Category: California Personal Injury

Statute of Limitations in California Personal Injury Cases

If you have been injured in a California accident you are probably all-too familiar with the costs and expenses that can add up in the days, weeks, and months that follow. In 2013, one study found that the average cost of a bodily injury claim was approximately $15,000 and the average cost of a property damage claim was approximately $3,000. When lost earnings and reduced earning capacity are factored into the equation, a California accident victim can face truly staggering costs as they try to recover.

How can an accident victim be expected to manage these costs? Most Americans do not have enough in savings to cover a $500 emergency, let alone tens of thousands of dollars for damage control after an accident. In California, personal injury accident victims may recover compensation through personal injury lawsuits. These lawsuits, however, must be filed within a certain period of time. This period of time is known as the statute of limitations.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Claims in California?

So, if you’ve been involved in an accident, how much time do you have to file a personal injury claim for damages? The answer will depend on the type of injury you sustain, who you are filing the claim against, and when you discover your injury. For most bodily injury claims in California, however, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the accident that caused the injury. This means that the clock begins to run as soon as you are injured in the accident.

This, however, is the general rule. California law has evolved to include more specific time frames for more specific harms. It also includes protections for accident victims that may not immediately notice an injury.

  • Bodily Injury Claims: must be filed within two years of the date of the accident or within one year of the date you discover a related injury. Common causes of bodily injuries may include assault, battery, product liability, premises liability, and negligence.
  • Property Injury Claims: must be filed within three years of the date that your property is damaged or destroyed. Claims for damage to property may be brought for theft, trespass, fraud, nuisance, and physical destruction.
  • Injuries Caused By Medical Malpractice: must be filed within three years of the incident causing your injury or within one year of the discovery of the malpractice.

However, special circumstances may cause the applicable statute of limitations to be paused or accelerated.

Tolling the Statute of Limitations in California

What happens if there are circumstances beyond your immediate control that make it impossible for you to file a claim for damages within the appropriate statute of limitations?

California may permit the statute of limitations to be “tolled” in certain situations. Tolling the statute of limitations is basically like hitting the pause button. They are paused until the special circumstance no longer exists. Circumstances that may cause the statute of limitations to toll include having a defendant who is a minor, out of state, imprisoned, or mentally insane.

Government Defendants May Cause Limitations on Time Permitted Under Statute of Limitations

If you are injured in a California accident and believe that the government is responsible you are permitted to ask for the government to compensate you for your injuries. However, the process involved in seeking compensation from the government is different than for other defendants. If you are interested in seeking compensation from the government you will have to move quickly. The statute of limitations for personal injury claims is significantly shorter when the government is involved.

In order to recover compensation from the government, you must file an administrative claim with the government within six months of the accident that caused your injury. If you do not file this administrative claim within that six month period your chances of recovering compensation (from the government) are slim. (There are certain exceptions to the rule.) After you submit your administrative claim the government must respond. They have 45 days to approve or deny your claim. The government, more often than not, will deny your claim, if only to avoid the repercussions of not responding at all. If the government does not respond to your administrative claim the original two-year statute of limitations is reinstated. When the government issues a denial, you then have six months to file a personal injury claim in the appropriate civil court.

Hire an Attorney to Ensure Your Claim is Filed Within the Statute of Limitations

The steps you take immediately following a California accident can really affect your ability to recover the compensation you may truly need in the future. The best way to ensure that your personal injury claim for damages is filed on time is to hire an experienced California personal injury attorney. An attorney will focus on making sure that your claim meets all legal and procedural requirements while you focus on your physical and emotional recovery after an accident.

This article is from Citywide Law Group – a team of Los Angeles personal injury attorneys with a track record of success.

The New California Cellphone Law And Negligence Cases – CA

An expanded cellphone law that its author says is designed to “prevent distracted driving” takes effect this coming January 1.

