California Auto Accident Lawyer
California has more cars on the road than any other state in the U.S. As a result, auto accidents are bound to happen daily in the Golden State. Injuries like whiplash, broken bones, concussions, and paralysis are all known to be associated with a car collision. If you have been in a car accident in California, then it is important that you familiarize yourself with the personal injury claims process and seek out the help of a skilled personal injury lawyer immediately. At Vardanyan Law Firm, we aggressively pursue auto accident personal injury claims and fight hard to ensure that you receive the compensation that you deserve. We specialize in litigating claims and taking them to trial. Reach out to us today for a free consultation by calling (747) 777-9725 or by contacting us online.
Statute Of Limitations
Someone injured in a car accident does not have the luxury of spending years considering whether to file a lawsuit against the person who caused the crash. Someone with severe injuries may not even have enough time to complete medical treatment before they must bring their claim. This is due to the statute of limitations, which restricts the time allowed to file almost any legal claim.
A statute of limitations is the deadline a plaintiff has to file their lawsuit in court. Missing this deadline means a case could be dismissed, leaving the plaintiff with no enforceable method of recourse against the defendant. Statutes of limitations vary by state and claim and may also be subject to certain exceptions.
According to Cal. CCP § 335.1, the statute of limitations for an injury or wrongful death claim is two years from the date of the wrongful act. However, this should not be confused with the statute of limitations to bring a claim for property damage to a vehicle caused by an accident. In California, the statute of limitations for just the property damage claim—not the personal injury claim—is three years from the date of the accident.
One of the potential exceptions to California’s two-year statute of limitations for auto accident injuries is if the defendant is a government actor. Any California government employee acting in their official duties is technically considered an “agent” of the government for injury claim purposes. Another exception is if the accident victim succumbed to their injuries. The statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim in California starts running when the victim dies, not on the date of the accident. Minors injured in accidents in California have two years from their 18th birthday to bring a personal injury claim if a parent or legal guardian hasn’t done so already.
Insurance Company Standard Procedures
In most car accident claims, at least one driver’s insurance company will be heavily involved in defending the claim. It is up to the accident victim to find a lawyer to represent them or even self-represent in the injury claim. Regardless of whether the plaintiff retains an attorney, it’s essential to be familiar with insurance company practices to avoid falling victim to their tactics.
To initiate the personal injury claim process, an accident victim must send a demand letter to the at-fault party’s insurance provider. This demand letter should clearly and convincingly state all the damages incurred due to the accident.
The amount requested for each type of damage should be thought out carefully. For example, suppose a plaintiff only requests their current medical expenses without considering their long-term medical costs. In that case, the insurance company may jump on that settlement offer knowing it will save them thousands of dollars.
The insurance adjuster assigned to the claim will review the demand letter, accept it, or make a counteroffer. The amount the insurance adjuster offers will likely be far from what the plaintiff requests in the demand letter. The adjuster will probably provide reasoning for why the damages that the plaintiff requested are too much for the company’s protocols. A self-represented plaintiff needs to be prepared for ongoing negotiations to achieve a settlement sum near their initial demand.
Another common insurance adjuster tactic is requiring the accident victim to give statements about the incident while being recorded. The insurance adjuster will already be trained in which threads to pull in the interview, making it seem like the plaintiff was more at fault for the accident than the insured defendant.
The adjuster might make the plaintiff’s medical care seem unnecessary or spin their claim to make it seem frivolous and litigious. The adjuster may refuse to proceed with the claim until the plaintiff agrees to this recorded interview.
If an accident victim wants to avoid giving a recorded interview, they should consider retaining a personal injury attorney. Once a personal injury attorney is retained, the adjuster must conduct all affairs regarding the accident through the attorney first.
Valuable Evidence In Accident Claims
The insurance company won’t pay an injury settlement just because they receive a demand letter. It will require several pieces of evidence to support an injury claim, and a lack of specific evidence can be highly damaging to the plaintiff’s case.
If an injury isn’t severe enough to require medical attention, it won’t be given much attention as a personal injury claim. Anyone in an accident should seek medical attention as soon as possible, even if the incident seems minor.
