California Car Accident Lawyers
When you are involved in a car accident, confusion and chaos often dominate the scene. While you are coping with the pain, stress and disorientation of being injured in a crash, you might find it a struggle to focus on taking actions to protect your legal rights.
Unfortunately, the consequences of suffering severe injury in a collision can include staggering medical costs, time off work, auto repair costs and even permanent disability.
A successful legal claim handled by a California car accident lawyer can be indispensable to overcoming these fiscal challenges and obtaining the fullest physical, emotional and financial recovery.
When you are injured in an auto collision, you need the assistance of an experienced and knowledgeable attorney who can assist you in negotiating with insurance companies, filing a lawsuit, investigating the accident, gathering evidence and serving as a convincing advocate. Effective legal representation can help you get the compensation you need to put your accident in the rearview mirror and to maintain a high quality of life even after experiencing severe injuries.
Auto Accidents Do Not Just Happen to Others
Many people assume that accidents that cause injury or death are fairly rare, but motor vehicle collisions impact those from all walks of life each and every day. There are over six million crashes per year that claim the lives of approximately 30,000 people according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Fatal Accident Reporting System.
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Car crashes also sent another 2.3 people to emergency rooms for treatment during a recent one-year period.
Car crashes also exact an enormous financial toll on society according to a study conducted by AAA that analyzed Federal Highway Administration data. The study examined federal collision data for 99 urban areas in the United States. The cumulative cost of these crashes amounted to almost $300 billion per year. These include expenses such as:
- Medical treatment
- Emergency services
- Lost income
- Administrative costs
- Impaired quality of life
- Pain and suffering
- Lost labor contributions
- Vocational rehabilitation and related costs.
The average societal cost for a fatal car accident was $6 million. The loss from a crash causing injury was $126,000.
These statistics reveal the overwhelming impact that car crashes have on the lives of millions of individuals and families each year. If you are the victim of a drunk driver, distracted driver or another form of negligence or recklessness, a reputable California car accident attorney can help you obtain financial compensation for the injuries and loss you suffered.
Determining Financial Responsibility for Car Accidents
Negligent and Reckless Drivers
The basis for imposing liability in most car accidents will be negligence or recklessness. These legal terms can apply to many types of conduct by drivers and third parties. Negligent driving practices by other motorists may take the form of violations of the rules of the road or other imprudent driving practices that fail to constitute “reasonable care” to prevent foreseeable injury to others.
Some of the common forms of negligent driving that cause crashes or increase the extent of injury include:
- Disregarding traffic signals and stop signs
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Distracted driving (e.g. talking or texting on a cell phone)
- Failure to observe right of way
- Following at an unsafe distance (tailgating)
- Unsafe turns
- Drowsy driving
- Lack of vehicle maintenance
- Failure to check the rear of a vehicle before backing up
- Road rage
- Aggressive driving
Third Party Liability
While these are a few of the common negligent practices by motorists that cause collisions, sometimes the conduct of third parties causes auto accidents. An insurance industry study found that nearly one in every five drivers in California does not have insurance (18 percent).
Given the high risk of being hit by an uninsured driver or a driver with minimal coverage, our auto accident lawyers carefully examine the potential liability of third parties. Individuals or entities that might be financially responsible for your injuries other than the driver of another vehicle include:
Car Owner: The owner of a car can be found to have “negligently entrusted” a vehicle to an incompetent driver. If the owner knows, or should know, that another party has prior accidents or traffic safety violations, this might provide a basis for suing the car owner. Similarly, car owners who entrust their vehicle to a party they should know is intoxicated by drugs or alcohol also can be liable for injuries or fatalities caused by the impaired driver.
Driver’s Employer: When an employee’s negligent driving causes an accident while the employee is engaged in activities for the benefit of the employer or while driving a company car, the employer may be liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior.
Manufacturer of the Auto or a Defective Part: While most collisions are a product of motorist error, defective brakes, steering systems, tires or other vehicle components can be a substantial factor in causing a car crash. When a defective vehicle or component plays a significant role in causing an accident, the entity that designed, manufactured, or sold the defective component or vehicle can be subject to liability.
