Frequently Asked Questions about Car Accidents in California

If you were involved in an auto accident in California, you probably have many questions. We have heard many of the same auto accident questions over time and decided to create a Q&A section to address some of the most common ones here.

If your question is not on the list, you can contact  car accident lawyer Vibhu Talwar to have it answered free of charge.

What do I do if I have been injured in a car accident in California?

If you have been in an auto accident, it is important to follow these steps:

  1. Photograph the accident location before moving the involved vehicles. If you are in the condition to do so, take as many photos as you can.
  2. Contact the police department so that an officer can make a traffic collision report.
  3. Collect contact information of the driver including: (1)His/her driver’s license information (license number and name), (2) Automobile insurance policy number for the individual who caused the accident.
  4. Get contact information from any individual who witnessed the accident.
  5. Before contacting the insurance company, speak to an attorney.

Be sure to download our free auto accident handbook.

Do I need a lawyer if I was in a car accident?

We wrote a detailed post on this question.

Are there alternatives to going to court in a California auto accident case?

Yes. First, prior to filing a lawsuit you can submit copies of your medical records, medical bills and other documentation supporting your damages to the insurance company along with a settlement demand. The insurance company will make a settlement offer to you. If you think the offer is unreasonable, you can request the insurance company to participate in mediation. However, it is unlikely that insurance company will do that unless your claim is based on a serious and/or catastrophic injury. You can also file a lawsuit and request the court to order the parties to participate in mediation, arbitration or any other form of settlement discussions.

Can pre-existing conditions be covered after being involved in a car accident in California?

Yes. Under California law, if the pre-existing injury was exacerbated in any way due to the accident, you are entitled to compensation.

Do I need an attorney if I was offered a settlement by the at-fault driver’s insurance company?

No, you don’t have to hire an attorney if the at-fault driver’s insurance company offers you a settlement, however having an attorney on your side always increases your chances of maximizing your recovery. Insurance companies are accustomed to offering low settlements, just enough to cover your basic expenses. Most people do not have full insight into the types of costs involved with injury treatment post-accident and make the mistake of settling for the first offer. Injury attorneys deal with hundreds or thousands of cases and generally have a better idea of how much treatment really entails.

Do insurance companies limit car accident payouts in California?

The payouts are based on the extent of your injuries and other related damages you have suffered. However, the insurance company will only pay up to the policy limits of its insured’s automobile insurance policy.

How is fault determined in a California auto accident case?

California Civil Code Section 1714(a) that describes negligence and willful acts. To determine who is at fault, you have to apply the prima facie elements of the statue to the facts of the case (i.e., evidence) in order to determine who is liable for the accident. Based on the mechanism of the accident, multiple parties can be liable for a single accident.

How long do you have to file a claim after a car accident in California?

Generally, you have two years from the date of the accident to file an injury claim in California. However, if the individual who caused the accident was in the course and scope of employment of a public entity such as a state, county or local governmental entity, you must file a Government Tort Claim within the first six months of the accident. If you do not file such claim within the six month period, you lose your right to sue the public entity.

How long will my car accident case take to settle in California?

Generally, accidents that involve non-catastrophic injuries can be resolved in 5 to 6 months. In situations where a lawsuit has been filed, it generally takes 18 months. Some law firms (such as our own) put priority on getting the money for their clients as soon as possible and can settle within 3 to 4 months.

How much can I get from my car accident in California?

In California, you are entitled to general and special damages.

General damages consist of “pain and suffering” or “quality of life” damages. There is no hard and fast rule on how to determine how much money should be allotted for these damages. However, they are generally based on the type of injury you have suffered, the amount of discomfort you had to experience, and the duration of your injury.

Special damages consist of damages such as the number of medical bills you have incurred in obtaining treatment, the loss of earnings you have sustained due to the accident, the cost to repair your vehicle, etc.

Thus, the amount of money you will get is based on the type of injury you have suffered, the cost of your medical care and any other losses you have sustained due to the accident.

How much should I settle for after a car accident?

