Car accident settlement is quite common in California as a large proportion of cases gets resolved through negotiations outside the court. The injured party often reaches a favorable agreement with the insurance company, which prevents the need for a lawsuit.
The car accident settlement process is one such provision that you may want to familiarize, so that you can use it at the right time to derive justice. If you have been in a car accident, then a knowledge of California’s settlement process can help you make a well-informed decision during tough times.
There are several factors that play a role in making your settlement process in California reasonable smooth and successful. The actions you take immediately after the accident are key to how the Law would treat you and how your claims would be handled.
Table Of Contents
- Car Accident Settlement Process
- Settlement Negotiations
- How does Hiring a Lawyer Help in Car Accident Settlement?
- What Should you Do after a Car Accident?
- Car Accident Damages Recognized by California Law
- Uninsured Motorist (UM) Coverage Vs. Underinsured Motorist (UIM) Coverage
- How to Find the Right Car Accident Attorney in California?
- Work With Krasney Law On Your Car Accident Settlement Today
Car Accident Settlement Process
A settlement in a car accident settlement process is a legal agreement between the parties to the accident to cancel a pending lawsuit and grant compensation for the damages involved. A settlement is a common outcome in a majority of car accident cases. Parties are willing to reach a legal agreement if possible before facing a jury trial and verdict.
California Rules of Court makes one or more settlement conferences mandatory in an accident case. These settlement meetings must be conducted before the lawsuit proceeds to the trial stage.
Why Go for a Car Accident Settlement?
A simpler way to describe settling a car accident case is to bring a closure to the dispute before the court reaches a decision about it. Settling a case is often recommended because of the time it can take for a lawsuit to reach the verdict stage.
In contrast to popular belief, a lawsuit can consume years to reach the final stage. Parties involved in the case need time to conduct a thorough investigation and gather evidence of facts. The case also requires a thorough research on laws applicable to the case. This process takes time.
Preliminary documents pertaining to the case are submitted to the court several months before a trial. This interval gives the parties an opportunity to conduct settlement conferences.
If you feel you have been wronged, then a car accident settlement gives you a better alternative to a trial. You do not have to bear the expenses of a trial and can still claim some compensation for the injustice meted out to you.
If you are a defending party in a car accident case, then settling a case saves you trial expenses. Also, a court verdict may land you in a greater loss and you would be avoiding this risk with a settlement.
What to Expect from a Car Accident Settlement in California?
Car accident settlements are usually equal to the maximum insurance coverage of the at-fault driver. But if the accident resulted in serious injuries for you or other passengers in your car, then it is important that your settlement covers for these damages.
Whether you are being represented by a lawyer or are pleading the settlement by yourself, ensure that a settlement covers you for the following:
- Medical expenses, including present and future bills
- Car repairs and replacements
- Home care expenses in case the accident warrants such care
- Mental suffering
- Any loss of income due to the accident
- Loss of normal marital relations
Once a settlement is reached, the injured party cannot claim more compensation from the other party for the same accident.
Identifying the Parties to a Settlement
A car accident settlement process begins with the identification of parties for the settlement. In a car accident, the individual that suffers injuries due to the wrongful action of another, is legally entitled to make a claim for damages.
Car accident lawyers specializing in car accident settlements begin work on a case by first identifying the individuals or entities responsible for the accident. Lawyers investigate facts, and gather and examine evidences, to identify the liable party.
The breach of Duty of Care is examined to determine liability.
Violation of Duty of Care
Duty of Care, in California Law, is a legal obligation to follow reasonable care to prevent injuries to other people. So, if you are filing a lawsuit in a car accident case, then you should be able to prove the following:
- The defendant should have followed Duty of Care toward you
- The defender failed to follow the Duty of Care
- The failure to observe this duty by the defender resulted in your injury
The party that has been identified to have breached the Duty of Care is made liable for compensating the damages borne by the injured party.
In an accident case where multiple individual or entities have been identified to have breached the
Duty of Care, the onus of the liability falls on each individual or entity.
For example, say your car accident was caused due to the negligence of the driver of a commercial vehicle. In this case, the employer of the driver can be identified as a liable party in a settlement.
The employer breached Duty of Care by:
- Employing a driver with poor driving habits, or
- Employing a driver without properly training him/ her, or
- Demanding that the driver work in unfavorable conditions
If there are multiple liable individuals or entities in your accident case, then your car accident settlement process will involve settlements with each of these liable parties.
Negligent driving also amounts to breach of Duty of Care. When determining liability, investigators assess the extent of negligence that parties to the accident were guilty of. Some acts that can be attributed to being negligence on the corresponding party, include:
- Drunken driving
- Speeding above the legal limit
- Distracted driving
- Not obeying traffic signals
- Following other vehicles too closely
Negligence apart, drivers sometimes fail to follow appropriate road and driving rules. If a party is identified to have broken such rules, then they become liable in a car accident. Some common driving rules that drivers fail to comply with include:
- Speed – Accidents can happen when drivers fail to adhere to speed limit warnings. Speed limit signboards are posted for a reason. They convey the appropriate speed limit that drivers should follow during daylight hours for the road conditions ahead.
- Going beyond or below the posted speed limit can be dangerous. Over-speeding can lead to collisions, resulting in severe injuries and even death. Collisions can also cause serious property damage.
- Slow speeds can be equally dangerous. Drivers driving slowly can become distracted, which can lead to accidents. Slow driving can irritate drivers of other vehicles, provoking them to pass the slow vehicle with greater speed. This can result in an accident.
- A Disregard for Healthy Caution – There are some road conditions that demand extra caution. For example, when you are making an entry into a road, you must observe the oncoming traffic and adjust your driving speed.
- Caution is also necessary when you are leaving a road or alley to enter a highway or another road. You need to adjust your driving in accordance with the traffic and the space available to you to make your maneuvers.