The move takes place as cellphone use while driving has expanded in California and elsewhere. As a result, CHP spokesperson Jon Sloat called the bill “welcome news” for law enforcement. Beginning in January, officers will write tickets whenever they see drivers using cellphones, whether they are talking, texting, “checking their GPS or their music,” he added. The bill’s primary sponsor was Assembly-member Bill Quirk (D-Hayward).

Last year, cellphone related crashes killed sixteen Californians and injured 500 others, and Officer Sloat believes these numbers are vastly under-reported.

The California Cellphone Law

When lawmakers began debating the current cellphone laws a little over a decade ago, most available devices were quite rudimentary compared to the ones of today, and the more advanced models were often priced out of reach of many drivers. Moreover, social media platforms and smartphone apps were not nearly as well-developed then as they are today. As a result, since most people still used their phones primarily for talking and texting, the Legislature passed very narrowly tailored laws to address these concerns.

In 2014, the Fifth District Court of Appeal court ruled in favor of Steven Spriggs, who received a ticket for using his cellphone to access a GPS map while he was stuck in traffic. The court ruled that since Mr. Spriggs was not talking on his phone at the time, the statute as written did not apply. “We conclude the statute means what it says — it prohibits a driver only from holding a wireless telephone while conversing on it,” the court wrote. At the time, the CHP elected not to appeal this decision, probably because the court was clearly correct in its interpretation of the narrow law.

A.B. 1785 passed by wide margins in both the Assembly and the Senate. It essentially replaces the existing “talking and texting” language with the phrase “holding or operating a handheld wireless telephone or an electronic wireless communications device.” The law also limits the use of cellphone mounts.

Direct Evidence of Negligence

When drivers are cited for violating the new Vehicle Code 23123.5, prosecutors must still prove that the driver was using the device and not checking the time, glancing at a status update, declining an incoming call, or otherwise using the device in an approved way. However, in civil court, the burden of proof is lower. So, evidence that a cellphone was on and was in the front passenger area would probably be sufficient for a reasonable juror to conclude that, more likely than not, the driver was using the device at or near the time of the crash.

It is well-settled law in California that most statutory violations, including VC 23123.5 infractions, constitute negligence per se (negligence “as such”). The elements are:

  • Infraction: The jury must determine, based on the evidence, that the tortfeasor (negligent driver) violated a safety law; the jury could make such a finding even if the tortfeasor was not convicted in criminal court, because of the lower standard of proof.
  • Cause: The violation must have been “a substantial factor in bringing about the harm,” which is not the same thing as the sole factor in bringing about the harm.

Violating a traffic or other law sometimes raises a presumption in favor of additional punitive damages. To obtain these damages, the plaintiff must offer clear and convincing evidence that the tortfeasor recklessly disregarded the safety and property of others, and 90 percent of drivers agree that using a cellphone while driving is a serious hazard.

Indirect Evidence

Cellphone use is one of the most dangerous kinds of distracted driving because it involves all three areas of distraction:

  • Cognitive (taking your mind off the road),
  • Visual (taking your eyes off the road), and
  • Manual (taking at least one hand off the wheel).

This definition obviously encompasses a wide array of behaviors that may or may not cause car crashes. For example, since it involves two types of distraction (cognitive and visual), turning one’s head to speak to a passenger is almost as distracting as using a cellphone. In these situations, the jury determines if the driver breached the duty of reasonable care. In a nutshell, there is a significant difference between having an emotional face-to-face discussion with a significant other while driving and turning one’s head for a moment to ask if the air conditioner is blowing too hard.

In both direct and indirect evidence cases, compensatory damages generally include money for economic damages, such as lost wages, and noneconomic damages, such as loss of enjoyment in life. If you’ve been injured, make sure to see our guide on how to find a good personal injury lawyer in California.

