California Car Accident Laws: What You Need to Know

By Ese OmofomaJune 24, 2023
California car accident laws_ what you need to know

Navigating the aftermath of a car accident can be complex and stressful. Understanding California car accident laws can help you make informed decisions about your legal rights and options.

We are Omofoma Law and are here to represent car accident victims following a serious car crash. Learn more about how a California personal injury lawyer from our law firm can help you, and contact us to discuss filing a claim with your car insurance company or a personal injury lawsuit.

California Car Accident Law

There are a lot of specific laws that come into play regarding not only who California Highway Patrol or a law enforcement officer decides is at fault for the accident but also how damages might be awarded. Some of the specifics to keep in mind include: 

Comparative Negligence System

California follows the principle of comparative negligence in car accident cases. Under this system, each party's liability is based on their percentage of fault in causing the accident (California Civil Code 1714). Even if you are partially at fault, you can still seek compensation. However, your compensation will be reduced by your percentage of fault.

Statute of Limitations for Filing Car Accident Claims

In California, you generally have two years to file a claim from the date of the accident (California Code of Civil Procedure 335.1). You could lose your right to pursue compensation if you miss this deadline.

Determining Liability in California Car Accidents

Determining liability in California car accidents

Liability in car accidents refers to who is legally responsible for the damages caused by the collision. In California, liability is primarily determined based on the concept of "negligence" or "fault." Here's a closer look at the various aspects involved in determining liability:

Negligence and Fault

Negligence refers to a lack of care on the roads compared to that of a typical driver. The concept of negligence is pivotal in determining fault in car accident cases. It is dictated by principal such as duty of care, breach of duty, causation, and damages.

Factors Considered in Determining Fault

While establishing negligence, courts consider several factors:

  • Traffic Law Violations: Breaching traffic laws, like speeding, running a red light, or illegal lane changes, can indicate negligence.
  • Reckless Driving: Driving behavior that disregards safety, such as aggressive driving or distracted driving, can suggest fault.
  • Impaired Driving: Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a serious offense and a clear sign of negligence.
  • Vehicle Condition: Failing to maintain a vehicle in safe, working condition can contribute to accidents and indicate negligence.

Role of Police Reports and Eyewitness Testimonies

Third-party accounts of the accident can be instrumental in establishing fault. Law enforcement officers who respond to the scene compile a report detailing the accident. This report can include the officer's observations, statements from those involved and witnesses, diagrams of the scene, and sometimes even the officer's opinion on who was at fault.

In addition, witnesses can provide an objective perspective of the accident, helping to corroborate or refute statements by the involved parties. Their testimonies can be crucial evidence in court.

Contributory Negligence and Its Impact on Compensation

California follows the "pure comparative negligence" rule. This means if you're found partially at fault for the accident, your compensation will be reduced proportionately.

If both parties share fault, each party's compensation will be reduced by their percentage of fault. For instance, if you were 20% at fault, you could recover 80% of your damages.

Mandatory Reporting and Insurance Requirements

Mandatory reporting and insurance requirements

Following a car accident, California law requires certain reporting and insurance obligations.

Reporting Car Accidents to Law Enforcement

California law requires you to report a car accident to the police if it results in an injury, a fatality, or damage to property exceeding $1,000 (California Vehicle Code 16000).

Reporting Car Accidents to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)

You must also report a car accident to the DMV within ten days if it results in injury, death, or property damage exceeding $1,000 (California Vehicle Code 16000).

Minimum Insurance Requirements for California Drivers

California requires drivers to carry a minimum amount of liability insurance to cover damages caused by car accidents. The minimum requirements are $15,000 for injury or death to one person, $30,000 for injury or death to more than one person, and $5,000 for property damage (California Vehicle Code 16056).

Special Considerations in California Car Accident Laws

Certain scenarios necessitate special considerations under California car accident laws:

Car Accidents Involving Government Entities

If you're involved in an accident with a government vehicle, the claim filing process differs and generally has a shorter timeline. You typically have six months from the date of the accident to file a claim (California Government Code 911.2).