The amount of money you will get is based on the type of injury you have suffered, the cost of your medical care and any other losses you have sustained due to the accident. You should talk to an attorney if you are unsure about handling your own claim. Attorneys are skilled at presenting evidence and negotiating on your behalf and will often get you a bigger settlement than possible on your own.

I haven’t been able to work since my car was hit by a truck in California. Can I get compensation?

Yes. California law says you are entitled to general and special damages. In terms of compensation, a truck accident is very similar to any other type of auto accident. Your claim amount will consist of compensation for pain and suffering a.k.a. quality of life damages and special damages such as medical bills, loss of earnings and repair costs.

I was in a car accident while driving an employer’s vehicle in California. Will my employer have to pay for my medical bills?

If you were in the course and scope of your employment at the time of the accident, you are required to open a worker’s compensation claim. California employers are required to carry worker’s compensation insurance or self-insure themselves. This insurance is intended for covering injuries on the job. During the worker’s comp process you may have to support your injury claims through disputes at which point it may be in your best interest to hire a worker’s compensation attorney.

I was involved in a car accident in California with an uninsured motorist. What kind of compensation can I expect?

You can file a lawsuit against the person who caused the accident, obtain a judgment, and attempt to enforce the judgment. If your automobile insurance policy contains uninsured motorist coverage, you can file a claim with your own insurance company and seek compensation for your injuries.

If I was involved in a car accident in California, do I have to tell the insurance company?

You are generally contractually required to inform your insurance company of the accident. It is also important to note that California law sates: “If you are involved in a vehicle accident that occurred in California, you must report it to DMV if:

  • There was property damage of more than $750 or
  • Anyone was injured (no matter how minor) or
  • Anyone was killed.

Under California Vehicle Code section 16004 (a) each driver must submit a Traffic Accident Report to DMV within 10 days. The accident report is required whether or not you were at fault or if the accident occurred on private property.”

The insurance adjuster asked me to record a statement. Should I do it?

You are not required to give a recorded statement, therefor you shouldn’t do it. If the insurance company is pushing for you to make a recorded statement, there is a good chance they’re trying to take advantage of you. Contact an attorney right away.

What does comparative negligence mean when determining who is liable for a traffic accident in California?

California recognizes a comparative negligence system. Thus, if you are involved in an accident and were also negligent in the manner you operated a motor vehicle, the jury will compare you conduct with the conduct of the defendant in order to determine who is liable for the accident. So even if you are also partly at fault for the accident, you can still recover if you can show that the defendant’s conduct was a “substantial factor” in causing the accident. If you are deemed to be partly at fault, you monetary recovery is reduced depending on your percentage of fault.

What must I prove in order to win my California accident case?

Under California law, you must prove that the other individual was negligent in the manner he or she operated his or her vehicle. Thus, you need to provide all of the elements of negligence:

  1. That defendant was negligent in the manner he or she operated his or her vehicle. For instance, the defendant was seeping, ran a red light, and was texting while driving, etc;
  2. That plaintiff was injured; and
  3. That defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s harm. So even if you are also partly at fault for the accident, you can still recover if you can show that the defendant’s conduct was a “substantial factor” in causing the accident.
Who can recover damages in a California auto accident case?

The person who is injured in the accident has a right to make a claim. The spouse of the injured person can also seek compensation for the loss of consortium.

If a close relative was present at the accident scene and saw the accident, he or she can also seek compensation for the infliction of emotional distress.

In situations where someone has died, see California Code of Civil Procedure Section 377.60:

The decedent’s surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children, or, if there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.

(b) Whether or not qualified under subdivision (a), if they were dependent on the decedent, the putative spouse, children of the putative spouse, stepchildren, or parents. As used in this subdivision, “putative spouse” means the surviving spouse of a void or voidable marriage who is found by the court to have believed in good faith that the marriage to the decedent was valid.

(c) A minor, whether or not qualified under subdivision (a) or (b), if, at the time of the decedent’s death, the minor resided for the previous 180 days in the decedent’s household and was dependent on the decedent for one-half or more of the minor’s support.

(d) This section applies to any cause of action arising on or after January 1, 1993.

Can I sue for wrongful death?

Please see this post regarding information on wrongful death lawsuits.