Should I Hire a Lawyer for a Car Accident in California?
Some might say that car accidents in California cannot be avoided, especially with the state’s scenic coastal roads, winding highways, and busy intersections. However, car accidents don’t have to be messy, and they don’t have to put accident victims through a lot of physical pain and emotional distress. While not every automobile collision requires the services of personal injury attorneys, you should make sure you’re well-protected for the ones that do.
California Car Accident Statistics
Before we get down to the legalities of motor vehicle accidents, let’s look at the current road safety status based on data gathered by the California Office of Traffic Safety:
- There were a total of 3,606 fatal car crashes in 2019, which marked a 5.1% decrease from 2018’s 3,798 crashes.
- There was an average of 1.06 fatalities for every 100 million miles traveled in 2019.
- There was also a decrease in alcohol-impaired fatalities in 2019 with 1,066 fatalities, from 1,116 deaths in 2018.
- Fatalities from motorcycle accidents also decreased to 474 deaths in 2019 from 523 deaths in 2018.
On a lighter note, the number of fatalities all across the board are on a downward trend. However, the total number of car crashes in California is difficult to quantify because a huge chunk of car accidents go unreported.
Types of Injuries Associated With Car Accidents
Motor vehicle accidents can cause several kinds of injuries depending on how serious the crash was and how the crash happened. Although these don’t represent all of the injuries you’ll see in a crash, these are by far the most common ones you may encounter:
- Head and Brain injuries – Head injuries can range from minor to dangerous. On one hand, you have head injuries where you get cut and bruises on your forehead but otherwise see no internal damage. On the other hand, serious crashes can cause the brain to bump against the skull. Sometimes, internal bleeding can happen, and motorists often think they’re okay just because there are no indications of injury on the surface. In extreme cases, these can lead to traumatic brain injury.
- Spinal Cord Injuries – Spinal injuries are another serious type of car accident-related injuries. This type of injury usually presents itself as common back pain after the crash. Usually, it’s only a few hours later that you start to feel the brunt of it. Spinal cord injuries like slipped disks and damage to the lumbar spine are expensive to treat and can cause permanent disability if not treated immediately.
- Neck Injury – Neck injuries are one of the most common types of injuries found in high-impact collisions. When the car collides with another vehicle or a solid object, the impact creates a jolt that causes the person’s next to snap backward. This type of injury is also called whiplash, and it isn’t serious if you have good support from your car seat.
- Injuries to the face – During a collision, the person’s head usually snaps back for a bit before falling forward, usually hitting the car’s airbags, steering wheel, or dashboard. This can cause bruises and scrapes on a person’s face, and can even injure their nose or break their teeth. The face can also sustain cuts from broken glass.
- Internal injuries – Some injuries are not visible from the outside. The sudden impact can cause damage to a person’s vital organs like the lungs, spleen, heart, kidney, liver, and more. These injuries require immediate medical treatment or they could prove to be fatal.
California Car Accident Laws You Need to Know
As a motorist, familiarizing yourself with California car laws is a must. Not only can you protect yourself better by knowing your rights, you can also avoid getting into trouble with the law.
All motorist must carry proof of insurance as this will be required of you if you get into a vehicular collision. Motorists must carry a Motor vehicle liability insurance policy with insurance coverage of at least $15,000 for the death or injury of a single individual, $30,000 for the death or injury of more than one individual, and $5,000 for property damage. If you don’t have liability insurance, you may also self-insure or pay a cash deposit of at least $35,000 with the DMV.
California is a Fault State
A lot of states are no-fault states, wherein all parties involved in a car crash are responsible for paying any damage or injuries they sustained regardless of who is the at fault driver. California doesn’t work this way. As a fault state, the process of investigating a crash report is important because automobile insurance companies need to find out who is at fault and to what extent. The at fault party is usually the one who is obligated to pay, not only for their own injuries, but for the injuries they inflicted on the injured party.
However, this doesn’t mean that the responsible or negligent driver can’t defend themselves. During the court trial, the responsible party may file for comparative fault or negligence, which means other parties are partly responsible or contributed to the automobile collision. For example, the negligent driver is responsible for the accident because they were overspeeding. However, the accident victim also didn’t see the oncoming car because they were busy talking on your cell phone.
