Thousands of motor vehicle accidents occur every year on roads throughout Sacramento. For most motorists, this means the temporary inconvenience of longer than usual commutes. For the individuals actually injured in car crashes, they know that they have a long, difficult road ahead of them. Such accidents are often traumatic, stressful, and overwhelming, followed by the confusion and anxiety inherent in navigating a personal injury claim. After experiencing a car accident, victims will not only need adequate time to recover from their injuries fully, but they will also need expert help from a Sacramento motor vehicle accident lawyer to pursue compensation from those who caused their accidents.
At The Ward Firm, we make it our mission to help you receive justice and recover the compensation you deserve. Our experienced personal injury attorney, Justin Ward, will aggressively pursue a resolution of your claim while treating you with care and compassion throughout every step of this complicated, time-consuming process. We know that you are trusting us to help make things right for you in such a highly intimidating and challenging situation, so we take our responsibilities to you seriously.
What You Should Do If You’ve Been Involved in an Auto Accident
If you are involved in a car accident in California, you need to follow specific steps to prevent any further injury, damage, or complications and to ensure the best chances of resolving appropriate compensation in the future. After a car accident, make sure you take the following five steps, then contact the experienced Sacramento motor vehicle accidents lawyers from The Ward Firm so we can get started on your personal injury claim.
Step One: Consider Safety First
Immediately after the accident, you must make a timely assessment of the situation and any injuries or damage, then choose how to proceed based on this information. If your car is positioned in a way that disrupts traffic and is still operable, move it out of the way to a safer location to avoid further collisions and more extensive damage. Save this step for later if you are in an area with little or no traffic. As long as it is safe to do so, investigate any vehicle involved in the accident to determine the extent of the damage, and to find out if the driver or passengers need medical assistance. If you can see anyone who sustained an injury or perished from the accident, contact emergency services right away. Perform basic first aid for injured individuals while you wait for emergency services to arrive.
Step Two: Report the Accident
California law requires you to contact law enforcement in the event of any car accident. Call the local police in the area where the accident occurred or the California Highway Patrol if you are in an unincorporated area. Along with being a legal obligation, making an accident report is essential if you plan to pursue any future claims against the other driver based on their responsibility for the accident and any injuries or damages sustained as a result.
Step Three: Exchange Information
After the accident is reported to the proper authorities, the next step is to exchange information with the other driver, assuming they are conscious and able to respond. Important information to exchange includes the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of any involved parties, as well as the driver’s license plate, license number, vehicle identification number (VIN), and insurance information, primarily the insurance company’s name and the specific policy number. If you see any witnesses to the accident, ask them for their names and contact information so that you can get in touch with them later to provide support for your personal injury claim.
Step Four. Document the Accident
Document as much relevant information as you can, such as the time, place, and location. Use your phone to take photos of the accident scene from several angles and distances to provide a comprehensive picture of the situation surrounding the accident. Along with photos of the vehicle damage and property damage, make sure to include traffic controls, signs, and any visual or physical obstacles around the scene that may have contributed to the accident. Photographic evidence serves as a vital component in any car accident claim and can significantly impact the compensation amount you receive.
Step Five. Additional Reports
California law obliges you to contact the Department of Motor Vehicles within 10 days after a car accident if it involved injury, death, or property damage over $1,000. The DMV will require you to complete a Traffic Accident Occurring Report in California, also known as an SR-1 form. You must also report the accident to your insurance company, so they can initiate an investigation of the accident. To ensure you complete all steps according to California law, hire an experienced Sacramento motor vehicle accidents lawyer. Contact The Ward Firm at 916-496-3899 to discuss your car accident and learn how we can help you.
An Explanation of California Car Accidents Laws
In California, several laws determine how to respond appropriately in the event of a car accident, including minimum insurance requirements, reporting requirements, the statute of limitations for car accident claims, determining liability, and conducting insurance investigations. If you are involved in a car accident, it is necessary to understand these laws and how they can affect your car accident claim.
Minimum Auto Insurance Requirements in California
California law requires that anyone owning a vehicle in the state must be held financially responsible for any accidents they become involved in. State insurance code stipulates that, at minimum, all vehicles be covered with what is known as 15/30/5 insurance. This provides coverage of up to $15,000 for injuries sustained by or the death of one person, $30,000 for any injuries sustained by or the deaths of more than one person, and $5,000 for property damage. Motorists must keep proof of insurance on their person at all times, so it is readily available to provide to law enforcement if they become involved in a car accident. Failure to possess proof of insurance may lead to incurring fines or losing driving privileges.
