California Car Accident Laws That Could Make or Break Your Case
After any accident in California, drivers have obligations when it comes to reporting the accident. This article will go over those rules, as well as laws regarding at-fault drivers, financial responsibility, and other California laws that could have a huge impact on your case.
Reporting Car Accidents to Law Enforcement
According to California state law, if a crash results in any deaths or injuries, then the driver of any vehicle involved in a car crash (or a representative of that driver) must make a written report of the crash within 24 hours to either the local police department or to California Highway Patrol.
Worth noting is that if a police officer comes to the scene of your crash, they will prepare a written accident report themselves, and you won’t need to make your own separate report.
Do Car Accidents Have to Be Reported to the DMV or My Insurance Company?
The answer to that question is often yes—drivers must report accidents to the DMV within 10 days if:
Anyone involved in the crash is hurt, however slightly
Anyone was killed in the accident
Or, if the accident resulted in property damage of more than $750
When it comes to insurance company reporting, California has no laws regarding if or when a policyholder should report an accident to their insurance company, but most insurance companies do require their policyholders to report crashes sooner rather than later.
Sometimes, if a person fails to report their crash in a reasonable period of time, the insurance company will deny coverage—and “a reasonable period of time” could mean as little as a day or two.
That means that even if your car accident was very minor and wasn’t reported to the police, you should still report it to your insurance company.
California Car Accident Statute of Limitations
A statute of limitations is a state law that sets specific time limitations on a person’s right to bring about a lawsuit. Deadlines vary depending on the harm you’ve suffered and the case you intend to file, but typically falls between 2-3 years.
Read our article on California’s car accident statute of limitations here.
Failing to file a case before this time limit expires usually means being unable to recover any damages, so always be mindful of this when moving forward.
California Comparative Negligence in Car Accidents
Your claim is affected significantly depending on whether or not you share part of the fault for causing your car accident.
As a “pure comparative negligence” state, you may recover compensation from any other at-fault person, regardless of the degree that you contributed to the crash. However, any compensation you recover from your case will be reduced by your percentage of fault.
That means that both insurance claims adjusters and California judges and juries will be looking at your case through the lens of comparative negligence when figuring out just how much your personal injury claim could be worth.
Consider a real-world example to make better sense of comparative negligence:
Let’s say you were side-swiped by a driver making an unsafe lane change. But according to the police report of your crash, you were also driving a little bit too fast at the time of the collision.
Assume the other side doesn’t want to reach a settlement, and your case makes it to court. In court, it’s decided that you’re 20% at fault for the accident, while the other motorist is 80% at fault. If your lawsuit is seeking to recover $10,000 in total damages (medical bills, repairs, lost income, et cetera) then the other driver will only be responsible for 80%, or $8,000.
What About Car Insurance?
Most claims made in California are bound to involve car insurance—after all, the state requires motor vehicle owners to be insured, or otherwise demonstrate financial responsibility in the event of an accident.
Take a look at our article covering California car insurance requirements here for a more in-depth look at how insurance plays a role in your case.
Do I Have a Car Accident Case in California?
There are a lot of moving parts and deciding factors when it comes to determining whether or not you have a case, and just how strong that case actually is.
Bottom line? If you or a loved one has been hurt in an accident caused by the negligence of another, get in touch with us sooner rather than later. The earlier we get to work building your case, the better chance you have of reaching a favorable settlement or verdict and securing the compensation you deserve. Contact an Ontario car accident attorney today to review your legal options.