Because that is considered distracted driving, the judge can rule that the accident was 20% the fault of the other party, even if they are the victim. Hence, the negligent driver will be responsible for 80% of all damages, while the other party will be responsible for the remaining 20% if comparative fault is proven.
Common Causes of Car Accidents
Majority of automobile collisions are caused either by negligence or reckless behavior of one of the parties.
Californians are busy people. Many work two or more jobs, while others have to juggle work, social activities and family in a span of 24 hours. This is why a lot of motorists try to get where they need to go as soon as they can, and unfortunately, some of them end up going over the speed limit. The default speed limit in California is 65 MPH on highways and 55 MPH on two-lane highways, unless posted otherwise.
Speaking of busy people, Californians are also used to juggling two or more things at the same time to ensure that they get everything they need to get done within the day. Unfortunately, this logic doesn’t apply to driving. When you’re behind the wheel, your attention should be on the road, not on your passenger, and not on your mobile phone. People who lack sleep or rest are also more prone to getting distracted by driving, as sleep-deprived people find it difficult to concentrate on a single thing.
Dangerous Road Condition
Although a lot of California’s major roadways are in good shape, it’s not uncommon to see roads with potholes or missing barriers. Motorists must learn to drive more carefully over bad roads. The same is true for bad weather conditions. Rain and sleet can make roads slippery, making it more difficult to maneuver.
Impaired Driving means the driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In the state of California, you are considered alcohol-impaired if you have a Blood Alcohol Consumption (BAC) level of 0.8 or more. A drunk driver is less likely to check twice before changing lanes, merging and making a turn.
The same is true for people who are under the influence of drugs. Half of all drivers involved in car crashes in California in 2019 tested positive for drugs. This also applies to legal drugs or prescribed medication. Some medications come with a warning that they may impair one’s ability to drive or operate machinery.
Impaired drivers are more likely to make poor driving decisions, such as recklessly overtaking another vehicle, squeezing between two vehicles and going beyond the speed limit.
Should You Hire an Auto Accident Lawyer for an Automobile Collision?
Now that you know the basics about car accidents, should you get an accident lawyer involved in every car collision you find yourself in.?
Truthfully, some car accidents are so minor that you don’t need an accident attorney’s help in the process. Usually, these are minor collisions where both parties take responsibility for the accident, exchange insurance information, and go their separate ways. Insurance adjusters from their respective companies will handle everything on their end.
If you are unsure whether or not you should call an accident victim lawyer following a car accident, here are some things to keep in mind:
1. How severe are the injuries?
After a car accident, the first thing you should do is to call 911. While waiting for officers to arrive on the scene, you can give yourself a once over to see how extensive your injuries are. Then, you’ll probably do a quick survey of your car to check on potential damage. Remember to check on the other driver too.
If the injuries and property damage is minimal, such as the case with most fender bender collisions, the officer will most likely just facilitate the exchange of insurance information between the two parties and collect information for their police report. Some officers even encourage resolving the matter with a verbal agreement if the damage is minimal.
On the other hand, if you’re severely injured, or if your car is totally wrecked, you may need the help of an accident injury attorney. If you require hospitalization and vehicle repairs, your own insurance coverage may not be enough. You may need to file for damages against the other, hence you may need the services of an experienced attorney.
2. Is the accident your fault?
If the accident is your fault, then you may leave everything to your insurance provider. Insurance companies have a team of lawyers for instances like these, and they will handle everything for you if the other party files a personal injury lawsuit against you.
If the accident is not your fault, and you suffer extensive injuries because of the negligence or wrongful act of another person, you should hire an accident injury attorney to ensure you get a reasonable settlement as the victim. The negligent party’s insurance company will surely try to devalue or outright deny your insurance claim. They will try to counter your damage claim by attempting to prove comparative fault.. An auto accident attorney will negotiate aggressively to give you the fair compensation you deserve.
What Should You Do After a Car Accident?
Now that you know which situations call for personal injury lawyers, here is how you should handle car accidents going forward:
- Call 911 – Even with minor car crashes that don’t require the services of a lawyer, you still need to call 911 to report the crash. Having an officer on the accident scene helps ensure that details of the crash are noted objectively and accurately. An officer may also come in handy if the other driver is unruly and wants to instigate a fight, or is being uncooperative with giving up insurance contact information.
