California is well-known as an automobile-crazed, traffic-crazy state. Its citizens travel on such infamous traffic arteries as San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway and L.A.’s I-405. Aside from sunshine, beaches, and wine, California is also known in the legal world for having some interesting nuances and quirks for drivers involved in auto accidents and the ensuing personal injury cases that often follow. With a wealthy citizenry, compensatory damage awards can be quite substantial- but it depends on how the court measures your percentage of guilt in such cases.
Read on for more!
One such nuance in California motor vehicle and negligence laws is the principle of pure comparative fault- more simply referred to as comparative negligence– which is a legal test the court uses to determine who among the parties is responsible for an accident… or if everyone involved holds some percentage of responsibility. This could be the driver who caused the accident exclusively, or could also be a case where the court determines all parties involved share some responsibility. Civil cases aren’t always predictable in the amount you can expect to receive for damages, but in states like California where comparative negligence is ingrained into the dispensation of law, it’s a possibility all parties may be cutting a check. However, whatever you are awarded likely will be mitigated by your determined percentage of fault.
Side Note: Are you a resident Ventura County (and surrounding counties like Oxnard and Thousand Oaks) of California who needs to speak to a personal injury lawyer about a case of personal injury you or a family member has been involved in? Feel free to contact us to discuss your case so we can advice how we can help you.
The statute of limitations in California for auto accidents before any legal tests are applied, however, is two years. While pursuing a civil case as soon as after the accident as possible is the best chance of obtaining a favorable award, if you aren’t in a position to immediately file your case, be sure to keep photographs, images, notes, and any evidence that pertains to the accident in a safe place. At the very least, when trial time does come, your ducks are in a row and you and your legal team’s organization will say much about the underlying circumstances of the case, particularly where more than one party could be found at fault. This isn’t to be construed as legal advice as much as it should reflect an intention to follow best practices for cases like this- any time you find yourself before a judge!
Further still, a driver in an auto accident should consider the possible outcomes of their case when an uninsured or under-insured motorist is involved. Regardless of state laws requiring insurance coverage for all drivers, due to the comparative negligence test in California, an uninsured motorist can still file for damages if they are physically injured in an accident. Where the limitations come in for the uninsured or under-insured motorist is that they cannot seek additional damages outside of financial compensation; no damages will likely be awarded if they experience emotional suffering or any other tangential injury not related to physical hurt. So, between the concept of comparative negligence and the rights afforded to uninsured or under-insured motorists, California may not be quite the gold rush for participants in an auto accident case after all- it’s just too equitable.
If the paragraph on those pesky, inconvenient drivers without appropriate coverage elicited a sensation of disdain for California’s treatment of its enthusiastic drivers, know that all hope is not lost for easing your situation. While your case makes its way through court and insurer proceedings, let’s say you are compelled both by professional suggestion and personal injury to take an extended period of time off work. You suffer lost wages, your title is changed, and you can’t contribute to retirement or other benefits plans your employer sponsors. Well, you may file a claim with the California Department of Worker’s Compensation, which will authorize up to $10,000 in personal injury claim coverage and enable you to maintain employment stability with your challenged financial situation. These are not punitive damages as would be awarded in a civil case, but are meaningful coverage benefits all state employers are required to provide employees. However, this loss of income as a result of the accident is admissible evidence in California courts as a valid reason for seeking higher compensatory damages in your civil case.
Let’s conclude with a familiar auto accident situation, and a class of auto accidents that you can have some idea as to what to expect as the case moves forward: rear-end accidents. As many of us are confident that it is always the rear-ender’s fault for the accident, we must remember California’s comparative negligence test and how that divides responsibility. Generally speaking, the rear-ender is often found at fault and the usual course of civil proceedings unfolds. However, nuance is once more important here: cases in which the rear driver is not at fault and while they may have caused an accident, are still entitled to damages. An example would be rear-ending a drunk driver who either stopped suddenly or swerved into your lane and forced you to brake too suddenly to avoid striking their car. Though you are responsible for rear-ending the car in front of you, you may be entitled to damages.
After reading this article, you may now be more aware that California civil law, when it comes to auto accidents, might not be the cash cow many think is often the norm with civil lawsuits taking place in the state’s courts! Next time you find yourself in an auto accident, recall the main points of your reading: pure comparative fault mitigates damage awards to all parties involved, not just the immediately obvious wrong-doer; you have a two year window in which you may bring your auto accident case to court; uninsured or under-insured motorists may still claim damages; and fault in rear-end accidents might not always be as clear as it seems! As with any legal matter, conduct your due diligence and retain legal counsel