California Car
Accident Laws

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California Car Accident Laws

California car accidents have the ability to inflict serious and life-changing injuries. If you have been involved in an accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. California’s car accident laws will impact any legal claims that you may decide to file. It is important to understand your obligations as a driver, how fault is determined, and what can affect your ability to recover compensation.

Once you have determined that you want to pursue compensation by filing a lawsuit, it is best to hire a personal injury attorney who has experience navigating California’s complex laws and procedures. Call Citywide Law Group today to request a free consultation.

California Financial Responsibility Requirements

Minimally-Acceptable Car Insurance Coverage

Any car that is registered with the State of California must be covered by a showing of financial responsibility. Purchasing a car insurance policy is the simplest way to satisfy your legal requirements as the owner of a registered vehicle.

In California, there are certain minimum insurance coverage requirements. These minimums, as required in California Insurance Code §11580.1b, help to ensure that any costs related to an accident, personal injury, or property damage are covered. California Vehicle Code §16056 requires all drivers to maintain a minimum of 15/30/5 coverage on all registered vehicles, which includes:

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

You must always have valid proof of insurance handy. California law requires that you provide proof of insurance when

  1. Requested by law enforcement,
  2. Renewing vehicle registration, and
  3. Involved in an accident.

Failing to provide proof of financial responsibility can result in fines and possible revocation of your license if you are involved in an accident.

Underinsured and Uninsured Motorist Coverage

Your car insurance provider is legally required under California law (California Insurance Code §11580.2) to offer uninsured motorist bodily injury and underinsured motorist coverage. These insurance policies help to cover your injuries and property damage in the event that you are involved in a crash with a driver who does not valid insurance.

Uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage:  Pays for the cost of damages sustained by you and any passengers in your car when you are injured by an uninsured driver. Compensation is limited to the amount of your own liability coverage.

Underinsured motorist coverage: When you are involved in an accident with a driver who does not have enough insurance to pay for the full cost of your damages, this policy can help to make up the difference.

You are not legally required to purchase these policies. However, you must decline coverage in writing.

Other Suggested Car Insurance Coverage

While California law only requires you to carry 15/30/5 coverage, it is wise to consider supplemental policies. The minimum coverage required by the state may be insufficient to cover the full extent of the injuries and damage caused in an accident. If you are responsible for an accident, victims may decide to pursue your personal assets. Purchasing the following types of insurance can help to make sure that you and anyone affected by an accident are fully covered:

  • Medical Payments Coverage
  • Comprehensive Coverage
  • Collision Coverage
  • Theft Coverage.

It is important to note that these policies will not satisfy the state’s 15/30/5 requirement. However, they will be extremely helpful if you are ever involved in a serious accident.

Alternative Methods of Establishing Financial Responsibility

While purchasing minimally-acceptable car insurance coverage is the simplest way to establish financial responsibility, there are also alternative methods. California Vehicle Code §16002 explains that the state will accept any of the following showings of financial responsibility for a registered motor vehicle:

  • Cash deposit of $35,000 paid to the DMV
  • Self-insurance certificate issued by the DMV, or
  • Surety bond of at least $35,000 issued by a company licensed to do business in the state.

Accident Reporting Requirements

If you are involved in an accident in California that results in property damage exceeding $1,000 and/or any personal injury, you are legally obligated to report the crash. California Vehicle Code §16000 requires that these accidents must be reported to the DMV by you, your attorney, or your insurance company within 10 days.

Form SR-1

The accident report, which is filed on form SR-1, must include the name(s) and address(es) of any anyone involved in the accident who complains of a bodily injury, and:

  • Time, date, and location of the accident
  • Personal information of all other involved drivers (name, address, birth date, driver license information)
  • Your personal information
  • Insurance information for all involved drivers (company, policy number, expiration), and
  • Explanation of injuries and damage.

Obligations When Entering a Highway

Many car accidents in California are the result of drivers failing to yield properly when entering and exiting highways. Drivers in California must understand their obligations and duties to other vehicles on the road. California’s doctrine of preemption requires that anyone entering a highway yield to oncoming traffic and use appropriate caution.

