Santa Ana Car Accident FAQs

Car Accident Lawyer in Santa Ana CaliforniaAny time you drive or are a passenger in a motor vehicle, you are at risk of sharing the road with other drivers who may be distracted, under the influence, negligent, or reckless. The chances of having an accident may be reduced by your own caution and defensive driving; however, no one can anticipate every possibility. Accidents happen. If you have been in an accident, you may have questions about what to do next.

What Are the Common Causes of Car Accidents?

No one can predict when or where an accident will occur, but they are often caused by the same types of risky driving behaviors, including speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI), and fatigued driving. When a driver is negligent or reckless, they can cause injuries and fatalities in Santa Ana, and across the country.

  • Speeding. Speed amplifies the effects of vehicle impact in an accident, and increases the severity of the resulting injuries to those involved. The 2016 statistics from the California Office of Traffic Safety report speed was a factor in 698 accidents, or approximately 24 percent of Santa Ana accidents with injuries or fatalities. This number is in line with the most recent statistics from the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHSTA), which show speed contributed to 26 percent of all fatalities on the road.
  • Drunk driving. Under the law in all 50 states, when a driver has 0.8 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC), they are legally drunk and subject to criminal prosecution. Furthermore, the NHSTA report, The Effects of Blood Alcohol Concentration, explains how drinking actually impairs driving behavior at BACs well below this threshold number. In 2016, the California Highway Patrol arrested 659 Santa Ana drivers for DUI, and recorded alcohol as a factor in 232 accidents with injuries or fatalities.
  • Drug-impaired driving. Marijuana and other drugs can slow a driver’s coordination, judgment, and reaction time. While agency statistics usually do not reflect drug-related accident data, it has been established that 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. are prime hours for DUI accidents. During a national NHSTA roadside survey that ran from 2013 to 2014, 20 percent of nighttime and weekend drivers tested positive for drugs.
  • Fatigued driving. Official investigations point to late night hours as the prime time for fatigued driving accidents.

How Many Are Injured in Santa Ana Accidents Each Year?

National and local agencies track motor vehicle accidents, injuries, and fatalities. The most recent available statistics record accidents in 2016, and the California Office of Traffic Safety (COTS) provides the following information regarding accidents with injuries or fatalities in Santa Ana:

  • 2,881 accidents
  • 11 of the drivers under age 21 were drinking
  • 78 of the drivers between ages 21 and 34 were drinking
  • 246 accidents occurred between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m., the prime hours for DUI, speeding, and fatigued driving accidents
  • 259 of the accidents were hit-and-run collisions

Santa Ana has the sixth highest auto accident casualty rate out of 15 California cities with similar characteristics and populations

Should I Call the Police When I Have an Accident?

If you were in an accident with injuries or fatalities, you must report it to the Santa Ana Police Department or the California Highway Patrol. When you call in a report, police officers can not always immediately come to the scene to investigate; however, that does not relieve you of your responsibility.

Under California law, some of the requirements for accidents with injuries or fatalities include:

  • The drivers must make a report when an accident involves injuries or fatalities.
  • When a police officer conducts an investigation at the scene, the drivers must cooperate and provide identification.
  • If the driver is not the owner of the vehicle, they must provide information about the owner.
  • If the owner of the vehicle is present, they must produce identification.
  • Any occupants injured in the vehicles must show identification to an investigating officer or to the driver of the other involved vehicles.
  • If necessary, the drivers must assist any injured people and/or provide transportation for medical treatment.
  • If an officer does not come to the scene of an accident involving an injury or fatality, the drivers must make a counter report without delay. This may be done at a local police department or highway patrol location.
  • If the drivers are unable to make the required report, the vehicle owners must do it on their behalf.
  • The California Highway Patrol may require that drivers and witnesses submit supplemental information.

The reporting requirements are slightly different for accidents with property damage only:

  • If a driver damages another vehicle, they must exchange their current contact information with the other driver.
  • If the owner of any damaged property is not available, the driver must try to find them.
  • If the driver can not find the owner, they must leave a written notice in a conspicuous place. The note should explain what happened, and provide appropriate contact information. The driver must also make a counter report to the authorities.
  • The driver must provide current information about the owner of their vehicle.
  • If the owner of any damaged property requests to see the driver’s license and registration, they must produce it.

Can I File a Police Report Online?

You can use the Santa Ana E-Police Reporting System to report a non-injury or hit-and-run accident. However, if you are injured you should not use the online reporting system. If you have a license plate number or other information that may help identify a hit-and-run vehicle or driver, and the accident occurred within the last 10 minutes, you should report using 911.

How Can I Get a Copy of My Police Report?

You may obtain a copy of a police report if you are a driver, vehicle owner, parent of an involved minor, or another person with a proper interest in obtaining the report.

If Santa Ana Police investigated your accident, you can visit the Police Records Department at #60 Civic Center Plaza in the first-floor lobby. The records department is open from 7:30 A.M. to 5:30 P.M. You must pay a fee for the report.

For a copy of a California Highway Patrol report, you must complete and mail an Application for Release of Information and pay a fee. The report fee begins at $10 for the first one to 25 pages.

Will the Police Obtain the Information I Need to Make a Claim?

When the Santa Ana police or a California Highway Patrol officer investigates an accident, they document the names of the drivers, their versions of the accident, license numbers, and other key information. They will also talk to any witnesses that come forward. Police reports provide a lot of the necessary information to make a claim, but if you have been involved in an accident you should also gather information while you have the opportunity.