Government Entity: When a government entity responsible for the design, construction, or maintenance of the roadway does not take reasonable care to provide a safe roadway, the public entity might be financially responsible. There are special deadlines and requirements when filing a claim against a public entity, so you should seek prompt legal advice from an experienced car accident lawyer who can navigate these special rules and procedures.
Dram Shop Liability: Because of recent changes in California’s Dram Shop Law, liability of businesses that serve alcohol to drivers who are later involved in a collision is extremely limited. However, a bar, restaurant or other business that serves an obviously intoxicated minor can still be subject to a lawsuit arising from a drunk driving accident.
Victims of negligent and reckless drivers need to keep in mind that they need a law firm that is prepared to carefully investigate the facts that establish the negligence of other parties and identify all parties that might be appropriate defendants. The diligence of your car accident attorney in analyzing the evidence to uncover viable third party defendants can be critical when you are hit by an uninsured or underinsured motorist.
Protecting Your Legal Rights and Remedies in the Wake of a Crash
Many car accident victims recover less than the full value of their accident claim because they make critical mistakes following their auto accident. While obtaining prompt legal representation is an effective way to protect your legal rights and remedies, the actions you take at the accident scene and the immediate aftermath can have a significant effect on your claim. If you are involved in a motor vehicle crash, you should do the following:
Secure medical attention for the injured: If you or others experience injury, you should summon emergency response personnel to the scene to administer medical attention. While you may assume that your injuries are minor, the pain and shock of being involved in a crash can interfere with an accurate assessment of your injuries. If you suffer any injury, you should be examined by medical professionals who can conduct a diagnostic exam and implement an appropriate course of treatment. The insurance company for the other party in a lawsuit will request all of your medical records, so you should follow through on all diagnostic exams, doctor’s appointments, and rehabilitation plans. All symptoms should be reported to your doctor, even if you think they seem unrelated or trivial.
Summon Law Enforcement to the Scene: Sometimes, drivers exchange license and insurance information and leave the scene. However, you should summon police anytime you are involved in a collision. When police come to the scene, an accident report can be prepared. This report will include a record of physical evidence and witness accounts of the crash.
Assemble Evidence: You can establish a stronger foundation for your injury claim if you take photos and collect other evidence. If you are physically able to collect evidence, you should take pictures of injuries, vehicle damage, relative position of the vehicles, and relevant roadway features. The names and contact information from any eyewitnesses should also be collected.
Do Not Talk to the Insurance Adjuster: The insurance adjuster for the other driver might contact you for a statement or to request that you execute a release for medical and/or employment records. The insurance adjuster works for the insurance company to reduce your recovery. You should refer the adjuster to your car accident attorney.
Pursuing a Car Accident Legal Claim: Proving Your Case
Many drivers injured in collisions assume that the other driver’s insurance company will offer a reasonable settlement of a legitimate claim. However, the insurance industry is one of the largest segments of our economy based on successfully avoiding the responsibility of paying the full value of claims. The accounts provided by drivers involved in a collision often differ so drastically that it is difficult to determine that both drivers were involved in the same traffic accident.
Insurance companies have teams of investigators and experts that might attempt to shift blame to the injury victim. Crash victims are ill advised to proceed without legal representation, even when liability appears fairly clear, such as a collision where another car slams into yours from behind while you are stopped at a red light. In these situations, the insurance company typically fights tenaciously to minimize the severity of a crash victim’s injuries.
Car accident lawyers use many types of evidence to prove liability and damages. Your lawyer will undertake an investigation that often utilizes investigators and experts. Some of the relevant types of evidence may include:
- Eyewitnesses that were present at the scene of the crash
- Law enforcement accident reports
- Medical reports from emergency responders
- Hospital and medical records
- Air ambulance communications
- Records from towing services
Medical and crash reconstruction experts can explain complex concepts in an understandable way, so the information is more persuasive to a jury.