Car Accidents Involving Commercial Vehicles

Accidents involving commercial vehicles can be complex due to the potential involvement of various parties, including drivers, vehicle owners, and employers. Multiple parties could be held liable, including the company that performs maintenance, the company that manufactured the vehicle, and the company responsible for hiring the driver. We will conduct a full investigation to ensure that anyone liable is held responsible.

Car Accidents With Uninsured or Underinsured Drivers

If you're involved in an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver, your own insurance policy may cover your losses, depending on its terms. It depends on the specific nature of your insurance policy, so take a closer look at your policy and reach out to your insurance company if you have any questions. 

Steps To Take After a Car Accident in California

Steps to take after a car accident in California

Car accidents are stressful and often traumatic. However, your actions in the immediate aftermath can significantly impact your ability to claim compensation later on. If you find yourself involved in a car accident in California, it's crucial to follow these steps:

Ensuring Personal Safety and Seeking Medical Attention

Your first and foremost concern should be the safety and well-being of all involved parties.

  • Ensure you're safe: If your vehicle is drivable and poses a risk in its current position, move it to a safe location. Put on your hazard lights to signal distress and alert other motorists.
  • Check for injuries: Determine if you, your passengers, or anyone else involved in the accident have sustained injuries.
  • Call 911: Even if injuries seem minor initially, it's best to call for medical help. Some injuries, like whiplash or internal damage, may not show symptoms immediately but can have severe long-term implications.
  • Follow medical advice: Always adhere to the recommended treatment plan by healthcare professionals. Failure to do so could be used against you when claiming compensation.

Gathering Evidence at the Accident Scene

Evidence collected from the accident scene can significantly strengthen your claim. When safe to do so:

  • Exchange Information: Obtain the names, contact information, insurance details, and vehicle descriptions (make, model, and license plate number) of all other parties involved in the accident.
  • Document the Scene: Use your smartphone to take photographs or record videos of the scene, capturing vehicle damages, road conditions, skid marks, traffic signs, injuries, etc. These visuals can help piece together the accident sequence and determine the fault.
  • Find Witnesses: Identify any potential witnesses. Collect their contact information if they agree. Eyewitness accounts can provide an unbiased perspective of the accident.
  • Record Your Observations: Note down your personal account of the accident while the details are still fresh. Include the time, date, weather conditions, traffic conditions, and any other relevant details.

Reporting the Accident to the Insurance Company

Promptly reporting the accident to your insurance company is critical.

  • Report ASAP: Contact your insurance provider at your earliest convenience to report the accident. Delaying the report could potentially violate your policy terms.
  • Stick to the Facts: Provide an honest and detailed account of the accident but avoid admitting fault or speculating about the accident's causes.
  • Document Communication: Keep a record of all communications with the insurance company, including the names of representatives you speak with and the dates and times of those conversations.

Seeking Legal Advice if Necessary

In cases involving serious injuries, significant property damage, or complex legal issues, it's wise to seek legal counsel.

  • Consult a Lawyer: An experienced car accident lawyer can evaluate your case, guide you through the legal process, negotiate with insurance companies on your behalf, and ensure your rights are protected.
  • Follow Legal Advice: Your lawyer is best equipped to handle legal complexities. Cooperate with them and provide all the necessary information and documentation promptly.

Remember, the immediate aftermath of an accident can be overwhelming, but taking these steps can protect your rights and provide a foundation for a successful claim if necessary.

Compensation and Damages in Car Accident Cases

When pursuing compensation in a car accident case, the aim is to make the injured party 'whole' again or restore them as closely as possible to their state before the accident.

Damages, the legal term for the money awarded to the injured party, fall broadly into three categories: economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages. Each category serves a unique purpose and covers different types of losses.

