The U.S. has one of the highest rates of car ownership per person in the world. It is estimated that there are over 900 cars per 1,000 people. Many people own cars out of necessity as it not only makes it easier for them to get from point A to point B, but they rely on them for shopping, entertainment, and their daily commute to work.
With so many cars on the road, it’s inevitable that there are going to be accidents. Most Americans will be involved in a car accident at a certain point, and for some, these accidents will be life-altering.
In 2020, over 5.2 million non-fatal car accidents were reported on U.S. roads according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Statistics. That led to 2.3 million people injured which was a decline from previous years. Unfortunately, almost 39,000 people were killed in fatal accidents, the highest number since 2007.
The first question you might ask yourself after a car accident is, what should I do? Are you a victim of someone who might have hit you? Or are you a victim of a faulty car or bad roads that led to your accident? Regardless, your goal should be to seek maximum compensation. However, to ensure that you are rightly compensated, it’s important to understand the facts of your accident.
The Most Common Types of Auto Accidents in the US
Interestingly, there are quite a few things that can go wrong, leading to an accident. However, there are a handful of issues that cause the majority of accidents. Below we’ll examine some of the most common causes of auto accidents.
This is the most common cause of auto accidents. Generally, driver error is caused by one of the four “Ds,” drowsy driving, distracted driving, drugged driving, or drunk driving. Some other common mistakes include speeding either because of an emergency or the thrill. Though it is against the law to drive in excess of the speed limit, most people do it for the rush.
Other errors that lead to accidents include driving through a red light, a stop sign, etc. Apart from all of these errors, the fact that humans are imperfect means that they make a mistake sometimes without even knowing it.
Each year a few hundred car accidents in the US are caused by road or highway defects. In cases like these, accidents will occur even if the driver has done nothing wrong. Some of the most common road defects include:
- Poorly designed bends and curves
- Missing guardrails
- Malfunctioning traffic lights
- Broken roads
- Debris on the road or highway
- Poorly marked construction zones
- Faded lane demarcations
- The presence of oil, water, snow, etc., on the road
While accidents caused by these issues aren’t always fatal, you can sue the government, i.e., state, county, or city for compensation if you’re injured. Furthermore, there is a chance that the issue will be fixed so that others don’t encounter the same accident.
However, there are a couple of complications when it comes to suing for road defects. Some of the issues you may encounter are:
- A much shorter time limit– Unless your car accident happened on a private road, you’re likely suing a government entity for your car accident due to a defective road condition. The time limit, also known as the statute of limitations for a claim against the government is only six months.
- Additional defendants and documentation – Generally, personal injury claims against government agencies require a lot more paperwork. There may also be more than one defendant. It could be the local municipality, a private contractor hired to maintain or repair the road or even the state.
Given all of these factors, if your accident was the result of roadway imperfections, the best thing to do is hire a car accident lawyer right away.
Many accidents are caused by manufacturing and design faults associated with the cars we drive. These types of accidents are comparatively less common, but their lawsuits tend to be more prominent. Furthermore, as we increasingly offload a lot of driving to the vehicle itself, these defects and the lawsuits that stem from them may increase.
Almost any part of a motor vehicle can end up being defective. Some dangerous components in the past have included airbags, seat belts, ignition systems, steering wheel issues, braking systems, etc. However, the defects aren’t limited to these components alone.
As mentioned above, design defects, labeling defects, and manufacturing defects can put occupants at risk. When an accident occurs because of these defects, it is the car manufacturer that’s held liable. However, in some of these lawsuits, parts manufacturers, mechanics, dealers, and shipping companies may also be held liable.
If you are a victim of an auto accident caused by a defect with the vehicle, then your case will fall into the “product liability” category of the law. These lawsuits are a little different from regular car accident lawsuits in many different ways. The first being that the victim or plaintiff does not have to prove that the company was negligent.
The liability standard requires that the victim only show that there was a fault with the vehicle, i.e., an undeniable and dangerous defect. That issue led to an accident despite it being used as intended without further modifications.
Another angle is that the same defect in a mass-produced car could mean that there are other drivers affected. In the event that other drivers are affected, the scope of the lawsuit could expand to a class-action lawsuit that involves multiple people.
The good news for plaintiffs in such defective vehicle lawsuits is that they stand a very good chance of obtaining punitive damages. FYI, damages is the legal term for any financial compensation the accident victim is entitled to. Often these damages are used to discourage vehicle manufacturers from cutting corners with no regard to human safety.