- Unfocused Driving – Use of electronic devices while driving must be prevented. Any other habit or behavior that can divert the driver’s focus from the road ahead must be avoided.
- Failing to Keep Distance – In accidents that involve a car being hit by another vehicle from the rear, the at-fault party is mostly the rear vehicle. The cause of the accident is not keeping even a minimal distance with the vehicle in front.
When the vehicle in front stops suddenly, it does not give the rear vehicle enough time to stop because of the lack of stopping distance. This leads to an accident.
How Car Accident Settlement Unfolds?
A settlement does not require a formal atmosphere comprising a courtroom and lawyers. But presence of attorneys helps reach a settlement faster. You can opt for a courtroom procedure with lawyers to represent you.
You can settle disputes in a more informed manner in a courtroom with lawyers acting on your behalf. You can also exchange information regarding the case in a more formal and disciplined manner. With lawyers working on your behalf, you will be able to participate in the settlement with more awareness about the case and your rights.
When both parties are equipped with required information regarding the case and the Law surrounding it, they consider various factors to arrive at a decision. These factors include:
- Expenses that the parties have to spend if they go for trial
- How favorable the chances are for a lawsuit to reach the verdict stage?
- How a verdict would impact each party? What would each party stand to lose or gain?
Both parties assess, with assistance from their respective lawyers, if going to a trial would be riskier than a settlement or vice versa. If the parties find that going for a settlement is cost-saving over a trial, then the parties may go for a settlement.
A demand letter, also referred to as an offer letter, is written by one party in the case to the other. This letter typically explains details inherent to the case, including:
- The case’s strengths and weaknesses
- A calculation of all the damages caused due to the accident
- Proposed amount toward case settlement
The settlement amount depends on the extent of damages suffered by a party due to the at-fault party. If you have suffered a severe injury that is likely to last for a long time, then your lawyer will propose a higher amount as settlement.
You may be seeking a higher amount as settlement from the at-fault party. Such settlement can be realized only if the party has adequate financial resources. It is in such instances that the expertise of an experienced attorney can help.
An attorney, specializing in car accident settlement, can identify all parties at-fault for the accident and seek settlement from each of these parties. With multiple parties held rightly responsible for the case, the chances of obtaining a full-value settlement are higher.
Once your car accident attorney identifies all the at-fault parties legally responsible for an accident, the next step he/ she takes is to initiate an action to demand payment from the party. Your lawyer may send a demand letter to the opposite party and its representatives including lawyers and insurers. Your lawyer may file a lawsuit, or take both actions simultaneously.
These actions open a gateway for negotiations between the parties. Negotiations open with discussions about these key topics:
- Do the legal representatives (insurers and lawyers) of the opposite party accept their legal liability to you?
- If yes, what is the compensation they are liable to pay and how much they can pay?
If your lawyer has initiated a lawsuit against the other party, then settlement negotiations happen parallel to the legal process. Investigators look into the case to determine the at-fault party even as settlement negotiations take place between the parties.
Your lawyer will negotiate with the aim to convince the at-fault party to make a settlement. Your lawyer will strive to maximize the amount of your compensation through these negotiations.
Settlement ends once both parties agree to a compensation that they deem reasonable. Settlement also frees the legally liable party from future legal liability.
How Long Does a Settlement Take?
No average time can be defined for the closure of a settlement process. A car accident settlement process can take several months, and sometimes even years, to reach a conclusion. A settlement depends on the following factors:
- The seriousness of the victim’s injuries and the treatment time. While some injuries may be obvious immediately, some may take time to reveal themselves. It can take medical practitioners some time to assess the injuries and reach a decision.
An accident settlement must consider the treatment aspect. It can prolong if doctors need time to come up with an accurate timeline for present and future treatment required.
- Time taken by the insurer of the at-fault party to respond to claims made by the injured party. If the legally liable party delays settlement negotiations without proper reason or does not demonstrate good faith in negotiations, then the process takes more time.
- The willingness of the injured party to let the settlement process take its course and exercise patience till that period. Forcing faster settlement may not give you desired results.
If you are hiring a lawyer to represent you, then your attorney has the responsibility to notify you of any offers of settlement from the at-fault party. Whether you are willing to a settlement amount depends on your own decision. Your lawyer will usually advise you on the merits and demerits of a settlement. But, in the end, the decision to finalize a settlement is up to you alone.
What can you Do to Speed up a Car Accident Settlement Process?
Being hasty in a car accident settlement does not deliver positive results. But you can increase the chances of a settlement going in your favor:
- Follow the steps that the California Law requires you to take immediately after a car accident (explained in detail in the early sections).
- File a claim with the insurer of the at-fault party soon after the accident. Reporting early enables the insurer to begin investigations early. The insurer may also be willing to reach a settlement faster.
- Report the accident duly to all authorities as specified by California Law (as explained in the earlier sections).
- Be assisted by a lawyer. A car accident attorney comes with the expertise to handle such a case. A lawyer’s assistance can help you reach a settlement faster. This is because an experienced lawyer can help you build a strong case against the at-fault party.
Lawyers conduct their own investigation into the accident and can determine the at-fault party sooner. In addition, they can bring in experts at every stage of the accident process, from investigation to medical assessments. Expert inputs increase case relevance, compelling the at-fault party to offer a settlement.
A lawyer can also help you set the right value for your damages. A lawyer considers several factors, including the weight of the evidence against the at-fault party and the severity of your injuries.
In addition, a lawyer strengthens your case by focusing on losses after the accident. Conditions such as your health and marital status before and after the accident are taken into account to determine the true extent of your losses.
- Do not delay sending a demand letter once you receive a solid estimate of the present and future medical expenses you are likely to bear due to the accident.
- Continue settlement negotiations even if you file a lawsuit. Negotiations can happen even as you prepare for the legal process. Your lawyer will be in constant communication with the at-fault party’s insurer to reach a settlement out of court.