Understanding Bicycle Accidents – California

With mild weather almost year long, California was made for outdoor activities, like bicycling. Unfortunately, most streets in the Golden State were not made for bicycles. Back in the day, the car was the king, and road layouts largely match that attitude. There have been some changes recently, but for the most part, bike lanes are narrow or nonexistent and laws are not very favorable. The culture of the car also means that motorists do not always look out for bicyclists.

As a result, California led the way amongst all other U.S. states in bicycle fatalities between 2010 – 2012, with 338 deaths. In fact, when a fast-moving 4,000-pound car hits a slow-moving 15-pound bicycle, the results are almost always tragic for riders. Fortunately, injured victims have a number of legal options in these situations.

Bicycle Accident Causes

Most of these collisions occur during the summer months and during the day, because of the prevalence of child riders during these months and hours. Children are not as visible in traffic and may not be as familiar with the rules of the road as older bikers.

According to a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the most common reason for cycling accidents is collision with a car (29%). Riders are normally not seriously injured if the vehicles are moving 20mph or slower, but they are nearly always seriously injured or killed if the vehicles are traveling 40mph or faster. Speed increases the force in a collision and also reduces reaction time. That latter condition is especially important with regard to bicyclist visibility, a point that is discussed below.

While some drivers speed and ignore traffic laws, others should never have gotten behind the wheel at all, because they were already dangerously impaired. Such impairment can come from:

  • Alcohol: After just one drink, most people experience loss of muscle control, and they are also unable to quickly make good decisions.
  • Drugs: Legal painkillers, sleep aids, antidepressants, and other medicine, if they are used improperly, are as dangerous as illegal “street drugs,” like heroin and cocaine.
  • Fatigue: Statistics show that driving after being awake for eighteen consecutive hours is like driving with a .08 BAC.

Moreover, many people operate motor vehicles while they are distracted by eating, using a cellphone, talking to passengers, and countless other non-driving activities.

Damages Available

In California, bicycle crash victims are entitled to cash compensation for their economic, out-of-pocket losses. These damages include items like medical bills, lost wages, physical rehabilitation costs, and medical device expenses. With regard to medical bills and other medical expenses, attorneys often send letters of protection to third-party providers that guarantee payment when the case is resolved. So, victims get the medical care they need without having to pay out-of-pocket or rely on health insurance.

Noneconomic damages are available as well, for things like pain and suffering, loss of consortium (companionship), loss of enjoyment in life, and emotional distress. Although it is impossible to put a dollar value on the quality of life, money damages are normally the only kind of relief that the law allows.

In some cases, victims are entitled to additional punitive damages. In California, the jury may assess additional damages to deter future wrongdoing and punish the tortfeasor (negligent driver) if the victim presents clear and convincing evidence that the tortfeasor intentionally disregarded the property and safety of others by undertaking a course of action known to be dangerous. A cap may apply, in some cases.

Legal Issues In Bicycle Crash Cases

To obtain these damages, victims must prove that the tortfeasor was at fault for the wreck. Such proof must be a preponderance of the evidence, which means there is more evidence in favor of the plaintiff. Put another way, if there are two stacks of paper side by side, and a person adds one sheet to the stack on the left, there is more paper in that stack than there is in the other one. Normally, there is a two-year statute of limitations in negligence cases.

Even if the motorists are clearly at fault, both they and their insurance companies often try to shift blame onto the victims. As mentioned earlier, visibility is sometimes an issue here. Indeed, tortfeasors often make statements at the scene like “he came out of nowhere” and “I never even saw her.” However, lack of visibility is never an excuse for negligence, because if it was, no one would ever cause a car crash at night or in the rain.

Bikers have a reputation for not following some traffic laws, like coming to a complete stop at stop signs or signaling turns. If a bicyclist coasts through a stop sign or makes an illegal lane change, the insurance company often tried to use the sudden emergency defense. This doctrine excuses liability if the tortfeasor was reacting to an unexpected situation. However, traffic law violations are not normally considered unexpected situations, because such events are so common. Therefore, the sudden emergency defense typically is inapplicable in bicycle crashes.