In addition to laws pertaining to motorists, California also has laws governing the kinds of coverage available from insurance companies. The law requires that car insurance companies offer uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage and uninsured motorist coverage. These coverage forms encompass any injuries or property damage caused by a motorist with insufficient insurance or without any insurance. Uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage can equal the total amount of the uninsured person’s liability coverage. In contrast, uninsured motorist coverage can cover the difference between this liability coverage and the actual damages sustained in the accident.
Along with the minimum car insurance coverage required by California, motorists may purchase supplemental insurance. California has what is referred to as a tort-based insurance system, meaning that if you cause an accident, anyone injured in this accident can file a claim against you to seek compensation for damages that total any amounts beyond the maximum covered by your insurance. Because of this, many motorists choose to purchase additional insurance, such as increased liability insurance, comprehensive coverage, collision coverage, medical payment coverage, and theft coverage.
Car Accident Reporting Requirements in California
California state requires that any motorist involved in a car accident must stop at the accident scene, identify if anyone is injured, offer them first aid, and exchange important information with any other drivers involved in the accident. According to California Vehicle Code § 20008, if a car accident results in injury or death within 24 hours after the accident, the driver or a selected representative must fill out a written report with the California Highway Patrol or the local police department in the area the accident occurred. This step is not required if a law enforcement officer responded to the accident because they will prepare their own report, and a separate report is not needed.
Under California Vehicle Code §16000, any motorist involved in a car accident must submit a report to the Department of Motor Vehicles within 10 days of the accident if it involves injury or death or a person or property damage over $750. This report will include the names and addresses of all drivers and any injured parties, the birth date, insurance information, driver’s license information of the drivers, the location, time, and date the accident occurred, and a thorough explanation of resulting injuries and property damage.
Statute of Limitations for Car Accident Claim in California
The statute of limitations is defined as the amount of time following a car accident that you have to file legal actions, such as personal injury claims. California state law specifies a two-year statute of limitations for claims of bodily injury and a three-year statute of limitations for property damage claims. If an accident victim files a claim against a negligent driver after the statute of limitations has expired, the judge will typically dismiss the case without reviewing it.
In rare circumstances, this statute of limitations may be “tolled” or subject to a temporary pause until a specific action occurs. This would include situations where the plaintiff is unable to locate the intended defendant, the defendant is currently imprisoned, the victim is under the age of 18 or mentally incapacitated, or there exists a reasonable delay between the accident and the discovery of a related injury. Additionally, some circumstances entail that the statute of limitations may be shortened, such as when a member of a state, county, or local government is involved. In this type of case, the statute of limitations is reduced to six months from the accident date, and an administrative claim must be filed, as well.
Determining Liability in a Sacramento, California Car Accident Claim
The predominant aspect of car accident claims handled by Sacramento motor vehicle accidents lawyers is the determination of liability. This usually focuses on resolving how a specific party was negligent, meaning they acted in a manner that would not be expected from a reasonably careful individual. A reasonably careful individual displays a reasonable degree of caution while driving and obeys all traffic laws. Not maintaining proper situational awareness, disobeying traffic laws, signs, or signs, and driving while intoxicated are a few examples of negligence that result in liability.
In many cases, the negligent motorist fails to follow one or more basic rules of the road, including:
- Speed limits—During daylight and optimal driving conditions, drivers must follow all posted speed limits. When driving conditions are not ideal, such as driving during nighttime hours or extreme weather events, drivers should reduce their speed to account for these hazards and avoid the potential for accidents.
- Preemption—When a driver leaves a road, driveway, or alley to merge onto another road or highway, they must exercise appropriate caution and yield to all oncoming traffic. This allows for sufficient time and distance to enter the road while avoiding a disruption of traffic flow that could result in an accident.
- Following distance—While following another vehicle, drivers must leave an appropriate amount of space between their vehicle and the vehicle traveling in front of them so that a sudden stop will not cause an accident. Drivers who collide with the vehicles they are following are typically found negligent and liable for the accident because they did not maintain a safe following distance.
- Distracted driving—Drivers must avoid any distractions that divert their attention or their eyes from the road while driving or cause them to remove their hands from the steering wheel. One of the biggest forms of distracted driving that leads to car accidents is the use of electronic devices, such as texting, reading GPS directions, or adjusting the radio.
As part of the claim process, your Sacramento motor vehicle accidents lawyer will evaluate the circumstances of your accident to decide which of the above rules were violated. When the case is presented to the court, a judge or jury will consider these rule violations when determining the compensation amount to be awarded to an accident victim.