A fair settlement may unfold itself at any time, even after the commencement of trial proceedings. If you receive an offer that you believe is fair, then you can accept it.
On acceptance, you will be required to sign a legal document that will release the legally liable party from its liability. Your settlement amount will be available to your lawyer for collection.
How can an Expert Legal Team Help?
An expert legal team can be your best partner in making your car accident settlement a success. An experienced car accident attorney in California can help you at every phase after a car accident.
Some key benefits to having a qualified car accident attorney by your side is making a correct assessment of your damages and seeking the maximum settlement offer.
Lawyers specializing in personal injury cases can equip you with the right legal information and guide you to take the right legal path in your quest for seeking a fair compensation.
A car accident can be extremely stressful on you. Having a legal representative by your side ensures that you are fulfilling all legal requirements stipulated by the California Law. The chances of losing out on a case because of your lapse in adherence to car accident laws are negligible.
From making you aware of your legal rights after an accident to communicating with the at-fault party’s insurers and handling negotiations, a car accident attorney manages multiple responsibilities.
How does Hiring a Lawyer Help in Car Accident Settlement?
A car accident settlement succeeds, giving you the compensation that the at-fault party duly owes you, only with strong argument and genuine evidence. It is only the assistance of a lawyer that can help you achieve these objectives.
Even if you decide to file a lawsuit, a lawyer can increase your chances of success in the courtroom with irrefutable evidence. An experienced car accident attorney can convince the jury with a strong argument based on reasoning and evidence to deliver a verdict favorable to you.
The expertise of a lawyer, if you hire one as soon as possible, can give you an advantage at every phase of the car accident settlement process.
The cause of an accident is often not a single factor. A range of elements come into play, especially when you are using the busy streets of California. Going beyond legal speed limits, drunken driving, and illegal age limit of the driver, are some common reasons for accidents.
Hiring a car accident lawyer helps you in the following ways:
Identify the Factors Involved in the Accident
An accident can ensue from a range of causes, sometimes mistakes made by both the drivers. Factors such as speeding, health condition of the drivers of both the vehicles, weather, and distractions within or outside the car, need to be examined.
There are specific health conditions that can impact an individual’s behavior. If either of the drivers are suffering from such conditions, then it becomes an important factor in the accident. If one of the drivers was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, then the individual usually is at fault.
The accident scene and the record of events need to be examined thoroughly to understand the various factors at play in the accident.
An experienced car accident attorney comes with the legal expertise and practical knowledge surrounding car accidents. He/ she will be able to observe and reveal the not-so-obvious or neglected elements in the accident and give a new angle to the case.
You can rest in the knowledge that your lawyer will be working only with your best interests in mind. So, the lawyer will approach the case from different angles before reaching a conclusion. Such evidence-based facts will strengthen your case against the at-fault party.
Conduct In-Depth Investigation into the Case
If you are victim with injuries in the car accident, then it can be difficult for you to ensure an unbiased examination of facts at the accident scene. The shock of the trauma can impact your memory of events.
Hiring a lawyer ensures that you have a legal expert working for you as you recover from the trauma of the accident. From evaluating witness statements at the scene to examining the police report for understanding the situation at the accident spot, your lawyer will employ all investigation tools.
As an insider to the Law, a lawyer can get access to legal evidences such as traffic camera feeds. Such exclusive access may not be possible if you were working alone. A lawyer can use his/ her extensive network to bring in experts to assess the accident scene. The lawyer can have an expert team examine materials on the scene, which could turn into valuable evidence.
Achieve Maximum Claim Compensation
If the accident is a clear case of negligence on the other party, then having a lawyer speeds up the process of raising a claim with the opposite party’s insurer. A car accident attorney relentlessly pursues your insurance claims and ensures that you are compensated according to the coverage.
If the at-fault party is clearly identifiable, then the lawyer can help you get the maximum settlement. Even if you decide to go to the courtroom to claim compensation, your lawyer can easily convince the jury with clear-cut evidence.
If investigations reveal both parties are at fault for the accident, then it can be difficult to claim compensation for your damages. But a lawyer can help you seek and obtain maximum damage compensation.
An experienced accident attorney can build a strong case using legitimate evidences obtained against the other party to convince the jury to grant you maximum compensation.
Bring Facts to the Settlement Table
When you decide to go for a car accident settlement and begin negotiations, you gain control over the process only with solid evidence against the other party. Sometimes, expert witnesses and other forms of evidence may not be available even if you know the other party is at fault.
In such cases, an expert legal team can help you by reconstructing the accident scene and arriving at the accident, step by step. This approach reveals key links in the case, which can strengthen your case against the at-fault party.
Avoid Expensive Mistakes
There are some settlement mistakes that can cost you your claim if you go into the process without expert knowledge. An accident attorney helps you avoid such mistakes by preparing you at the outset itself.
Some mistakes that you can avoid by working with an experienced lawyer include:
Giving unguided statements that can damage your case for a claim.
Often, insurance companies ask for a recorded statement from you when they contact you after an accident. The reason cited is that such statement is a must for obtaining a settlement. But this is not true in most cases.
Insurance companies that do not act in good faith may obtain statements that can weaken your case that the other party is at fault. These statements may make you seem at least partially, if not fully, responsible for the accident.
A competent accident lawyer can recognize if an insurer is acting in good faith. Your lawyer will guide you in giving facts regarding the accident to the insurer without getting trapped into saying what the insurer wants.
Over-valuing or under-valuing your damages.
It is easy to demand more compensation than your damages truly warrant. It is important to evaluate accident damages the way they should be, and assign the right weight age to them.
When you fail to do so, and ask for more compensation from the insurer, it can impact your credibility. It can also make you look ignorant of the facts of the accident and the Law.
Incorrect assessment can also lead to under-valuing of your damages. You may end up asking for much less than the actual damage. This mistake can increase your medical and other expenses in the present. It can also prove expensive in the long run, especially if you have incurred a long-lasting damage such as an injury, due to the accident.
