A Guide to California Car Accident Laws

We all rely on automobiles to get us from one place to another. We drive to work. We drive our kids to school or to extracurricular activities. We drive to shop, visit family and friends, and get to places of entertainment. In short, we drive a lot.

The average American spends 101 minutes a day driving. In California, where the yearly average annual miles driven is 1.5 times the national average, this figure is much higher. Let’s just say that the average Californian spends a lot of time behind the wheel. Usually, everything is fine – until it’s not.

The California Highway Patrol has a program called the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System. This system is designed to collect and process data gathered from car accidents. In 2013, the latest year for which data is available, the Traffic Records System showed that in the State of California there were:

  • 3,104 fatalities involving vehicles;
  • 223,128 people injured in accidents involving vehicles;
  • $21,611,000,000 in total costs for deaths and injuries caused by vehicle accidents;
  • 224,078 accidents involving vehicles that caused property damage;
  • $672,000,000 in total costs for property damage caused by vehicle accidents.

These statistics show that even though we may be careful while driving, the amount of time we spend in our cars, coupled with the amount of cars on the road, means that sooner or later, we’re going to be involved in a car accident.

In fact, statistics show that the average driver will be involved in three to four car accidents over the course of their lives. That’s why it’s important that you understand California car accident laws. The odds are that, at some point, you may have to use these laws to protect yourself, your loved ones and your property.

Finding Fault

In most cases when there’s been an auto accident, somebody made a mistake. It can be something as simple as failing to see a stop sign or it can be something as serious as driving under the influence of intoxicants. The point is, someone is at fault for causing the car accident. Under California law, determining who is at fault in an accident is very important.

You see, California is what is known as a pure comparative fault state. This means that the person who is at fault for causing the accident has to pay for the medical care of anyone injured in the accident. They also have to foot the bill for any repairs to property that was damaged.

Sometimes deciding who is at fault is easy. At other times, it can be more difficult. In all cases, either the driver’s auto insurers will agree on who is at fault or a judge or jury will make that determination.

There are accidents where both drivers are at fault. In these cases, the insurance companies involved, or the court, will compare the actions of both drivers to determine how responsible each is for the accident as a whole. Each driver’s separate contributions to the cause of the accident, or fault, are then expressed as a percentage. Any settlement amount or damage award that a driver may receive is first reduced by their percentage of fault for the accident.

Recovering Damages

In California, there are two ways to recover money for the damages that you have sustained as the result of a car accident. You can first try to obtain an out-of-court settlement with the auto insurer for the driver who hit you. The insurance company may offer you a specific amount of money in exchange for a release of liability or they may refuse to settle your claim altogether.

If you accept a settlement and sign a release, you essentially waive your right to sue the insurance company for damages at any time in the present or the future. In addition, the amount of money being offered for your settlement may or may not be sufficient to cover your damages, given the nature of the evidence. An attorney who is experienced in California’s car accident laws can review the evidence in your case and tell you whether accepting a settlement is in your best interest.

If the other driver’s insurer refuses to settle, or offers a settlement amount that is insufficient to cover your damages, you can file a lawsuit to recover those damages in court. In general, any lawsuit for damages caused by an auto collision must be brought within two years of the date of the accident. The only exception to this rule is if your injuries were not immediately apparent following the accident. In such cases, the lawsuit must be filed within two years of the date that you became aware of those injuries.

Most auto accidents are commonly caused by negligence. Under the law, negligence consists of four elements; duty, breach of duty, causation and damages.

Duty is simply another word for objectively reasonable behavior. For example, some of the duties that we have when driving a car include following the rules of the road, paying attention, avoiding distractions, and staying sober.

A breach of duty is when one of these duties, or reasonable obligations, has been broken. In other words, the other driver who was involved in the accident wasn’t doing what they were supposed to be doing.

Causation is straightforward. The other driver wasn’t doing what they were supposed to be doing and, as a result, you were injured.

Damages are the harm that was caused as a result of the other driver’s breach of duty. These damages have to be substantial and capable of being measured.

In order to recover money for your injuries in court, you need to establish each of these elements by a preponderance of the evidence. This means that the evidence must show that each one was more likely to occur than not. This is sometimes expressed as the “51% rule”. In other words, if the evidence is in your favor by only 51%, then you must recover.

If you have been involved in a car accident in California, it is imperative that you protect your right to obtain an adequate recovery for your injuries. An inadequate settlement or reward can have financial consequences that last for years. Make sure that you are doing all you can to get the money that you deserve by talking to an attorney who understands the ins and outs of California’s car accident laws.

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