In 2020, California granted the most licenses in the US, issuing permits to almost 27 million drivers. Unfortunately, more drivers on the road typically mean an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents. In 2021, the state reported around 4,161 motor-vehicle fatalities, slightly higher than the 3,723 deaths in 2020.
If you or a loved one sustained severe injuries in an accident in California, you need a personal injury lawyer. In this short guide for injured victims, you will discover how a lawyer can help car accident victims.
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“According to the Medical Malpractice Center, medical errors cause serious injuries to or the premature deaths of up to 200,000 people a year.”
Is your car accident claim in California viable?
The injured party is responsible for proving negligence in a car accident claim. You cannot proceed with a negligence claim until you have solid evidence. Read on to learn the crucial elements of a successful claim.
Everyone has a duty to exercise care when performing any task where someone can get hurt. In California, the state government codified the definition of a legal duty under Section 1714 of the Civil Code.
Under the code, everyone in the state is liable for the result of their actions. The government also holds individuals accountable for an injury they caused. The exception to the rule is when the injured party brought the situation on themselves.
The court considers foreseeability to determine whether someone owes another party a duty. In California, if you put someone in danger by your conduct, you owe them a duty of care.
For example, a Californian driver has a duty to everyone who shares the road with them. If another party sustains injuries because of their actions, the driver violated their duty of care.
Breach of duty
Once a claimant successfully establishes the defendant’s duty, they must prove a breach of that duty. To establish a violation of duty, the claimant must answer this question: “What did the other party do?”
Sometimes, proving that the defendant breached their duty of care can be easy. A car driver that falls asleep establishes a breach when it results in injury to a pedestrian or another driver.
Violating a statute can also count as a breach of duty. For example, following a car too closely can result in a rear-end collision. It is also a violation of Section 21703 of the California Vehicle Code.
For a solid auto accident case, you must prove that the at-fault party’s actions directly caused your injury. In the state of California, you can do the “but for” test to prove causation. You would not be in an accident but for the at-fault party’s conduct.
This test can be most effective when a single action causes an injury. For example, the accident would not have occurred but for the defendant driving under the influence or DUI. A police report would be a critical piece of evidence to help you prove causation.
Another crucial element is proving you sustained harm or injury in the accident. If you did not get hurt in a car accident, then there is generally no case.
However, if you do get hurt, you will need medical attention and legal support. To establish a solid personal injury case, you will need the help of a California car accident attorney.
Common Injuries of Car Accident Victims
If you get hurt in a car accident, you must document every crucial detail of your injury. Here are the common injuries that can result from car accidents.
Spinal and neck injuries
Whiplash occurs when a driver suddenly moves forward, backward, or to the side. The sudden movement inflicts severe strain on the upper back and neck muscles and ligaments.
While whiplash resolves itself with time, some injuries can be disabling. Moreover, the trauma of a car crash can also damage the soft tissues of the upper and lower back.
In more severe cases, it can even lead to slipped spinal discs. These conditions take long recovery periods. Doctors may prescribe treatment through surgery, physical therapy, and pain management medications.
Automobile accidents like pileups and motorcycle accidents can cause traumatic brain injury (TBI). The sudden impact can push the brain against the skull’s hard surface, resulting in internal injury.
TBI can result in swelling, bruising, or bleeding of the brain. It can also lead to other severe conditions like a skull fracture. While many victims lose consciousness immediately after impact, some patients can have TBIs that are difficult to diagnose. These victims do not experience any symptoms of the damage until much later.
In car accidents, the motorist is vulnerable to injuries to their upper and lower limbs. These injuries will require emergency and follow-up treatment. Furthermore, broken bones are at high risk for infection and may need physical therapy.
In the most severe cases, limb trauma can lead to amputation. This event can impair the victim’s quality of life. It can also impact their ability to perform everyday tasks.
Drivers are also vulnerable to facial car accident injuries. The soft tissues of the face are susceptible to trauma from an impact on the car’s interior or other items in the vehicle. Broken glass can also cut facial skin on impact.
Facial injuries include the following:
- Deep lacerations
- Jaw dislocation
- Loss of teeth
These conditions range from cosmetic injury to debilitating jaw or dental trauma. In some cases, you may need extensive reconstructive surgery.
While some injuries can be easy to treat, some may require long periods of treatment, recovery, and rehabilitation. Moreover, cosmetic surgery can be expensive.
Regardless of the injury following a car accident, many victims can experience psychological stress associated with the event.
In an international study, researchers monitored car accident survivors and the psychological effect of the event on them. They discovered that many study participants suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.
Patients with PTSD suffer severe distress resulting from the traumatic event. Some may require several years of treatment to alleviate their condition.
Aside from PTSD and depression, mental issues resulting from a car accident can also include anxiety and panic disorders.
Common Types of Car Accidents
There are different types of car accidents you may fall victim to on the road. Learn about the different kinds of car collisions and their typical causes.