When assisted by a legal team, you can make a right assessment of your damages. A legal team is knowledgeable about both the law and the maximum amount you can seek for your damages.
Seeking a hasty settlement without receiving proper medical care.
An experienced accident attorney will advise you to seek proper medical attention and be under treatment till the period prescribed by doctors. You can under-value your damages by going for an early settlement offer.
Not all accident injuries are immediately visible. Some injury effects may appear over time. If the injury worsens over time, your under-valued compensation will not be able to cover the expensive medical bills.
A qualified attorney will seek expert opinion and wait for longer, if needed, to reach a decision regarding medical claims. The attorney will guide you to go for a settlement offer that covers both your present and future medical expenses.
Demand letter mistakes.
A demand letter (explained in detail in the earlier sections of this article) is a crucial element to a car accident settlement process. It is the demand letter that opens up negotiations for settlement.
A well-drafted demand letter provides the best chance to put forth your case as the injured party and claim rightful compensation. A seasoned accident attorney will guide you to focus on the following factors to make your demand letter compelling:
A well-drafted presentation. A demand letter should present the facts of the case in an easily-understandable language. The letter must specify the liability of the other party. It should clearly communicate the compensation you are expecting.
Not specifying accident damages clearly.
The demand letter must provide details regarding the losses you have faced due to the accident. It should include both your economic and non-economic losses (explained in previous sections).
Using abusive language or issuing threats.
Your demand letter must be polite. A nasty letter is not going to threaten the receiver into taking an action favorable to you. The attorney of the opposing party will see it for what it is – an empty threat that can be used against you.
An impolite demand letter will reduce your chances of gaining a favorable ground for mediation’s with the opposing party. After all, no one likes to be threatened.
Even if you decide to file a lawsuit, the demand letter could be submitted as evidence. The harsh tones of the letter are not going to make you look like a victim to the jury.
Sometimes, you could be even be sued for unfair business practices, especially if you have included false information in addition to threats.
For the best results, base your demand letter only on facts and stay away from threats and abuses.
Failing to back up a verbal agreement with a written evidence.
Settlement negotiations take place continuously till a consensus between the parties is reached. At some point during these negotiations, the at-fault party may come up with an offer that feels satisfactory to you.
If such offer is made only verbally, then it is important that you get the agreement in written format. The written document must specify the offer made, and that it was this offer that was accepted by you.
Before accepting, ensure again that the offer covers all your medical expenses including present and future, and other damages that you may have suffered.
Signing the Release in haste
When you accept an offer from the at-fault party, the insurer will ask you to sign a Release document. The insurer will not issue your settlement check unless you sign this release document.
Once you sign and send the Release document, you “release” the at-fault party from present and future legal liability for the accident. You cannot sue the other party again to ask for a claim.
It is crucial that you double-verify the offer made and its suitability to meet your present and future expenses.
An injury lawyer waits till the period recommended by your doctor to assess your injuries correctly. He/ she delays the settlement till you recover to the maximum, from your injuries.
An injury attorney seeks expert opinion on your injuries. If the lawyer is satisfied with your medical condition, then he/ she recommends signing the Release document.
Once the Release document reaches the insurer, the settlement check is sent to your attorney who then disburses the money to you.
Delay In Sending The Demand Letter
Given the importance of a demand letter, it is essential that you send the letter as soon as possible. If you are unable to send the letter due to a legitimate reason such as a delay in medical diagnosis, then inform the insurer about the same.
Provide updates regularly so that the other party is kept informed about your progress. This approach acts in your favor when you participate in settlement negotiations. Regular updates will also justify your compensation.
When are the Services of a Car Accident Lawyer Required?
With several key benefits attributed to hiring a car accident lawyer, it is prudent to go for a personal injury attorney if you have been involved in an accident. The services of a car accident attorney can make a crucial difference in the following conditions:
- The accident has resulted in a death.
- Either you or a passenger in your vehicle has suffered serious injuries.
- A review of the police report does not seem to reflect the events as they happened. Hiring an attorney is important especially if you believe the other party caused the accident.
- There is evidence to prove that the accident was due to the other party’s negligence. But the other party refuses to accept its fault.
- A preliminary medical diagnosis reveals injuries that can prevent you from leading a normal life.
- You expect an expensive medical bill for treating your accident injuries.
How Soon should you Hire a Car Accident Attorney?
The best time to hire a car accident lawyer is at the earliest after an accident. Hiring a lawyer as soon as possible gives you several benefits:
- The at-fault party will contact its insurers and personal injury lawyers, leaving you several steps behind in the process. This is true even if you are an innocent party in the accident.
The at-fault party’s insurer will contact you as soon as it comes to know about the accident.
Obviously, the insurer will not be having your best interests in mind. With a qualified personal injury lawyer, you get the advantage of expert support that works with your best interests in mind.
The services of an accident attorney become invaluable when you suspect the insurer of not acting in good faith. If your claims are being denied for no fair reason, or the insurer denies coverage due to your premium, then it could be acting in bad faith.
- Hiring a qualified attorney ensures that you do not miss out on California’s time limit for filing personal injury and property damage lawsuits.
- Hiring a lawyer reduces your stress of following a legal process while being busy attending to your own injuries or that of your loved ones.
What Should you Do after a Car Accident?
Car accidents rarely leave room for clear thinking. Events occur so fast that you may not get a grasp of the situation even after a long time. The consequences of a car accident, however, wait for none.
Focusing on the series of events as they unfold is crucial because they have an impact on your car accident settlement process. Controlling panic and striving to stay calm are crucial to take care of yourself, usher your loved ones to safety, and to seek timely medical services.
In California, the actions you take immediately after a car accident that involves you, help determine if you have been following the Law or violating it. These actions are crucial because they can get you the compensation you seek for your damages or can get your driving license suspended. The rights you are legally entitled to, following an accident, can also be affected through these actions.