Economic Damages

Economic damages compensate for financial losses directly resulting from the accident. They're quantifiable and are typically substantiated by bills, receipts, and wage statements. Economic damages include:

  • Medical Expenses: This includes costs associated with emergency room visits, hospital stays, surgeries, diagnostic tests, physical therapy, prescription medications, and any other necessary medical treatment.
  • Future Medical Costs: If your injuries require ongoing medical care, future medical costs can be included in your claim. Medical professionals can provide estimates for these costs.
  • Lost Wages: If your injuries cause you to miss work, you can claim compensation for lost wages. This can also apply if you're unable to earn the same amount of money as before the accident due to your injuries.
  • Lost Earning Capacity: If your injuries have affected your ability to work and earn money in the future, you can seek compensation for lost earning capacity. This can require expert testimony to calculate potential future earnings.
  • Property Damage: If your vehicle or other property was damaged in the accident, you can seek compensation for repair or replacement costs.

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages are awarded for non-tangible, often subjective, losses from the accident. They're harder to quantify than economic damages but are nonetheless important. Non-economic damages may cover the following:

  • Pain and Suffering: This is compensation for the physical pain and discomfort endured as a result of the accident and subsequent injuries.
  • Emotional Distress: Car accidents can lead to significant emotional trauma, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Emotional distress damages recognize the psychological impact of the accident.
  • Loss of Enjoyment of Life: If your injuries prevent you from enjoying activities or hobbies you once enjoyed, you may be entitled to compensation for loss of enjoyment of life.

Punitive Damages

These damages aren't typically awarded to compensate for a loss. Instead, they're designed to punish the at-fault party for particularly reckless or malicious behavior and deter others from similar conduct. Punitive damages are not awarded in every case and are typically reserved for situations where the defendant's actions were egregiously negligent or intentionally harmful.

In California, punitive damages are governed by Civil Code section 3294, which allows punitive damages "for the sake of example and by way of punishing the defendant." The decision to award punitive damages and the amount to award is at the jury's discretion.

What Your California Car Accident Lawyer Can Do for You

What your car accident lawyer can do for you

Car accidents often result in a whirlwind of chaos and confusion. Hiring a skilled car accident lawyer can provide much-needed clarity and peace of mind. They're experienced in handling these types of cases and can navigate the complex legal landscape on your behalf. Here are some specific ways a California car accident lawyer can assist you:

  • Case Evaluation: Your lawyer can evaluate your case's strengths and weaknesses and advise you on the best course of action. They will review the accident, your injuries, and the impact on your life to estimate the potential compensation.
  • Gathering and Analyzing Evidence: Evidence is crucial in proving liability and damages. Your lawyer can:
    • Obtain and review police and accident reports.
    • Gather medical records and bills.
    • Collect and preserve physical evidence.
    • Interview witnesses.
    • Use experts, if needed, such as accident reconstructionists or medical professionals.
  • Claim Preparation: Your lawyer will compile the necessary documents to substantiate your claim, including medical records, proof of earnings, and evidence of other losses.
  • Negotiating with Insurance Companies: Insurance companies are businesses looking to minimize payouts. Your lawyer can:
    • Handle all communication with the insurance company.
    • Push back against low settlement offers.
    • Advocate for your interests and fight for a fair settlement.
  • Filing a Lawsuit: If a fair settlement cannot be reached, your lawyer can file a lawsuit on your behalf and prepare your case for trial.
  • Court Representation: Your lawyer will represent you in court, presenting evidence, questioning witnesses, and arguing on your behalf to persuade the jury or judge.
  • Post-Trial Actions: If necessary, your lawyer can handle post-trial matters, such as collecting the judgment, negotiating reductions on outstanding medical bills, or appealing the verdict.
  • Legal Advice and Emotional Support: Finally, a car accident lawyer isn't just a legal representative – they're your guide and confidante through a stressful time. They can answer your questions, keep you informed about your case's progress, and provide emotional support during a difficult period.

Remember, an experienced car accident lawyer is your advocate. Their goal is to help you secure the compensation you deserve while allowing you to focus on your recovery.

Schedule an Initial Consultation With Our California Car Accident Lawyer at Omofoma Law Today

Schedule an initial consultation with our California car accident lawyer

If you're involved in a car accident, contact Omofoma Law to schedule an initial consultation. We'll guide you through the complex legal landscape, providing compassionate and effective legal representation every step of the way.

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