Very Low-Quality Vehicle Maintenance
There are quite a few accidents that are caused by cars that aren’t properly maintained. It is very different from an accident caused by a defective vehicle. Not being maintained by the owner is a fault of the vehicle’s owner.
Drivers are responsible for making sure that their vehicles are in good working order. If they fail to maintain their vehicle’s health, they are solely responsible for any and all accidents resulting from negligence.
Though drivers may not be responsible for every malfunction, they could be held liable if there was adequate warning or they knew about a problem with the car but didn’t fix it. Now, if the driver took the car over to a mechanic and they didn’t repair it properly, then the mechanic is held liable.
At times medical emergencies may cause drivers to not be able to control their vehicle resulting in a crash. Emergencies like strokes, fainting spells, heart attacks, and even schizophrenic episodes can and do lead to accidents.
So, the question is, can a driver be held responsible in the event of a crash caused by a medical emergency? If the accident was unforeseen, they could invoke a sudden medical emergency defense. Though if the driver had some type of warning, like similar episodes in the past, then they can be held liable.
Bad Weather Conditions
Bad weather, too, can lead to road accidents. Rain, fog, and other issues can lead to impaired visibility. Snow and ice can make the roads slippery, which increases the risk of a car going out of control. Sometimes strong winds can make driving a car difficult, leading to accidents. Furthermore, driving at night can lead to more accidents as compared to driving during the day.
Drivers are required to respond to weather conditions that appear dangerous by driving more cautiously, using their headlights, etc. If they (drivers) fail to respond properly, they can be held liable.
Animal-Related Auto Accidents
Certain animals, like cows or deer weigh as much as a regular car. Colliding with a large animal can kill both the animal as well as the occupants of the vehicle.
So, who is responsible when something like this happens? Generally, nobody can be held responsible as it is seen as an “act of nature.” However, if your car accident was with a domesticated animal, then the owner of that animal may be liable. Usually, ranchers and farmers are tasked with taking care of their livestock so that there are no accidents. If they fail, then they may be held liable.
Types of Car Accidents With the Most Injuries and Deaths in California
Multi-vehicle car accidents account for most injuries and deaths in car accidents in California. Single car accidents, on the other hand, are usually due to driver error. The most common example of a single car accident is someone hitting a tree. Clearly the only person to blame for the accident is the driver. The exceptions are if the driver crashes because of a defect to their vehicle or the road.
The most common types of car accidents in California that lead to injuries or deaths are:
Rear-End Collisions: These are the most common types of auto accidents involving multiple vehicles in California. In 2017, over 72,000 car crashes in the Golden State were rear-end collisions. Many were due to distracted drivers. Looking at a cellphone, playing with the controls or seeing something off road can easily lead to a rear-end collision.
In most cases, these types of accidents are the fault of the first driver who hit the back of the vehicle in front of them. Drivers are required to maintain a certain distance from the car ahead of them, so that if one car slows down, the car behind them has enough time to stop. But there are instances where the driver in the front may be the one at fault, especially if they switch lanes and get in front of the another car and brake suddenly.
Fortunately, even though rear-end collisions in California are the most common type of car accident, they aren’t usually fatal. The exception is if the cars are driving in excess of 80 mph. The most common injury is whiplash, which could later lead to further medical complications.
Left Turn/T-Bone Accidents –These accidents are the second most common types of accidents in California involving multiple vehicles. Generally, these accidents occur when a driver turns left without adequate clearance from oncoming traffic. In accidents like these, it is the left turn driver who is usually at fault. the most clear exception is when there is a left turn signal.
It’s the job of drivers to yield to all oncoming traffic when they attempt to make a left turn. There are exceptions to this, which includes if the car who hit the driver turning left was driving over the speed limit or driving recklessly, or maybe they ran a stop sign or red light.
When there is a collision like this, fault is determined by who had the right of way. Accidents involving left turns can often range in severity since passengers have far less protection on both sides of the vehicle as compared to the rear or front. So these accidents could end up causing serious injuries.
Accidents involving left turns are often referred to as T-bone accidents. However, not all T-bone accidents involve a driver turning left. It can also be two drivers attempting to head straight into an intersection. Again, fault for an accident like this is determined by who legally had the right of way.
