What Do I Do? This is My First Auto Accident

If you were injured due to another’s negligence, you may seek compensation.

I was at a complete stop at a red traffic light at the intersection of Market Street and 6th Street, when suddenly and without a warning, the vehicle directly in front of me reversed straight into my vehicle when the light turned green. The forceful impact caused me to crash into the vehicle behind me, leaving me sandwiched in between the two vehicles. The front of my vehicle is destroyed. To make things worse I began to feel excruciating pain in my right wrist, and it became swollen immediately after the impact. This is my first car accident, and I don’t know where to begin. I exchanged information with the other drivers and gave a statement to the reporting police officer. All I know is that my car is undriveable and I have a mounting pile of medical bills that I have not been able to pay since I had to take time off work after my wrist surgery. I realize that this is not a typical car accident, but is there anything I can do to recover for my medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering?

— Angelica H., Pacific Heights 

Dear Angelica: The short answer is yes, you may seek compensation for the economic and non-economic damages you suffered as a result of this collision. You did the right thing exchanging information with other drivers. After a car accident, it is very important to obtain the other driver’s information which includes their full name, license plate and car insurance information. It is also important to obtain a copy of the police report and to take pictures of your injuries, the property damage, and the accident scene itself to give context. 

Under California Vehicle Code (CVC) section 21451 (a), a driver facing a circular green signal, “…shall proceed straight through or turn right or left or make a U-turn unless a sign prohibits a U-turn.”  Furthermore, CVC 22106 states that, “No person shall start a vehicle stopped, standing, or parked on a highway, nor shall any person back a vehicle on a highway until such movement can be made with reasonable safety.”

In your case the driver violated these two sections because they failed to proceed straight through the intersection as mandated by CVC 21451(a). Second, they did not start the vehicle from a stop with reasonable safety because they did not notice that the vehicle was in reverse gear. Clearly, they were operating the vehicle negligently.

If you were injured in a car accident because of another’s negligent driving, you have the right to seek compensation for your economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages include tangible losses that can be easily calculated such as medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage. In regard to the medical expenses you have incurred, you are entitled to recover the amount paid by your health insurance as well as any out-of-pocket expenses. For this reason, it is important to keep copies of your medical expenses, including but not limited to, medical bills, receipts for pain medication, and receipts for any medical devices you had to purchase as a result of the accident. Similarly, you will want to gather information to support your loss of wages claim such as pay stubs or a letter from your employer confirming the dates you missed from work as a result of this collision. 

Non-economic damages are more difficult to quantify as those damages relate to the types of harm that do not come with a receipt. Under California Jury instruction 3905A you may recover for non-economic damages which include things like pain and suffering, physical impairment, disfigurement, grief, anxiety, humiliation, inconvenience and emotional distress. Be mindful of how your life has changed since the accident and take note of activities you are unable to do as a result of your injury as they will form part of your non-economic claim. 

We have handled numerous cases in which individuals have suffered bodily injuries due car accidents. However, this column does not constitute legal advice and it is important that you consult with an experienced trial lawyer as soon as possible, especially if you suffered personal injuries.


Christopher B. Dolan is the owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Corinne D. Orquiola is an Associate Attorney in our Los Angeles office. We serve clients across the San Francisco Bay Area and California from our offices in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. Email questions and topics for future articles to: help@dolanlawfirm.com

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