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Car Accidents

What is a car accident? 

There is no specific limit to how much a plaintiff can seek in a car accident lawsuit. Car accident victims can sue the responsible parties for the full extent of their legal damages. This can range anywhere from a few thousand dollars to over $1,000,000. The severity of the injuries, the extent of the other party’s negligence, and the size of the insurance policies are major factors in determining the value of a case. These factors can substantially increase or decrease the settlement or verdict.

Suing For Compensation 

Suing For Compensation 

Car accident victims can sue for an amount of compensation that would cover their legal damages. They can also demand punitive damages, though these are rarely awarded in claims based on negligence. The legal representation of a personal injury lawyer is the best way to maximize this amount.

After a car accident, the victim will suffer legal damages. These are all of the ways that the car crash set the victim back. They include medical expenses, lost wages and any reduced earning capacity, pain and suffering, loss of consortium for the victim’s loved ones, and property damage.

Because the victim was not at-fault for the crash, they deserve to be compensated for all of these losses. Even if the crash was not deliberate – very few of them are – the negligent party is still the one who should be held responsible. He or she should pay financial compensation for the costs of these legal damages. Victims deserve to be made whole, once again.
The amount of financial compensation that would cover a victim’s legal damages will depend on the crash. Victims in fender-benders who did not suffer a bodily injury and only a small amount of vehicle damage may only be entitled to a few hundred dollars to repair their car. The family of a victim who was killed in a fatal motor vehicle accident will likely be entitled to far, far more in a wrongful death case.

Some types of damages, like pain and suffering, are difficult to put into a dollar amount. The best way for victims to recover the compensation they deserve for these types of damages is to get the legal advice of a personal injury attorney. Car accident lawyers have represented similar victims in the past. They are in a good position to know how much the victim can recover in a personal injury claim.

Hiring a car accident attorney from a reputable law firm can also increase the amount of a settlement or verdict in a car accident claim. Insurance companies often prey on unrepresented victims by having their adjusters make lowball offers to settle the case. These offers are usually made at a time when medical bills begin to accumulate and the victim is under financial strain. When car accident victims retain a lawyer, insurance companies often see that as a sign that they will have to make a fair settlement offer.

If the insurance carrier does not make a fair car accident settlement, a lawyer can help victims file a personal injury lawsuit before the statute of limitations has run.

Medical Bills 

Medical Bills

No, victims are entitled to all of their legal damages. Medical expenses are only one type of those legal damages.

This is contrary to what many insurance companies will lead injured drivers to believe. Worse, auto insurance companies may claim that the victim is only entitled to compensation for the medical bills that have already been paid. This is not the case.


Victims are entitled to compensation for all of their medical treatment, including what will likely be needed in the future. In a car accident case, a victim’s recoverable medical expenses include: emergency room care, ambulance fees, testing and diagnostic care, like X-rays and an MRI, surgical care, anesthesiology, post-operative care, even if it involves a hospital stay, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and any other medical expenses that stemmed from the accident.

This is in addition to the other forms of legal damages that the victim incurs, like pain and suffering.

Partially At Fault 

Partially At Fault 

Shared fault rules depend on the state. In many states, victims may see their share of compensation reduced by their percentage of fault. In many others, victims may be barred from recovering any compensation if they were more than half at fault. In a couple of states, victims can be barred from recovering if they contributed any fault to the car accident.

When the person suing over a car accident was partially to blame for it, there is shared fault. Different states in the U.S. have come up with different solutions for shared fault problems. There are 3 general answers pure comparative negligence, modified comparative negligence, and contributory negligence.

They all require jurors hearing the case at trial to assign a percentage of fault to each party.

In states that use pure comparative negligence, the plaintiff’s compensation is reduced by his or her percentage of fault. Many states, including California and Florida, use pure comparative negligence.

Modified comparative negligence also reduces compensation by the plaintiff’s share of fault. However, modified comparative negligence bars recovery if the plaintiff was more than half at fault. Many states, including Texas, use these rules.

Insurance Companies

Insurance Companies Pays For Settlement 

Yes, though the responsible driver’s insurance coverage will be a big factor in the victim’s recovery. If the responsible party was adequately insured, then the insurance company will pay for the settlement or verdict. If the responsible driver was not insured with liability insurance, though, he or she will have to pay out of their own pocket. This can leave the victim drastically under-compensated. If the at-fault driver is underinsured, then the driver’s insurance company will only pay a portion of the compensation.

The best outcome for the victim in a personal injury case stemming from an auto accident is if the responsible party’s insurance coverage is higher than the victim’s legal damages. This means that the at-fault driver is fully insured. In this case, the insurer will pay for all of the verdicts or settlements.

If the at-fault driver’s insurance policy has a limit that is lower than the victim’s legal damages, then the driver is underinsured. The insurer will compensate the victim, up to the policy limit. Whatever remains will have to come from some other source. This can be the responsible driver’s personal assets, the victim’s underinsured motorist policy if he or she has one, or some other party.

