California Car Accident Lawyers


Car accidents
are the most common cause of personal injuries in the United States. Every year, nearly 2 million people are injured in motor vehicle crashes. More than 200,000 people are injured each year just in California.1 Auto crash injuries in California can cost victims tens of thousands of dollars in:

The driver who was at fault for causing the collision is liable to the other drivers or passengers for their injuries or damages. Fault in a California car crash is based on which driver was negligent in causing the accident. However, even when both drivers are at fault, the injury victim may be able to claim damages from the other driver.

Not all vehicle wrecks in California are caused by negligent drivers. Collisions can also be caused by defective car parts, hazardous road conditions, or even driverless vehicle malfunctions. In these cases, vehicle or parts manufacturers or government agencies may be at fault for the crash.

Vehicle crash injury victims may need to hire an attorney to get the insurance company to cover their damages fully. In some cases, the attorney will need to file a personal injury lawsuit to make the liable party pay for money damages.

Compensatory damages available in an automobile wreck injury lawsuit may include:

Before dealing with the insurance company or taking a settlement check, talk to our California car accident lawyers about your case.

Below, our California personal injury lawyers discuss some frequently asked questions about car accidents in California:

If you have further questions after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

Car crash ss
Car accidents are the most common cause of personal injuries in the United States.

1. Who is at fault in a California car accident?

Fault in a California vehicle crash can be complicated. Generally, fault is based on “negligence.” When a driver is negligent and causes an injury, the negligent driver may be liable for any damages. A car accident attorney can be instrumental in building a case that the other party was negligent.

Negligence can include careless driving or not paying attention to other drivers on the road. Negligence can also be shown by violating traffic laws. Some of the most common causes of motor vehicle crashes include:

  • Speeding,
  • Running a red light,
  • Texting while driving,
  • Distracted driving,
  • Drunk driving, or
  • Failing to yield the right of way.

1.1. What is the legal standard in a California car accident lawsuit?

Under California's negligence laws, when a negligent driver causes injury or damage to another, the negligent driver is liable for those damages. In order for an injury victim to get compensation in a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff has to show the defendant was negligent in causing the pileup. The legal standard for negligence in a California vehicle collision lawsuit are:

  1. The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care;
  2. The defendant breached that duty of care through negligence; and
  3. The defendant's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's injuries.2

1.2. Driver's Basic Duty of Care

Drivers in California owe others on the road a duty to use reasonable care when operating a vehicle. The duty of care for drivers involves:

  • Using reasonable care when operating a vehicle;
  • Looking out for pedestrians, obstacles, and other vehicles; and
  • Controlling the speed and movement of the vehicle.3

When a driver fails to use reasonable care and it causes an accident or injury, the negligent driver is liable for damages.

Example: Bella was driving home from school. Michael was going a little over the speed limit because he was late for work. Michael was texting his boss that he was going to be a few minutes late when he looked up and suddenly saw Bella's vehicle stopped in front of him. Michael hit Bella's car, causing her to suffer car damage and neck injuries totaling $10,000.
If a jury determines Michael was driving negligently because he was not looking out for other vehicles and did not use reasonable care, Michael may be liable for Bella's damages.

1.3. What happens if both drivers are partially at fault?

In some cases, both drivers may be partially at fault for causing an accident if both were negligent. Under California's “comparative fault” law, even if both drivers share some of the fault, an injured driver can get damages. However, the amount of damages may be reduced based on the driver's share of fault.4

Example: In the example above, it turns out Bella had dropped her phone on the floor and hit the brakes in the middle of the road to reach down and grab it. A jury finds Bella is 40% responsible for the accident and Michael is 60% responsible.
Bella may be able to recover $6,000 in damages from Michael. Bella's award is reduced based on her comparative level of fault. ($10,000 minus 40% equals $6,000).

Negligence and fault in a California car wreck can be complicated. Each side may blame the other for causing the fender bender. A driver may not have any proof that the other driver was to blame and the insurance company may not be interested in finding out what really happened.

Talk to your California motor vehicle injury lawyer about your case. Your attorney can give you a better idea of how strong your case is and what damages may be available. Your attorney can also investigate the accident, subpoena records to find out what really happened, and negotiate with the insurance adjuster to get you the most money available.

2. What damages are available in a motor vehicle wreck lawsuit?

Damages in a car wreck are based on the injuries and losses suffered by the injury victim. When filing a personal injury claim, the plaintiff asks for compensation for their losses to be paid by the negligent party.

These damages in a personal injury lawsuit include both economic and non-economic compensatory damages. Economic damages are generally those that have a set dollar value, like medical bills or vehicle repairs. Non-economic damages can be more difficult to value, and include things like pain and suffering caused by the crash.