Head-On Collisions – Head-on collisions are thankfully, less common. Nonetheless, they tend to be the most serious type of car accidents. Usually, they involve two cars from opposite ends colliding with each other. In a head-on crash, the driver going against the direction or flow of traffic is usually at fault.
At times, fault can be difficult to determine, especially if there is enough force involved, which spins both cards in opposite directions. Investigators may be unable to determine which car was going the wrong way. So, they will rely on witness testimony or surveillance footage. The most common reason for a head-on crash is because the driver was impaired or drowsy. At other times, the collision may occur during a moment of inattentiveness, which leads one driver drifting into the opposing lane.
Even if both cars were going at normal speeds, injuries and even deaths are common in head-on crashes. They may even involve nearby vehicles.
Investigating Who is At Fault After an Accident
Once there is an accident, the next step is to find out who is at fault and to what degree so a claim can be processed accordingly. Different issues of fault exist that lead to an accident; we’ll address some of the most common ones below.
The act, or legally speaking, tort of negligence generally determines who is at fault when there is an auto accident. However, negligence needs to be proven, and that requires the following four elements:
- Duty: The person responsible, aka the defendant, had the duty to drive safely and also obey traffic laws.
- Breach of Duty: The defendant had breached their duty by mainly breaking the law by driving unsafely.
- Damages: You have suffered injuries and losses brought on by the accident.
- The Cause: Establishing that the duty of the defendant was breached and that led to damaging consequences.
Now it can be easier to prove negligence in some cases. The plaintiff may just have to show that the defendant has violated a couple of traffic laws, and that is what led to an accident. It is referred to as negligence per se.
However, it can be difficult in other cases to prove negligence. It is up to the plaintiff to prove that the defendant is not a reasonable person. Not to mention that there is a legal precedent which defines a so-called “reasonable” person or “reasonable” driving.
Some Other Tort Claims
Actions like trying to flee police, street racing, or speeding for an adrenaline rush all fall under the tort of gross negligence or even recklessness. As an attorney, litigating these cases is easier as compared to regular negligence.
Though a few different types of car accidents may come under intentional tort claims, but these are rare since most people don’t intentionally crash their cars into others.
Negligence Claims and Complications That Can Arise
Multiple Drivers Are at Fault
While all negligent drivers can be sued at the same time if they are held liable, it’s tricky to do. The process that requires defendants to share in the damages can be complex, and there will often be different jurisdictions involved with varying rules on the right way to do it.
In California, the law mandates that drivers or owners of vehicles have no-fault insurance policies that cover them in the event of accidents. The cars and their drivers are covered in the event of accidents regardless of who may be at fault. However, California is referred to as an “at-fault state,” which means that if there are multiple drivers responsible for the accident, they share the fault.
Similar to other at-fault states, drivers are by law required to pay victims for all damages caused by a collision they were responsible for in the first place. If a person is found to be at fault for a crash, they need to compensate the victim for all damages. However, when multiple parties are involved in a crash, then the liability for that accident is shared. Every driver is responsible for a percentage of the damage and needs to pay their percentage of fault.
All drivers on the road are required to have insurance to legally operate a vehicle. That proof of insurance should be carried with them in the vehicle. Once there is an accident, all drivers need to exchange their insurance information and contact information.
What if the Plaintiff is Partly Responsible?
As the victim, you will still be entitled to damages, but how much compensation you get will depend on what’s called “comparative negligence.” While the rule of comparative negligence is a little different in every state, the basic principle remains the same. So, if the plaintiff was perhaps partly at fault, then they get reduced damages, which is proportionate to how much they were at fault. For instance, if it is determined that it was 20% percent the plaintiff’s fault, then they share 20% of the damages. In other words, the defendant or negligent driver pays only 80%.
What to Do If You’ve Been in a Car Accident
There are a few things that you should do right after a car accident. Generally, a person will feel distressed. Their body will also be pumping a great deal of adrenaline to deal with the stressful situation. All of this can make it very difficult to think clearly. However, you need to take a few deep breaths and think about how to proceed. Your legal and physical wellbeing might depend on it.
Below are a couple of things which you should do right after a car accident. Taking these steps will help during the litigation process and make it easier to receive max compensation.
Find A Safe Place
You will want to get to someplace safe. If you are on a busy street or a busy highway, doing so can save your life. If there is a way to drive to the side of the road, then do that. You shouldn’t drive any further than you need, and just turn the engine off once you get to a safe place. Making the mistake of driving away could mean you get accused of hit and run. If you are unable to drive the car, then turn on the emergency blinkers.