Seeing a doctor will make sure that the injury is documented. The doctor might find injuries that the injured person isn’t aware of. If the doctor wants the accident victim to continue coming in for further treatment or follow-up appointments, this advice should be followed as closely to the doctor’s instructions as possible. The doctor may also prescribe medications to address symptoms from injuries caused by the accident. Other treatments, like physical or occupational therapy, may also be recommended.
One of the first things a driver should do after an accident is to take pictures of their injuries and the damage to their vehicle. Photos taken at the scene can have more impact than those taken hours or days afterward when wounds have more time to heal.
It can also be helpful to take photos of conditions that affected the accident, such as a malfunctioning stop light or road work. There should be as many clear photos as possible, taken from as many angles as necessary, to show the extent of the damage.
Sometimes, pictures can’t convey the true impact and trauma that a traffic collision causes. Or it may be hard for the jury to understand the depth of the defendant’s negligence. Reconstructing the scene of an accident can make it more clear how the accident occurred and why the defendant is to blame. A personal injury attorney should have contacts with skilled accident reconstruction experts who can help prove why all the damages requested by the plaintiff are necessary.
Unless an accident involves not much more than scratched paint, it Is advisable to call the police to the scene of an auto accident to issue a police report. The police report can contain several details about the accident, including its location, the conditions of the road and weather, and more.
The police may even designate one driver as at fault for the accident in the police report. While a fault designation in a police report won’t be determinative, it can be helpful when pursuing compensation for accident injuries.
When eyewitnesses are at the scene of an auto accident, they can be helpful later in a resulting personal injury claim. It is best to gather witnesses’ information from the accident scene because they could be challenging to locate later. This is another reason that having the police at the scene of the accident can be helpful—they can get the contact information of eyewitnesses when the accident victim is physically unable to do so.
In some cases, the plaintiff may be able to track down video footage of the accident. They may have a dash camera, as could a driver nearby during the incident. Some intersections may have traffic cameras, even if it’s just a red-light camera catching one driver running a red light before colliding with the other driver. If the accident occurred outside a business establishment, they might have security footage of the accident. A nearby house may even have a doorbell camera that captures footage of a traffic collision.
While not necessary in most accident claims, serious cases may require using one or more expert witnesses. Expert witnesses can give testimony about detailed aspects of the accident and the plaintiff’s injuries and medical treatment. For example, if a plaintiff had their foot crushed in an accident, it may take longer than the statute of limitations period to heal fully. An expert witness, such as a podiatrist, could give testimony regarding the side effects of the plaintiff’s medications, how their injuries would impact their daily activities, and more.
Expert witness testimony can help prove non-monetary damages, such as pain and suffering. However, expert witnesses can be expensive. The plaintiff must consider the costs of expert witness testimony before using experts in their personal injury claim.
The Cost Of Waiting Out An Insurance Claim
Many California households cannot cover their medical expenses, time missed from work, and other costs stemming from an accident while waiting for a personal injury claim to be resolved. Some insurance adjusters will even rely on this likelihood to their advantage in claims negotiations. A plaintiff in an accident claim may need to get creative to cover their costs while waiting to settle a claim or take it to trial.
Health care can be expensive, even when the accident victim has “good” health insurance coverage. If the injured person doesn’t have health insurance, the costs of a serious accident could be astronomical.
An accident victim with out-of-pocket costs should check their auto insurance policy for MedPay coverage. Some states require their drivers to maintain MedPay coverage, but California isn’t one of them. This type of coverage is optional on auto insurance policies but can come in handy in these situations.
MedPay can cover out-of-pocket healthcare costs after an accident, regardless of which driver was at fault. It may also cover injuries sustained in someone else’s car or as a pedestrian. MedPay doesn’t cover expenses related to injuries, like childcare, lost wages, etc. Most policies cover medical expenses between $1,000 and $5,000.
Some states require or allow drivers to obtain Personal Injury Protection or PIP coverage. This coverage differs from MedPay because it covers medical and non-medical expenses, such as lost wages. However, California doesn’t allow PIP policies, leaving MedPay as the alternative.
Even with health insurance and MedPay coverage, a victim of a serious auto accident could still be left with medical bills they can’t afford. When this is the case, the plaintiff should seek medical treatment using medical liens to secure payment.
When a doctor treats on a medical lien basis, the patient doesn’t pay until their case has been settled. The cost of all medical care the doctor provides will be repaid, plus interest, when the plaintiff receives their award. Typically, a doctor won’t treat on a medical lien basis unless it seems highly likely that the plaintiff will receive a settlement or prevail at trial.