Head-on accidents happen when two cars crash directly with each other while moving in opposite directions. They often occur at stop signs, blind crossings, traffic lights, and motorways.
Even at modest speeds, these crashes can result in severe injuries or death. This accident occurs when drivers run stop signs, red lights, or yield signs.
Freeway collisions usually happen when people behind the wheel enter the wrong way on ramps. DUI and distracted driving can lead to this type of accident. Impaired driving can affect the driver’s decision-making ability, making them unpredictable and dangerous on the road.
Rear-end crashes are a common type of car accident in the state. In most cases, the driver of the vehicle that hits the car in front of them is at fault.
These collisions often occur because drivers are not paying attention or following too closely. However, if the crash occurs while a driver is going in reverse, that driver could be at fault.
Rear-end crashes can result in severe injuries, including head trauma, spinal cord injury, and paralysis. Victims may need special care in addition to expensive medical treatments like surgeries and therapies.
A side-impact accident occurs when the front of a car hits the side of another motor vehicle. These accidents happen when drivers do not yield at a stop sign or red light in intersections.
Also known as T-bone accidents, side-impact collisions can be more complicated than rear-end accidents. Any of the drivers in a side-impact crash could be at fault. Both parties involved may disagree as to who had the right of way.
A sideswipe collision occurs when two cars collide, usually while moving in the same direction. This accident happens when a driver changes lanes without checking. It can also occur when drivers re-enter moving traffic without ensuring they have enough space.
At low speeds, these collisions may only result in minor injuries. However, victims may sustain more severe injuries when accidents occur at high speeds.
Hit-and-run incidents occur when one driver leaves the scene without leaving their contact information. Doing this can result in a ticket and even a criminal charge.
Pileups are multi-car collisions and often garner media attention because of the number of cars involved. These incidents generally take place in high-traffic areas.
An initial one- or two-car collision often sparks multi-car accidents. Inclement weather can sometimes trigger two or more cars to swerve on slippery roads. This type of accident requires extensive investigation to determine the people at fault.
Comparative Fault in California
In California, you can still get compensation for your injuries even if you are partly responsible for a car accident. As a pure comparative fault state, California allows accident victims to recover compensation even if they’re 99 percent at fault.
For example, suppose the injured victim is 25 percent at fault for causing the crash. In that case, the court will reduce any awards in a personal injury lawsuit by 25 percent.
By contrast, states following a modified comparative fault rule prevent plaintiffs from getting compensation if they are 50 percent or more at fault.
Recoverable Damages in a Car Accident Claim
Once you prove the at-fault driver’s negligence, you will receive compensation for your injuries. You can ask for payment for two types of damages after an accident: compensatory and punitive damages.
Compensatory damages reimburse victims for the costs associated with their injury. Meanwhile, punitive damages punish the at-fault party for causing you harm. While many states cap the amount you can get for punitive damages, California does not.
Economic damages are direct costs and losses resulting from the accident, like medical expenses. These damages include the following:
- Cost of hospital treatment, medical bills, and other medical procedures such as lab tests and surgeries
- Physical therapy, pain management, and rehabilitation bills
- Fees related to doctor’s appointments
- Medication costs
- Medical transportation
- Costs related to at-home or nursing home caretaking
- Increase in living expenses
You can also get compensation for property damage like your motor vehicle. You may receive compensation for the repair or replacement of your car.
Another example of compensation for special compensatory damages is payment for wage loss or loss of earning capacity. The at-fault party should pay you for wages you lost because of your injuries. They must pay for your wages up to the trial date and for income that your injury will keep you from earning in the future.
You can also get compensation for losing an irreplaceable piece of property. For example, the accident damaged or destroyed a family heirloom. You may receive additional compensation for that irreplaceable item beyond its initial value.
The at-fault driver must also pay general compensatory damages, called non-economic damages. These are costs that are not typically quantifiable, like pain and suffering.
For example, you experience long-term physical pain due to your injury or treatment of that injury. You may receive additional compensation if you suffer mental anguish and emotional distress after the accident.
You can also receive compensation if the accident leaves you unable to enjoy life as you did in the past. For example, if you suffered a TBI after the accident, you can get compensation for lower quality of life.
Suppose you cannot participate in activities you previously enjoyed after the accident. In that case, you may get compensation for a loss of enjoyment of life.
Loved ones of those killed in an accident can get compensation for wrongful death damages. This compensation is a combination of special and general compensatory damages.
The following are the costs included in compensation for wrongful death compensatory damages:
- Burial and funeral costs
- Loss of financial contribution
- Cost of medical care before death
- Loss of consortium/companionship
- Emotional distress/mental anguish of surviving family members
An auto accident lawyer can help you argue your case if you want maximum compensation after an accident. They can also help calculate the total costs of your settlement.
Should I accept the insurance company’s offer right away?
Suppose you sustain injuries in a car crash in California. In that case, you will want to talk to your insurer and inquire about a claim. However, this may not be the right thing to do. You should avoid talking to insurance companies until you’ve contacted a lawyer.
