsibility bonds.

Question: What kind of automobile insurance coverage should I carry?

Answer: California Law requires that motorists be able to provide evidence of financial responsibility showing coverage of at least $15,000/$30,000 for bodily injury liability, and $5,000 for property damage liability. Involvement in even a minor accident, however, can result in potential liabilities that could prove such limits woefully inadequate, leaving personal assets exposed to judgment and execution.It is advisable to also carry medical payments coverage (which may pay medical expenses incurred by you, members of your household under certain conditions, and occupants of your vehicle who are injured in an automobile collision without regard to fault) and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (which will offer you protection if you are injured as a result of the negligence of an uninsured or underinsured driver).Although it is cheaper to purchase minimum limits of coverage, the consumer is wise to look into the higher insurance limits, i.e., at least $100,000/$400,000 for both bodily injury liability, and especially for uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. It may be surprising how little it costs to get increased protection, and if you should ever find yourself seriously injured in an accident which was the fault of an uninsured or underinsured driver, you will be extremely thankful to have spent a few extra premium dollars.

Question: If I am in an auto accident, what should I do if someone is injured?

Answer: The law requires you to give reasonable assistance to injured persons.For example, you may need to call an ambulance, or even take the injured person to a doctor or hospital, or give first aid, if you know how. You should always be extremely cautious and careful if you plan to move someone who is badly hurt; as you might make the injury much worse. However, you might be faced with an emergency situation: should you move someone who is in danger of being hurt worse or killed – even if you might make the injury worse? Maybe There will be an imminent additional collision or other injury producing circumstances. If there is a chance for more collisions, (safely) warn other motorist. Placing flares on the road, turning on your car’s hazard lights and lifting the engine hood maybe good ways to warn oncoming traffic. Call 911 immediately. Get their advice. Arrange to get help for any injured persons, and try not to panic.

Question: If I am in an auto accident, what information should I gather at the scene?

Answer: Since many records now are confidential under the law, you may not be able to obtain the information that you want from the Department of Motor Vehicles. So be sure to get as much correct and complete information as you can at the scene of the accident. You and the other driver should show each other your drivers licenses and vehicle registrations.Record the following information:The other drivers’ name, address, date of birth, telephone number, drivers’ license number and expiration date and insurance company;The other car’s make, year, model, license plate number and expiration date and any other vehicle identification number;The names, addresses, telephone numbers and insurance companies of the other car’s legal and registered owners – if the driver does not own the car;The names, addresses and telephone numbers of any passengers in the car;The names, addresses and telephone numbers of witnesses to the accident. Ask them to stay and talk to the CHP or police. If they insist on leaving, ask them to tell you what they saw and write everything down;Try to identify people at the accident scene, even if they will not give their names. For example, if a man who saw the accident drives off, take down his license plate number. Law enforcement officials can trace the owners name and address.The name and badge number of the law officer who comes to the accident scene. Ask the officer where and when you can get a copy of the Accident Report;Draw a diagram of the accident. Draw the positions of both cars before, during and after the accident. If there are skid marks on the road, pace them off. Draw them on the diagram, noting the distance they cover. Mark the positions of any crosswalks, stop signs, traffic lights or street lights. If you have a camera with you, take pictures of the scene;Make notes on weather and road conditions. If the accident happened after dark, indicate if streetlights were on. Estimate your speed and the other driver’s speed. Be sure to note the exact time and place the accident happened.

Question: If I think the auto accident is my fault, should I say so?

Answer: No. Do not volunteer any information about whose fault the accident was. You may think you were in the wrong and learn the other driver is as much, or more to blame than you are. You should talk to your insurance agent, your lawyer, or both before taking the blame. Anything you say to the police or other driver can be used against you later.

Question: Should I get a physical check-up after an accident?

Answer: A check up (at least) is a good idea for both you and your passengers. One could be injured and not know it right away.

Question: Who pays if I am injured or my car is damaged?

Answer: That depends on who was at fault, whether you and the other driver have insurance, and what kind of insurance you have. There are two major types of insurance: “liability” and “collision”.Liability: If you are to blame for an accident, your liability insurance will pay the other driver for property damage and personal injuries up to your policy limits.If you are not at fault, the other drivers liability insurance pays for your car damage and/or personal injuries.In California, if you and the other driver both have car damage or injuries and you both are partly responsible for the accident, you each may be able to collect part of your loss. How much each of you collects from the others policy depends on the amount of your damages and how much each of you is at fault.If you loan your car to someone who has an accident, your insurance may pay for the damages – just as it would if you had been driving.Collision: No matter who is at fault, your collision insurance pays for damages to your car (not your medical expenses), minus the policy deductible. Most insurance companies do not offer collision coverage for very old cars.You may have other insurance too. Your health insurance, for example, may pay your medical bills. Also, your automobile insurance may have medical payments coverage. If so, it will pay the cost for your medical treatment. This coverage can be used in place of your other health insurance or in addition to it.

Question: What should I do if the other driver does not have insurance?

Answer: If the other driver caused the accident and is not insured, your own policy will pay for your personal injuries – if you have “uninsured motorist” or “medical payments” coverage. If the other driver’s insurance is not enough to pay for all of your damages, your own insurance may pay the difference, if you have “under insured motorist” coverage. If you do not have these kinds of insurance or if your damages are more than the policy’s limit, you can sue the other driver. However, even if you win the case, you cannot be sure that the other driver has the money to pay.

If you have collision insurance, it will pay for the damage to your car, no matter who is at fault.

Question: What if I want to make a claim for my injuries?

Answer: If the other driver was at fault, you may be entitled to compensation – for your personal injuries, pain and suffering, car damage and other expenses, such as lost wages or the cost of a nurse needed after the accident. You should make a claim with the other driver’s insurance company. But, if you are not satisfied with the amount they offer, you may want to sue.If you plan to sue, do not delay. There are time limits to filing various types of claims – usually one year after the accident, but sometimes much less – so act quickly.Beginning in 1991, you can sue for $5,000.00 or less in small claims court. A lawyer cannot represent you in this court, but you can talk with one before hand. If you want to sue for a larger amount, you will need your own lawyer. An insurance company lawyer cannot represent you if you are the person who is suing (the plaintiff).Heiting and Irwin accept automobile accident cases on a “contingent” fee basis. That means you do not pay the lawyer if you lose the case. If you win, you pay the lawyer a percentage of the money you get. A smaller percentage is charged if the case is settled before the lawyer does all the work necessary to go to arbitration or trial.If you and your lawyer agree to a contingent fee, the lawyer must put the agreement in writing and give you a signed copy. The contract will explain what percentage the lawyer will get if you win and how it might vary. It also states who will pay for any court costs.

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The material included in this website is general and not intended as legal advice. Readers should not act upon information contained in this material without professional personal legal counseling. All information on this web site is provided without any warranty, express or implied, as to their legal effect and completeness. Heiting & Irwin does not warrant any information provided via this website, nor is an Attorney-Client or Attorney-Attorney relationship created in any way by providing information to you on this site. If you have a legal problem, we suggest that you consult an attorney in person as soon as possible.