If you are in California and have unfortunately been involved in a car accident, here are some steps to take to ensure that you are on the right side of the Law:
Do Not Flee the Accident Zone
Fleeing the accident scene can invite criminal charges under the California Vehicle Code. If there have been only property damages in the accident, then fleeing the scene can make you vulnerable to hit-and-run misdemeanor charges.
You can be charged with a hit-and-run felony if there has been a death, or injuries. It is crucial that you stay till the police reach the scene.
A felony charge can result in the following sentence:
- A fine of a maximum of $10,000, or imprisonment for up to a maximum of 4 years (in a state prison) or for a maximum of 1 year (in county jail).
The sentence for misdemeanor includes a fine of a maximum of $1,000 or imprisonment for up to 6 months, or both.
Ensure All Involved in the Accident are Safe
The next action to take after a car accident is to ensure that all people involved in the accident are safe. This includes passengers in your car, as well as the driver and passengers of the other vehicle.
Call for medical assistance if you, or any person at the accident scene, needs urgent medical assistance.
Sometimes, you may need to attend to your own injuries or those of a loved one, In this case, give your contact details to any able member of the other vehicle, if possible.
Inform the Police
Place a call to the police if the accident has caused death, severe injuries, or substantial property damage. If police are already at the scene, then request the responding officers to file a report. Be sure to get the details such as the responding officers’ name and badge identity.
Get Details of Drivers and Passengers
Approach drivers and passengers of all vehicles involved and get some basic details. Get the names, addresses, contact numbers, vehicle license plate numbers, license numbers of the driver, and basic insurance details. Obtain details such as names, contact details, and addresses, from passengers. Give your information to the driver/ passengers of the other vehicle.
Leave a Written Note in Case of an Unoccupied Vehicle
If your car has collided with an unoccupied vehicle or hit other property, then do either of the following to comply with California law:
- Trace the property or vehicle owner. Give the person your contact details and driving license number (or)
- Write a note specifying your name, address, and contact details. Leave the note at an obvious spot for the owner to readily find it.
- In addition, do the following:
- Report the incident to police with jurisdiction over the area where the incident occurred (or)
- Head to the local headquarters of the California’s highway patrol department to report the incident. This is necessary if the area where the incident occurred in an unincorporated territory. “Unincorporated territory” refers to areas that fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
Avoid Admitting to any Mistake on your Side
Be careful about admitting to anything that you think was your fault. It might not have been your fault at all. There could be many reasons for the accident, including negligence of the other driver, or a problematic road condition.
Even if you apologize out of goodwill, it can be taken to be an admission of guilt, which makes you legally liable for the accident. Such rash admission can cause your insurer or the insurer of the other party refrain from compensating for damages suffered by you.
Everything can be a blur after an accident. With emotions such as guilt running high, you may even assume that an inadvertent mistake by you caused the accident. The best action to take would be to maintain silence regarding the cause of the accident.
Do not Admit to Not Being Hurt
A car accident can cause injuries that may not be immediately visible. Let a qualified medical expert decide whether you have injuries.
When you admit to not being hurt, you are giving the insurer of the other party a solid reason to refuse your compensatory claims. On the contrary, lying that you have been seriously hurt does no good either. Such claim can hurt your credibility when the truth emerges.
Avoid affirmations or denials regarding your personal state till you receive qualified medical assistance.
Gather Information from Witnesses
Approach people in the vicinity and ask for their account of the incident. Know if the zone is prone to frequent accidents. Ask witnesses about similar accidents in the past and recent times. Get names, contact details and information from witnesses willing to share the details.
Capture the Accident Scene in Pictures
Take pictures of the situation at the accident scene, if possible. Photograph the vehicles involved in the accident. If the situation allows, take pictures of the bodily injuries that ensued from the accident.
Photos are important because they give your insurer substantial evidence of damages caused in the accident. This evidence helps the adjuster determine an appropriate claim against damages.
Photographs can help your lawyer (if you are hiring one) understand the accident scene and determine the extent of damages. Photos serve as a credible evidence against wrongful claims of damage and injury.
If you have pictures of your car before the accident, then you can compare these before-and-after photos to determine the true extent of damages.
It is recommended that you take pictures of the accident scene immediately after the incident. This may not be possible if you have to rush to attend to people needing immediate medical assistance.
In such cases, take pictures immediately after you are able to return to the accident spot.
Ensure that you are in a safe place before you start taking pictures.
Record your Account of the Event
The shock of the accident can erase significant details of the incident. So, record the event as you remember it, as soon as is practically possible. You can write the details or use your smartphone to record your account.
Include details such as:
- The time and date of occurrence of the accident
- The address of the accident spot
- Approximate speeds of the vehicles involved in the accident
- Any unfavorable road conditions such as road diversions, bumps and potholes
- Presence of traffic lights or other warning signs such as speed limit posts in the vicinity
File a Report with California’s Department of Motor Vehicles
California Law requires the driver of a motor vehicle that was involved in an accident on a highway or a street, to report the accident to the state’s DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). A report must be filed with the DMV before the lapse of 10 days since the date of the incident.
The need to report arises if the accident resulted in any one of the following:
- Bodily injury
- Death of an individual
- Property damage amounting to over $1,000
You can personally file the report. Your insurance agent or your legal representative can also file the report. Failure to report can result in suspension of your driver’s license.
California DMV requires you to file such accident report on a SR-1 Accident Reporting Form.
Call your Insurance Company
Talk to your insurance company without delay. Inform the company of the accident and give them facts regarding the event. If you are unsure of certain details, then obtain a copy of the police report on the accident to give pertinent information.
Lying to your insurer can land you in serious trouble. Your insurer can refuse to address your claims if it finds out that you have hidden or exaggerated facts.
If you fail to inform your insurer about the car accident, then you risk violating the law. Your driver’s license can be suspended as a result. Your insurance company may require you to report an accident. You stand the risk of getting your insurance canceled by failing to report.