Common compensatory damages in a California road accident can include:

  • Medical costs,
  • Vehicle repairs or replacement costs,
  • Lost income from not being able to work,
  • Lost future earning capacity,
  • Emergency medical treatment,
  • Physical therapy or occupational therapy,
  • Medication and medical supplies,
  • Future medical care and treatment,
  • Pain and suffering,
  • Compensation for loss of limb,
  • Compensation for scars or disfigurement, and
  • Loss of consortium for a spouse or partner.

In some cases, vehicle crash victims may also be able to get punitive damages. Punitive damages, or exemplary damages, may be available when the other driver was recklessness or intentionally tried to injure someone.

2.1. Can I get damages if the other driver didn't have insurance?

When a driver gets into an accident with an uninsured driver, he or she may not expect to be able to recover damages. However, there may be a couple of ways to get damages when the other driver doesn't have bodily injury and liability insurance.

California insurance law requires insurance companies to offer uninsured and underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage to drivers. However, this UM/UIM coverage is optional. If a driver injured in a crash has UM/UIM coverage, their insurance company should compensate them for their damages caused by the uninsured driver, up to the liability limit.

Similarly, if the damages caused by the other driver are higher than the other driver's liability coverage, underinsured motorist insurance pays for the excess damage, up to the liability limit.

Even without UM/UIM coverage, an injured party may still be able to recover damages from an uninsured motorist. Many uninsured drivers claim they do not have much money or assets to cover the costs of medical bills and other injury damages. However, your California car accident attorney may be able to investigate their situation to see if they have other assets they are not telling you about.

In some cases, family members may be liable if they allowed the uninsured family member to get behind the wheel of their car. By showing negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle, the vehicle owner is liable for allowing an incompetent driver to drive their vehicle.

Example: Gary is rear-ended by Samantha. Gary tries to get Samantha's insurance information but she says she doesn't have insurance. Samantha apologizes but says she lost her job and can't afford insurance. Gary suffers $5,000 in medical bills and car repairs.
Gary does not have UM/UIM coverage. Since Samantha doesn't have insurance Gary doesn't think he should bother filing a lawsuit. Gary contacts a lawyer to find out what his rights are. Gary's attorney investigates the claim.
Gary's lawyer finds out Samantha was driving her parents' car. Samantha's parents let her borrow the car even though they knew Samantha didn't have insurance and she had lost her coverage after 2 prior drunk driving accidents.
Gary may be able to file a claim with Samantha's parents' car insurance because the car was insured at the time. Gary may also be able to file a personal injury claim against the parents for negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle.

2.2. Can the family sue for damages if a family member was killed in a car wreck?

Over 30,000 people are killed every year in motor vehicle crashes.5 When the victim is killed, they are not able to file a lawsuit against the negligent driver to hold them responsible. However, under California's wrongful death laws, the family can hold the responsible person liable for their negligence.

Certain family members can file a claim for damages in a wrongful death auto casualty case. This includes:

  • Spouse,
  • Domestic partner,
  • Child or children,
  • Grandchildren (if the children are deceased), or
  • Anyone else entitled to the property of the deceased under California's intestate succession laws.

Damages available in a wrongful death car casualty lawsuit can include:

  • Burial expenses,
  • Funeral expenses,
  • Lost financial earnings the victim would have earned, and
  • Compensation to the family for the loss of companionship and support.

After the death of a loved one in a car wreck, the last thing the family may be thinking about is a lawsuit. However, a wrongful death claim can help with the financial costs of losing a family member. It may also be the only way to hold the person responsible accountable for their actions. A  car accident lawyer can handle the claim so your family can focus on healing after your loss.

3. What is the role of a lawyer in handling my California car crash case?

The role of a lawyer in handling a California car crash case is to be an advocate for the accident victim. This involves dealing with the court system, the insurance provider, and keeping the client informed on all the developments in their case.

Some people don't think they need a lawyer after an injury wreck. However, make sure you understand what is at stake before accepting the insurance company's offer or sign away your rights in a settlement. The insurance company is a business, and they may not have your best interests at heart.

Contact an experienced California auto crash injury lawyer for a free consultation on your case. A free consultation means you can get a better idea of what your claim might be worth without any cost to you. The following are some of the ways a lawyer will fight for you in your auto accident case:

3.1. Investigation

If the police responded to the automobile fender bender, the officers may have conducted an investigation at the scene. This generally includes

  • sketching out the scene,
  • getting statements from each party involved, and
  • possibly getting witness statements.

If the police didn't respond, the insurance companies involved may talk to their customers to get their side of what happened in the incident.

