From billboards to radio advertisements, and from television commercials to friends, there are plenty of sources that can tell you what to do if you sustain injuries in a car accident that another party causes. However, very few sources inform you of your options when it is you who causes a crash. If you are at fault in a California car accident, what happens next?
Your Insurer’s Responsibility in a Fault State
When you are at fault in a car accident in California, it typically falls on your insurance company to compensate the other party for his or her losses. Losses your insurance company might cover include medical expenses, property damage and other economic damages. Depending on your coverage, your insurer may also pay for lost wages, pain and suffering, and additional non-economic losses. If you caused a death, it may also cover the cost of funeral and burial expenses and other death-related costs.
Your Liability In a Fault State
If you are at fault in a car accident in California, your insurance company should cover the cost of damages. If the damages do not exceed your coverage limits, you should not have to pay for anything out of pocket.
However, say the total amount of damages does exceed your coverage limits, or say you do not have coverage at all. In both these instances, the driver of the other vehicle and/or injured party may sue you for compensation. If the other party decides to sue, he or she may sue for more damages than what a car insurance claim would have allowed. For instance, even if your insurance company does not cover lost wages, the injured party may claim them if he or she pursues a lawsuit. If he or she wins, the courts may hold you accountable for the lost wages and additional damages.
Statute of Limitations on Car Accident Lawsuits
If the other party to your car accident does decide to pursue legal action outside of an insurance claim, he or she must do so within a certain amount of time. The timeframe in which he or she must file is called the “statute of limitations.” In California, the statute of limitations on car accident claims is two years from the date of the incident. Once the two-year mark passes without you or the other party filing a legal action, you both lose your right to pursue compensation.
Your Car Insurance Rates Following a Fault Accident
The repercussions of a car accident are long-lasting, fault or not. However, when you cause an accident, you can expect the financial consequences to continue for years following the incident, in the form of increased insurance rates.
Even if you do not have to pay out of pocket for the other party’s damages, you can and should anticipate paying elsewhere. According to Bankrate, the average premium increases by as much as $750 following an accident. Depending on the circumstances surrounding an incident — such as if you were drinking — that increase can be even more. For many drivers, that average increase amounts to about 42% of the original premium.
Rate increases are costly, and lengthy. Unless a driver qualifies for an accident forgiveness program, rate hikes typically last for anywhere between three to five years.
When You Are Partially At-Fault for an Accident
It is not uncommon for two or more parties to share fault for an accident. Even if you can admit that your actions or inactions are what ultimately lead to the accident, you may be able to shift some of the blame to the other party by proving he or she acted negligently in some way. If you can, you were party to what the law refers to as a “shared liability” incident. A few examples of shared liability are as follows:
- You changed lanes without checking your mirrors and, as a result, hit the person coming up on your left. Right before impact, the other driver was speeding. Though you likely could have avoided the accident altogether if you had checked your mirrors, the other driver’s speeding placed him or her in your way at the exact wrong time. In this case, you both acted negligently and, therefore, share liability for the accident.
- You rolled through a stop at an intersection, going before it was your turn. The other driver was on his phone when he started to drive through, therefore not realizing you were already in the middle of the intersection. Though you hit him, you both were at fault for the accident.
- You backed out of a parking spot without checking to see if anyone was behind you. The driver of the other vehicle tried to get around you regardless of your intent to back out, and you ran into her vehicle. You share fault for failing to check your mirrors, while the other driver is at fault for driving recklessly.
Shared liability can occur in several ways, which is why the law accounts for it via comparative fault laws.
Comparative Fault Laws
To help courts ascertain financial liability in shared liability cases, states devised comparative fault laws. These laws fall into one of three categories: Pure contributory negligence, modified comparative fault and pure comparative fault.
Pure contributory negligence laws are the strictest, as they prevent parties from recovering compensation if they assume even 1% fault for an accident. Modified comparative fault laws are middle of the road, allowing parties to recover so long as their percentage of fault does not meet 50% or 51%. Pure comparative fault laws are the most lenient, as they allow parties to recover compensation regardless of how much fault they assume, so long as it is not 100%. California is one of the few states that abides by pure comparative fault laws.
Pure Comparative Fault and Your Recovery
Whether you assumed 1% fault or 99% fault for your accident, California law grants you the opportunity to recover compensation from the other party. However, note that the courts will reduce your potential recovery by the percentage of fault you assume. For instance, say the courts determine you were 75% at fault for your collision. If your claim for compensation is successful, the courts would reduce your award by 75%. Below is an example of what this might look like:
- Following a car crash for which you share the majority of fault, you file a claim for $60,000 in damages. The courts assign 75% of the blame to you. Your claim is successful, but the courts must reduce your award by 75%, or $45,000. At the end of the day, the most you can take home is $15,000.
Given this information, it is important that you calculate your claim’s worth before pursuing legal action and determine if legal action is, in fact, worth the amount you stand to recover.
Hire a Car Accident Lawyer Following a Fault Car Crash
If you caused a car accident in California, it may be in your best interests to retain the counsel of an experienced car accident lawyer. A seasoned attorney can help to reduce your percentage of fault and advise you on whether pursuing a claim of your own would be worth your while. Even if it is not, he or she can minimize your shared liability and, in the process, reduce your financial obligation. To explore your options, contact Johnson Attorney Group today.