If you fear that your insurance company may raise the rates upon knowing about the accident, then you need not fear such development. In California, the law does not permit auto insurers to raise the rates for a policy holder if the accident is not the individual’s fault.
Timely reporting of the car accident enables you to give your insurer sufficient reason and evidence to defend your claim.
Monitor your Medical Spending
Depending on your injuries, you may receive treatment from different healthcare professionals, including doctors, chiropractors and physical therapists. Keep a detailed account of all the treatments you get from different medical professionals.
Maintain bills and reports from all care providers. These documents serve as evidence for your medical expense claims.
Include details of the intangible effects of the accident. These include the physical pain and mental suffering that ensued from the accident. Intangible factors are difficult to prove. So, you can explain the impact of these intangible factors through tangible determinants. Some examples include the number of absent days at work, and the routine tasks that you are now unable to execute.
Cross-Check your Insurer’s Damage Evaluation
Request for a damage evaluation report from your insurance company. If you feel the company has quoted far less, then do your own research to prove them wrong. Get quotes for repair and replacements from independent entities. Show them as proof to your insurer.
If you do not seem to reach an agreement with your insurer, then consider seeking the help pf an personal injury attorney.
Exercise Caution and Discretion
Avoid discussions about the accident with anyone other than your insurer, lawyer or the police. If the insurer of the other party requests a personal meeting, then do so only after consulting your lawyer or insurer. You can ask the other party’s insurer to contact your lawyer if you do not wish to meet them.
If your insurer tries to attract you with early settlement offers, then exercise caution. Often, it is not possible to evaluate the seriousness of your injuries at the outset itself. It can take some time, from days to weeks and even months, for the injuries to reveal their true extent.
So, do not go for any settlements that come in the early days after the accident. Consult your lawyer before you decide to accept such settlement offers.
Seek the Assistance of a Legal Expert
A legal expert specializing in car accident settlement such as the Krasney Law Accident Attorneys can guide you in making the best decision.
Experienced lawyers can help you get the maximum benefit for your damage claims. They can also offer the best defense if you are at fault in the accident.
Car Accident Laws in California
A knowledge of car accident laws in California is crucial because these laws shape your car accident settlement. Many crucial elements of a car accident, including insurance claims, damage evaluations and the need for a lawsuit are all decided based on these laws.
Read on to know about car accident laws in California.
Accident Reporting Laws
California Law requires the driver of the vehicle involved in an accident to stay at the scene without fleeing. The driver must check if passengers and the other driver are safe. If anyone has been injured, the driver must offer all help possible.
Another requirement by Law is that the driver share his/ her contact details with the other driver and get their details as well. In case of an absence of a driver’s license, the driver must show other valid identification to the other driver or passengers.
According to California Vehicle Code, the driver of a vehicle that was involved in an accident must do the following within 24 hours if the accident has resulted in death or injuries:
- Inform the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) of California about the accident in the form of a written report.
- Submit a written report to either the DMV, or the police division of the city where the accident took place.
Report submission to the above government entities is essential only if you were unable to report to the police at the accident scene. If a law enforcement agent reached the scene, then the officer will file the report. In that case, you need not file a report again.
If you were unable to report to the police on the scene, or the DMV within 24 hours, then California Law requires you to do the following:
- Report the accident within 10 days if it has resulted in an injury, death, or property damages accounting to over $1,000.
- Submit the report personally (if you were the driver). The report can also be submitted by a legal representative such as a lawyer, or an insurance agent or a broker, on your behalf.
The written report by the driver must carry the following details:
- Current house address
- Details of people involved in the accident with complaints of injury
Car Accident Damages Recognized by California Law
California Law recognizes the right to compensation of people that have suffered injuries in a car accident due to the other party’s negligence. The Law has defined several categories of damage with the most common being economic and non-economic categories.
The economic category identifies damages related to finance such as expenses ensuing from the accident. Some damages in this category include:
- Expenses for vehicle repairs and replacements
- Medical expenses, including immediate and those that could occur in the future
- Burial costs in case of a death
- Loss of earning capacity
- Loss of income
- Property becoming unusable
- Loss of business opportunities or job
The non-economic category recognizes, but is not limited to, the following damages:
- Mental suffering due to the accident
- Physical and emotional pain
- Bodily injury leading to disability
- Loss of companionship or affection
California, unlike states that place a limit on the non-economic damages that can be claimed, does not restrict individuals from claiming damages of any nature.
The Law however denies the rights to non-economic damages of an individual that does not possess an auto insurance. So, an individual without an insurance is not entitled to a claim of damages such as mental distress even if he/she is not at fault for the accident.
If you do not possess an auto insurance and have suffered damages due to the fault of the other party, then you can claim economic damages.
Extent of Time to File a Lawsuit in a Car Accident Case?
According to the Code of Civil Procedure (CCP § 338), California Code, an individual has to file a claim for property damage within 2 years.
According to CCP § 335.1, an individual has to file a claim for personal injury within 2 years. This section includes acts that cause an injury to, or result in the death of, an individual. The consequences stated above must have been caused due to negligence or a wrongful act by another individual.
For example, say a car accident leaves you with a knee injury or a soft tissue injury such as a whiplash. In this case, you have to make a claim within 2 years after the accident. You can claim medical expenses and any expenses that you paid for personally, in the lawsuit.
If the accident leaves you with damages to the car alone, such as a broken windshield, then you have 3 years to file a lawsuit.
Is it Possible to File a Case after the Legal Time?
If an individual initiates a lawsuit against the at-fault party after the time limit mentioned above, then the court can dismiss the case following the expiry of the legal time period.
But there are some exceptions to this rule that can be applied only under specific situations. The time limit can be extended in such cases. This situation is legally referred to as “tolling”. It means that the original time period is “paused” temporarily till the occurrence of an event.