Finding doctors who will accept medical liens as payment can be tricky. Additionally, if the plaintiff needs coordinating medical treatments by multiple physicians, this will complicate things even further. Here is another instance where retaining a personal injury attorney will become helpful. A seasoned injury attorney should be familiar with medical providers who accept medical liens and help connect their clients with these doctors.
Medical liens aren’t every accident victim’s first choice of payment. First, a medical provider will only accept medical liens if the plaintiff can show that it is financially necessary. Secondly, medical liens carry a significant risk. If a plaintiff is unsuccessful in their claim but has received treatment on a medical lien basis, they will still owe that amount to their medical providers.
While medical providers are usually relatively flexible creditors, it still isn’t ideal to end up in debt after a failed personal injury claim. The plaintiff’s personal injury attorney may need to negotiate a reduced balance or a payment plan to make it more affordable for the plaintiff.
When an accident victim is on Medi-Cal and needs liens to cover their out-of-pocket costs, it is referred to as a Medi-Cal lien. Medical expenses paid by Medi-Cal must be reimbursed; this process is known as “subrogation.” California’s Department of Health Care Services, or DHCS, is in charge of pursuing reimbursement for injury claim expenses paid for by Medi-Cal. Patients who use Medi-Cal liens have strict reporting requirements that make it easier for the DHCS to keep track of in the Personal Injury Program.
Comparative Fault In Auto Accident Claims
According to Cal. CCP § 1714, California is a pure comparative fault state. Some states use the doctrine of contributory negligence, which prevents accident victims from collecting compensation for their claims if they were even partially at fault for the accident. However, in California, accident victims can sue for damages, even if they were 99% at fault for the accident.
When determining responsibility in an accident, the blame may be apportioned between the plaintiff and the defendant, but there is a possibility for third-party involvement. There are limited circumstances in which a plaintiff could be 99% at fault for an accident and still come out ahead in an injury claim, and California does allow for collection if so.
There are many ways that a plaintiff could be partially at fault for an accident that was otherwise due to another driver’s negligence. Examples include:
- Rolling through a stop sign
- Failure to use turn signals
- Failure to use headlights
- Lane drifting
- Sudden braking
Because insurance companies are always looking for ways to reduce how much they pay in injury claims, comparative fault is a great way to attack a plaintiff’s case. The claim’s value will be reduced proportionately based on the plaintiff’s fault in the accident. For example, the defendant collides with the plaintiff, causing physical injuries and damages totaling $200,000. At the time of the accident, the plaintiff was on their cell phone and going slightly over the speed limit.
The insurance company will likely exaggerate the severity of such infractions and assign the plaintiff a percentage of fault in the accident. If they assigned the plaintiff 10% fault in the accident, the plaintiff’s damages would be reduced by $20,000. If the insurance company successfully increases the plaintiff’s fault to 15%, their damages will be reduced by $30,000, saving the insurance company an additional $10,000.
Using comparative fault as a means of savings can add up quickly. The insurance company has a significant incentive to try to prove that the plaintiff was at fault for their injuries.
Pain And Suffering
Most people know they can collect expenses, like medical costs, lost wages, and more, from a personal injury claim. These damages are economic, meaning their value can be mathematically calculated and proven. But damages like medical expenses and lost wages don’t compensate the accident victim for the other negative aspects of recovering from an accident.
For example, dealing with multiple doctor’s appointments can be stressful. The accident itself was traumatic. The accident victim likely needs to go through the inconvenience of getting their car fixed or purchasing a new car altogether. They might not be able to help around the house and maintain the same relationship with their children and significant other as they did before the crash. While some of these adverse effects can be pursued in their specific categories of damages, many claims lump them into a category of noneconomic damage known as “pain and suffering.”
Pain and suffering are highly subjective. It can also be one of the most significant categories of damages pursued in a personal injury claim. That makes it complex and of great concern for insurance adjusters.
There are a few commonly used methods to estimate a plaintiff’s pain and suffering. One method commonly used in California is the daily rate method. Here, a dollar value must be assigned to the pain, trauma, and stress the plaintiff experiences daily due to injuries from the accident. This number could be a few hundred or several thousand dollars if the injuries are particularly severe. Then, that daily rate must be multiplied by the number of days that the plaintiff’s pain and suffering will likely continue.
