Category: Car Accidents – CA

Car Accident with an Uninsured Motorists in California

Have you been involved in a California car accident with an uninsured driver? You may be entitled to compensation. However, it can be difficult to recover the full amount of money to which you are entitled. Hiring an experienced personal injury attorney to handle your case will help to ensure you are properly compensated for your accident-related injuries. See our guide on how to find a good personal injury lawyer in California for more information.

Minimally-Acceptable Car Insurance Coverage in California

California law requires all drivers to purchase and maintain minimally-acceptable car insurance coverage for all vehicles registered with the state. Minimally-acceptable coverage requires:

  • $15,000 (death or injury of one person)
  • $30,000 (death or injury of multiple people), and
  • $5,000 (property damage).

When a driver is involved in an accident, their car insurance policy can be used to cover the cost of bodily injury and property damage, up the amount of their policy limit. Drivers who do not carry 15/30/5 coverage are in violation of the law.

Uninsured vs. Underinsured Drivers

Even though all California drivers are required to purchase and maintain minimally-acceptable car insurance coverage, not everyone does. In fact, approximately 13 percent of all drivers on the road are “uninsured.” This means that they have no car insurance coverage to protect them or others in the event of an accident.

Other drivers have some insurance, but not enough to satisfy California’s legal requirement for what is acceptable. These drivers are considered “underinsured.”

When you are involved in an accident with an underinsured or uninsured driver, things can be complicated.

What Can I Do If I’m Injured By an Uninsured Driver?

If you are involved in an accident with an uninsured driver, there are two main options for recovering damages. First, if you have uninsured motorist coverage, you can file a claim with your own insurer for benefits. Second, you have the right to file a personal injury claim for damages.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UMC)

California state law requires all insurance companies to offer uninsured motorist coverage (UMC) to all policyholders. The purpose of UMC is to cover the cost of your injuries and property damage if you happen to be in a crash with an underinsured or uninsured driver.

While you are not legally obligated to purchase UMC, it can be incredibly beneficial if you are in a crash and subsequently faced with expensive medical bills, lost wages, and costly car repairs.

How does UMC work? It depends on whether the at-fault driver was uninsured or underinsured:

Uninsured: If the at-fault driver is uninsured, your UMC benefits will essentially take the place of the insurance policy that the other driver should have had. The UMC benefits will be capped at whatever your standard policy coverage amount is. So, if you carry minimally-acceptable 15/30/5 coverage, your UMC will be capped at 15/30/5.

Underinsured: If the at-fault driver is underinsured, your UMC benefits will be used to supplement the at-fault driver’s policy. If the driver only had $10,000 in bodily injury coverage, your UMC would kick in to cover the $5,000 the other driver did not have.

It is important to understand that even though you have UMC, your insurance company will want to limit any benefits that you are awarded. They will try to undervalue your claim and pay out as little as possible. You do have the right to contest their decision by requesting an arbitration hearing. Hiring an attorney to help you navigate your uninsured motorist claim will help you get the money you deserve.

Personal Injury Lawsuit

If you do not have uninsured motorist coverage, or if you do not think your UMC benefits will cover the full extent of your damages, you have the right to pursue a civil legal claim. However,  if the uninsured driver could not afford insurance, they may not have the assets or resources to pay monetary damages awarded in a lawsuit.

Does this mean you should not consider a personal injury lawsuit? No. Other at-fault parties with deeper pocket may be able to get you the money you need. In California, more than one person can be liable for an accident. Each person is simply held accountable to the degree they contributed to the accident and/or injury.

Potentially liable parties, in addition to the uninsured driver, include:

It is important to thoroughly investigate your accident to determine all potentially liable parties.

I’ve Been Injured By an Uninsured Driver. What Should I Do?

It is important to treat an accident involving an uninsured driver as you would any other type of crash. The things you do immediately after your accident will affect any future legal claims you decide to pursue.

Report the Accident: Reporting the accident is crucial. Make sure that police are dispatched to the scene and complete a Traffic Collision Report. This report may not be admissible as evidence in court, but it can be incredibly helpful to your attorney. It will contain information about your accident that will likely be lost or forgotten over time (e.g., weather conditions, traffic, eye-witnesses).

Seek Medical Treatment: Your health and safety should be your first priority. A doctor will make sure that all of your injuries are properly diagnosed and treated, reducing the risk of life-threatening complications. The medical report will be useful in establishing a link between your accident and injuries.

Notify Your Insurance Company: Make sure that you tell your insurance company that you have been involved in an accident right away. They will do everything they can to minimize the benefits you recover. Hesitating to report the accident may negatively affect your recovery.

Hire an Attorney: While you should notify your insurance company about the crash, it is important to limit any further communication. The insurance company will try to get you to accept an early offer to prevent you from retaining an attorney. They know that your chances of maximizing the benefits you receive are greatest when you have an attorney at your side.

Find a Personal Injury Attorney in Your Area

Have you been involved in a California car accident? Was the other driver underinsured or uninsured? The sooner you act, the better your chances of getting the money you deserve. Call an attorney in your jurisdiction today to request a free consultation.

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 car accidents 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.

My Friend Crashed My Car – Am I Liable?

People commonly loan out their cars to friends and family. But what happens when you loan out your car to someone and they get into an accident? Worse yet, what if the accident is the fault of your friend or loved one whom you let borrow your car?

The good news is this – car insurance policies cover the car and not the driver. So if you loan out your car to your neighbor and they cause an accident, you will be responsible for filing the claim with your insurance company.

Exceptions to the Rule

However, there are important exceptions to keep in mind. First, most insurance polices do not cover people you live with unless those people are added to your insurance. It seems odd that the people most likely to drive your car are not covered under the policy by default, but perhaps the insurance companies are trying avoid insuring someone who they normally would not cover. As such, check your policy carefully before loaning your car to someone you live with to understand whether or not they are covered.

Another important exception applies if you are using your vehicle for work-related purposes. For example, assume you own a small flower shop and use your personal car to make deliveries. Now assume further that you ask one of your employees to make a delivery in your personal car and they cause an accident in the course of that delivery. Generally, your personal policy excludes coverage if the vehicle was being used for business purposes, especially if the car was being used for delivery purposes.

Will Your Insurance Cover Everything?

In most states, you are required to have liability insurance for both property damage and personal injury. If you loan out your car to a friend they cause an accident, your liability insurance will cover the damages to the other party. However, if their damages are greater than your policy limit, then your friend’s insurance policy will cover the difference. But be careful, because if they person driving your car doesn’t have their own car insurance, then you will be responsible for anything beyond your policy limit.

What To Do After An Accident

If you loaned out your car to a friend or loved one and they caused an accident, you should consider speaking to an attorney in your local jurisdiction to better understand your rights. Given the potential pitfalls involved with loaning out your car, you may want consider simply giving your friend a ride or having them use public transportation.