California Car Accident Lawyers
If you’ve been hurt in a car crash, a skilled California car accident lawyer can help. Proving liability in an auto accident can be extremely complicated. You have the best opportunity to recover compensation from the accident by having a trained legal professional represent you.
Auto Accidents in California
California’s two million miles of roadway make up a network of highways, city streets, and country roads stretching throughout the state. An estimated 23 million California drivers navigate these roads every year.
This amount of travel leads to an equally staggering number of car accidents—over six million nationwide each year. Given these statistics, chances are you will be involved in at least one auto accident during your lifetime. This event may be a traumatic, and even life-altering, experience.
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The legal system can help the parties sort out who is at fault for the accident, and which party needs to pay the doctors’ and mechanics’ bills
The network of highways, city streets, and country roads stretching throughout the United States is four million miles long, and an estimated 250 million vehicles travel trillions of miles on these highways, streets, and roads every year.
This staggering amount of travel leads to an equally staggering number of car accidents – over six million annually. People who are injured or killed in auto accidents similarly number in the millions. Given these statistics, chances are you will be involved in at least one auto accident during your lifetime, an accident that may be a highly traumatic, and even life-altering, experience.
Seeking Legal Help
If an auto accident causes severe injuries to you or to a loved one, you should contact a well-established and reputable law firm immediately. Time is of the essence in these cases, particularly for individuals unable to care for themselves. Even if the injuries are not severe, you should consult an attorney as soon as possible.
Fault for Auto Accidents
Usually, traffic accidents occur because a driver has been negligent, meaning that he or she has operated a vehicle in a careless and unsafe manner. A driver must exercise “reasonable care” while behind the wheel and may be deemed negligent for violating speed limits, ignoring traffic signals, or being preoccupied by distracting activities like eating or talking on a cell phone while driving.
The burden of proving negligence, however, is on the injured party. It falls on the victim to show that the driver who caused the accident acted negligently and that the accident caused injuries that deserve compensation. A skilled car accident attorney will identify the legal basis for the claims and quantifying the damages that the injured individual is owed.
Liability for an accident can be shown through many sources of evidence. The testimony of those directly involved and of witnesses who observed the auto accident is crucial. Written reports of police, public-safety, rescue and medical personnel are also important. These may include:
- Red light cameras that monitor intersections
- Police reports
- Paramedic reports
- Ground ambulance reports
- Air ambulance transcripts and tapes
- Hospital intake forms
- Towing company reports
Accident and injury reports prepared by paramedics and emergency medical technicians often are written in technical jargon. The testimony of those who prepared them or of experts in the field can help judges and juries better understand them.
Accidents sometimes call for the services of an expert in accident reconstruction in order to determine who or what was at fault. The expert will thoroughly investigate the causes of the auto accident to determine whether a vehicle defect, another driver or another entity was at fault.
The accident reconstruction expert will gather data about road conditions, weather, human actions and vehicle condition. He will then analyze the data to determine the sequence of events that led up to the accident.
In cases involving defects in design or construction, your auto accident attorney may retain the services of an expert in engineering and design. The engineering expert will study the facts of the case and prepare an expert opinion on the cause of the accident. Often, expert testimony is key to helping your lawyer prove that your car accident was caused by another party or entity, and that you are entitled to compensation.
Because every case is unique, the evidence required in each case is also unique. An attorney may have to provide evidence from several sources to prove that a driver wrongfully caused your injuries. An attorney who is knowledgeable about car accident cases can review the facts and determine the most appropriate way to prove your injury case.
In preparing to meet with a personal injury attorney, think carefully about the evidence that you want to share with your lawyer. If you took notes and collected information at the scene, bring them with you. Speak with others who were involved in or who witnessed the accident to obtain additional facts that might help support your injury case. The best way to assess the strength of your evidence is to contact an attorney and arrange a consultation.
Sources of Compensation for Your Injuries
It is in your best interests to hire a law firm that will do more than just file a claim with an insurance company on your behalf. In fact, the available insurance policy limits are often insufficient to fully cover injuries and other damages.
Not every accident is the fault of those directly involved. A car accident may be caused by a defective vehicle or part, poorly maintained roads or faulty repairs. In such cases, the responsible company or person may be liable to pay the victim’s damages.
A resourceful car accident lawyer will investigate all sources of compensation and pursue all avenues of recovery for injured claimants. You and the passengers in your vehicle may have claims against additional parties who bear responsibility for the accident. For example:
Vehicle Owners. All owners of a vehicle may be liable for the negligent conduct of the driver. These owners may range from the parents of drivers under the age of 18 to business entities providing their employees with vehicles as a job perk.