An uninsured driver has no liability coverage to pay for a verdict or settlement against them. Victims who get hit and hurt by uninsured drivers often struggle to find a source of financial compensation. They may have to turn to any assets that the uninsured driver has, an insurance claim against their own uninsured motorist coverage, if they have one, or some other party.
What you do after a car accident in California can determine whether you get your medical bills and car repairs paid, as well as pain and suffering damages. It can also keep you from violating California law and having your driver’s license suspended.
Even if you were at fault for a California car accident, the steps you take afterward can greatly affect your rights.

I recommend you follow these 15 steps if you are in an auto accident in California:
1. Stay at the Scene 
2. Get Medical Treatment 
3. Safety First 
4. Collect Information 
5. Exchange Contact Info
6. Do Not Admit Anything 
7. Do Not Say You Are Not Hurt 
8. Leave Your Contact Information    
9. Take photos of the accident 
10. Write Down Information 
11. Document your injuries
12. Report the accident to the California DMV
13. Notify your insurance company
14. When you can safely not report an accident
15. Consider retaining a California personal injury lawyer

At-fault drivers have financial responsibility for damages under state law in California.

Stay At the Scene

Stay At the Scene 

If someone was injured or killed, remain at the accident scene until the police come unless you need immediate medical assistance.

Leaving the scene of an accident involving injury could get you charged with a hit and run. Penalties can include a fine of up to $10,000 and up to one year in jail (more if the injury is serious or someone dies).

If the only harm appears to be property damage, you may legally leave the accident scene after identifying yourself to the parties involved. Failure to identify yourself constitutes a misdemeanor hit and run. Penalties can include a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to 6 months in jail.

If the other involved driver(s) fled the scene, contact the police. If the police can track them down, then you can file a claim against his/her insurer. But if the at-fault driver is never found, you may still be able to recover damages from your own insurer if you have uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage and/or comprehensive and collision coverage.

Get Medical Treatment 

Get Medical Treatment 

If you were injured and need immediate medical assistance, do not wait for the police.

Call 911 or ask someone else to call for you. If someone else is taking you to the Emergency Room, make sure you leave your contact information with the other driver(s) first if you are able.

Safety First 

Safety First 

If it is safe to do so, move your car to the shoulder or somewhere else safe. Cars that are blocking traffic can result in further injuries to you or other people.

But leave the cars where they are if moving them would be dangerous.

You should also leave the cars where they are and wait for law enforcement if someone was killed or seriously injured, unless the cars pose a significant hazard.

Collect Information

Collect Information

Once you have moved the cars (if appropriate) and/or sought medical attention for those injured, write down or photograph The license plate number of every other vehicle involved in the accident, The year, make, model and color of the other vehicle(s), and If possible, the other vehicle(s)’ Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).

You will need this information in order to report the accident as legally required to the California DMV.

The VIN is usually listed on a driver’s insurance card and registration. But it is a good idea to confirm it physically, especially if the driver is uninsured.

Do not, however, attempt to get the VIN number from the other driver’s vehicle if the driver won’t cooperate. Touching the other person’s vehicle without consent is a bad idea.

You can find the VIN on a car On the driver’s side dashboard (where it meets the windshield), and Inside the driver’s side door (where the door latches when it is closed).

On a motorcycle, the VIN usually appears on the left side of the steering head.

Exchange Contact Information

Exchange Contact Information

Ask to see the other driver’s license, insurance information and registration.

If you can, take a photo of these documents. Otherwise, write down the numbers.

You should also, if possible, get contact information from everyone else who was involved in, or who witnessed the accident.

If a law enforcement officer comes to the scene, get the officer’s name and write it down as well.

Be sure to provide your info to the other driver, regardless of who was at fault.

Do Not Say Anything is Your Fault 

Do Not Say Anything is Your Fault 

It is extremely important not to admit to any wrongdoing even if you think the accident was your fault.

You may be wrong. Or the other driver may be partially to blame under California’s “shared fault / pure comparative negligence” law. Or the problem could be bad road design, highway construction negligence, and negligence from the car manufacturer or service provider.

Even apologizing can be misconstrued and keep you from getting the compensatory damages you need from your or the other driver’s insurance company.

Do ask, however, whether the other driver is injured or needs medical assistance.

If the other driver pressures you to accept blame for the accident politely ask him or her to call your insurance company.

Do Not Say You Are Okay 

Do Not Say You Are Okay 

Even if you think you were not injured in the car crash, do not tell that to the other driver.

Soft-tissue injuries are not always immediately apparent. Saying you are not hurt gives the other driver’s insurance company an excuse to deny your claim or offer you less than it is worth.

That does not mean that you should lie. A lie can come back to undermine your credibility.

You can simply say you don’t know and will be seeking medical attention if necessary.

Leave Your Contact Information

Leave Your Contact Information

If you hit an unoccupied vehicle or other property, California law requires you to do one of two things Locate the owner and present him or her with your driver’s license and registration, or Leave a written note with your name and address in a conspicuous place on the vehicle or property and promptly notify either: The police department of the city wherein the collision occurred or, If the collision occurred in unincorporated territory, the local headquarters of the Department of the California Highway Patrol.