A lot can happen after an accident while you are waiting for police to arrive. Drivers and witnesses may leave the scene, so it may be up to you to document the evidence you will need to prove your case to an insurance company. However, proceed with caution if you have been injured, or the other driver appears agitated or impaired.

If possible, you may:

  • Photograph the stopping positions of both cars before the other driver moves their vehicle. California Vehicle Codes require that drivers in property damage-only accidents move their cars so they don’t block traffic.
  • Photograph the accident scene, including traffic signs, lights, landmarks, and intersections. Your photos can give your insurance company the necessary context to determine what happened.
  • Take a photo of the other driver’s license, license plate, and registration. Obtain the names and condition of any injured passengers. California Vehicle Codes require drivers, owners, and injured passengers to provide their information.
  • Identify witnesses and get their names and contact information. This is important because witnesses do not have to wait for the police to arrive.

What Happens if the Other Driver Leaves the Scene?

Under California law, it is a crime when a driver leaves the scene of an accident without providing vehicle and identity information. Hit-and-run drivers are subject to fines and imprisonment, and penalties are harsher when a driver leaves the scene of an accident involving injuries or fatalities.

How Do I Verify My Financial Responsibility After I Have an Accident?

Under California law, a vehicle owner or driver must carry evidence that verifies financial responsibility compliance at all times. Proof of responsibility, including auto insurance policy, certificate of insurance, or a financial responsibility bond, may be digital. A self-insured person or entity must provide a valid self-insurance certificate. The proof must verify the financial ability to pay these minimum amounts for damages due to an accident:

  • Bodily Injury limits of at least $15,000 per person and $30,000 per accident;
  • $5,000 coverage for property damage per accident
  • Uninsured Motorist coverage of $15,000 per person and $30,000 per accident

After an accident, a driver must produce their coverage information for the other driver and the investigating police officer. If the accident caused injuries, fatalities, or property damage of $1,000 or more, the driver must also file a Report of Accident Form to verify their financial responsibility to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

How Can I Verify if the Other Driver Has Proof of Financial Responsibility?

If you request financial responsibility information at an accident scene, the other driver must show you their insurance, bond, or other information. If you were unable to confirm the information at the scene, you may request documentation from the Department of Motor Vehicles using a Financial Responsibility Request Form.

Do I Have to Report an Accident to My Insurance Company?

Even if you believe an accident was the other driver’s fault, you should report your claim to your own insurance company for several reasons:

  • Auto insurance policies require that the insured report any claims where their coverage might apply.
  • If you delay your report it could jeopardize your insurance company’s ability to protect you from liability claims and lawsuits. If this happens, they might choose to decline your coverage.
  • You might not understand all of the liability issues or understand whether or not you are at fault. Insurance companies require that you give them an opportunity to determine fault and settle any claims they owe. They must also defend you if someone makes a claim or brings a lawsuit against you.
  • Your insurance company or agent must verify to the Department of Motor Vehicles that you are in compliance with financial responsibility laws.
  • You may need to file an uninsured motorist claim with your insurance company.

How Does Uninsured Motorist Coverage Work?

Uninsured Motorist coverage pays for damages when an uninsured driver causes accident-related injuries. Auto policies define four types of drivers as uninsured, including:

  • Drivers who don’t have bodily injury insurance to pay for the injuries they caused
  • Drivers who have less insurance than the financial responsibility law requires
  • Drivers who have an auto policy but the insurance company denies coverage or the company becomes insolvent
  • Hit-and-run drivers who caused accidents and left the scene unidentified

If you make an uninsured motorist claim against your own insurance company, they will handle your liability claim as though they insured the responsible party. You must then prove your damages and negotiate your claim, just as you would with another driver’s liability carrier.

How Does My Insurance Company Determine Who Is at Fault?

When you submit a claim, the insurance company conducts an investigation to determine fault. They will consider versions of the accident from you, the other driver, and witnesses; read police reports; and examine the accident scene.

The insurance company determines whether you are at fault based on a simple negligence formula:

  • Did you owe a duty to the other driver?
  • Did you breach that duty?
  • Did your breach of duty cause damages or injuries?
  • Was the other driver damaged or injured?

Under California’s pure comparative fault rule, liability issues may be further complicated, because the law recognizes that more than one person can be the cause of an accident. For example, if you ran a red light but the other person was speeding, both of you may have contributed to your accident. Under pure comparative fault, your insurance company would apply the other person’s percentage of negligence to calculate their damages. This means that if they had $10,000 in damages but they were 40 percent negligent, they would receive no more than a $6,000 settlement.

Should I Talk to an Insurance Company Representative When They Call?

If you or your passengers suffered injuries, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer before communicating with insurance company representatives. Liability issues are often complicated, and it is critically important to have a professional on your side who understands the issues and how they may affect your claim.

While you can not avoid talking to your own insurance company, you should get legal counsel and advice first. Words matter, and can affect the outcome of your claims and those against you. If your company must pay a high-dollar claim to the other driver because of a statement you inadvertently made, they may non-renew your policy or increase your premiums. If the injured party sues and recovers more than your policy limits, your statements could subject you to financial losses due to excess exposure.

Call Aitken * Aitken * Cohn to Represent You in Your Car Accident Claim

If you have been injured in an accident, you have to deal with much more than your physical recovery. There is a complex system of laws and potentially difficult legal issues to contend with, beginning the moment an accident occurs. Don’t try to navigate it alone. The legal team at Aitken * Aitken * Cohn, are experienced accident lawyers who understand the laws, insurance issues, and other factors that may affect your claim.

Contact Aitken * Aitken * Cohn in Santa Ana at (714) 434-1424 or online to schedule a free consultation and learn if we may be able to help you.

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