If it is safe, you will want to set up flares, emergency reflective triangles, or cones so that other cars know to avoid you. However, if you don’t feel safe doing it, then avoid it. You should be careful about walking on the road if it isn’t clear after an accident.
Help Those who are Injured
You should start by checking out anyone nearby who might be injured. If you find people who are seriously injured, then call emergency services right away. Also, examine yourself for injuries; at times, adrenalin can make it feel as though you are not injured.
You want to wait till emergency services or paramedics arrive on the scene. Don’t move anybody who is seriously injured, unconscious, or appears to be dead unless they are in grave danger of being hit by another vehicle. If possible and the need arises, then perform first aid.
Remain at the Scene
You should never flee the scene or go anywhere, but instead remain on the spot and wait till you are cleared by the authorities to leave. Just opting to leave could mean that you are found guilty of hit and run, even if it was not your fault. In California, hit and run is a very serious crime, and you will be regarded as a felon if someone was killed or injured because of the accident.
In California, you are required to provide your contact information to all the parties involved and get their contact information. The information you should exchange is the driver’s license, residence address, full name, and insurance information. If you hit a vehicle that was parked, it is important to leave a note with this information.
If someone was killed or seriously injured in the accident, then call the police. Also, make sure to call the police if there was damage to private property. If the damage to the property was minor and nobody was injured, it can be reported to the police later on.
Watch What You Say
You need to be careful about what you say when exchanging insurance and license information with others. Our advice is to say as little as possible and just be formal. You shouldn’t discuss the accident because you have a lot to lose and little to gain from it. Don’t do any more than what you are legally required.
The critical thing to keep in mind is: don’t apologize to anyone. While it may appear to be a polite gesture, it can legally be interpreted as you admitting fault. Similarly, you don’t want to be aggressive, regardless of how upset you are. Keep quiet and let your accident attorney do their job.
If the police are at the scene, you can speak to the officers. Give them your version of what happened. Stick to the facts because what you say becomes part of the police report.
Gather the Required Evidence
The best thing you can do to help your case and end up with significant compensation is to gather evidence at the scene. If you are not injured and don’t require immediate medical attention, then it is important to gather evidence.
Start by taking pictures of the scene, which includes the other cars, your car, the license plates, your inquiries, the surrounding area, and speak with witnesses who are at the scene. You should also take the contact information of the witnesses there. You might also want to jot down a few notes to help you remember what happened when the time comes now that the details are still fresh in your mind. If you speak to the police on the spot, make sure to get their name and badge number.
Get the Car Towed
If the car can’t be driven, it needs to be towed. However, it is important to get the tow truck driver’s name and number on the scene before they tow the vehicle away.
Since overnight storage can become expensive, it is important that a mechanic take a look and fix the car ASAP. However, the mechanic shouldn’t touch the vehicle before the insurance companies and your attorney has had time to investigate and gather their evidence. Once done, you shouldn’t leave the car in the tow yard for longer than necessary.
Keep in mind that the towing bill assigned is based on determining who is at fault.
The Auto Accident Lawsuit Process
Generally speaking, in California, car accident injury cases are litigated in and decided by the civil court system. Civil court is very different from the criminal court, but the two are often confused by people who are not familiar with how they work. Criminal courts are meant to deal with and punish people who break the law, the punishment of which includes state-sanctioned fines, prison time, and community service.
The Civil Court system, on the other hand, delivers justice by making sure wrongdoers pay for damages in the form of financial compensation to the victims. Unlike criminal trials, where there is a state prosecutor, private attorneys sue the defendant in civil cases.
Actions like hit-and-run, DUI, and vehicular manslaughter are all criminal offenses. However, car accident lawsuits are a separate trial. Car accident lawsuits are part of civil law, often referred to as personal injury law.
In a personal injury case, the victim sues the person or people who caused their injuries or death of a loved one. Those being sued are known as the defendants. When bringing a civil case against another driver, it is your attorney’s job to prove guilt through evidence. However, unlike in criminal court where the burden of proof means the defendant must be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, in civil court, the attorney for the person presenting the claim just has to show the evidence is most likely to be true to prevail.
Injury Claim Process
The injury claim process can be lengthy and require multiple steps. However, if you have followed the steps outlined earlier regarding what to do after a car accident, following the process outlined below will make your case stronger.
