Knowing what to do after a minor car accident in Bakersfield can help you move forward quickly and put your fender-bender in the past. Although there were approximately 3,700 fatal car accidents in California during 2019, there were nearly 75 times more accidents that year that resulted in nothing more than property damage.
Just because a minor car accident may not result in severe injuries or catastrophic damage to your car does not mean minor car accidents are a trivial matter. There can still be property damage claims that need to be resolved, and you may have legal obligations that you need to fulfill.
How Minor Car Accidents Differ From Injury Auto Accidents
There is no legal and widely accepted definition of what a “minor” traffic accident is. However, there are some features of these motor vehicle accidents that help to distinguish them from more severe collisions. These distinguishing features include the following:
Minor Accidents Leave Few or No Injuries
First, you can expect that a minor car accident will not result in many, if any, notable injuries. You or another person involved in the wreck might find yourself suffering from minor bumps, bruises, or cuts. However, no person involved in a minor accident will have sustained any injury that requires more than basic first aid to clean and treat.
You Do Not Have to Report Minor Accidents to Law Enforcement
After certain motor vehicle accidents, you are legally required to contact local law enforcement and report the car crash accident to them. This obligation means you must report a car accident that results in someone’s death, injury, or any property damage that costs over $1,000 to fix or replace.
Minor traffic accidents will not usually meet any of these requirements, and so a law enforcement officer’s presence is often not required for a minor accident.
Much of the Damage to Vehicles Can Be Covered by Car Insurance Claims
Because California is an at-fault car insurance state, drivers are legally required to carry liability insurance on their vehicles. The state minimum insurance requirements include $5,000 for property damage claims. The insurance carrier of the driver who caused the crash will pay the claims of others impacted by the accident.
However, since law enforcement often does not need to be called for a minor accident, any property damage claim will likely be less than this minimum amount. Thus, so long as the at-fault party is adequately insured, there often is no need to file a separate lawsuit unless the at-fault driver is uninsured or underinsured.
Car Accident Settlements Can Usually Be Reached Quickly
In a minor car accident case, the chances of there being complex issues of fault and damages valuation are slim. As a result, the parties can often reach a settlement agreement easier than in an injury or fatality case where the damages may be far greater and consist of economic and non-economic losses.
The Location of Minor Accidents Often Differs From Other Crashes
Lastly, the places where you are likely to find minor traffic accidents and those that are more likely to result in significant injury differ. The vehicles involved in minor traffic accidents are not likely to be traveling especially fast.
Parking lots are frequently the sites of low-speed, minor traffic collisions. A school zone or school drop-off point also has numerous cars all traveling at low speeds, which makes them the perfect places for minor traffic accidents to happen.
What to Do After a Car Accident (Not Your Fault)
If you get into a minor fender-bender, and the other driver is the one to blame, you still have steps to complete. Here’s what to do in a car accident, even if it’s not your fault:
Get Your Vehicle to a Safe Place
If your crashed car is still operable, move it to a safe location nearby. Do not leave your vehicle in the middle of a busy street unless you have no other choice or unless a law enforcement officer on the scene tells you to leave your vehicle in place.
Whether you leave your vehicle where it is or you move it out of the way, you should also find a place where you can fulfill your other obligations in safety.
Ensure You Do Not Need to Report the Accident Immediately to Law Enforcement
Take time to ensure your crash does not need to be immediately reported to law enforcement. Determine whether any person has been injured in the crash or is dead or if it appears the total amount of property damage exceeds $1,000.
If so, you will need to summon law enforcement to come to the crash site and make a report there. You should do this even if you were not at fault for causing the crash.
Exchange Information With the Other Person
California Vehicle Code Section 20002 requires you to find the other driver or the property owner and give them your driver’s license and registration upon request. The other driver is to exchange their information with you as well.
If you collide with a car or other stationary property and you cannot find the owner quickly, you should leave a note with your name, address, the vehicle’s owner, and a brief statement of how the accident happened.
Report the Matter to the California DMV
If law enforcement was required to come to the crash scene because of the amount of property damage or a minor injury, you must also complete an SR-1 form. You have ten days from the date of your crash to complete and submit this form. Failing to do so can result in penalties even though you may not have been at fault for the accident.
