Local Attorneys Explain Claims, Insurance and Negligence Laws
Five to six million car accidents occur every year across the United States. Still, despite these numbers, most people rarely consider the possibility that they might be in a wreck. In fact, the most you think about potential car crashes may be when you are buying car insurance or renewing your policy. Even then, many people only consider their state’s minimum insurance requirements. So, when an accident does happen, most people do not have a thorough understanding of state laws, insurance policies or what procedures to follow. Thus, you may find yourself struggling to learn your rights in time to enforce them. Fortunately, you do not have to become an expert on injury claims to successfully file one – you can simply ask the lawyers.
Below, local California attorneys offer information about car insurance, state laws and what to do after a crash. If you have questions or need assistance with a claim today, then contact us to set up a free consultation with a lawyer in your area.
How Do I File a Car Accident Claim in California?
After a crash, you can usually file an insurance claim, either with the at-fault driver’s provider or your own, to recover the cost of your accident-related expenses. However, the insurance industry is profit-based, and filing a claim can be a minefield of loopholes, misinformation and unforeseen challenges. Therefore, to protect your right to compensation, you should take certain steps after a crash.
Immediately after a car accident, if you are able, you should::
- Call the police and an ambulance. Your first concern should be getting medical help for anyone who needs it. Additionally, a police report can be powerful evidence for your injury claim.
- Get information from the other driver and witnesses. Write down the names and contact information plus the other driver’s insurance information and license number.
- Take pictures. Use your phone to take pictures of the scene, your car, any other vehicles and even your injuries.
Then, as soon as you can, you should also:
- Notify your insurer. Most insurance policies require the holder to notify the provider of any accidents as soon as practically possible. However, DO NOT say anything besides reporting the basic facts of the accident as you know them. If the insurance agent asks if you are making an injury claim and you are unsure whether you suffered harm, tell them you are going to the doctor or hospital and will answer that question at a later time. Some injuries may take hours or days to appear, especially when a person’s adrenaline is running high after a wreck. Answering further questions before calling an attorney may negatively affect your claim.
- Call a lawyer. You can get legal advice for any claim, free of charge, in a complimentary attorney consultation. A lawyer can tell you whether you can handle the claim on your own or may offer you representation. An attorney can also either lay out the steps you should follow or guide you throughout your claim.
- Keep a record of any medical treatments and injuries. If you did not receive medical treatment at the scene, then you should visit the doctor as soon as you can to get a medical opinion. Either way, keep careful records.
What Are the Car Insurance Requirements in California?
Like most states, California has mandatory car insurance laws which make it illegal to drive without a minimum amount of coverage. Every state sets its own rules for what qualifies as “minimum” insurance, including the type of coverage you need and the policy limits. In California, the minimum insurance requirements are:
- $15,000 bodily injury liability per person. This means that each person, other than the policyholder, can receive up to $15,000 in compensation for injuries.
- $35,000 bodily injury liability per accident. Regardless of the injury coverage limits per person, the insurer will only pay $35,000 total for all injuries related to a single accident.
- $5,000 minimum property damage liability coverage. This applies to the damage to vehicles other than the policyholder’s car.
Additionally, in California you can choose whether to file a traditional claim against the at-fault driver, or to file a no-fault claim with your own provider. If you choose a no-fault claim, then you submit your claim to your own provider, regardless of fault. You therefore recover under your own PIP policy, although the available damages may be limited. For example, you generally cannot claim compensation for pain and suffering under this system. In some cases, such as if your expenses exceed the limits of your coverage, you may be able to file a claim against the at-fault driver in addition to your no-fault claim.
How Will California’s Modified Comparative Negligence Laws Affect My Claim?
Like most states, California has modified comparative negligence laws which can affect your ability to file a car accident and the amount of money you can recover. According to this system, each person involved in a car crash is assigned a percentage of fault. Typically, the insurance company will investigate when you file an initial claim and calculate the degree of fault. If you disagree with this determination or cannot reach a settlement with the insurer, then your case may go to court. If so, then the judge and/or jury will rule on the degree of fault for each party.
The percentage you are at fault for an accident will, first of all, determine whether your car accident claim can proceed. In California, you may file a rightful claim as long as your degree of fault is less than the other party. For a two-party accident, this essentially means that you can file a claim if you are 49 percent at-fault, or less. However, if your responsibility for the wreck is 50 percent or more, then the law bars you from filing a claim. This means that if you and the other person each bear exactly half of the fault for an accident, then neither of you can file.
If you can proceed with your claim, then your percentage of fault will also impact the total amount of compensation you can recover. Modified comparative fault laws reduce your recovery by your fault percentage. This means that if you are 25 percent at-fault for an accident, then your settlement or verdict will be reduced by that much. For example, if you claim $10,000 in damages for a car crash in which you were 25 percent at fault, then you can receive a maximum of $7,500.
How Will California’s Comparative Negligence Laws Affect My Claim?
Thirteen states, including California, have pure comparative negligence laws, which affect the amount of compensation you can claim for an injury claim. According to this system, each person involved in a car crash is assigned a percentage of fault. Typically, the insurance company will investigate when you file an initial claim and calculate the degree of fault. If you disagree with this determination or cannot reach a settlement with the insurer, then your case may go to court. If so, then the judge and/or jury will rule on the degree of fault for each party.
Once determined, your percentage of fault will also impact the total amount of compensation you can recover. Modified comparative fault laws reduce your recovery by your fault percentage. This means that if you are 25 percent at-fault for an accident, then your settlement or verdict will be reduced by that much. For example, if you claim $10,000 in damages for a car crash in which you were 25 percent at fault, then you can receive a maximum of $7,500.
Unlike a modified comparative fault system, pure comparative fault laws allow you to proceed with a car accident claim regardless of your percentage of responsibility.
How Will California’s Contributory Negligence Laws Affect My Claim?
Only a handful of states, including California have pure contributory negligence laws, which may bar you from filing an injury claim after a car accident. According to this system, if you contributed at all to the accident that caused your injuries, then the law prohibits you from filing a claim against any other party. This means that if the insurance company or judge/jury finds that you are even one percent responsible for a car crash, then you cannot file a car insurance claim.
Due to the severity of this system, you should always consult with a car accident lawyer before filing an injury claim in California. A lawyer can fight to prove that you have zero liability for an accident so that you can recover your rightful compensation.
Need Help with a Car Accident Claim? Ask the Lawyers!
If you have questions or concerns about insurance or negligence laws, then do not hesitate to ask the lawyers. Otherwise, to find an attorney in your area, consult our local listings.