Car accidents are frightening and sometimes traumatic experiences. Unfortunately, they’re also fairly common. But what do you do after a car crash in CA, and how do you file a claim? If you’ve never had a car accident before, you won’t know what to expect.

That’s where we can help. Below, we explain how to claim for a car accident in California and how we can support you.

Types of Car Accidents

Whether it’s a minor bump or serious collision, car crashes happen every day. No two accident scenes are the same, but the most common types of crashes are:

  • Fender benders
  • Rear-end collisions
  • Head-on crashes
  • Sideswipe accidents
  • Rollovers

Every accident has the potential to cause harm. Even if you only have minor injuries, you deserve to know if you have a claim.

Car Accident Causes

There are virtually endless reasons why car accidents happen. However, the most common causes of car crashes are:

Car Accident Injuries

There’s no doubt that car accidents can cause serious injury. In the most tragic cases, car accidents result in life-changing injuries or death. Road fatalities are a huge problem in the US – at least 46,270 victims died in car crashes in 2022 alone.

Even if it’s not a fatal collision, car accidents cause personal injuries such as:

  • Cuts and bruising
  • Sprains and strains
  • Internal bleeding 
  • Bone fractures
  • Spinal cord damage 
  • Paralysis or nerve damage 
  • Neck and head injuries 
  • Limb loss

What Is a Car Accident Claim?

A car accident claim is the process for getting compensation after a car crash. These damages compensate you for the losses you suffer due to the crash and any injuries you sustain. And although no amount of compensation can make up for a car crash, it’s the closest legal remedy available.

Generally, there are two types of car crash claims:

  • Insurance accident claim: This is a claim you file with an auto insurance company. You tell them about your accident, they value the claim, and they decide who is at fault.  
  • Personal injury claim: If someone else’s negligence caused your injuries, you can make a personal injury claim. This is a civil lawsuit to recover compensation for the harm you’ve suffered.

We’ll take a look at how to file these claims below.

Are There Time Limits for Filing a Car Accident Claim?

Yes. In California, you normally have two years from the accident date to file a claim. You have three years from the accident date to claim property damage.

The time limits may be different if, for example, there are minor children involved or the crash results in a death. Your attorney can explain what time limits apply in your accident case.

Does it Matter Who Is at Fault?

California is a “fault” state. This means that the driver who caused the crash is liable to pay damages. That’s why it’s so important to retain an accident attorney. They can help determine who caused the crash and how much compensation you can claim.

Worried female motorist rubbing sore neck and using phone after car crash with male driver in background

Are you partially to blame? Don’t worry. You can still claim damages – you just might claim a little less than if you were entirely blameless.

Do I Need to Tell My Insurance Company?

Usually, yes. Although you’re not legally obliged to tell your insurer, your policy won’t pay out if you don’t. Meaning, they won’t provide cover for the accident if you later realize you need it.

The type of policy you have also determines what you’re covered for. Ask your insurer if you’re unsure how your coverage works.

How Do I File a Car Accident Claim?

No matter whether it’s an insurance accident claim or personal injury lawsuit, there’s a process to follow. Here is a summary of the steps involved.

Document the Scene

If safe to do so, document the scene. Take pictures or videos of:

  • Property damage
  • Crash site
  • Personal injuries
  • Road conditions
  • Skid marks

You should also get the other driver’s insurance information.

It’s best to gather this evidence as quickly as possible. Otherwise, some key pieces of evidence could be lost or destroyed.

Report the Accident

Next, you need to report the accident. There are three agencies you may need to notify.

  • Police: If anyone is hurt or there’s significant damage, police should attend the scene. A police report can help to show who caused the accident. You may use it as evidence in your case. 
  • DMV: If anyone is injured, even if it’s minor, you must report the accident to the DMV. Your license may be suspended if you don’t.
  • Insurance company: If another driver caused the accident, contact their insurance company. In most – if not all – cases, you should also notify your own insurer.

Not sure if you need to call the police after a crash? Err on the side of caution. Otherwise, you risk being charged with a hit-and-run if someone is injured and you leave the scene.