Insurance companies are not on your side. Some firms will even twist your words to avoid compensating you for your injuries. If they have to pay, they will do whatever it takes to lower the value of your insurance claim.
Despite what they promise you, your insurance company and the insurance of the other parties involved will settle your claim for the lowest dollar amount possible.
Once you notify your insurance of your accident, representatives from your insurer and the at-fault party’s insurer may call. They might make it sound like you caused the accident or that your injuries are not that serious. They may also talk you into signing a settlement worth far less than you deserve.
These representatives might try to mislead you about the money you may be eligible to receive. For this reason, you want to have a California car accident lawyer who understands how much your claim is worth.
With an experienced California auto accident attorney, you have someone who will consider your lost wages, medical bills, and other expenses. They can provide a clear picture of the compensation that will cover the costs of your accident.
Lawyers are also aware of how insurance companies handle car accident claims. If your insurer calls you after an accident, wait to take the call and look for a lawyer first. Your personal injury attorney can talk to the insurance company in your stead. They will ensure fair settlement so insurance companies cannot take advantage.
How a Car Accident Lawyer in California Can Help
Representing yourself after a car accident is challenging, even if you are familiar with the legal system. Most victims settle car accident claims out of court, but a lawyer can help you get fair compensation. Read on and discover what a car accident lawyer in California can do for you.
Negotiate with insurance providers
Personal injury lawyers have extensive experience in negotiating with insurance companies. If necessary, your lawyer can do the following:
- Draft and send demand letters highlighting the facts of your car accident case and make proposals for reparation
- Prepare pleadings outlining why the at-fault party should be liable for damages
- Initiate the discovery process to get relevant information and depose witnesses, experts, and other relevant parties
- Take your case to trial if negotiations do not result in fair compensation
A lawyer’s ability to negotiate with insurance companies can be the key to the success of any personal injury case.
Give legal advice
If you get in a car accident, do not rely on the opposing party or the insurance company to tell you your rights. It would be best if you only relied on the advice and recommendations of an attorney experienced in personal injury.
In California, you can get compensation even if you are partly at fault for the incident. You will know how your rights can affect your personal injury claim with an attorney.
California is an at-fault state, meaning the driver who caused the accident must pay for damages. While police officers will determine fault when they arrive at the scene of the accidents, insurers will often try to prevent implicating their driver as the one at fault.
You will need a skilled personal injury lawyer to help you prove liability. The lawyer can talk to insurance adjusters and accordingly respond if they try to deny liability.
Collect and retain key evidence
You will need to collect evidence at the crash scene to prove liability. With a lawyer, you will know what to do after an accident to establish the other party’s fault.
Remember that the quality of evidence deteriorates over time. Witnesses also forget essential information or even change their stories as time passes. This is why you should find a personal injury lawyer to represent you as soon as possible after an accident.
Provide legal representation
Often, the involved parties want to prevent going through the uncertainty of a trial. That is why most personal injury claims end in settlements. However, in some cases, a trial is unavoidable.
In California, small claims courts limit claims to $10,000. If the size of your claim goes over the limit, you will have to take your case to a regular court. You might find yourself in a complex legal environment that can be tough to navigate without a lawyer.
An experienced car accident attorney can provide legal representation if your case goes to trial. They can bring your case to a judge and hear verdicts in your stead.
Set your expectations
Look for a California law firm offering a free case evaluation and consultation. The initial consultation will set your expectations about the viability of your claim and the legal costs.
Some lawyers work on contingency, which means you only pay if you win damages or receive a settlement. In that case, your lawyer will receive a percentage of any amount you receive.
Ensure you clearly understand your claim and get a written agreement from your lawyer.
Find Car Accident Lawyers at The Personal Injury Center
A car accident can be devastating, especially if your injuries and damages from the incident are severe. To get fair compensation, you will need the help of a car accident lawyer. With an attorney on your side, you will get legal advice and legal representation if your claim goes to court.
If you want to learn more about car accident claims and how a lawyer can help, visit The Personal Injury Center. We provide valuable resources to help you maximize your compensation after an accident.
Find Your Car Accident Lawyer in California Today
FAQs on Car Accident Lawyer California
What happens if I am hurt in a negligent car accident but don't have car insurance?
California limits the recoverable damages for uninsured motorists in a personal injury claim. If you have no insurance, you cannot claim non-economic damages like pain and suffering from an at-fault driver. However, you may still get money to pay for medical bills, property damage, and lost income.
Should I make a legal appointment immediately or hold off until after medical treatment?
To get the maximum value of your car accident claim, you should call a lawyer immediately after an accident.
Moreover, a two-year limit exists for filing a personal injury lawsuit under Section 335.1 of the California Code of Civil Procedure. Hiring an attorney early on ensures you can get compensation before the statute of limitation expires.
Do they have a seatbelt law in California?
Yes. You can find the details in Section 27315 of the California Vehicle Code, requiring drivers to use a safety belt when on the road.