What You Should Know About California Car Accidents Before Hiring a Lawyer
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 32,000 people died in collisions in 2014. Another 2.3 million people were injured in crashes nationwide. The NHTSA released a second set of statistics for the first months of 2015 that show an 8.1 increase in deaths compared to the same period in 2014. In California, the death toll in car accidents was 3,074 in 2014, which is 2.5 percent higher when compared to the 2013 toll of 3,000. Overall, motor vehicle accidents in California have risen by 13.2 percent since 2010.
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Research indicates that most California car accidents are caused by the negligence or irresponsibility of some motorists. It is disappointing when a person has to suffer because of someone else’s recklessness or ignorance. Under the personal injury law, persons injured in such accidents are allowed to claim compensation from the at-fault party or their insurance carriers. Here are a few key California laws related to car accidents claims and settlement, including the statute of limitation for filing a lawsuit, and how to your claim might be affected if you are found to be responsible for the accident. Read on for more information.
What to Do Immediately After the Accident
Under the California law, you must stop if you have an accident. Failure to stop at the scene of the incident could result in serious hit-and-run charges even if the accident was not your fault. If you damaged someone’s property or hit a parked car, but are unable to locate the owner, leave a note with your name and address secured to the damaged property or vehicle. You must also report the accident to the police or the California Highway Patrol. If animals are involved, and the owner cannot be found, call the police, highway patrol or the Humane Society. Then we suggest calling a San Diego car accident lawyer to find out what legal options you have.
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Assess the situation, determine the extent of the damage, and call for assistance if necessary. Show the other driver, your driver’s license, registration card and evidence of financial responsibility. If you do not provide a proof of financial responsibility, you may face a potential citation and fine.
Reporting the Accident to the DMV, Insurance Company and Other Administrative Agencies
Under the California accident law, a car accident must be reported to the Department of Motor Vehicles within ten days if someone is injured or killed, or if property damage exceeds $750. To report the incident to the DMV, you, your San Diego personal injury lawyer or your insurance agent must fill Form SR-1. To complete Form SR-1, you must gather the following information at the scene of the accident:
- The other driver’s name, date of birth and address
- Place and time of the incident
- The other driver’s license plate number
- The other driver’s license information
- Vehicle owner’s name and address
- Policy holder’s name and address
- A brief explanation of injuries or property damage
Note that the DMV SR1 must be completed whether the accident occurred on private property or was due to another person’s negligence. Ensure your vehicle is removed from the highway or street to prevent it from being towed or impounded.
What to do if the Accident Was Not Your Fault
Do not provide any info about who was to blame for the accident. You may think that you are at-fault only to find out that the other driver is as much more to blame than you are. Consider talking to your California car accident lawyer or your insurance agent. Remember that anything you say to the other driver or the police can be used against you later. More importantly, do not agree to sign any papers except a traffic ticket or pay for the damages incurred. Cooperate with the police officer investigating the case and stick to the facts.
If you get a ticket, sign it. A ticket has nothing to do with your innocence or guilt. It just a way promising you will appear in court to contest the ticket or pay it later. If you sign the ticket, make sure you consult with your accident attorney before paying a fine or pleading guilty to the charges. This is because by pleading guilty, you may reduce your chances of collecting damages from the other driver later. Or, you may be helping the other driver to collect damages from you.
Car Accidents and Auto Insurance
In California, it is compulsory for every driver and vehicle owner to have insurance or any other form of financial responsibility. You must always carry a written evidence of financial responsibility (auto insurance policy) whenever you drive. In most cases, that evidence takes the form of an insurance card given by your insurance carrier. However, if the name of your insurance company and policy number are contained in DMV’s vehicle records, you can write your car insurance policy number and the name of the insurance carrier on the back of your vehicle registration.
Note that, if you are involved in a car accident in California and cannot provide a proof financial responsibility, you may lose your driver’s license for up to four years. Under the California law, a person can prove their financial reasonability in one of the following ways:
- Insurance: You must have liability insurance that provides $30,000 for two or more people injured or killed in an accident, $15,000 for one person injured or killed and $5,000 coverage for property damages for one incident.
- Bond: The DMV accepts bonds for $35,000 issued by a licensed California surety bonding company.
- Cash: You can opt to deposit money with the DMV.
- A verified certificate of self-insurance issued by the DMV
If the accident was caused by an uninsured driver, your policy can pay for the injuries or damages – if you have uninsured motorist or medical payment policy. Similarly, if the other driver’s insurance is not sufficient to pay all the losses incurred, your own insurance can pay the difference- if you have underinsured motorist coverage. If you have collision insurance, it will pay for the damages to the car, minus the deductibles, regardless of who is at fault. However, if you do not carry any of these kinds of insurance, you can opt to sue the other party by hiring a law firm.
