California Car Accident Laws

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California car crashes can be simple fender-benders that damage your vehicle and hurt your pride. They can also be devastating crashes that result in substantial property damage, life-long severe injuries, or even death. If you or someone you love has been in an accident in California, chances are you're worried about where the responsibilities might lie. To figure this out, it helps to begin by understanding California car accident laws, your role in reporting the accident, and what might happen if the accident leads to some legal action. Read on to find out what you need to know about car accident laws in California.

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What Are the Requirements for Car Insurance in California?

California car accident laws can be confusing, especially since California is a comparative negligence state. We'll get into the concerns about fault later on this page. Now, let's start by looking at what you should have well before any accident occurs – car insurance.

The Minimum Requirements for Car Insurance in California

If your vehicle is registered in California, you must prove that you have the financial responsibility to recoup someone's losses if you get into a car accident. There are a few ways to do this, but most find it easiest to do it by obtaining insurance.

California's minimum requirements for car insurance are set forth by California Vehicle Code §16056. This requires the following coverage in the event of a car accident in California or elsewhere:

  • $15,000 for injury or death to one person,
  • $30,000 for injury or death to more than one person, and
  • $5,000 to cover property damage.

This is also known as 15/30/5 coverage. You are required to carry a valid proof of insurance with you while you are in your vehicle. You must provide that proof if it is requested by law enforcement, you are involved in a car crash, or you are renewing your vehicle registration. If you can't provide proof of insurance when asked, you can face various consequences. In most cases, these consequences take the form of fines. But if you are in a California car crash, you might lose your license if you don't have proof of insurance coverage. Let's be honest: The 15/30/5 rule is a bare minimum of coverage. Consider property damage – getting into a car accident in California can easily result in property damage much more expensive than anything $5,000 can cover. That's one of the reasons why car insurance companies in California are required to offer underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage.

What is Underinsured or Uninsured Coverage?

California Insurance Code §11580.2 offers motorists the option of purchasing insurance policies that cover them if they are in a car crash with someone who has no insurance or carries the minimum. You don't have to get this insurance, but if you decline it, you must state that in writing. Remember that uninsured motorist coverage pays for the costs of bodily injury to you and those in the car but only up to the limit of your liability coverage. So if you have the 15/30/5 minimum, the uninsured motorist protection only reaches that 15/30/5 threshold. That still might not be enough to cover the injuries in a car crash in California or anywhere else. Underinsured motorist coverage is a bit more robust, as it stacks onto the insurance the other person has. If they have a minimum of $5,000 property damage liability and your vehicle needs repairs that total $8,000, your underinsured motorist insurance can cover that difference of $3,000.

Other Types of California Car Insurance Coverage

Because the 15/30/5 coverage is pretty thin, even more coverage options are available to help you avoid the consequences of California car accident laws. Consider getting protection against a California car crash through these additional policies:

  • Medical Payments Coverage – This protects you against high medical bills due to a covered accident.
  • Collision Coverage – This coverage kicks in to protect you when there is a California car crash with another vehicle
  • Comprehension Coverage – This covers everything else that could happen to your vehicle, such as a tree falling on it after a storm or damage sustained during an earthquake
  • Theft Coverage – if someone steals your vehicle or even an integral part of your vehicle, this insurance covers you.

On the other hand, there are ways to avoid car insurance coverage altogether. For example, California Vehicle Code §16002 allows you to show proof of financial responsibility by depositing $35,000 cash to the DMV, obtaining a surety bond of at least $35,000 from a company licensed in California, or getting a self-insurance certificate from the DMV. However, remember that your financial responsibilities after a California car crash can go much further than this, which is why insurance is still your best option.

California Car Accident Laws Require Reporting

If you suffer an accident in California, you must stop at the scene. If someone needs medical assistance, try to render the proper aid. Call 911 immediately in the event of bodily injury or death as a result of the car crash. If you leave the scene without checking on others who were involved in the accident, you could be charged with a hit-and-run, which turns what would have been a straightforward accident into a legal nightmare.