The specific situations in which “tolling” becomes applicable, include:
- The defending party is under imprisonment
- The plaintiff is unable to find the defendant
- The victim of the accident is mentally disabled or is a minor
- There has been a reasonable delay, caused due to the late discovery of an accident injury
The time limit can also be shortened in certain cases. An instance in which this exception is applicable is when the at-fault party is a government entity. The entity can be a state, county, or local government party. If it is found to be responsible for the accident, then the opposite party has a to file a lawsuit within 6 months from the date on which the accident occurred.
California Insurance Laws
California Law makes it necessary for car drivers and owners to possess an insurance. Auto insurance is treated as a financial responsibility of car drivers. The Law also requires you to carry a proof of your auto insurance in your car at all times.
You are required by Law to show a proof of your insurance when involved in an accident. Non-possession of insurance can lead to suspension of your driving license.
The insurance types recognized by California Law are:
- A liability insurance policy for motor vehicles
- A cash deposit amounting to $35,000 made to the DMV
- A self-insurance certificate issued by the DMV
- A $35,000-worth surety bond issued by a company bearing an operational license in California
California Law makes it mandatory for vehicle owners to hold financially responsibility for accidents involving them and their vehicles. The California Insurance Code specifies mandatory insurance requirements. If you are a car owner, then you must hold the following basic insurance coverage:
- A minimum coverage of $5,000 toward property damage
- A minimum coverage of $15,000 for a single person in case of death or injury
- A minimum coverage of $30,000 for more than 1 person in case of death or injury
Many vehicle owners buy supplemental insurance to increase coverage. This type of insurance helps you when the accident is your fault and the injured party files a lawsuit to claim damages. But note that collision and comprehensive insurance do not comply with California Law’s financial responsibility stipulations.
The Law requires insurance companies to electronically submit auto insurance information to the DMV. Non-submission of auto insurance information can lead to suspension of registration of the corresponding vehicles. It is a violation of Law to drive, use or park such vehicles on public roadways.
How Car Insurance Laws Impact Car Accident Settlement?
California law equates auto insurance to financial responsibility that the owner of the vehicle accepts in the event of an accident. The impact of car insurance is huge when you are involved in an accident in California.
The state laws and your car insurance influence the claim-handling process and the compensations you are liable to receive after the accident.
California Law follows an at-fault principle when deciding liability in a car accident. This Law determines if or not you are entitled to sue in case you are a victim in the accident. This Law also determines if or not the other party is responsible for paying for your damages.
As an at-fault state, California holds the person responsible for the accident, liable. The individual responsible for the accident has to pay for the losses incurred by the other party. Losses include property damage, medical bills, and other damage.
The decision regarding the guilt of the offender is arrived at, through the use of different meticulous methods. A police officer determines if the specific individual has been at fault. Witness examination, evidence, and a bit of logic, are used to comprehend the situation and determine the offender.
In California, it is the insurance company that pays for such losses on your behalf if you are proved to have caused the accident. In case, your insurance does not compensate all claims raised by the victim, then the other party can file a lawsuit for more compensation. So, it is important to choose an auto insurance that protects you to the maximum.
Another crucial aspect of California’s at-fault system is that the insurer of each party has to pay for claims according to the fault of each, in the accident.
If you have suffered accident injuries due to the opposite party, then California Law equips you with great liberty to raise claims with the offending party. If you have been at loss as a driver or passenger in California, then you can take any of the following actions:
- File a lawsuit on the grounds of personal injury against the at-fault party
- Raise a claim with your own insurer
- Raise a claim with the insurer of the at-fault party
You can raise claims for any damage, including property damage, medical expenses, loss of income, and emotional distress.
Taking additional insurance coverage offers you greater protection, especially in case of an accident that involves serious injuries or property damage. With only basic insurance, you become vulnerable to financial risks after the insurance reaches its maximum coverage.
Additional coverage can help you cover your own losses too, especially when the insurer of the other party is unable to cover a majority of your losses.
You can opt for underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage for a greater degree of financial protection during accidents. This type of insurance protects you when the other party involved does not have an insurance or has an insurance that offers you inadequate coverage.
Uninsured Motorist (UM) Coverage Vs. Underinsured Motorist (UIM) Coverage
The insurance company you choose to be your insurer must offer you uninsured or underinsured motorist insurance at the time of insurance purchase. If you do not want to buy the coverage, then the company will give a waiver form. By signing this form, you declare that the company offered UM and UIM insurance and that you chose not to purchase it.
The purpose of an uninsured/ underinsured coverage is to provide you with coverage when the at-fault driver is uninsured or underinsured. UM/ UIM coverage gets added to your already existing auto insurance liability coverage.
While California Law does not mandate UM/ UIM, it is prudent to be equipped with this coverage for your own protection.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage
The basic insurance coverage mandated by California Law for drivers follows a 15/ 30/ 5 rule. This means, the insurer of the at-fault party will pay a maximum of $15,000 for a single person, $30,000 for multiple individuals, and $5,000 for property damage.
(Note: Check preceding sections for an in-depth explanation of basic motorist coverage as mandated by California Law).
Many insurance companies offer coverage that is more than the mandated minimal coverage. For example, there are coverage options offering up to $100,000 for a single individual, and up to $300,000 for multiple individuals.
Many drivers do not purchase such extended coverage because they cannot afford the premium, or are simply reluctant to invest in such coverage. As a result, government health insurance programs such as Medicare and private health insurance companies face payment challenges. During a car accident, these entities are forced to make payments for claims of medical expenses and damages.
To reduce this burden on government and private insurance entities, the Law entrusts insurers with the responsibility to offer coverage for accidents where uninsured drivers are at fault.
UM coverage addresses the following claims:
- UMBI or Uninsured Motorist Bodily Injury –This insurance covers you and any other individual with you that has suffered injuries in the accident. The coverage offered is the same as your liability insurance limits.