Conducting Insurance Investigations in a California Car Crash
In most car accident cases involving injury, death, or property damage, the victim’s insurance company will select a claims adjuster to conduct a thorough investigation into the accident, and the factors involved. The adjuster typically requests written or verbal accounts of the accident from all parties and any witnesses, as well as proof of damages sustained, such as any medical records, medical bills, or documentation of lost wages resulting from the damage.
Sacramento, California’s Pure Comparative Negligence System
When attempting to determine liability in a car accident claim, the state of California operates based on a comparative negligence system if more than one individual or entity can be considered negligent. This system acknowledges that car accidents can feature multiple parties with different degrees of fault and holds these parties financially responsible for any damages resulting from the accident. Pure comparative negligence applies when a judge or jury must determine the liability of multiple parties and when an insurance claims adjuster reviews a claim to discover which parties are at fault and to what degree, then develops a settlement offer based on this information.
In the pure comparative negligence system, every individual determined to be responsible for causing an accident is considered legally liable and is held financially responsible for the portion of the accident in which they are at fault. This ensures the victim receives compensation to cover the damages they sustain while also preventing a victim from receiving compensation for the portion of the accident they contributed to. For example, if a victim is determined to be 30% at fault for damages that total $100,000, the damages they are filing the claim for will be reduced by 30% to equal $70,000.
Under this system, even if a victim’s actions directly contributed to the accident, they are not prohibited from seeking and receiving compensation from the other parties found to be at fault for this accident. For example, if a driver is found to be 80% responsible for a car accident, they are still legally able to pursue a claim against the defendant for the other 20%. California law contrasts with laws in other states on this point. In car accident claims in other states, the victim may only receive compensation if they are considered to be at fault for a portion of the accident amounting to 50% or less, or if the other parties’ combined liability equals a higher amount than the victim’s degree of liability.
What Is the Value of Your Car Accident Claim?
California law affirms that personal injury victims retain the right to compensation for damages they suffered due to the negligent behavior of others. The value of a car accident claim depends on the variety of factors associated with the accident, including the severity of injuries and the extent of any property damages sustained from the accident. A Sacramento motor vehicle accidents lawyer will review your case and, often with assistance from an expert witness, calculate an estimated compensation amount you can expect to receive based on these factors.
Compensation will comprise the following types of damage:
- Property damage—As the result of an accident, your car may have suffered damage from minor dents to significant structural damage requiring total replacement. The more extensive the property damage, the higher the amount of money required to repair the vehicle or, in the event of more severe damage, replace it with a new vehicle.
- Economic damage—Economic damages include current medical expenses, cost of continuing or long-term care in the future, loss of wages during treatment and recovery, loss of earning potential, and other costs. The more severe and prolonged the injuries, the higher the economic damages. In addition to physical injury, victims of a car accident can suffer from emotional trauma that requires therapy or other mental health services.
- Non-economic damage—Also referred to as pain and suffering, non-economic damages consist of any emotional or psychological distress experienced due to an accident or the resulting injuries. Your Sacramento motor vehicle accidents lawyer will employ precedent in past personal injury cases with similar circumstances as a reference to calculate compensation for pain and suffering based on the unique details of the accident.
Choose A Ward Firm Accident Attorney for Aggressive, Top-Quality Auto Injury Representation
Our expert team at The Ward Firm will thoroughly investigate the accident, gather, and analyze appropriate evidence to determine the factors involved in the auto accident, carefully prepare your claim, and argue your case to the court. Our goal is to help you get back to where you were before the accident happened, including making sure you receive the medical care you need to treat your injuries. Throughout your claim, we will be aggressive when negotiating with insurance companies, because we know that they will be reluctant to pay you fair compensation.
We handle all types of motor vehicle accident claims, including:
- Assisting those injured in accidents caused by distracted drivers
- Protecting the claims of those who have been involved in crashes caused by impaired motorists
- Helping those seriously injured in trucking accidents
- Representing motorcyclists struck by inattentive motorists
Justin will work hard to settle your claims as efficiently as possible. Before establishing The Ward Firm, he worked for an insurance defense company. With his background, he has seen firsthand how these companies approach motor vehicle accident cases in California, and he will use this information to build a strong case on your behalf. If we do not receive an offer that fairly compensates you for your injuries and damages connected to the crash, we will file a lawsuit on your behalf. We are not afraid to fight insurance companies in the courtroom.
Talk to a Professional Car Accident Lawyer. Schedule Your Free Consultation Now
We know that you are reaching out to us because you need help. Do not lose hope. We treat each accident case as though we are representing a member of our family. Speak to a Sacramento motor vehicle accidents attorney about your claim, please do not hesitate to call 916-496-3899 or send us an email using the contact form on our website. There are no attorney’s fees unless we recover compensation for you. Se habla español.