File an Insurance Claim
Right after the accident, you need to notify your insurance company. The insurance company will help get your vehicle fixed or will pay if there is a total loss depending on your policy. While the accident may not be your fault, your insurance company is going to help you get back into a vehicle and hopefully back to your daily routine. However, you will need good collision coverage. Later on, your insurance company will go about seeking reimbursement from the insurance company of the faulty driver.
Many times after an accident, you will be contacted by the insurance company of the driver who was at fault. The company will ask you for a written statement. Do not give them a statement. You are under no legal obligation to do so. The insurance adjuster may offer you something like a few hundred dollars to sign a release. Again, do not to accept this offer and don’t sign any documents before calling us first. It could cost you thousands of dollars or even more if you do so.
It is expected that your injuries will last much longer than you think, and once that release is signed, it becomes almost impossible to reopen the claim. So, before you do anything, speak with a professional attorney with experience in car accident cases.
Consult with an Auto Accident Attorney
The initial meeting and consultation with our auto accident attorneys is free. Our attorneys will not only advise you on the best course of action but, once hired, will help to field all the calls from insurance adjusters and investigators that may come your way. We will also be able to push back on your behalf against low-ball offers. We are only paid once we help a client settle their case or win a trial. So, it costs nothing initially to make sure that you get the best representation and highest compensation.
Medical Investigation and Affixing Liability
Once an attorney is on board, our law firm will conduct their own investigation of the accident. The investigation will also include following up with you regarding medical treatment and other matters.
As treatment proceeds, the attorney will order your medical bills and records. After the injuries heal, your entire treatment information will be submitted to the insurance company. Though if you still suffer from pain and the doctor thinks that the pain is permanent, the attorney will get in touch with the doctor to get a detailed report.
While this can be a pretty lengthy step, it is often the most important. Waiting for a prognosis means that you could settle for more compensation if there are long-lasting health issues.
Determining a Settlement Demand
It is only after your medical condition has plateaued that a seasoned attorney will apply for a settlement with the insurance company. That will lead to the insurance company making an initial offer, after which there will be some negotiation with the insurance adjuster. The goal of any attorney is to extract the maximum possible settlement from the insurer.
Settlement Vs. Filing a Lawsuit
After the final offer is received from the insurance company, it is the victim’s decision whether or not to accept it or go ahead with filing a lawsuit. Many people don’t want to file a lawsuit and just settle for what is offered. However, since insurance companies know most people don’t want a lawsuit, they may make an unacceptably low offer on purpose.
An experienced attorney can weigh in with their opinion of whether or not the settlement amount is worth it. If not, then the attorney should advise you to go ahead with a lawsuit.
After filing a lawsuit, the case goes into what’s called a “discovery” period. What this means is that your attorneys will start looking for more information regarding the opposing side. However, the other side also gets to find out more about the plaintiff.
The process includes requesting documents, interrogatories, and depositions. Interrogatories are written questions that are sent to the defendant’s lawyer. Other requirements may include photographs of the accident and medical records.
A deposition allows the lawyers to ask questions of both parties involved in the collision. The parties include witnesses, doctors, police officers, and anyone else who might have evidence pertaining to the trial. Once a lawsuit is filed, the opposing team of lawyers gets the opportunity to ask you questions about the accident and even your injuries. Once all the required information is exchanged, the court will turn things over to mediation prior to commencing the trial.
The Important Step of Mediation
Mediation is a process of resolving a dispute with a neutral third party, i.e., the mediator who facilitates both the parties. The goal is to promote a voluntary settlement between both parties prior to the trial. Most of these mediations take place in two rooms: one with your attorney and you, the other with the opposing side, along with the mediator.
The mediator will move between both rooms to get the parties to agree and settle. However, the mediator can’t order a settlement.
If mediation is unsuccessful, the next step is trial. In California’s busy counties, scheduling a trial date may take up to a year. During the trial, the injured party must prove the other party was responsible for the accident, i.e., they were negligent. Their attorneys need to show that the defendant failed to take care and drive properly, which led to an accident. The plaintiff also needs to show exactly how much money they want in damages.
Once the plaintiff has testified, other parties like the doctors, officers, drivers, and witnesses, testify. The jury is then required to answer what’s called a special verdict. The questions in this special verdict will pertain to the driver being negligent and if that negligence led to injuries. The plaintiff is then asked if they were negligent and if the injuries were caused by their own negligence. If the jury can answer “yes” to both of these questions, they are then required to calculate fault between both parties. The person who is found to be most at fault is found to be guilty and ordered to pay damages.
