What are My Rights After a Car Accident in California?
Car accidents cause many fatalities and injuries on California highways and streets. In 2020, no less than 3,723 people lost their lives in traffic accidents. Many others were left severely injured and in pain. If your accident was caused by someone else’s negligence, personal injury California law is clear: you have the right to recover damages from the at fault party.
According to the Civil Code of California Title 1714 (a) “everyone is responsible […] for every injury caused to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill”. This definition of personal injury in California law defines the first two of the four key elements that the plaintiff must prove in order to demonstrate that they have a case:
- The existence of a duty of care
- The breach of that duty
- In breaching their duty of care the defendant caused the plaintiff’s accident
- The plaintiff suffered economic losses as a result of the accident.
With the assistance of an experienced personal injury attorney, you will be able to prove all these elements and have a valid claim against the person who caused the accident.
What If I Am Partly at Fault for the Accident?
The treatment of personal injury in California law is very clear with respect to the responsibility for the accident. Since the Supreme Court decision of 1975 in the Li v. Yellow Cab Co case, California follows a pure comparative negligence doctrine. This means that any person who suffered bodily injury and property damage due to someone else’s negligence may recover damages even if they were 99% at fault for their accident.
However, the financial settlement or jury award shall be reduced by the plaintiff’s percentage of fault for their accident. Thus, if you were found 60% at fault for a car accident, according to personal injury California law you will actually collect 40% of the total settlement your lawyer negotiated or the jury awarded you.
Types of Damages You May Recover according to Personal Injury California Law
The law in California recognizes three main types of damages that a personal injury victim may collect in the aftermath of a car accident.
- Financial or economic damages
- Non-economic damages
- Punitive or exemplary damages.
Economic damages will cover the actual expenses and financial losses you sustained as a result of the car accident, such as the hospital bills, your lost income, the cost of ongoing medical treatments and various out of pocket expenses.
Non-economic damages are meant to compensate you for your pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of consortium and emotional trauma.
As for exemplary damages, personal injury California law has strict requirements for eligibility. The plaintiff must bring “clear and convincing” evidence that they were the victim of:
How Much Time Do I Have to Take Legal Action?
Like all the US states, personal injury California law specifies a statute of limitations. This is the period of time you have available to file a personal injury claim or lawsuit against the responsible driver. This period of time is 2 years from the date of the accident.
Taking legal action within this window of time is essential. Just one day after the expiration of the statute of limitations, the other party’s lawyer will file a motion for dismissal and the judge will not even hear your case.
Discuss Your Case with an Attorney Experienced in Personal Injury California Law
In the aftermath of a car accident, you are most likely confused and in pain. You worry about the extent of your injuries and whether they will fully heal. Thus, you are in no position to handle your personal injury claim on your own.
An experienced attorney, who handled many cases for personal injury under California law can take care of all the required procedures, collect the evidence needed to prove your case and negotiate your claim.