California has some of the country's longest highways and roads. It is estimated that California's highways stretch over 16,000 miles. There are, however, some roads that are more dangerous than others. A 2017 study found that 75% of San Francisco's severe injuries and fatalities occurred on 13% of its streets. A high-crash corridor presents a heightened risk of long-term injuries and lengthy medical treatment for victims.
California car accident laws dictate clear guidelines and regulations for all state roads and highways to protect drivers. Drivers who fail to abide by these laws can and should be held financially liable for any injuries they cause. If you have been in a serious accident, it is important to understand the rights of all parties involved in the crash.
Requirement to Remain at Collision Site
If any injuries were sustained in the collision, both parties involved in the accident must remain at the collision site until the police arrive. However, if the crash only caused property damage, the two drivers are merely required to exchange insurance information or settle the incident independently. If the driver who caused the accident flees the collision site, they could be charged with a hit-and-run. Penalties for fleeing the scene or failing to identify themselves could result in fines of up to $1,000 or a six-month jail sentence. The main exception to the requirement to remain at the scene of the collision is if you require emergency medical assistance. Regardless of fault, injured individuals should receive the treatment they need. Contacting insurers and filing accident reports can wait until the immediate danger has passed.
Report Accident to Law Enforcement
Drivers in an accident that causes injuries or fatality to a driver, passenger, pedestrian, or cyclist must report to local law enforcement as soon as possible. In most cases, you will make your report at the scene of the collision. However, if you do not make a statement to the police, note thatCalifornia Vehicle Code Section 20008 states that the “driver of a vehicle…involved in any accident resulting in injuries to or death of any person shall within 24 hours after the accident make or cause to be made a written report… to either the Department of the California Highway Patrol or the police department of the city in which the accident occurred.” If you are unsure where to make this report, call your local police department and inquire how to file an accident report.
Report to the Department of Motor Vehicles
Another law stipulated in California’s Vehicle Code is that drivers must report an accident to the Department of Motor Vehicles if someone was injured, killed, or caused property damages over $1,000. To report your accident, visit the DMV’s website to download a copy of the Traffic Accident Report SR1 template. All reports must be made within ten days of the accident.
Comparative Negligence in California
Each state has different philosophies on how much compensation accident victims who share some portion of fault for the accident can claim. The state of California is considered a “pure comparative negligence state.” Comparative negligence essentially means that if you bear partial responsibility for the accident, you can still seek compensation from those who were primarily responsible. However, your total compensation will be impacted based on the percentage of your fault in causing the accident. For example, say that you were driving over the speed limit when another driver failed to check her blind spot while merging, resulting in a collision. In this example, the other driver would bear the primary responsibility for the car accident, but you would also share some of the responsibility for speeding. Therefore, while your compensation would be less than if the other driver was fully to blame, you still have the right to sue for partial compensation.
Economic Losses in California Car Accidents
California allows accident victims to claim compensation for their economic losses. Car accident victims often sustain injuries that cost thousands of dollars in emergency care, surgeries, doctor visits, physical rehabilitation, and prescription drugs. Additionally, some injuries will impact victims’ ability to maintain regular employment and will continue to affect them financially for the rest of their lives. If another driver's negligence caused a victim’s injuries, they have the right to sue the responsible party for the total worth of their economic losses.
Pain and Suffering Damages in California Car Accidents
The most profound consequences of severe car accidents often have nothing to do with economic loss. Because car accidents inflict intangible damage, a settlement that only considers financial losses does not reflect all the victim has suffered. To ensure victims receive full compensation for their losses, California allows victims to seek pain and suffering damages in addition to their economic losses. Because pain and suffering damages are impossible to quantify, you should contact an attorney to help calculate the total worth of your economic and non-economic damages.
Wrongful Death Caused by California Car Accident
In many cases, severe car accidents cause fatal injuries. Victims may be killed on impact or may pass weeks or even months later as a result of their injuries. While no amount of money can compensate for the incalculable grief of losing a loved one, families of car accident victims should still seek any compensation they are legally entitled to. If you are the spouse, child, parent, or sibling of a California car accident victim, you may be entitled to file a wrongful death lawsuit against those responsible for the loss of your loved one. In a wrongful death lawsuit, victims’ families can seek compensation for financial costs related to their loved one’s medical treatment or funeral costs as well as compensation for pain and suffering damages. To claim wrongful death compensation, your attorney will need to prove that the defendant was directly to blame for the collision that resulted in your loved one’s death.
Failure to Abide by Local Road Rules
Were you involved in a dangerous accident because of another driver’s failure to follow local road rules? These road rules exist for a reason. Speed limits, distance minimums, school zone restrictions, texting restrictions, and road signs must be followed to prevent dangerous accidents. If a driver fails to follow these regulations, accidents may occur. When you consult with an attorney, they will assist you in collecting evidence that the other driver involved in the accident failed to abide by local road rules. This evidence will ensure they will be held financially liable for your injuries.