Employers. Employers may bear responsibility for auto accidents caused by their employees while on the job. In certain corporate contexts, parent companies could be held responsible for the conduct of their wholly-owned subsidiaries.
Government Entities. Government entities may share in the fault for the auto accident. Cities, counties, and even the state may have failed to design, construct, and maintain safe roads (see Dangerous Roads) or implement proper traffic controls (including light signals, stop signs, and speed limit postings). They bear responsibility for injuries and fatalities that occur as a result of negligent design or maintenance of such roadways. Handling a car accident claim against a government entity, however, is a sophisticated task and requires considerable expertise and legal acumen. In addition, very strict filing deadlines apply to car accident claims against government entities, making it imperative that you consult with a knowledgeable accident attorney without delay.
Auto Manufacturers. Auto manufacturers may face separate liability for negligent design or defective manufacture of a vehicle (or a component part) for injuries arising from an accident. Injuries may be caused, for example, from seatbelt malfunctions, airbag failures, or tire defects. Design and manufacturing problems are myriad and include structural instabilities leading to vehicle rollovers, gas tank explosions and fuel-fed fires, and avoidable roof crush.
Uninsured Motorists. Uninsured motorist or under insured motorist coverage may exist under your and/or your passengers’ policies, which can provide additional sources of compensation under certain circumstances.
Auto insurance protects you against monetary loss if you have a car accident. You pay premiums to your insurer. In exchange, your insurer agrees to pay you the injury losses set forth in your policy. Auto insurance offers coverage of:
Property, if your car is damaged or stolen.
Liability, if you are liable to others for property damage or injury.
Medical, if you pay for treatment of injuries and injury rehabilitation.
Under most state laws, you must buy some, but not all, of these three forms of coverage in order to legally register a car.
Uninsured Motorist Insurance
What happens if you are injured by a motorist who carries no insurance or by a hit-and-run driver? When the other driver is uninsured or unknown, your own uninsured motorist insurance kicks in. It will protect you from monetary loss from your injuries.
Several states require insurers to offer uninsured motorist coverage. If you purchase uninsured motorist coverage and you have an auto accident, then your insurer will step into the shoes of the driver who caused the accident and compensate you for your injuries.
Underinsured Motorist Insurance
When the driver who causes an auto accident has purchased a policy that provides inadequate coverage for your injuries and property damage, he is an “underinsured motorist.” If you purchase uninsured motorist coverage, your insurer will compensate you for the portion of your property and injury damages that exceed the underinsured driver’s insurance coverage.
Stacking Insurance Coverage
In some states, insurers allow an accident victim to “stack” multiple policies to enhance monetary recovery from one or more insurers. Laws governing stacking insurance policies vary from state to state.
Filing an Insurance Claim
Taking care to properly file an insurance claim can help ensure you receive full and fair compensation for your injuries and losses. It is best to consult an auto accident lawyer before filing your claim. To properly file a claim:
Call your agent. Notify your insurance agent as soon as possible after you are in an auto accident. Insurers require prompt notification. Your agent can help you evaluate your policy’s coverage.
Find out what forms your insurer needs. Insurers require a proof of claim along with supporting documentation. Your insurer may ask for original medical bills (keep copies for yourself), copies of repair estimates, car rental bills, and the police report.
Keep injury records. Take down the name, title, phone number and office location of each insurance agent that you speak with. Also note the date of the conversation. Take notes while you speak with your insurer’s agents. Write down what they say they will do.
Know deadlines. Ask about your deadlines for submitting the proof of claim and all required supporting documentation. Find out how long the insurer will take to resolve your claim.
Explore additional insurance. Consider whether you have additional insurance covering the auto accident through another auto insurance policy, a homeowner’s or renter’s policy, or an umbrella policy.
Avoid accepting the insurer’s estimate of loss, making a recorded statement, signing a release, or accepting payment from your insurer until you consult with an attorney.
If you are an accident victim, immediately consult an experienced auto accident lawyer to evaluate what insurance compensation may be available to you. If possible, consult with an attorney before making an insurance claim. When you meet with an attorney, bring your insurance documents with you along with information about the accident.
Know state insurance laws. Check with your state insurance department, because the laws governing insurance claims procedures vary among states.
For more information on your possible injury claim and how to manage the claims process, contact a personal injury lawyer to arrange for a consultation.
Protect Your Claims – Don’t Delay!