Another method of estimating pain and suffering in a California personal injury claim is the multiplier method. Instead of assigning a daily rate to pain, a multiplier will be assigned to the damages based on the severity of the injuries. The multiplier is usually between one and five. The plaintiff’s economic damages, like medical bills and lost wages, will be multiplied by the assigned number to reach the estimated pain and suffering amount.
Contingency Fee Agreements
Considering all the costs that an injured accident victim can incur, it may seem implausible to add attorney’s fees. Many attorneys will require several thousands of dollars upfront as a retainer fee, which is just the beginning. Fortunately, many accident lawyers work on what is known as a “contingency basis.”
A lawyer working for a contingency fee doesn’t receive any money from the client initially. The lawyer’s payment is contingent upon the client’s success, meaning they only get paid if they negotiate a settlement or win at trial. The amount the attorney receives will be a percentage that is agreed upon when the lawyer and client enter the contract. If the client receives nothing from the personal injury claim, neither will the lawyer.
California Auto Accident FAQs
What Should I Tell The Other Driver At The Scene Of The Accident?
Even if you were partially at fault for the accident, it’s best to avoid saying this at the scene of the accident to the other driver. Even if your fault was minor, the insurance company might use this to exaggerate your fault and decrease your award.
Do I Include Property Damage In My Personal Injury Claim?
No. Although property damage can be used as an indicator of noneconomic damages, the property damage claim for damage to a vehicle will be separate from a personal injury claim.
What Happens If I Settle My Claim And Later Discover Further Injury?
When an accident victim settles a claim with the insurance company, a release prevents the plaintiff from suing the defendant or the insurance company again for any damages resulting from that accident. Unfortunately, this scenario is not uncommon with whiplash injuries. Symptoms from whiplash and other injuries can remain dormant for days, weeks, or even longer.
Should I Sue On Behalf Of My Minor Child?
Pursuing an injury claim when the victim is a minor can be tricky. Children may be more susceptible to serious injury in a car accident. Most vehicles are designed with adults’ safety in mind.
It can be more difficult for doctors to fully assess the damage an accident causes to a child versus an adult. Because a child is still developing, some injuries that would only be temporary to adults may cause permanent impairment in a child. It may also be risky to proceed with some types of medical treatments until the child’s body is further developed. For these reasons and more, some parents and legal guardians use the statute of limitations exception for minor accident victims, which allows more time to assess the injuries.
The statute of limitations for a minor accident victim (whose parent or legal guardian didn’t bring a claim while the child was under 18) starts running when they turn 18. The minor will then have until they turn 20 to file a lawsuit for an accident that injured them at any point in their childhood. Talk to a personal injury attorney about whether it would be better to file a claim on behalf of your child now or wait until your child is older.
What If A Third Vehicle Is Involved With The Accident?
A third vehicle (or more) involved in an accident will complicate the injury claim. More than two defendants could be named in a personal injury claim if more than one other driver was at fault. Because multi-party claims are so complex, you should speak to a car accident attorney before starting such a claim.
What If My Injuries Have Interfered With My Relationship With My Spouse?
Severe physical injuries can put a strain on even the strongest romantic relationships. They can make physical intimacy difficult, painful, or even impossible. The injured person’s partner may be overwhelmed with taking over more household responsibilities. An accident victim’s spouse could spend hours upon hours driving their partner to appointments, helping with physical therapy, picking up prescriptions, and more. These strains on a relationship can be added to the damages suffered in a personal injury claim. This type of compensation is sometimes called loss of consortium, but it can also be called loss of companionship.
California Auto Accident Lawyers
If you have suffered injuries or sustained damages as a result of an auto accident, then the law limits the amount of time that you have to file a claim and receive compensation. That is why it is crucial that you talk with a California auto accident lawyer before it is too late. At Vardanyan Law Firm, it is important that our clients receive the best representation possible, so the earlier you give us a call, the better your chances will be to receive a fair settlement offer or obtain a favorable judgment at trial. Our firm has been built around aggressively pursuing auto accident claims and ensuring that each case receives the attention and care that it deserves. Reach out to us today for a free consultation by calling (747) 777-9725 or by contacting us online. We look forward to hearing from you.