By law, a note must include the circumstances. However, it should say as little as possible — for instance that your vehicle collided with the owner’s property.

Make sure you note the address where the collision happened so that you can report it.

Take Photos of the Scene 

Take Photos of the Scene 

If you are able to do so safely, photos of the scene of the accident and the vehicles involved can help your lawyer or adjuster determine what happened. Try to photograph all of the vehicle damage and any bodily injury.

It can also prevent someone from claiming that you are responsible for any damage the vehicle or property later sustains.

If it is not safe to take photos of the accident scene, or if you had to leave to seek medical help, return as soon as you are able if there is a safe place to take photos.

Even afterward, photos can help your California injury lawyer or your insurance adjuster get an idea of what happened. Photos of an accident can help you prove your damages.

Write Down Information

Write Down Information

As soon as is practical, write down everything you can think of about the accident, no matter how unimportant it may seem.

Details will fade along with the shock of the accident, so the sooner you record your impressions the better.

Things to write down or record include (but are not limited to) The time and date of the accident, The cross streets and direction of travel of each vehicle, Your best estimate of each driver’s speed, The color of any traffic lights that were visible, and Any adverse road conditions (such as potholes or bad weather).

Take Note of Injuries 

Take Note of Injuries 

Take, or have someone else take, photographs of any visible injuries with your phone or camera.

If you seek medical attention, ask a nurse or other health professional to take photos of your injuries as well.

As soon as you can, also write down or record your own impressions of what hurts or is damaged.

The more evidence of your injuries that is documented, the better your chance of your personal injury attorney getting you the recovery you deserve.

Car accident injuries range from minor and cosmetic to catastrophic and disabling. Common examples include broken bones (“fractures”), spinal cord injuries and/or broken backs or necks, traumatic brain injuries, cuts, lacerations, and bruises (soft tissue injuries), burns, scarring and disfigurement. 

No less important is the emotional distress collisions can cause, leading to major mental and psychological damage – even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Report the Accident to the DMV

Report the Accident to the California DMV

California law requires you to notify the California Department of Motor Vehicles within 10 days of an accident if anyone was killed, anyone was injured (even if the injury was minor), or the accident resulted in more than $1,000 of damage.

If you are not certain, make the accident report anyway, especially if you will be putting the claim through your California auto insurance.

Accidents must be reported to the DMV on California DMV Form SR1.

Notify Your Insurance Company

Notify Your Insurance Company

Many people do not file a car accident claim in California for fear their rates will go up. California is one of only two states that legally prohibit auto insurers from raising rates if an accident is not the policy holder’s fault.

Furthermore, most auto insurance policies require motorists to report an accident promptly to have a viable insurance claim.

And even if the accident was your fault, it is usually best to report it. The other party may report it (even if the driver says he/she won’t), putting you at risk of a suspended driver’s license as well as canceled car insurance.

Early reporting also gives your insurer a better chance to defend your injury claim in a car accident case.

Note that every motorist in California must carry at least $15,000 of bodily injury coverage per person, $30,000 of bodily injury coverage per accident, and $5,000 of property damage liability. California’s car insurance laws are fault-based, so crash victims would file claims with the at-fault party’s insurer.

No Need To Report Accident

No Need To Report Accident

The one time it makes sense not to report an accident is if no other driver was involved and your car sustained only minor damage which you can live with or are willing to pay out-of-pocket to repair.

For instance, let’s say you damaged your car by backing into or scraping a wall and you do not have collision insurance, you have collision insurance but the cost of repairs is close to your deductible level or an amount you can easily afford.

In such a case car accident victims may choose to leave their car “as is” or pay for the repairs out of pocket.

Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer 

Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer 

If you have been injured in a car crash, you usually have only a two-year statute of limitations after the crash to bring a lawsuit in California. You are encouraged to retain an experienced California car accident attorney as soon as possible to help protect your rights and evaluate all the evidence – including the police report – to determine whether you have a right to compensation.

An experienced lawyer may also be able to help you find a doctor who will accept a medical lien in California if you cannot afford to pay for treatment. Your lawyer can also draft an insurance demand letter that is likely to get a settlement offer that may cover your existing medical bills and future medical expenses; disability accommodations; lost wages, past and future; pain and suffering, including loss of enjoyment of life (“non-economic damages”); and/or property damage, including repairing or replacing the vehicle.

(Punitive damages come into play only if the case goes to trial and does not settle.)

Finally, a good California injury lawyer knows all the insurance companies’ tricks and understands the insurance code. Your lawyer can save you the headache of dealing with your own and the other person(s)’ adjuster(s) so that you get the best settlement possible.


If your loved one was killed in a car accident, see our related article on bringing a wrongful death lawsuit. In 2019 alone, there were 3,606 traffic-related fatalities in California. The victim’s family may be able to recover damages for loss of support and funeral expenses.

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