The jury needs to answer exactly what amount should be awarded to the plaintiff for their car accident. Once the jury reaches a verdict, the results are announced.
Judgments vs Settlements
Once a personal injury claim has been filed, and negotiations begin, you are probably looking for a swift end to the process. Now it is important to understand that there are two ways in which you will get compensated, the first is via an injury settlement, or it can be via an injury judgment. Each one of which is very different from the other.
An Injury Settlement
Usually, an injury settlement is the most common, as mentioned earlier. A settlement is reached when both parties arrive at a decision or agreement on compensation without going to trial. It is an attractive option since the costs of going to trial are very high, time-consuming, and resource-intensive.
There are a couple of ways in which a settlement may be reached out of court:
Through negotiations: As mentioned earlier, this is when both parties negotiate and reach a settlement out of court.
Mediation: If you think that the insurance provider isn’t offering a fair deal, and there is a problem reaching any sort of settlement, a mediator can help. A mediator is a neutral go-between that helps both parties reach a deal.
Arbitration: Very similar to mediation, though arbitration has an arbitrator who will decide what should be done. The decision of the arbitrator in some cases is binding. While an arbitrator is similar to a mediator, in the sense that they sit down with both parties, but unlike a mediator, they will make a decision. If the decision is binding, both parties need to accept and abide by the decision.
An Injury judgment
Now unlike an injury settlement that happens out of court, a judgment happens in court and by a judge as well as jury who will deliberate and reach a settlement. While arbitrators, mediators, and even negotiations can lead to dead ends, where the final decision seems impossible, a court’s decision is the final word.
A plaintiff who decides to go to court can either pursue their case in a small claims court, or they can go to a civil court. The small claims court is generally for small amounts of compensation, and there are limits in some states. In California, that limit is often $5000 but may be more depending on your case’s circumstances.
In court, a judge renders a judgment, or a jury may render a judgment after hearing both sides. Whatever is decided, both parties need to abide by it.
Compensation for Auto Accidents Are a Civil Matter
An auto accident personal injury lawsuit is considered a civil case. The main goal is to obtain financial compensation for the victim’s accident injuries. In civil cases, it is up to the plaintiff to prove that the defendants are at fault or their negligence caused the accident. If the defendant’s behavior led to criminal charges, then there could be two cases, one in criminal court and another one in civil court.
As an example, if the defendant hit and injured you while driving drunk, they would also face criminal charges. Unlike a civil court case, you do not take legal action against the defendant, the state does. Plus, the punishment in a criminal case will be probation and/or prison time, not usually any monetary compensation. Note that the outcome of any criminal case has no bearing on a civil case. So the state could lose their criminal case against the person who hit you, but that wouldn’t stop your civil case from moving forward.
Determining Legal Liability in a Car Accident
Anyone who has been in a car accident knows that it is frightening and extremely stressful, especially if you suffered serious injuries. Fortunately, in California, like most other states, you are entitled to receive compensation for your injuries from the person at fault. That said, the insurance company (their insurance provider) might try to blame you for the accident to avoid having to compensate you.
In any case, it is your job to prove that you were not negligent. It will be up to you and your attorney to put forth evidence that shows it was the other driver who was negligent. But first, you have to be proven “not negligent.”
What do You Need to Prove and Receive Compensation?
When you are filing a claim with the negligent driver’s insurance service provider, you need to prove your right to compensation for the injuries caused. You also need to prove liability in the case that your vehicle was wrecked. Below is what you are required to prove:
- The other driver did not exercise the required caution when driving on the road.
- The other driver was not able to or didn’t willfully fulfil their duty when exercising reasonable caution on the road.
- It was the other driver’s negligence which leads to the wreck and your injuries.
- The other driver’s negligence has caused you severe physical distress.
Proving the Car Accident Wasn’t Your Fault
Even if the other driver caused the accident or crash and the case is clear cut, they may attempt to point the finger at you. Their goal, as mentioned above, is to reduce your claim. To counteract this tactic, you’ll want to take the following steps at the scene of the accident:
- Take pictures at the scene. All these pictures and even video will help prove that you were innocent and the other driver was at fault. It will also clearly show other variables like weather conditions and road conditions. If you were injured, there should be pictures of those injuries.