Unfortunately, these brief investigations don't provide a clear picture of what happened during the accident. They may also include errors and false statements by the other driver.

Your attorney may do their own investigation into the crash. This includes:

  • Reviewing the police report
  • Reviewing the insurance company report
  • Interviewing eyewitnesses
  • Obtaining surveillance video of the scene
  • Reviewing records of past problems at that location
  • Investigating the other people involved and their past incidents
  • Inspecting the scene of the smash-up
  • Reviewing medical records
  • Having an expert review the records

With a more in-depth investigation, your attorney can provide a clearer picture of what happened during the wreck, who was at fault, and why the other person should be held responsible for their negligence.

3.2. Managing Treatment

A victim in an injury crash may be tempted to downplay their injuries. Car wreck injuries can be complicated and develop over time. Even if the driver feels fine after the crash, neck pain, loss of mobility, headaches, and other complaints can develop days or even weeks later. Your attorney will make sure you seek treatment as soon as possible to make sure your injuries don't get worse.

Other injury victims may not want to get medical care because they are worried about the cost of treatment. If another driver caused the crash, that driver should be responsible for paying for your damages. Your attorney will encourage you to get proper treatment after an accident and fight to get those medical bills covered by the other driver's insurance provider.

3.3. Gathering Evidence

Evidence in a car collision claim goes beyond just taking pictures of the damaged vehicle and getting a copy of medical records. The other driver may try and hide evidence of the cause of the accident. An attorney can take action to make sure the evidence is retained and not tampered with. This evidence can be reviewed by engineering experts or medical experts to help build your case.

3.4. Issuing a Demand Letter

One of the first steps after a crash to get damages is to issue a demand letter. The demand letter provides the outline of the claim and the basis for the other party's liability. The demand letter generally includes:

  • The parties involved,
  • The facts and circumstances of what happened,
  • Damage and medical injuries involved,
  • Losses and costs caused by the wreck, and
  • Demand for compensation from the insurance company.

The demand letter is also generally the beginning of negotiating with the insurance adjuster.

3.5. Negotiating with the Insurance Company

One of the most important parts of trying to get damages after a car collision is negotiating with the insurance company. It can also be one of the riskiest parts of a claim if the injured individual does not have a lawyer.

The insurance company has a team of lawyers and adjusters who deal with liability and injury claims every day. If you talk to the other driver's insurance company on your own, the insurance company may try and get you to say certain things to help their case so they can deny your claim or pay you less money. Let your lawyer deal with the insurance company so you will have the best chance for full compensation.

It is generally up to the crash victim to decide whether to accept the insurance company's settlement offer. Your lawyer will let you know your options. If the insurance company doesn't want to play ball or only offers a small portion of your damages, your attorney can take the case to court.

3.6. Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit

If negotiations with the insurance company don't work, your lawyer can file a personal injury lawsuit in California civil court. This will include a basis for liability and a claim for damages. A car collision lawsuit can take time to go all the way to trial. However, most injury lawsuits are settled before trial. The closer the case gets to trial, the more likely both parties are to accept a settlement offer.

4. How to choose a car accident lawyer in California?

When choosing a car accident lawyer in California, drivers may want to consider a number of factors. This includes the car accident lawyer's:

  • Education,
  • Experience,
  • Experience working for insurance companies,
  • Reputation among clients,
  • Reputation among lawyers and judges, and
  • Customer service.

The best way to choose may be to talk to the lawyer and get a feel for whether that person will be the best choice. Most car crash victims have never dealt with a lawsuit before and want someone who will explain the process and keep them in the loop about their case. Your lawyer should be someone who is available to answer your questions and take the time to keep you up to date on your case.

5. Major Types of California Vehicle Accidents

There are many causes of automobile crashes in California. The type of collision can affect who is at fault, the types of injuries, the seriousness of injuries, and who is responsible for the damages. Some of the most common types of vehicle collisions in California include:

5.1. Rear-End Collisions

Rear-end collisions often cause serious neck or back injuries, including whiplash, to the driver in the lead car. Most people think the rear driver is at fault in a rear-end collision. However, liability is not automatic and sometimes the lead driver or another driver is responsible for the damages.

5.2. Head-on Collisions

When a driver crosses over the median, intentionally or accidentally, it may lead to a head-on collision. These can be some of the most serious crashes and are often caused by distracted driving, failure to yield, or a drunk driver.

5.3. T-Bone Smash-ups

There are many causes of T-bone collisions in California. While some are caused by poor road conditions, faulty vehicle parts, or unclear traffic signage, most T-bone collisions are caused by bad driving. These types of incidents can result in serious injuries as passengers or drivers are hit directly on the side of the car with little protection between them and a speeding car.