Gather Evidence

Next, gather any evidence which could support your claim. What’s helpful depends on the case, but evidence includes:

  • Dashcam footage
  • Medical records
  • Accident report
  • Witness contact information
  • Photographs or videos of the scene
  • Receipts for financial losses e.g. travel costs, medical bills 
  • Quotes for repairing or replacing property (don’t worry if you don’t have these right away)

If in doubt, hold onto something which could be evidence. You can always discard it later.

Contact a Car Crash Attorney

It’s never too early to call a car accident attorney. The sooner you contact a lawyer, the quicker they can move your case forward. They can also help you file an insurance accident claim if you haven’t contacted your insurer yet.

File the Accident Claim

Next, you must file the accident claim.

Insurance Claims

Contact your insurer and explain what happened. Do not imply fault or provide any more than basic details about the crash. Determining fault is a matter for insurers (and their lawyers) to handle later. Accidentally implicating yourself at this stage could harm your claim.

Small blue toy car and small red toy car front collision on table with gavel and lawyers in background

Every insurer has a different procedure for filing claims. Check your policy to confirm the steps involved. In all cases, though, the sooner you tell your insurer, the better. Aim to notify your insurer within 24 hours of the crash.

Personal Injury Claims

Are you making a personal injury claim? Don’t be concerned about the processes involved here. Your lawyer will help you file the relevant paperwork to start a personal injury lawsuit.

Negotiate a Settlement Offer

A fair settlement offer should take various costs into consideration, including:

  • Medical bills
  • Pain and suffering 
  • Rehabilitation costs
  • Cost of repairs
  • Ancillary costs e.g. rental cars

If your claim settles, payment may take a few weeks to arrive. In more complex cases which proceed to court, the process takes longer.

How Much Does it Cost to Make a Claim for an Accident?

Most personal injury lawyers work on a “contingency fee” basis. This means that clients don’t pay anything unless the attorney wins the case. If the claim is successful, the client pays a pre-agreed amount for the lawyer’s services.

At the May Firm, we’re passionate about justice. We believe that everyone deserves a chance to pursue a compensation claim, no matter how much money they have. You don’t pay us anything unless we win your car accident case – and initial discussions are free.

Do I Need an Attorney to File a Claim?

You don’t need an attorney’s help to file an accident claim. However, it’s usually in a victim’s best interests to get legal advice. 

  • Insurance companies may agree to settle to close the case quickly. However, this doesn’t mean they’ll make a fair offer. An attorney can determine how much your case is truly worth and negotiate a fair settlement.   
  • Accident laws are complicated. To ensure you sue the right parties – and get the damages you deserve – you need legal advice. 
  • If insurance companies won’t settle or make a fair offer, litigation is necessary. An experienced accident lawyer can take your case to trial and present a compelling case. 
  • It’s not always easy to obtain the evidence required to prove a car crash claim. However, an experienced car crash lawyer knows how to interpret a crash scene. They can gather evidence from various sources – such as CCTV and witnesses – to support your case.

Most importantly, you deserve to spend this time recovering from your accident. Rather than worrying about legal negotiations, let an attorney do the hard work for you.

How the May Firm Can Help You File a Car Crash Claim

We hope that filing a car accident claim in CA is now clear. However, your first step – after seeking medical attention – should be getting legal advice.

At the May Firm, we make the claims process as simple as possible. From talking to insurance adjusters to filing paperwork, we take care of everything for you. Once we’ve established you have a case, we’ll determine how much it’s worth.

Then we’ll help you pursue the damages you deserve. We’ll help you decide if an offer is fair. Where required, we’ll fight for your best interests in court.

The May Firm treats every client like a family member. We want you to feel confident, supported, and assured each step of the way. Contact us today for help filing a car accident claim in California.


The content in this article is provided for general informational purposes only and may not represent the current law in the recipient’s jurisdiction. The content and information should not be construed as professional legal advice from The May Firm or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. Any and all information included in, or accessible through, this article should not be used to act or refrain from acting without the appropriate legal or other professional advice from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s appropriate jurisdiction. Any reliance you place on such information is strictly at your own risk.