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What to Do if Someone Sues You or If You Want to Make a Claim for the Injuries
If the other party sues you for the accident, contact your insurance agent or company, or your attorney immediately. Your insurance carrier will assign a lawyer to handle your care. However, if you are sued for damages more than what your policy covers, or if your insurance company indicates that it cannot cover all the losses incurred, you will need to hire your own car accident attorney. Note that insurance company attorneys do not handle traffic citations or criminal cases, such as hit-and-run.
On the other hand, if the other driver caused the accident, you may be entitled to compensation. You should make the claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. If you are not satisfied with the amount of compensation they are offering, consider suing them. Remember there are time limits for filing different types of accident cases, so do not delay.
Time Limit for Filing a Car Accident Lawsuit in California
Like any other state, California has enacted laws that set deadlines for filing different lawsuits. These laws are known as statutes of limitations. The statute of limitations for filing car accident lawsuits in California is two years for personal injury cases and three years for property damages, such as damage to a vehicle. These time limits start to run from the exact the accident happened. It is imperative to ensure that any insurance claims are filed well before these deadlines expire. This because if settlement negotiations break down, there will not be enough time to file the case in court. To protect your rights, file any insurance immediately after the accident.
If the accident involved the government in any way, you will have to follow a different set of rules when filing the case. These rules require the applicant to complete all the paperwork and documentation quickly to keep up with the set time limit. To ensure that these complex legal procedures are abided with, it is essential to hire the services of a car accident attorney. Many auto accident attorneys take cases on a contingency fee basis. That means the lawyer will not be paid their attorney fees if they lose the case. If you win, you pay the lawyer a percentage of the money you receive. Most accident attorneys also provide their clients free consultations before agreeing to take their cases.
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Primary Duties of a Lawyer in a Car Accident Case
The process of claiming compensation for the other driver can be long and complicated, especially if you do not have an adequate knowledge of the California car accident law. Thus, it is essential to hire a knowledgeable car accident attorney to provide the necessary legal counsel and support. An experienced auto accident has handled a multitude of car accident cases before successfully. The lawyer knows all the rules and regulations involved when filing a car accident lawsuit. Here are some of the main duties of a skilled automobile accident attorney.
- Case Planning and Management
A qualified accident attorney can assist you to plan and manage your accident lawsuit. The lawyer will first study the details of your case, and try to determine the exact cause of the incident. In this stage, it is important that you give your lawyer all the relevant facts about the accident. Depending on the available information, the attorney may also conduct their own investigation into the issues. The lawyer will also prepare the final pretrial statements from witnesses, defenses, and the plaintiff.
- Determining the Extent of the Damages
An accident attorney will work closely with other professionals to pinpoint the extent of the losses caused by the crash. The lawyer will ensure that you are compensated for both economic and non-economic losses. Examples of economic losses include missed checks or lost income, medical expenses and loss of future earning abilities. Non-economic losses include pain and suffering and depression.
- Gathering Sufficient Evidence for the Case
Proving the irresponsibility of the other driver can be difficult without the help of a proficient injury attorney. This is because the claimant may not be permitted to discover certain information from the other party. The claimant may also be limited to the types of witnesses and evidence they present. An experienced car accident attorney knows the kind of evidence that is needed to prove the fault of the other driver. They will help their client get a good medical report, police report and witnesses statements. The lawyer will then organize all the available evidence strategically for presentation in court.
- Handling Negotiations with Insurance Companies
A knowledgeable car accident attorney will handle settlement negotiations on behalf of their client. The lawyer will utilize the available evidence and their unique negotiation skills into convincing the insurance company to offer you a full compensation. If these negotiations are unsuccessful, the attorney will submit the case to the courts. They will handle all the paperwork and documentation involved in the filing process appropriately and within the set time limit.
- Representing their Client in Court
If the case is to be settled in court, the lawyer will represent you ardently. They will utilize the available witnesses and evidence to prove the negligence of the other driver. As your legal representative, the attorney will answer all questions on your behalf and keep you informed on the outcome of every court proceeding. All this will help to increase the odds of receiving a full compensation.
How to Find a Lawyer for Your Car Accident Case in California
If you do not know any car accident lawyer in California, ask someone whose judgment you can trust or call a local State Bar-certified attorney referral service. For an online list of certified lawyers referral services, visit the State Bar’s Website. You can also check the Yellow Pages or contact your local bar association. State Bar-certified lawyer referral services must meet minimum standards established the California Supreme Court. Do not forget to ask if there is a fee for the referral or free consultation.
These are some of the important details to know about California car accidents, and the importance of hiring a knowledgeable attorney. Remember to consider factors such as experience, education, commitment, listening and communication skills, and availability when choosing your car accident lawyer.
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