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How and when to report car accidents in California

In the absolute best-case scenario, car accidents are inconvenient. If there are serious injuries to anyone involved, the first priority should be getting appropriate medical treatment for anyone hurt. With a minor fender bender or one-car accident, a motorist may be tempted to skip reporting altogether. The following are some guidelines for how and when to report a car accident.

If there are injuries involved, the authorities must be notified. In California, all accidents involving injury, death or damages over $1,000 must be reported to the DMV within 10 days of occurrence. If there is no injury and slight damage, the parties involved may choose not to call the police and deal with the matter privately as the damage could be less than the insurance deductible. It's important to note that what appears to be slight damage can turn expensive when estimates are gathered, so anyone involved should be mindful of any insurance deadlines outlined in the individual policy.

If the accident involves multiple vehicles and substantial damage, the best policy is to call the police immediately and avoid moving the vehicles if possible. Attending to any injuries is the first priority, but while waiting for the police, it may be prudent to go ahead and contact insurance companies for specific claim instructions.

Anyone involved in an accident should cooperate with the police but avoid giving a statement unless clear-headed. If necessary, explain that a statement will be provided as soon as possible. Before giving statements to adverse insurance representatives, consulting an experienced attorney is recommended.

In California, a personal injury lawsuit for expenses caused by a car accident must be filed within two years. A motorist involved in a wreck may want to err on the side of caution and either immediately report the crash or confer with counsel if unclear on the proper course.

Source: State of California Department of Motor Vehicles, "Vehicle Collisions! (FFDL 16)"

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