- Call your insurance company – While waiting for the police to arrive, call your insurance provider and let them know about the crash. Also, just in case you require hospitalization, ask your provider if they have accredited partner hospitals.
- Get yourself checked – Around this time, the police and paramedics would have arrived. Get yourself checked by paramedics. Usually, officers will also question you regarding the incident. Answer their questions truthfully, or it will cause more trouble in the future. If your accident injuries are severe, the paramedics will take you to the hospital.
- Call an experienced car accident lawyer – If the other party is at fault and you want to sue for damages, it’s a good idea to call a lawyer and let them know about your situation. Most personal injury compensation lawyers offer free consultation, so make the most out of it. Once they hear about your case, they will tell you what your options are and what you can get out of your personal injury lawsuit.
- Collect evidence – Both your insurance company and your lawyer will require evidence to not only prove the at fault parties but to show the extent of the damage and injury they have caused. Insurance companies will evaluate the damages to be awarded based on the police report, your medical records, accounts of witnesses, traffic cam footage, and damage appraisal on your car.
From this point on, you can leave things in the hands of your personal injury attorney. Once the insurance company has made their decision, your lawyer will go over it to check if the insurance company gave you adequate compensation. If they feel like the insurance company is trying to devalue your accident claim, your lawyer will then try to negotiate a better deal on your behalf through settlement discussions.
The settlement negotiation will take a lot of back and forth, especially if the other party is being particularly stubborn. As long as you have an abundance of quality and solid evidence on your side, the negligent driver will eventually relent. If not, your lawyer may decide to take it to court. Trials take a long time, and you may need the money sooner rather than later because of your medical care, but sometimes it’s the only way to get maximum compensation.
Statute of Limitations
Because it is a type of auto accident lawsuit, personal injury claims are subject to statute of limitations. It means that once the deadline passes, you cannot file an auto accident claim against the guilty party. For personal injury cases related to vehicular accidents, the statute of limitation is up to two years from the date of injury.
What Benefits Can You Get From Your Accident Claim?
Here are some of the damages that can be awarded to you as part of your personal injury claim:
These refer to damages awarded for quantifiable monetary losses. These include:
- Medical bills – This includes the ambulance ride to the hospital and any medical expenses incurred as part of treatment and rehabilitation, such as laboratory testing, surgery, medication, therapy, mobility aids, and more. This also includes future costs like follow-up checkups, and long-term physical therapy.
- Loss of Income – Any supposed income that you were unable to earn because of your injury.
- Future earning capacity – If the injury has left you disabled or paralyzed, you will have problems looking for work in the future.
- Property damages – Your car will require vehicle repairs from the damage it sustained during the accident. If the car is beyond repair, monetary compensation may be given based on the market value of the vehicle.
- Punitive Damages – This is awarded to the victim if there’s clear evidence of intent to kill on the part of the guilty driver.
- Wrongful death – If the car accident results in the death of the victim, their surviving family members can file a wrongful death claim against the guilty party..
This mostly pertains to damages that cannot be quantified easily. A person is eligible for damages due to pain and suffering if the aggrieved party has enough evidence to show that the victim has gone through a lot of emotional distress and mental anguish because of the accident.
To prove pain and suffering, an experienced car accident lawyer will get testimonials from expert witnesses.. These usually include your doctors, who will give an account of how severe your condition is, and your therapist, who will give the court a better idea of your state of mind during and after the incident.
California Automobile Accident Lawyer
Not all traffic accidents require the services of an experienced lawyer, but in dire situations where you feel like the negligent driver and insurance companies are getting too pushy, an experienced car accident lawyer can help you push back. Remember that insurance companies will take advantage of your vulnerable situation and hope that you’re desperate enough to accept whatever amount you get because you have medical costs to worry about.
However, being the victim of a car accident is not a joke. Not only do you have to go through a lot of physical and emotional pain, you also have to deal with insurance companies trying to keep you away from the fair settlement you deserve. Here at McDonald Worley, our personal injury lawyers have a proven track record of success with personal injury settlements associated with automobile accidents. They will work tirelessly and will stop at nothing to give you the reasonable settlement you deserve.