- Never apologize to anyone else involved. An apology can be seen as an admission of fault.
- Exchange information with the other driver. Certainly don’t argue with them, but don’t engage in a long conversation with them either. Their information will help you file a claim.
- Call the police to the scene of the accident and then get a copy of the accident report.
- Speak to witnesses. Make sure you get contact information and the required statements from all other individuals involved before leaving the scene.
- Hire an attorney right away. You’ll want to make sure you hire an attorney who has considerable experience seeking compensation for car accident victims.
Types of Compensation for Damages
Most personal injury damages are categorized as “compensatory”. That means the victims, also known as the plaintiffs are to be compensated for what they lost because of the accident. The goal of compensatory damages is to make sure that the plaintiff is made whole again financially. The objective is to put a dollar value on the injuries and emotional distress caused by the accident.
Economic damages are easy to calculate. It’s as simple as adding up your medical bills, lost income and any damage to your vehicle due to your car accident. Non-economic damages such as pain and suffering are more difficult to calculate. However, they tend to make up the largest part of a car accident victim’s final verdict or settlement.
Below we take a brief look at the various and most common types of compensatory damages available in personal injury cases:
Emotional Loss or Distress: The damages awarded for people who suffer from emotional distress caused by an accident are referred to as distress damages. Usually, these issues include sleep loss, fear, and anxiety. Some states may consider emotional distress as part of their definition of pain and suffering associated with an injury that’s awarded to the plaintiff.
Loss of Income: If the accident impacted your income, for instance, your salary or daily wages, or your ability to work for a period of time which meant you couldn’t earn a living, then you will be awarded compensation for lost income. Generally, these damages are awarded in the form of future income loss because there is a loss of the capacity to earn. So, if you’re unable to work for 3 years because of the accident, there is a dollar value put on how much that would be worth.
Loss of Property: If your clothing, vehicle, laptop or any other personal property was damaged in the accident, then you could be reimbursed for any repairs or replacements. It also covers the cost to repair or replace your vehicle.
Medical Care and Treatment: This makes up the largest part of an auto accident victim’s economic damages. These damages are meant to compensate you for the medical care you have received so far, and the estimated cost of what you will require in the future.
Damages Awarded for Loss of Consortium: These damages refer to the plaintiff’s relationship with their spouse in particular. So, if the accident caused damage to the relationship like an inability to have a sexual relationship, they could be awarded these damages.
Physical and Mental – Pain and Suffering: You will also be entitled to seek and maybe get compensation for any serious physical or mental discomfort caused by the accident. If you have ongoing pain that stems from the accident, pain and suffering case could be made for significant compensation.
Loss of Pleasure: If the injuries from the accident make it impossible for you to enjoy yourself like exercise, play golf or play with your kids, then you could be entitled to “loss of enjoyment” compensation.
What Are Punitive Damages?
In instances where the defendant’s conduct is found to be outrageously careless, the plaintiff of a personal injury case in an automotive accident may be awarded punitive damages. The punitive damages are often on top of any compensatory damages that are awarded for something like the loss of income. Punitive damages stem from the legal-rational that the defendant needs to pay for being either negligent or grossly negligent.
Punitive damages hit defendants in their pockets so that it is a deterrent for others not to act like this. On average, punitive damages could be anywhere from a million dollars to tens of millions.
How Do Your Actions as a Plaintiff Affect the Damages Awarded?
Your role in the accident or just inaction despite being injured can diminish your chances of being awarded damages. Below are a couple of situations where you might be awarded less:
- Comparative Negligence – This means that you’re partially at fault for the accident, which led to your injuries. So, the damages awarded are going to reflect it. Most states, including California, use comparative negligence to determine the degree of fault when deciding compensation.
- Failure to Reduce Damages in the Aftermath of an Accident – In California, plaintiffs are required to take responsibility and lessen any further damage after their accident. They should keep all medical appointments and follow doctor’s instructions. If they don’t do that, their compensation will likely be lower than expected.
Contact a car accident attorney immediately after your accident to discuss your options. The Dominguez Firm offers free consultations and no up front legal fees. Instead, we get paid from a percentage of your final settlement or verdict. That’s why consulting an attorney who has vast experience handling auto accidents should be your top priority.
If you’ve been injured in a car accident, our powerhouse team of lawyers can fight for the maximum compensation you’re entitled to. Call us today for your free consultation at 800-818-1818. And as always, we promise, you pay nothing unless your win!