Entering a Highway: Drivers entering a highway from a public or private drive – including roads, driveways, and parking lots – must yield to oncoming traffic and pedestrians on that highway. Once the driver determines that there is sufficient time to enter the highway without disrupting the flow of traffic, he or she may proceed to turn onto the highway. Once this driver has begun to enter the roadway, drivers on the highway must yield to prevent harm. (California Vehicle Code §21800)

Crossing a Highway: Drivers who need to cross a highway from a public or private drive, at any place other than a marked intersection, must yield to traffic and pedestrians on the highway and wait until it is reasonably safe to cross. Once the driver has begun to cross the highway, oncoming traffic must yield to prevent an accident. (California Vehicle Code §21800)

Learn about your obligations as a driver at red and yellow light intersections.

Car Accident Statute of Limitations California

California law limits the amount of time a car accident victim has to file a legal claim for damages. The specific amount of time that is permitted will depend on the type of damage suffered in an accident.

Property Damage: Victims who suffer property damage have three years from the date of the accident to file a claim (California Civil Code §338).

Bodily Injury: Victims who suffer a bodily injury have two years from the date of the accident to file a claim (California Civil Code §335.1).

Tolling the Statute of Limitations

There are limited times when the statute of limitations can be extended:

  1. There is a reasonable delay in the discovery of an accident-related injury. (California Civil Code §338)
  2. The defendant cannot be located (California Civil Code §351)
  3. The defendant is imprisoned. (California Civil Code §352.1)
  4. The victim was a minor or disabled at the time of the accident. (California Civil Code §352)

Claims Against the Government Accelerated

Car accident victims who believe that the state, county, or local city is responsible for an accident have the option of requesting damages from the government. However, the statute of limitations for filing an administrative claim for damages with the government is only 180 days. (California Government Code §911.2)

California Car Accident Liability Laws

Comparative Fault

The state of California adheres to the theory of pure comparative fault. The principles of comparative basically mean two things:

  1. More than one person can be held financially responsible for harm caused by an accident, and
  2. Victims are not barred from recovering compensation if they contribute to an accident.

The law of comparative fault allows anyone injured in an accident to recover compensation as long as they are not entirely responsible for the injury-causing crash. This helps to ensure that all victims are able to recover at least a portion of the damages they sustain in an accident.

Apportionment of Fault

When more than one person is responsible for causing an accident, each will be held financially responsible to the degree of their own fault. (California Civil Code §1431.2) If an accident victim contributes to his or her own accident or injury, their ability to recover compensation will be reduced.

Here’s an example:

Bob and Sue are involved in a California car accident. Bob was texting while driving and did not see that Sue had rolled through a stop sign at an intersection. As a result of the accident, Bob and Sue both suffered $100,000 in damages. Bob and Sue are both responsible for a portion of damages. Each of these parties will be allocated a specific percentage of fault. Let’s say that Bob is 20 percent at-fault and Sue is 80 percent at-fault.

Bob will be liable for $20,000 of Sue’s damages (20 percent of $100,000). Sue will be liable for $80,000 of Bob’s damages (80 percent of $100,000).

Damages Available to Car Accident Victims

California law specifically states that personal injury victims, including those involved in car accidents, have the right to request economic and non-economic damages.

Economic Damages: Economic damages, as described in California Civil Code §1431.2(b)(1), means any “objectively verifiable monetary losses” suffered by a victim. These can include:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost earnings
  • Loss of employment or business opportunities
  • Loss of the use of property
  • Costs associated with property repair or replacement, and
  • Burial expenses.

Non-Economic Damages: Economic damages, as described in California Civil Code §1431.2(b)(2), means “subjective, non-monetary losses” suffered by a victim. These can include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental suffering
  • Loss of consortium and companionship
  • Inconvenience
  • Injury to reputation, and
  • Humiliation.

Limitations on The Recovery of Damages

California law, as stated in California Civil Code § 333.4, prohibits the recovery of non-economic damages in certain situations. Drivers will not be permitted to recover compensation for pain and suffering, mental distress, and other non-economic injuries if they:

Experienced California Car Accident Attorneys

Hiring an attorney to handle your California car accident lawsuit will help you maximize the amount of compensation you recover. At Citywide Law Group, our attorneys understand how important a financial award can be and will fight to make sure that you are fairly compensated for your injuries. We have 17 years of experience handling complex car accident cases, and have recovered millions in damages for our clients.

Our in-depth knowledge of California car accident laws and procedures, paired with our extensive hands-on experience litigating cases, allows us to provide unparalleled legal services to injured car accident victims. Call us today to find out how we can help you get the money you deserve after a car accident. We offer a free consultation, so do not hesitate to contact us.