California Auto Insurance Requirements
Car insurance not only covers your injuries if you get into an accident, but it also covers you in the event that you cause a car accident and the victim’s insurer does not cover the full extent of the damages. Every driver must be adequately covered by their insurer to keep California roads and highways safe. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, drivers in the state of California must be able to provide proof of insurance if requested by law enforcement or if the driver is involved in an accident. Failure to provide this proof could result in the suspension of your license and your vehicle’s registration until you are properly insured.
How much coverage must California drivers carry? The state’s minimum liability insurance coverage requirements include $15,000 for injury or death to one person, $30,000 for injury or death to two or more people, and $5,000 to cover property damages. It is important to make sure that you have liability insurance and not just collision insurance (which only covers you and your injuries in the event of an accident). Contact your insurer to learn more if you are unsure of your policy’s current coverage.
How Much Can Someone Sue for a Car Accident in California?
There is no cap for most personal injury claims in California. Car accident victims can sue the parties responsible for their injuries for both economic and non-economic damages. Because car accidents can result in severe, sometimes lifelong injuries, these damages can be costly. For example, brain and spinal trauma are not uncommon in severe car accidents and can require months or even years of medical treatment. As a result, typical car accident settlements can reach hundreds of thousands. To successfully sue someone for damages, it must be proven without a doubt that the defendant was the cause of the victim’s injuries.
The Statute of Limitations in California
A statute of limitations is a deadline by which accident victims must file a lawsuit. The law enacts statutes of limitations primarily to preserve evidence—for example, accident reports, medical bills, and witness statements. Presumably, over time the strength of evidence will decrease. For heinous criminal acts, there may be no statute of limitations or a longer statute of limitations. However, the statute of limitations is often much shorter for accidents like car crashes.
According to the California Code of Civil Procedure Section 340, the statute of limitations for accident victims to file a lawsuit after a car crash is two years from the date of the accident. That means that most car accident victims should file their claim as soon as possible after their accident to ensure they do not exceed the statute deadline.
There are exceptions to the two-year deadline, however. For example, if your car accident was the fault of a Governmental entity (such as the California Department of Transportation), you must file a claim within six months. Other exceptions to the two-year statute include those who were underage at the time of the accident or have been mentally incapacitated since the accident (for example, those who suffered brain injury). In these cases, victims have two years from the day they turn eighteen or regain consciousness to file their car accident injury claim.
Failure to file a car accident injury claim before the statute expires can prohibit victims from seeking compensation for their losses. Victims often suffer from prolonged injury, substantial medical debt, and chronic pain as a result of their accidents. Without fair compensation, these victims will see no justice for their losses. Therefore, victims must consult with an attorney to make sure they meet the required deadline to file their car accident injury lawsuit.
Is California a no-fault state?
California is not a no-fault state. This means that accident victims must file a claim with their own insurance company. However, if the victim’s injuries exceed what the state of California considers the “serious injury threshold,” they can seek further compensation from the at-fault driver.
Legal Resources for California Car Accident Victims
Awareness of available resources can help California car accident victims get the help they need in the aftermath of their accidents. Depending on the context of your car accident, victims may be entitled to seek further assistance and/or compensation from public or private entities throughout the state. If the following resources apply to your situation, we have provided contact information to help you get in touch with the appropriate parties.
California Victim Compensation Board
If you have exhausted all options, including insurance claims, civil suits, and job benefits, and still have not received full compensation for your losses, the California Victim Compensation Board (CalVCB) may be your last resort. When all other avenues have failed, the California Victim Compensation Board provides financial assistance to victims. This assistance can help you to pay your medical bills or seek necessary treatments for the injury you sustained in the collision. Car accident victims (or their families) can apply for compensation through CalVCB’s online portal or by visiting your local County Victim Witness Assistance Centers.
California Department of Rehabilitation
Severe car crashes often result in traumatic brain injuries that can affect victims and their families for years to come. If you or a loved one have suffered a traumatic brain injury after a car accident, the California Department of Rehabilitation Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Program can help. The TBI Program provides funding to nonprofit organizations throughout the state to assist adults living with traumatic brain injury. Resources include potential access to assisted living, rehabilitation, and community reintegration. To get in touch with the TBI program, call 1-916-558-5780 or email TBI@dor.ca.gov.
California Division of Workers Compensation
Were you injured in a car accident at your work site or during the course of your employment? If so, you may be eligible to claim worker’s compensation benefits. The Division of Workers Compensation at California’s Department of Industrial Relations mediates disputes between injured employees and their employers and monitors the progress of worker’s compensation claims throughout the state. To get in contact with the Division of Workers Compensation, email DWC@dir.ca.gov.
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