- UMPD or Uninsured Motorist Property Damage – This insurance offers a coverage of a maximum of $3,500 toward your car damages. This coverage applies only if the uninsured driver can be identified.
If you are already using a collision insurance, then you may not require a UMPD coverage.
Underinsured Motorist Coverage
Even when drivers go for additional coverage, they choose only options with minimal coverage. This coverage may work in case of minor accidents. They become inadequate for an accident with critical consequences, especially when the passengers are more in number.
If you are in an accident with an underinsured at-fault driver, then the coverage fulfills claims exceeding the driver’s policy limits. The maximum limit of such coverage is the liability insurance limit of the driver.
To be duly compensated by an at-fault driver’s underinsured/ uninsured coverage, it is important to notify the DMV and the driver’s insurer about the accident. The insurer will conduct an investigation into the accident and determine the party at fault. You can file a lawsuit if you are not satisfied with the insurer’s conclusions.
How to Find the Right Car Accident Attorney in California?
The key factors that make your car accident settlement a success are the immediate actions you take after an accident and the car accident attorney you choose.
We have dealt in depth about the actions that the California Law requires you to take immediately after an accident, in the previous sections. It now comes to choosing a car accident attorney that works with your best interests in mind.
It is recommended that you hire an accident attorney as soon as possible after the accident. As you delay the decision, your medical expenses, and other damages such as loss of workdays, add up.
Here are some tips to increase your chances of teaming up with the right car accident lawyer:
Choose an Attorney Dealing Exclusively in Motor Vehicle Accidents
Personal injury and property damage involve specialized laws. An attorney needs to have the legal and practical knowledge of dealing with car accidents, settlements and corresponding lawsuits. In addition, an attorney must also be experienced in dealing with insurers and at-fault parties.
The intricacies of a car accident settlement can be best handled by accident attorneys. They specialize in California’s accident law, and manage hundreds of cases regularly.
Attorneys dealing in legal verticals such as divorces, bankruptcies, and family law, may not give you the edge. They may lack the expertise and the exclusive advantage of an accident attorney.
With an accident attorney, you make your case more relevant, and strong. You also increase the chances of obtaining maximum compensation for your injuries with an accident attorney.
Choose a Lawyer with a High Record of Settlements
Shortlist lawyers based on their experience in obtaining maximum settlements in car accidents successfully. Lawyers with a high track record of car accident settlements will be experienced and competent to handle your case.
Whether your case is complicated, or the settlement involved is huge, or the at-fault party is in denial, an experienced car accident attorney can overcome all challenges with legal tools.
It would be reassuring to know you are being represented by an attorney that has settled many successful car accident cases. Trust is key to working together with an attorney. It is the attorney’s experience that inspires trust in you.
Go for a Lawyer that does not Hesitate to File a Lawsuit if Necessary
You may want to hire an accident attorney that can make a settlement for you. But a lawyer should be able to go to any length within legal means, to achieve a just compensation for you.
Claiming compensations from insurers is an overwhelming task. Often, insurers are aggressive in their approach. If they realize that your attorney is not experienced in car accident lawsuits, then they use this as an advantage to settle for a far lower compensation. You may want a settlement but surely not a poor one, especially if your losses are huge.
When your attorney is willing to go the legal end and file a lawsuit, the insurer may be compelled to make the desired settlement. Even if the insurer does not make the settlement, you can trust your attorney to go to the court and convince the jury to give a favorable verdict.
So, check the experience of the car accident attorneys you shortlist. Go for attorneys that have a filed a lawsuit on grounds of unjust compensation.
Go for Attorneys with Referrals
Ask your friends, relatives, ex-colleagues, or your local welfare community, for referrals on car accident attorneys. You can also post a referral request on social media websites.
Follow up the referrals with your own research. Visit the websites of the prospective attorneys to find out more about them. If there is a news section, then check if the firm has received any awards or if the lawyer has any article credit to his/ her name.
These factors convey that the lawyer is a well-known person in the industry and is up-to-date with the developments in the field.
Take time to visit review websites to assess the service quality of the firm. Observe why a client liked or did not like the service.
While shortlisting lawyers, keep the following in mind:
- If a lawyer approaches you with unsolicited referral and is willing to dispense free advice regarding your case, then stay away from such candidates.
- Apart from legal credentials, check for memberships with national or state-level lawyer associations. Such lawyers usually maintain high standards of work quality to comply with respective association rules.
- Ask about your communication contact at the lawyer’s office. It would be better if there is a qualified paralegal or an associate attorney for the purpose. These contacts come with legal knowledge. So, you need not wait long for responses. Even if the lawyer is away, a paralegal or an associate attorney can guide in legal matters pertaining to the case.
- Ask if the attorney is assisted by any legal team that can pitch in as per the demands of the case. Car accident cases require different resources and tools, from skilled investigative officers to accident scene reconstruction experts and medical officers.
Having such a network of experts is e expensive. An attorney must have financial resources as well as extensive network in the legal industry to realize such teamwork.
- Stay away from candidates that make promises and deliver guarantees that are too good to believe. A lawyer must clearly explain what can and cannot be done depending on the facts of the case.
- Stay away from candidates that you do not feel comfortable with. If you feel you are being intimidated or bullied into hiring an attorney, then be willing to leave the office.
Work With Krasney Law On Your Car Accident Settlement Today!
Being well-informed about car accident settlement laws in California is a must if you do not want to be left legally stranded in the event of an accident. The value of teaming up with a qualified, skilled and experienced car accident attorney must not be underestimated either.
Your settlement or verdict is only as mediocre or as excellent as your attorney. Ensure that you make the right choice.
No one wants to be in a desperate situation such as a car accident. In the unfortunate event of an accident, get in touch with Krasney Law Accident Attorneys. We specialize in personal injury practice. We have experience in personal injury settlements arising from a range of events, including car accidents, motorcycle accidents, and wrongful death.
Krasney Law Accident Attorneys can help you make the maximum settlement because you are entitled to justice.
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