Act quickly. Anyone who has been injured in an auto accident should get in touch with a reputable accident attorney without delay. Why? Because a skilled and experienced lawyer will:
Conduct an immediate investigation to locate witnesses and preserve evidence relevant to the accident before it is lost or altered;
Help you get the medical care you need;
Conduct all communication with the insurance companies;
Assist you in dealing with the insurance companies;
Find all potential sources of compensation for your losses; and
Protect your legal rights against filing deadlines.
As the victim of an accident, you should not rely on any insurance company – even your own – to protect your interests. Every insurance company has adjusters, investigators, and attorneys assigned to auto accident claims. Their primary goal is to limit the amount of compensation the insurance company pays to auto accident victims like you.
Insurance companies are not the friends of injured claimants. Don’t make their job easier by providing them with information that they can use or manipulate to deny your claim. Make sure you have the best accident lawyer you can hire on your side to aggressively protect your interests.
Accidents Caused by Drunk Driving
Alcohol and automobiles make a dangerous combination. In 2007, nearly 13,000 people died in alcohol-related traffic crashes. Three out of 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related auto accident during their lifetimes.
Drunk Driving Laws
Drunk driving is a crime. Conviction can result in fines, imprisonment and loss of one’s driver’s license. Each state has its own “driving under the influence” (DUI) law, but all make it illegal to operate a motor vehicle while drunk or under the influence of intoxicating drugs. Repeat offenders are subject to even steeper penalties.
Because a DUI case is a crime, it is investigated by police and prosecuted by attorneys for the state or local government. But when a drunk driver causes a car accident, the victim is entitled to bring his own legal action against the driver to recover damages for his injuries and losses.
Drunk Driving Accident Report
After an auto accident, depending on where it happened, local or state police conduct an investigation and prepare an accident report. The victim or the victim’s attorney can obtain a copy of the accident report by contacting the investigating officer. The victim and the victim’s lawyer should review the accident report for any errors. If any are found, notify the officer named in the report.
When an investigating officer suspects drunk driving, he may administer any of several tests at the accident scene to assess the suspect’s sobriety. The officer will also ask the driver’s permission to test his blood alcohol content (BAC). In the United States, it is illegal to drive with a BAC of 0.08% or greater. If the officer administers field sobriety or BAC tests, their results will be included in the officer’s report.
Once the investigation is complete, the law enforcement agency sends the investigation report to the prosecuting attorney, who decides whether to pursue criminal action against the drunk driver. In any legal action against the drunk driver, the investigating officer may be called as a witness and his report admitted into evidence.
Victim Assistance Programs
The law enforcement agency may have a victim assistance program for victims of crimes. These programs help victims of drunk driving accidents track their cases, get injury victim counseling, and apply for compensation from state victim compensation programs.
Evidence Provided by the Victim
A victim may ask a friend or family member to photograph any injuries suffered in the accident. The photographs should be taken in the presence of a witness. The photographer and witness should sign and date the back of the photographs. The prosecutor and the victim’s attorney can use the photographs as evidence to show the victim’s injuries and recovery process.
An injured party can also provide his attorney with a recent photograph predating the accident. This would show the victim’s physical condition before the accident and provide a basis of comparison for evaluating the post-accident photographs. The victim should keep a log of all expenses and losses caused by the auto accident along with related bills and receipts.
Victim Impact Report
In many drunk driving criminal cases, the defendant avoids going to trial by agreeing to plead guilty to the charges or to lesser charges. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the case goes to trial and the defendant may or may not be convicted for drunk driving. If the defendant is convicted, before sentencing, the injured party may provide the court with an impact statement, a written statement describing the effect that the car accident has had on his or her life.
Protect Your Friends from Driving Drunk
The best protection against a drunk-driving accident is never to drive drunk in the first place. If you have been drinking alcohol or taking drugs, do not drive. If you are with someone who has been drinking or taking drugs, do not let them drive either. Stopping a friend from driving drunk can be difficult, but here are some tips that can help:
Don’t ride. Never get in a car with a drunk driver for any reason.
Avoid confrontation. If you can, try not to embarrass your friend by confronting him directly about his drunkenness.
Use laughter. Joke with your friend to relax him or her.
Hide the keys. Distract your friend and take the car keys. He may think the keys are lost and ask for a ride or call a cab to get home.
Talk privately. Suggest to your friend privately that he may have had too much to drink and should take a lift home.
Find their friends. If the person is a stranger, ask any friends in his company to help you.