Speak With a Vehicle Accident Lawyer
Your accident may be minor, but that does not mean you do not have legal rights. These rights can be jeopardized by uncounseled statements you make or if you delay too long in filing your claim. Hiring an attorney as soon as possible following your accident can keep you from jeopardizing your ability to file an insurance claim for damages.
File Your Car Injury Claim Against the Other Driver’s Insurance Policy
If the other driver is responsible for your accident, their insurance company will pay your damages. In a minor accident, even a liability policy with the state minimum limits should be sufficient to address your auto insurance claim fully.
You have two years from the date of your fender-bender to file a car crash claim, but there is often no reason why you should wait that long following a minor accident.
What to Do After a Minor Car Accident With an Uninsured Driver
Not every California driver has a state-required auto insurance policy. If one of these drivers collides with you, you have several options:
- Attempt to reach a cash settlement with the negligent driver
- File an insurance claim with your own insurance company
- Prepare and submit a claim with your insurer if you have uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage
- Bring a lawsuit against the negligent driver personally
Each of these choices has its own risks and potential rewards. Because of this, you should go over your options with an experienced Bakersfield vehicle accident lawyer. Your lawyer can help you decide what path makes the most sense for your goals and needs and can help you achieve payment of your claim.
What to Do if You Are at Fault in a Minor Wreck
Suppose that it is your careless actions that led to your car accident. In this case, any driver involved in the wreck who suffered property damage can file a claim against your insurance company. Your carrier would pay those claims up to the policy’s limit, which would be $5,000 at a minimum.
Any losses or property damage you suffered could be addressed by filing a claim with your own insurer. Your insurer would pay your claim, considering the amounts already paid out to other injured motorists.
So long as you are insured as required by the State, in most cases, you will be paired with a counselor to help you meet any victims you might need to talk with throughout the case’s development.
Other Frequently Asked Questions About Minor Accidents
When you retain Kuyzk Law, you can access our resources, including our firm’s experience and wisdom. We can set your mind at ease regarding questions like:
Do I Need to Call the Police to Report My Accident?
It is possible you would have to report your accident immediately to law enforcement. Specifically, a report must be made by you or the other driver to law enforcement if the crash resulted in more than $1,000 in property damage or if injuries resulted from the incident.
Can I Pay for My Own Damages After a Minor Accident?
Some drivers may be interested in paying for their property damage and other losses out of pocket. While this is certainly allowable, if you do this after someone else runs into you, then you are essentially taking responsibility for costs that the other party is legally obligated to pay.
Consider your options carefully before deciding how you wish to address the losses you experienced in the crash.
I Hit a Stationary Object — Now What?
California law states that if you hit unattended property, you must at least affix a note prominently to the property. The note should indicate your name, the name of the person who was driving the vehicle (if not you), and the current address of the vehicle’s owner.
The note should also contain a brief description of how the accident took place. An experienced personal injury lawyer in Bakersfield can help you navigate these and other challenges.
Settling Your Minor Car Accident Claim at the Scene
While you do not want to attempt this after any car crash where someone is injured, you may be curious about settling your costs at the crash scene. Suppose the other driver approaches you after negligently striking your vehicle and sees the damage that is done. They then offer you $500 on the spot in lieu of you filing a claim against their insurer.
Should you follow this course of action? The answer is that it depends. Consider how certain you are that the offer will adequately compensate you for your injuries. You should consider, too, whether you might have been injured and simply do not feel the effects of it immediately afterward.
If you are convinced that the settlement being offered is fair and covers your injuries, there is nothing wrong with accepting the settlement. Realize that if you do, you will foreclose the possibility of going back to seek additional compensation.
Kuzyk Law Is Available to Help, No Matter How Severe Your Injuries
Just because you may not have had any broken bones or your car may have only gotten a few dents following your crash does not mean you do not have rights and responsibilities. You may need to report your accident, and you also have the right to file auto insurance claims against the other driver for operating their vehicle negligently.
Kuzyk Law’s team of talented professionals will help you with what to do after a minor car accident. Contact our Bakersfield firm today to schedule a consultation to discuss your minor accident and what to do next.