Understanding Negligence Laws for Car Accidents in Modesto

On February 19, 2023, a 25-year-old Modesto woman died in a car crash on Stone Avenue. Reports reveal the driver crashed into a John Deere tractor at high speed. Patrol officers found that she was not wearing a seatbelt during the incident. 

Unfortunately, car accidents are commonplace in Modesto, California. Based on California Highway Patrol (CHP) and city records, it had 1,726 fatal and injurious crashes in 2020. Based on the data, Modesto is the deadliest among other cities with similar-sized populations in traffic accidents. 

Aside from being deadly, car accidents are expensive. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates car crash costs are at least $340 billion annually

Car accidents also have significant legal implications. Consult a Modesto car accident lawyer to evaluate your case after sustaining injuries in a motor vehicle crash. 

Working with a professional can help you obtain maximum compensation from an insurance company or at-fault party. Explore The Personal Injury Center to find legal resources and experienced lawyers in your area. 

Key Takeaways
  • Motorists in Modesto, California, have a high risk of incurring car accident personal injuries.
  • California is a fault state, holding liable parties accountable for compensating auto accident victims for injuries and property damage.
  • Injured parties in Modesto car accidents may only file a negligence lawsuit within a limited period.

What is the legal definition of a car accident?

An integral part of understanding Modesto negligence laws is determining the legal definition of a car accident. Most people understand it as a car crash, but it may be more than that. 

Section 32101 of the US Code does not define a car accident per se. However, an auto incident can fall under the term “motor vehicle accident.”

A motor vehicle accident covers mishaps while maintaining or operating a passenger motor vehicle or vehicle equipment. For example, a towing accident constitutes a motor vehicle accident. 

Victims of a vehicle collision should first establish that they suffered injuries or property damage in a motor vehicle accident. Otherwise, their personal injury case against an insurance company or at-fault party may not prosper.

Negligence and Car Accidents

Most (94%) of car accidents happen due to driver-related errors, often causing injury to others. These reasons include recognition, decision, performance, and non-performance errors. 

Although these at-fault drivers do not intend to harm others, they should still be accountable for the consequences. They must ensure the safety of other people by practicing safe driving behavior.

Parties intending to file legal action for negligence in a car crash should consult personal injury lawyers. Their insights will help claimants build a stronger case and retrieve a more reasonable compensation.

The legal definition and elements of negligence

Section 750.23 of the US Code defines negligence as the inability to exercise a reasonable degree of care, skill, or diligence. What constitutes “reasonable” may vary per case. 

To establish a prima facie negligence case, claimants should prove the following elements:

  • Legal duty
  • Breach
  • Injury
  • Proximate cause

The interpretation of negligence may vary per state. In Modesto, parties filing a legal action should present the following  three factual elements:

  • the defendant acted negligently
  • the plaintiff suffered an injury
  • the defendant’s negligence was a substantial cause of the plaintiff’s injury

Section 2302 of the US Code sanctions a civil penalty to negligent drivers. Depending on the vessel, they may be liable to the US government for $5,000 to $25,000.

Duties of drivers in car accidents in Modesto

Section 700 of the Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions sets three specific duties for California drivers. Under the law, they must:

  • practice reasonable care while driving
  • keep a lookout for pedestrians, obstacles, and other vehicles
  • control the speed and movement of their vehicles

Drivers should observe these duties at all times. Non-observance of reasonable care while driving constitutes negligence. 

In addition to careful driving, drivers involved in a car collision should report the incident to the Modesto police or CHP. Reporting is crucial, especially if anyone suffered death or injury or no law enforcer was around. Drivers may submit a completed SR-1 form to the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Examples of negligence in car accidents

A simple act of negligence may cause the most destructive catastrophes, like rollover accidents. Parties planning to take legal action for a personal injury case against a negligent driver should know the following circumstances:

  • Operating a vehicle while drunk or under the influence of drugs
  • Driving while using mobile phones or gadgets
  • Following too closely
  • Not wearing a seatbelt
  • Driving unprepared during a bad weather
  • Causing arguments with other drivers while on the road
  • Improper and excessive usage of car lights, especially during nighttime
  • Driving while tired
  • Moving too fast while turning a corner
  • Failure to yield the right of way
  • Not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign
  • Neglecting car maintenance
  • Knowingly running on a flat tire

Identifying these details will provide valuable information for police reports. Victims of a car crash should exercise caution and criticality to protect their rights fully.

Recoverable Damages After Car Accidents

Parties who suffered injuries and losses due to a car crash are entitled to claim damages. Note that the recoverable amount may vary per case. 

Work with a Modesto car accident attorney and their legal team to explore your case’s best solution. Before setting a consultation, know what recoverable damages are available.

Economic damages

Economic damages refer to quantifiable injuries and losses that injured parties may claim against the defendant. This category includes medical expenses, loss of earnings, repair costs, and other fees the insurance company may cover. 

Claimants should show proof that they incurred or will incur specific expenses. For example, claimants may prove brain injury and other minor injuries through medical certificates. For property damages, plaintiffs may ask a quotation from an auto center or repair shop.

The claimant has the responsibility to prove the existence of economic damages. The court may refuse or adjust the claim for economic damages if found exorbitant.

Non-economic damages

In contrast, non-economic damages compensate for the subjective, non-monetary losses the injured parties suffered. Such damages include emotional distress, pain, suffering, inconvenience, loss of companionship, and loss of consortium.

Since non-economic damages typically have no specific monetary value, they are not measurable like economic damages. Ultimately, the court will decide on an estimate for the non-economic damages it deems reasonable and just.

