Car Accidents

Bad traffic seems to be a frequently discussed topic for California, and it is not uncommon to hear complaints from Los Angeles drivers about the state of traffic and the rate of accidents. Because this can be so commonplace – experiencing an accident in the L.A. area – it becomes even more important to understand your legal right responsibilities under California law as a motor vehicle operator.

Some Background on California Law and Car Accidents

California is generally considered a “fault” state with regard to auto accidents. What this means is that in California a person must be found to be liable for causing the accident before that person's insurance will pay for damages to another party. Determining who is liable gets complicated and each party has an obligation to handle it correctly. For example, by not reporting an accident the insurance companies can already start to place blame, even if it does not seem like that person is at fault.

Types of Accidents IncludeWhy You Should Contact an Attorney After a Car Accident

You do not have to do this alone. While it is absolutely optional to contact an attorney after an accident, consider what might happen if you do not contact a qualified lawyer:

  • Those who choose not to seek legal advice after being injured in a car accident are often disappointed with their results.
  • Insurance jargon is often difficult to understand. Chances are, this is done intentionally to intimidate those seeking a settlement. Let an experienced attorney handle this for you.
  • Insurance companies are not looking to pay, just to make claims “go away.” Without an attorney’s relentless pursuit, insurance companies are vested in their own interests, not yours.
Compensation as a Whole

A typical insurance company will see their responsibility as only accounting for injuries and property damage. Your pain and suffering amount to more than that.

  • Your medical bills and car repair bills may exceed the limits on your policy. This is where an injury lawsuit can recover more money for you.
  • Without proper legal representation, you may be on the hook for fees you never even thought about. These fees can be any of the following:
    • Future medical procedures
    • Physical therapy
    • Prescription medication costs
    • Property damage
    • Ambulance fees
    • Doctor fees
    • Car repair damages
    • Lost wages and related expenses

Beyond the physical, there is still the emotional pain, traumatization, and impact on your quality of life. This is worth something to us, even if it not to an insurance company.

What Should You do After an Accident
  • Stay at the scene. Never, ever leave the scene of an accident. Enough said.
  • Alert for help. You can warn other drivers by putting on your hazard lights. If the accident has stopped your flashers from working, using a flashlight can work to signal for help also. Get to a safe side of the road while you wait for help.
  • Call The Police. Damage and injuries might not be immediately evident. Contacting the authorities will establish a record for your claim and offer notes if another party is involved.
  • Maintain Records. Answer questions by police and medical personnel honestly, no need to speculate. Tell information to the absolute best of your ability. Even if you do not have the exact answer, say you are not certain instead of saying “no.” Keep a file on your claim number and findings, all contacts and receipts for expenses pertaining to the accident.
  • Take Pictures. If you are able to, try to take pictures of your vehicle and your observed injuries immediately. Additional pictures of the full scene may be helpful as well. However, do not interfere if there is a police investigation happening at the scene.
  • Exchange Information. Obtain the name, address and telephone number of all involved in the accident, even if it is a passenger. The insurance information for all vehicles involved is needed also. Any witnesses? See if they can provide their contact information too.
  • Report The Claim. Call your insurance company to file a claim immediately. Your insurance representative will provide some instructions, maintain records of that as well. If you plan on retaining an attorney, then it might be prudent to not give a recorded testimony to the insurance companies.
  • Get medical attention. Injuries can take a few days to show up, it is not always obvious at the time of an accident. Even if an injury seems minor, a medical professional can better assess if there is damage to your body that needs further treatment and prevents severe damage.
  • Protect Yourself Legally. Perhaps the most important step here is getting representation. An insurance company will want to rush through the claim, but your injuries and suffering are not a light matter. Let an attorney advocate for your cause. We can advise on a fair settlement, the best medical treatment for your case and compensating for this disruption to your time and family. We will work on a contingency basis, which is no cost to you.
Case Law

California requires the reporting of most traffic accidents. Accidents must be reported to the California Department of Motor Vehicles within 10 days if the following circumstances apply: any injury was inflicted during the accident, any death resulted from the accident, or property was damaged from the accident in excess of $750.

A special case exists for car accidents that involve government agencies. With these cases it is especially important to hire a knowledgeable lawyer and pursue justice right away. Car accidents involving government agencies are limited to a six month statute of limitations for all claims.

Important Things to Consider

  • Statute of Limitations: California’s law dictates the timeframe in which you must pursue a claim for an accident. After a car crash the statute of limitations dictates that you must pursue a personal injury claim within two years and a property damage claim within three years of the date of the accident.
  • Fault: Determining fault will ultimately be the result of a thorough investigation of the accident scene and circumstances. Under California law, fault can be shared to varying degrees among the involved parties; however, even if you are determined to have a level of fault in the accident this does not necessarily keep you from obtaining compensation for damages.
  • Insurance Requirements: Under California legal code motor vehicle operators must carry certain levels of insurance. All drivers must maintain a minimum level of liability coverage through a certified insurance provider, while more insurance coverage is optional.

Important Legislation

California’s legal codes do not place a cap on damages in the aftermath of personal injury or car accidents. This does not mean that there are not important factors to be considered when pursuing such a case.

The first is the statute of limitations. As previously discussed, there is a set time limit on when cases can be brought forth and once outside that window there is typically no legal recourse for your circumstance.

The other important factor comes into play when the accident involves a driver who has neither insurance nor proof of financial responsibility. Under Proposition 213, California code dictates that drivers who do not maintain proper insurance are not able to pursue non-economic damages. This mean that drivers without insurance are not entitled to seek compensation for accident-related emotion distress or pain and suffering.

Car Accident Case Trends in Los Angeles

Awards settlements will vary based on factors of the accident. Factors will include such things as who was involved, what happened, and amount of damages. Speeding and distracted driving are some of the most common factors leading to car crashes these days. If you have experienced personal injury from a car crash that was the result of negligence or misconduct from another party then you could be entitled to a settlement. Recent settlements have ranged from a couple thousand to a couple million; the only way to know what your claim could be worth is to meet with a reputable attorney to discuss your case.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I Know if I Have a Case?

The best way to know if you have a solid legal case is to contact an attorney. Through a thorough consultation the potential legal course of action can be discussed based on accident circumstances and available documentation. Always try to maintain thorough records, as this will greatly help your case.

What if More Than one Party is at Fault?

California law allows for percentages of blame to be allocated to each applicable party. Therefore, it is likely that if more than one person or entity is found to be at fault for your injuries than you may be awarded damages from each, in amounts based on percentage of fault.

How do Courts Calculate Settlements?

This is often a process that can baffle many people. Award settlements take in account many factors like liability and damages.

If you are injured in an accident, contact us at Bridgewater Law Group. Our knowledgeable, experienced attorneys will work for you. We will not stop until we know we have gotten the best settlement to compensate for your pain and suffering. You just focus on your recovery, let us do the rest!

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