California Traffic Laws and How They Affect Car Accident Cases

After being in a car accident, your primary concerns are likely related to physically recovering from an injury and ensuring that your medical bills are paid. 

When another person’s negligence or recklessness is responsible for an accident that injures you or a loved one, California traffic laws can affect how much financial compensation you may be eligible for. While your insurance coverage is relevant to incidents where you may be at fault, other legal considerations become applicable if the accident was caused by another party who violated the rules of the road.

This article briefly outlines how various California traffic laws may affect the outcome of your car accident case.  

Insurance Requirements for California Drivers

California Vehicle Code §16056 requires you to carry a minimum level of insurance to cover the cost of property damage and bodily injury that you may cause when operating a motor vehicle.

The minimums include $15,000 for bodily injury to a person or $30,000 per accident, and a minimum of $5,000 in property damage coverage. Many people choose to carry additional coverage on an insurance policy to avoid the potential of losing their personal or business assets if they are at fault for an accident that exceeds these minimums.

While not required by law, drivers may also elect to carry uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage. This insurance can be helpful if someone without insurance (or a bare minimum policy) causes the crash, and they cannot provide you with any compensation. In these situations, your insurance company can provide you with funds to repair or replace property or cover medical expenses.

California Car Accident Reporting Requirements

In addition to the requirement of having car insurance, there are also reporting requirements you must adhere to. Whether you follow these rules can potentially affect the outcome of your case.

The following timelines are most relevant:

  • You have 24 hours to report an accident with any injuries (including death) to the California Highway Patrol (CHP) or local police department. If a police officer arrives on the scene, they will file a report, alleviating you of that obligation.
  • You have 10 days to report an accident with injuries or property damage exceeding $1,000 to the California DMV. You, your insurance company, or your car accident attorney (if you have one) can submit the report.
  • There is no legal requirement to report the incident to your insurance company, but you may have a contractual obligation to do so according to your policy. This is also imperative to ensure that you have coverage for any damages, which could be denied if you wait too long.

Determining Fault in a California Car Accident Case

Another significant California traffic law in a car accident case is how the state approaches determining and apportioning fault.

California, like most states, follows a comparative negligence standard, where the amount of compensation you can collect from an injury accident is reduced by your percentage of fault. For example, if you are in an accident with $100,000 in damages but are found to be 30% at fault because you were speeding, you would be eligible to receive $70,000 in financial compensation instead of the full $100,000.

However, California takes comparative fault a step further by applying a pure comparative fault standard. While most states bar recovery if a party is found to be more than 50% at fault for a traffic accident, California does not impose this limitation. This means that you could be 90% at fault, for example, and still recover 10% of the total damages.

It often takes two to cause an accident, including an incident with a pedestrian or bicyclist, and the following traffic violation list encompasses the most common sources of California car accident claims:

  • Distracted driving, including texting
  • Speeding
  • Violating traffic signs
  • Aggressive driving
  • Rear-end collisions
  • Failing to yield to traffic that has the right of way
  • Failing to yield to pedestrians in marked or unmarked crosswalks
  • Drunk driving

Potential Compensation in Car Accident Cases

According to California law, accident victims may be entitled to two types of damages:

  1. Economic damages, which represent concrete financial losses, and
  2. Non-economic damages, which include pain and suffering and other sources of mental distress

Economic damages include:

  • Lost wages
  • Future lost earnings
  • Medical bills
  • Ongoing medical expenses
  • Property repair or replacement
  • Losses from not being able to use the property
  • Burial expenses

Non-economic damages include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental anguish
  • Emotional distress
  • Disability
  • Disfigurement
  • Loss of consortium (typically the loss of companionship or affection from a spouse or family member)

How California Car Accident Laws Vary from Other States

While some states limit the amount an accident victim can recover from non-economic damages, California has not instituted a financial ceiling. However, one cannot recover these damages if they do not have auto insurance or are convicted of a DUI.

Statute of Limitations Considerations

A final consideration in California car accident cases has to do with the statute of limitations, which refers to the amount of time someone has to file a lawsuit after a car accident. Failure to file a lawsuit within this timeframe will likely result in the case being dismissed.

For bodily injury claims, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the injury or two years from the date the injury was discovered. Property damage claims have a slightly longer statute of limitations of three years.

An important consideration is if the party liable for your accident was a local, city, or state government. The statute of limitations is significantly accelerated to a mere 180 days.

Contact an Experienced California Car Accident Attorney

We understand how difficult it is to recover from a car accident and how stressful daily life can be as you seek to cover your medical expenses and other financial compensation. The car accident attorneys at Khalil Law Group in Newport Beach are experienced in helping accident victims in Orange County with complex car accident cases. Contact us at (714) 617-7870 for a free consultation.

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