Claimants may establish the existence of non-economic damages by a preponderance of the evidence. Claimants may need testimonies from individuals who witnessed the victim’s suffering.

Wrongful death damages

Wrongful death damages can be a combination of economic and non-economic damages. The plaintiffs may claim it against defendants who caused the wrongful death of an injured party. For example, a negligent driver would pay wrongful death damages when a passenger from another vehicle dies in a collision.

This category often covers medical costs, funeral costs, and compensation for the grief due to the victim’s wrongful death.

Punitive damages

The other name for punitive damages is exemplary damages. These damages are not compensatory. They aim to deter the at-fault parties and others from performing the same act that inflicted injury on the plaintiffs.

Insurance Claims

Another crucial aspect of negligence laws in Modesto is claiming compensation under an insurance policy. Injured parties could claim from their insurance policies and the at-fault parties.

Section 16020 of the California Vehicle Code holds drivers and vehicle owners financially responsible for car accidents. It means California is an at-fault or tort state. At-fault parties often rely on their auto insurance to buffer potential damages. 

Insurance policies have several variations and effects. A car accident could activate multiple insurance coverages at once. Here are a few insurance policies relevant to car collisions:

  • Liability Insurance
  • Collision Coverage
  • Comprehensive Coverage
  • Personal Injury Protection
  • Uninsured /Underinsured Motorist Protection

Insurance limitations

The California Department of Insurance sets limitations on local car insurance coverage. Find a simplified summary below. 

For liability insurance coverage, the cap is as follows:

  • bodily injury: $15,000 to $30,000 
  • property damage: $5,000 
  • medical payments: $2,000
  • physical injury claims against an uninsured or underinsured motorist: $15,000 to $30,000 
  • property damages by an uninsured motorist: $3,500 

For standard insurance coverage, the cap is as follows:

  • bodily injury: $100,000 to $300,000
  • property damage: $50,000
  • medical payments: $5,000
  • physical injury claims against an uninsured or underinsured motorist: $30,000/$60,000
  • comprehensive deductible: $250 
  • collision deductible: $500 

Recommended Steps When Claiming From Insurance Companies

In 2023, the average auto insurance cost in the US is $1,553. The expenses could inflate further when parties are not keen on insurance policies and processes. 

Considering the high cost of auto insurance premiums, it is wasteful if policyholders cannot take full advantage of its coverage. Policyholders should enhance their knowledge of insurance law to avoid unnecessary expenditures.

Claiming car insurance can be stressful and confusing. Many give up on their claims even before trying because of technical and procedural difficulties. Besides working with a personal injury attorney, it will be helpful for injured parties to take the following steps.

Exchange information with involved parties

After ensuring you and your passengers are safe, the next best thing to do is coordinate with the other parties. Secure their contact information and keep in touch with them. Stay in close contact to increase the chances of settling damages and other claims immediately.

Document the car accident

Take real-time photos of the crash site, the vehicles, physical injuries, and other potentially relevant objects after the accident. The human memory is unreliable to recast the events of the crash. Besides, the documentation could serve as evidence in court.

File a police report

Not all car accidents warrant the involvement of the police. However, report it to the authorities when it results in severe injuries, property damage, or death. It is also advisable to call the police when the at-fault driver escapes, as in a hit-and-run case. Make a point of obtaining a copy of the report. 

File a claim against an insurance company

Coordinate with the insurance company right away. Be as detailed as possible with your report and present relevant documentation. Some insurance companies may conduct investigations before releasing compensation.

Coordinate with an insurance adjuster

Insurance adjusters inspect the extent of property damage or injury claims to estimate the amount due for compensation. Their report could be the basis for the settlement that at-fault parties would pay the injured parties.

Schedule car repairs

After obtaining an estimate of how much at-fault parties would pay for property damage, you may schedule repairs. It is better to settle the payments first to avoid interruptions later on.

When should you sue for negligence in Modesto car accidents?

Injured parties in a car crash should immediately file legal action. Waiting too long could create complications. For instance, parties may exceed the time limit set under the statute of limitations.

A statute of limitation is a legal bar that prevents parties from suing another after a specific period. Section 335.1 of the Code of Civil Procedure sets a statute of limitation for personal injury lawsuits.

Under the law, parties can file a personal injury lawsuit against a negligent party within two years. The reckoning date starts from the doing of the wrongful act.

Did you know?

Injured parties can still sue at-fault parties when the claim exceeds the car insurance limit. Claimants may pursue uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage, wage garnishments, or property liens.

Seek Legal Protection for Car Accidents in Modesto

Motorists within Modesto, California, should keep abreast with negligence laws since more car accidents happen in the area than in other counties. Having sufficient legal knowledge can protect the rights of the injured parties. 

The events following a car crash can happen too fast and feel overwhelming. Working with a law firm with whom you have a stable attorney-client relationship will be advantageous.

The Personal Injury Center is an accessible online platform for parties seeking easy-to-understand guides on legal processes and concepts. Schedule a free case evaluation before taking any legal action.

You deserve fair compensation for the devastation another person’s negligence causes you. The Personal Injury Center can provide reliable resources and connections for the speedy resolution of your case.

FAQs on Modesto Car Accidents

California is a pure comparative fault state, so injured parties can recover compensation even if they are partially at fault. The award of damages will be proportional to the claimant's percentage of fault.

It depends on the many factors of your case. Consult with a car accident lawyer to discover your options and determine which one is most practical.

Car accident lawyers can assist injured parties in claiming maximum compensation for their suffering and losses. They also represent the parties in court and other legal processes.