5.4. Bus Collisions

A collision with a bus generally involves transit company or city bus. When the driver or company is negligent, the injured passengers, drivers, or pedestrians can file a claim against the driver, bus company, or city agency, or whoever is responsible.

5.5. Truck Wrecks

Truck wrecks involving a semi or tractor-trailer in California can leave injury victims with serious injuries and financial damages. If the truck driver or trucking company was negligent in causing the crash, the victims can seek damages by filing a lawsuit. The company may also be responsible if they negligently hired, trained, or retained a dangerous driver.

5.6. Motorcycle Injuries

Motorcycle riders generally have very little protection between their bodies and the road. Even a low-speed collision can cause serious damage. Whoever was responsible for causing the motorcycle accident may be liable for injuries. This could include a driver, another motorcyclist, pedestrian, or even the city.

5.7. Collisions with Bicycles

Cars colliding with bikes in California can be caused by reckless drivers, dangerous road conditions, or unclear road signs. California personal injury laws allow injured cyclists to file a lawsuit against the driver who caused the damage.

5.8. Hitting a Pedestrian

Pedestrian accidents often cause serious harm because people do not have anything protecting them against outside forces. Even a low-speed knockdown accident with a pedestrian can result in head injuries, neck or back injuries, or broken bones.

5.9. Uber/Lyft Accidents

Crashes and vehicle injuries involving the popular ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft can result in claims against the driver, the company, or other drivers. These claims can be more complicated because the driver's insurance liability coverage depends on whether the driver had the app on at the time of the injury.

5.10. Driverless Vehicle Accidents

Autonomous vehicles are supposed to make the roads safer for people but even driverless vehicles can get into collisions. Victims can file a personal injury lawsuit against the company behind the driverless vehicle for losses. If a self-driving car is responsible for causing the wreck, the victim may have a claim for damages under California's product liability laws.

5.11. Crashes with Drunk Drivers

People injured by a drunk or intoxicated driver have the right to sue for damages. The driver does not need to be convicted of a DUI before a civil lawsuit can be filed. Even if the driver is never convicted, he or she may still be liable for negligent driving resulting in a crash.

5.12. Wrecks Caused by Dangerous Road Conditions

Dangerous road conditions can cause vehicle collisions or increase the chance of injury. This includes crashes involving dangerous road debris on the highway.

5.13. Police Car Casualties

Liability in a police car crash can depend on whether the police officer was responding to an emergency, had on lights and sirens, or was driving negligently at the time of the accident.

5.14. SUV Rollovers

SUV rollovers have higher rates of serious injury and death compared to other automobiles. In some cases, the injury victims may have a products liability claim against the car company for selling a dangerous vehicle without warning drivers of the risks.

5.15. Tire Defect Problems

Defective tires can cause a driver to lose control of the vehicle causing serious harm or death. The tire seller or manufacturer is liable for tire defects which cause innocent people to suffer injury or death.

5.16. Guardrail Injury Lawsuits

When guardrails on the highway are defective they can slice through a car, injuring or killing the people inside. Guardrail injury lawsuits may be filed against the government, contractors, or guardrail designers.

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Call California Car Accident Lawyers for help...

For questions about T-bone collision lawsuits in California or if you want to discuss your case with one of our skilled California personal injury attorneys, please contact us at Shouse Law Group.

We have local law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.


Legal References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) -- Motor Vehicle Safety. See also California Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS) annual report.
  2. California Civil Jury Instructions ("CACI") 400. See also California Civil Code section 1714(a) (“Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person.”)
  3. CACI 700. Basic Standard of Care. (“A person must use reasonable care in driving a vehicle. Drivers must keep a lookout for pedestrians, obstacles, and other vehicles. They must also control the speed and movement of their vehicles. The failure to use reasonable care in driving a vehicle is negligence.“)
  4. California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 406. See also Pfeifer v. John Crane, Inc. (2013) 220 Cal.App.4th 1270, 1285 (“The comparative fault doctrine ‘is designed to permit the trier of fact to consider all relevant criteria in apportioning liability. The doctrine “is a flexible, commonsense concept, under which a jury properly may consider and evaluate the relative responsibility of various parties for an injury (whether their responsibility for the injury rests on negligence, strict liability, or other theories of responsibility), in order to arrive at an ‘equitable apportionment or allocation of loss.'”).
  5. California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60 (“A cause of action for the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another may be asserted by any of the following persons or by the decedent's personal representative on their behalf: (a) The decedent's surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, and issue of deceased children, or, if there is no surviving issue of the decedent, the persons, including the surviving spouse or domestic partner, who would be entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession.”)

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