Use of Expert Reports and Testimony
Auto Accident Reconstruction Experts
A successful settlement or verdict in your auto accident case can depends on the skilled selection and use of experts. The individual facts of the case will determine which type of expert is needed. You may need experts that can testify about the factors that contributed to the crash, as well as experts to establish the severity of injury and damages. Auto accident reconstruction experts will engage in a careful analysis of the evidence to develop an explanation of the reasons a crash occurred. The crash reconstruction expert will investigate and analyze a broad array of evidence to develop convincing evidence of the negligence of the other driver, including:
- Witness statements
- Law enforcement reports
- Weather and road conditions
- Vehicle maintenance logs
- Any other relevant information
When an airbag malfunctions and causes more serious injury, engineering experts with specialized knowledge can be used to help a jury understand how the product was supposed to function and why it failed. The expert’s report and testimony can provide powerful evidence that a defective vehicle or negligently repaired vehicle caused a crash.
Medical experts also are important to provide testimony and an expert evaluation of your injuries and long-term prognosis. When liability is fairly clear, insurance companies often focus their efforts on trying to establish that an injury victim is exaggerating his or her injuries. The type of injuries that you suffer will determine the appropriate selection of a medical expert, such as a neurologist, orthopedic surgeon or other appropriate medical professional.
This category of expert, which may include vocational specialists, occupational therapists and similar professionals, is used to evaluate and testify about your ability to work in the future given any permanent debilitating injuries. The expert can help a jury understand your inability to return to your occupation, as well as the retraining or education that would be required for a different occupation.
Economists are used to determine the value of future lost income and/or benefits and medical costs. The economists can resolve complicated issues like calculating such future losses by reducing the losses to present value.
Important Insurance Issues Every Injured Motorist Needs to Know
Uninsured Motorist & Underinsured Motorist Coverage
California drivers involved in a crash face almost a one in five chance of the other driver being uninsured. As a result, uninsured motorist coverage can prove indispensable to a car crash victim. If you are involved in a collision with an uninsured motorist or a hit and run driver, your uninsured motorist coverage provides protection from monetary loss. California insurance law requires that insurance companies offer uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage to every policyholder. Unless you specifically opt out of UM/UIM coverage in writing, your policy should include this coverage.
Underinsured motorist coverage is intended to provide supplemental coverage when the other driver does not have enough insurance to fully compensate you for your loss. The minimum liability coverage for California motorists is:
- $15,000 for injury/death to a single party,
- $30,000 for injury/death to all parties, and
- $5,000 toward vehicle damage.
If you suffer a catastrophic injury like a traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury or other serious injury, $15,000 is unlikely to be sufficient to cover even your initial emergency room stay. UIM insurance can provide the difference between the amount available under the policy limits of the other driver’s policy and the amount needed to compensate you for your property damage and injuries.
Stacking of Policies
Depending on the state where your auto collision occurs, you might have the right to stack your insurance coverage from multiple policies to increase your coverage limits. The laws on stacking insurance differ significantly between states, so you should seek immediate legal advice if you have questions about this issue.
Understanding Potential Financial Recovery in Auto Accidents
There are many factors that impact the available recovery in an auto accident. A car accident lawyer can evaluate the facts of your case, prior cases the firm has handled, settlements or verdicts in similar cases, and other factors, to provide an estimated range of recovery. Although the damages recovered in a car accident are uniquely based on the severity of injury, type of misconduct, and other factors, damages that you might be entitled to receive include:
Hospital & Medical Expenses: You are entitled to the recover the costs associated with diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of your injuries. This includes costs already incurred as well as future anticipated medical expenses.
Loss of Income: Whether you were only off of work for a few days or were permanently disabled, you are entitled to past, present and future lost earnings. The calculation of future lost income because you are forced to change occupations or are permanently disabled often requires the use of vocational counselors or economic experts.
Pain and Suffering: Because pain and suffering is an intangible form of loss, the skill and persuasiveness of your car accident attorney in demonstrating this type of damage can have a major impact on your recovery. An effective legal advocate will be able to communicate to a jury the impact of your injuries on your daily activities, family relationships, and quality of life.
Punitive/Exemplary Damages: This type of damages can be awarded in cases where the defendant’s conduct was so reckless that it exhibited a conscious disregard for the safety of others. An example might include a motorist driving at a high rate of speed while intoxicated or engaging in a drag race in a residential neighborhood.
The California car accident lawyers at The Reeves Law Group represent those who suffer serious injury or lose a loved one in a traffic collision caused by a negligent or reckless driver. We invite you to contact us at (800) 644-8000 or by email to schedule an immediate free consultation to learn about your rights and remedies.