If you’re in California and get into an accident, the state’s laws and regulatory guidelines determine what course of action you should take and what legal options are available to you. While every state has its own car accident laws, many are similar.
For example, state laws can typically be broken down into one of two categories—at-fault or no-fault states.
California is an at-fault state.
Below, we delve into what that means and what you should know.
At-Fault vs. No-Fault Accidents
If you’re in an accident that involves another driver, you may have a car insurance policy that provides you with financial protection. Insurance claims are settled differently depending on where you live.
If you live in a no-fault state, personal injury protection or PIP will kick in to cover your own medical bills. If you’re in an at-fault state, then the bodily injury liability coverage of the other driver should pay your medical bills.
A car accident can happen for almost any reason, and every situation is unique, but the ways the fallout is dealt with are fairlyfastandardized.
Typically following an accident, the at-fault party files an insurance claim, which is then handled based on the fault laws of the state.
There are 12 states that follow no-fault insurance laws, and Puerto Rico does as well.
Then, the other 38 states and Washington D.C. are considered at-fault states.
The term no-fault is not the same as not-at-fault. No-fault accidents involve insurance laws. Not-at-fault accidents mean you aren’t the reason for the accident. For example, if you’re rear-ended, it’s a not-at-fault accident for you.
Getting Into An Accident In An At-Fault State
If you’re in an at-fault state, it’s also known as a tort state. In tort states, if a driver causes a car crash, it’s their responsibility to compensate the other driver or drivers for their losses.
Compensation might be done with an insurance claim, or the at-fault driver could pay out-of-pocket.
If you’re the person who causes an accident and you use your insurance for coverage of the damage, your property damage liability should cover vehicle damages. Then, if the other driver is injured and has medical injuries as a result, your bodily injury liability insurance should cover those costs.
The coverage will pay up to whatever the limits of your policy are. If the costs go beyond those limits, you have to pay out-of-pocket.
Based on your particular type of coverage, your policy could also pay for damages to your car and for your injuries or injuries your passengers sustain.
What Happens In a No-Fault State?
In no-fault states, the fault for the accident itself does still exist. The term nofault is just a reference to injuries. If you’re the cause of an accident and it causes property damage, you’re still responsible for that in a no-fault state.
For drivers who get into accidents in no-fault states, both insurance companies of the involved drivers should pay their medical expenses. PIP coverage kicks in no matter who caused the accident.
What Happens If You’re Not AtFault?
If you’re in an accident that’s not your fault, the claim is handled based on fault laws.
If you get hit by another driver, and you’re in a no-fault state, PIP pays for your injuries. PIP might also cover lost wages because of your injuries.
Then, the insurance for the other driver again should cover your vehicle repairs.
If you’re in an at-fault state, then the insurance for the driver who caused the accident should pay for both your medical bills and repairs to your vehicle.
In some accidents, it’s not clear who caused it. Some accidents get complex, without obvious fault. There are accidents where both drivers can be partially at-fault. In these situations, an insurer will assess the level of negligence on the part of each involved driver.
There are usually three categories into which negligence can fall—pure contributory, pure comparative, and modified comparative.
Some accidents can lead to a lawsuit, primarily in situations where the insurance company isn’t willing to compensate you accordingly.
Who to sue depends on state laws, the insurance coverage of the other driver, and whether the other driver even has insurance.
What’s the Law In California?
In California, the laws are at-fault. If someone is found responsible for an accident, they have to pay the costs of injuries and property damage.
If you’re claiming compensation from the at-fault driver, you have to be able to prove liability. Then, if you aren’t happy or the other driver isn’t, a lawsuit can be filed to dispute the claim.
Under California law, all drivers are required to have minimum liability insurance that includes $5,000 for property damage and $15,000 coverage for bodily injuries or the death of an individual. You must have at least $30,000 in coverage for multiple bodily injuries or deaths.
California uses comparative negligence in car accident cases, so responsibility can be shared in the determination of fault.
Even if you’re partly at fault for an accident that you’re involved in, you might still be able to get compensation for the damages.
You can recover a percentage of awarded damages.
Insurance comapanies determine fault based on the evidence available.
If you’re ever in an accident in California, the more evidence you can collect at the time it happens, the better. Evidence might include photos and videos at the scene, eyewitness accounts, and your medical records.
If you’re in an accident and you’re in California, the at-fault laws related to insurance will protect you regardless of your degree of fault. With that being said, the California legal system is complex and difficult to navigate, which is why you might hire an attorney to help you if you ever find yourself in this situation.
California personal injury lawyers can gather evidence and help determine liability, as well as represent you if you have to go to court.
As a final note, if a driver doesn’t have insurance, they likely don’t have a lot of assets either, in which case suing them personally may not be the best option. A lawyer can help you figure out your next steps in this situation.