If you do not need to call 911 or get the authorities involved immediately, there are other obligations. If you are involved in a California car crash, you are legally obligated to report it if the property damage exceeds $1,000 and/or if there is any personal injury. According to California Vehicle Code § 20008, you must report the accident to the authorities within 24 hours. Your insurance company or your attorney can also report it for you.

When you fill out the accident report under California car accident laws, you must include the following:

When you fill out the accident report under California car accident laws, you must include the following:

  • Your personal information
  • The names and addresses of all persons involved who have bodily injury
  • Date, time, and location of the accident
  • Personal information of all drivers, including birth date and license information
  • Insurance information for all drivers
  • An explanation of the damages and/or injuries

If you do not complete this form or do not have the proper insurance at the time of the accident, you might lose your driving privileges for a while.

Understanding the Statute of Limitations for Car Accidents in California

After a California car crash, you must file a legal claim within a certain time. If you have property damage, you must file a claim three years from the accident date. If you have a bodily injury due to the accident, you have two years from the accident to file your claim. There are some reasons why that statute of limitations can be extended: if the defendant is imprisoned or can't be located, if the victim was minor or disabled at the time of the accident, or if there is a reasonable delay in discovering the accident-related injury. Your attorney can help you determine if any of these exceptions apply to your case and how much time you have under the statute of limitations. What if you believe your accident was caused by the state, county, or local city's negligence? For example, what if you suffered an accident when your vehicle was damaged by a pothole or obstruction in the road that could only be fixed by the highway department? In a case like this, it's a good idea to hire a car accident attorney to handle an administrative claim, and you must file within 180 days. To learn more about this special type of filing, read California Government Code §911.2 or get in touch with us today to learn more about your reporting requirements and rights.

Understanding California Accident Fault Laws

California is a comparative fault state. That means anyone involved in a California car crash can be held financially responsible for the harm caused by accident. Victims can still get compensation for their damages even if they contributed to the accident. When more than one person is involved in an accident, they will be held responsible for their degree of fault. However, if one person is fully responsible for the accident, they might not be able to get compensation. But what sort of compensation are we talking about? California car accident laws clarify that those who suffer personal injury can recover economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are those that can be verified somehow. These can include medical bills, lost earnings, property replacement or repair costs, and more. These economic damages can often be proven with receipts or bills. Non-economic damages are more subjective. These damages can include financial compensation for pain and suffering, inconvenience, loss of companionship or consortium, and more. However, you can't recover anything for non-economic damages if you didn't have insurance at the time of the accident or if you have been convicted of a DUI.

Get a California Car Crash Attorney Today

Getting into a car accident can be frightening, inconvenient, or even deadly. It can be even more nerve-wracking when you don't fully understand California car accident laws. That's why it's so important to speak with an experienced car crash attorney from McCrary law firm who can examine all the evidence, answer your questions, and guide you toward the best route for your particular situation. As every accident is very different and California accident fault laws can be quite confusing, you'll need someone well-versed in the law to walk you through what comes next. Get in touch with us today to help you rest easier about the next steps after your California car accident. Call us now at (855) 752-6326 for a free car accident case evaluation. We are available 24/7 and would be happy to help you with your questions.

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    McCrary Accident Injury Law Firm specializes in personal injury litigation. Its founder, Dan McCrary, Esq., spent 14 years working for the insurance companies before switching sides to represent personal injury victims in Rocklin as an attorney.

    Dan McCrary’s years of experience on the defense side taught him exactly how to obtain maximum recovery for his injured clients. If you have been injured in an accident you should contact the Accident & Injury Lawyers, Personal injury Attorney, Car accident lawyers at McCrary Accident Injury Law Firm in Rocklin, folsom, Sacramento to get the money you deserve, and overcome the tactics routinely employed by the insurance companies.