If you drive on California’s streets and highways, you need to understand your automobile insurance. What are the state’s minimum auto insurance requirements? When should you file an auto insurance claim? Keep reading, and you’ll learn the basic facts about automobile insurance that every driver in California needs to know.

California’s lawmakers have set minimum liability insurance requirements for this state’s motorists, and a wide variety of policy types are available. If you are involved in a traffic accident, the type of coverage you carry determines whether you should file your claim with your own insurance company or with the other driver’s (if that driver was at fault).

If a traffic accident only damages your vehicle, there is no reason why you shouldn’t file your claim and negotiate directly with the insurance company for your compensation. You can always get legal help if the company is uncooperative, but most insurance companies in California will treat you professionally and compensate you fairly for property damages.

WHAT ARE CALIFORNIA’S MINIMUM AUTO INSURANCE REQUIREMENTS?

However, if you’ve been injured in an accident by a negligent driver, your health and future are too important to risk. After obtaining medical treatment, discuss your rights and alternatives with an experienced Fresno personal injury attorney. One of the first things your attorney will need to see is your auto insurance policy.

California requires drivers to carry at least the following:

– Bodily injury liability: $15,000 per person and $30,000 total per accident
– Property damage liability: $5,000

Auto insurance coverage that is not mandated in California – but nevertheless a good idea to have – includes uninsured and underinsured motorist insurance, medical coverage, collision coverage, and comprehensive coverage. These provide additional protection, especially for more serious accidents and injuries.

If you are injured by a negligent driver who carries only the required minimum coverage, your reimbursement from that driver’s auto insurance company will be limited to those minimum amounts. And if you’ve been seriously injured – that is, if you’ve suffered a traumatic brain injury, a spinal cord injury, an injury requiring amputation, or any other catastrophic or disabling injury – $15,000 won’t go very far.

HOW CAN UNINSURED AND UNDERINSURED MOTORIST COVERAGE HELP?

Drivers who carry uninsured and underinsured motorist insurance may file claims with their own insurance companies to receive compensation for losses. Underinsured motorist coverage and uninsured motorist coverage provide needed compensation to accident victims when an at-fault motorist carries insurance insufficient to pay for a victim’s damages – or no insurance at all.

You may have no trouble getting reimbursed by an auto insurance company for some body work on your car, but if you submit a claim for serious or disabling injuries, you should have an attorney’s advice – first. Don’t accept a quick settlement that’s worth far less than the compensation you need, and don’t sign any insurance document –you might sign away your right to take legal action against the company in the future.

You’ll have to report any accident to your auto insurance company. There may be a deadline for making that report spelled out in your policy, but there’s no reason to wait more than 24 hours. Reporting the accident is not the same thing as filing a claim, so when you make the report, give the insurance company only the basic facts about the accident. Admit to nothing and do not let yourself be recorded.

HOW CAN A PERSONAL INJURY ATTORNEY HELP?

Then arrange to discuss your case with an experienced Fresno personal injury attorney who will help you file your claim and will negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf. If no reasonable settlement is offered by the insurance company, your attorney may recommend filing a personal injury lawsuit and taking the case to trial.

Dealing with auto insurance companies regarding injury claims is often difficult. Recovering injury victims should be able to concentrate on healing rather than being worried about negotiating a settlement with an automobile insurer.

Of course, in any traffic accident, there will not be an attorney at the scene, so you must take some steps to protect yourself, whether or not you settle with the insurance company or eventually take the case to trial. Every California driver needs to know what these steps are. When an accident happens, take a deep breath, try to stay calm, and take one step at a time.

The first priority is getting medical attention to the scene of the accident if you or anyone else has been injured. Then call the police to the scene. Exchange contact information and insurance information with the other driver, and get as many details as you can: name, address, phone number, license plate and driver’s license number, and the insurance company’s name, phone number, and if possible, the policy number.

WHAT ELSE SHOULD YOU DO AT THE SCENE OF AN ACCIDENT?

If the other driver is unable or unwilling to help, ask the police to help you get the information you need. Also ask them how to obtain a copy of their accident report – you’ll need it. And if you don’t get medical attention at the scene, get a check-up within 24 hours anyway. You may have suffered a latent injury – that’s not uncommon in a traffic crash – and you may need the medical records for your insurance claim or lawsuit.

Take photos of the accident scene, the damages, and your own injuries. There’s no such thing as too many photos. Try to get the names and contact information of anyone who witnessed the accident. Photographs and eyewitness statements can be powerfully persuasive, and when they support your claim, they can often mean a quick and fair settlement.

If you follow these steps when an accident happens, you’ll be well-positioned to file a claim or bring a personal injury lawsuit if you need to, and your attorney will have the necessary evidence and documents to start working for justice on your behalf.

When you are recovering from injuries, you don’t need to be dealing with an uncooperative or unprofessional insurance company, and you do not need to be placing your health or your future at risk. Having a California personal lawyer with experience and a record of success on behalf of clients can make all the difference. Do not hesitate to seek legal advice after any traffic accident in California. It’s your right.