Damages in Auto Accident Cases
While an insurance company is interested in paying you the least amount of money to settle your claim, a competent and reputable car accident attorney will pursue all types of compensation for an auto injury client.
If you have been injured in an auto accident, you may be entitled to recover compensation for your:
Medical Bills: Medical bills for emergency room care, hospitalization, doctor visits, physical therapy, or chiropractic treatment, not to mention diagnostic tests like x-rays and MRIs. Recovery of medical bills is not limited to past care. A skilled lawyer will pursue recovery of expenses associated with future medical care that you may need.
Pain and Suffering: Pain and suffering associated with injuries sustained in the auto accident. The nature, severity, and duration of your injuries are important factors in computing damages for pain and suffering. A thorough assessment of these damages involves fully understanding the accident’s impact on your life and its disruptive effects on your daily activities.
Lost Wages: If you are unable to work because of the injuries caused by the accident, you are entitled to recover the wages you would have earned during the time you missed. You are entitled to this recovery even if you used sick leave or vacation time to cover your absence! Sometimes, calculating your lost wages may be challenging, perhaps because you are self-employed or because your earnings are commission-based. In such instances, the services of an expert accident lawyer will prove invaluable.
Reduced Earning Capacity/Ongoing Disability: If you suffered long-term injuries in the auto accident, your ability to earn income may be impacted indefinitely. If your injuries are permanent, you may be unable to return to your particular job or may never be able to work again. A resourceful attorney will assemble the right team of economic experts to ensure that these anticipated losses are fully integrated in your claim for compensation.
Punitive Damages: Punitive damages, which are awarded to punish a wrongdoer, are not ordinarily allowed in auto accident cases. An attorney who is well versed in personal injury law will recognize those exceptional situations (as when an accident is caused by a drunk driver) that allow for the recovery of such damages.
In accidents that result in death, the victim’s estate and relatives may be entitled to recover damages for:
Loss of consortium
Loss of companionship
Loss of services of a family member
The damages that can be recovered vary with each case. Applicable law and the facts of your case will determine the appropriate damages. For specific information on the damages that may be available to you for your case, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer.
Liability for Damages
All drivers are required by law to exercise reasonable care while driving. A driver wrongfully causes a car accident when he carelessly operates his car in an unsafe manner. Speeding, running traffic lights, ignoring road signs, and using a cell phone are examples of wrongful or negligent acts by a driver.
When a driver’s negligence causes an auto accident, the driver may be liable to pay compensation to anyone he injures or for any property he damages. In a lawsuit, the person seeking compensation bears the burden of proving to the court that the driver wrongfully or negligently caused the accident.
Liability for Defective Motor Vehicles
Products liability laws hold the manufacturers of defective cars and car parts liable for injuries they cause. This is called “strict liability” because the manufacturer is liable even if it exercised all possible care. It does not matter whether the victim owned the car or just used it.
In order to receive compensation from a car or car part manufacturer, a victim must show that the car or car part lacked an element needed to make it safe for use. Since car products liability laws vary by state, it is important to speak with a lawyer to learn about your state’s laws.
Your ability to bring a lawsuit against the driver who caused your injuries may depend on your insurer’s right to “subrogation.” Subrogation is a common term in insurance policies that allows the accident victim’s insurer to take his place in suing those who caused the accident.
Assume you are injured in an auto accident and your insurer pays you $100,000 under your auto insurance policy. It would not be fair if you could then sue the driver who caused the accident and recover a second $100,000. Instead, subrogation allows your insurer to sue the driver and seek to recover the amount it paid you.
Choosing the Right Car Accident Lawyer
Pursuing a claim for personal injuries caused by a car accident may be both complicated and costly. Some lawyers, due to their lack of skill or resources, may not pursue all claims and compensation available to you. The law firm you select should have ample experience and expertise, and a proven track record of successes. These successes should be not only in the simpler accident cases, but also in the more challenging ones, such as those involving products liability and government claims for faulty road designs and dangerous conditions.
You should only consider a well-established, well-staffed, and well-financed law firm to handle your claim – a firm with the resources to fund a proper investigation of the accident, order the requisite forensic engineering, conduct the necessary safety analyses, and utilize a network of medical and economic experts to ascertain the extent of your damages.
Contact a Car Accident Attorney
The attorneys at The Reeves Law Group have handled thousands of auto accident cases throughout California. We have consistently achieved exceptional results for our clients, while earning a reputation for professionalism and competence in the community of lawyers, judges, and insurance representatives. For a free consultation, please contact us today.