Whether you are a resident of California or just a visitor, getting into an accident is never fun. The court system can be complicated to navigate, and California has unique car accident codes and statutes that you may not know. Here’s what you need to know if you’ve been involved in an accident.
Reporting the accident
Perhaps the most important thing to think about after an accident is notifying the right people. Obviously, if someone has been badly injured, it is vitally important that drivers call for police and ambulance assistance.
California code specifies that anyone involved in an accident must make a written report about it to the Highway Patrol or local police within 24 hours if anyone was injured or killed in the accident. If a police officer arrives at the scene and makes a report, drivers do not need to submit their own, separate written report.
If no one was hurt or killed, and the accident did not cause more than $750 in property damage, drivers are not required to report the accident. However, it is not uncommon for victims to discover injuries after the fact. If that happens to someone, they have 10 days to make a report to the DMV.
California has a comparative negligence, or shared fault, rule when it comes to car accidents. This means the courts assign a percentage of the blame for an accident to everyone involved, as necessary.
If, for example, a driver pulls out into oncoming traffic without stopping and hits another vehicle, that driver will be primarily to blame. If the driver of the other vehicle was speeding at the time, however, law enforcement may hold the second driver to be partially responsible.
In the example just cited, the first driver might be held 90 percent responsible and the second driver 10 percent at fault. In that case, any compensation the second driver gets in court will be reduced by 10 percent.
Statute of limitations
Any statute of limitations is basically a time limit on a person’s right to bring a lawsuit against another party. If you do not bring your suit within the time limit, the court will deny it in almost all circumstances.
California’s code sets a two-year time limit on any personal injury case, including car accidents. The clock starts ticking at the moment of the crash, with two exceptions. The first is if someone was injured by a government party. In that case, the time limit is only six months.
The second exception is in the case of death. Sometimes a person may not die until days, weeks, or even months after the actual accident. In that case, the time limit starts from the day of the person’s death rather than the day of the accident.
License and insurance
If a person was driving without a license at the time of an accident, this does not affect their right to compensation for injury or loss. Even non-licensed drivers or those with suspended licenses have the right to bring a personal injury lawsuit, though they may face other legal ramifications for violating the law.
For those driving without insurance California is more strict. Proposition 213 forbids drivers without insurance from collecting any non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering or emotional distress, after an accident, even if they were not at fault.
Proposition 213 does not stop anyone from collecting the economic damages they deserve after a car accident. Anyone injured by another’s negligence is still entitled to compensation for medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and any other verifiable economic loss they have experienced.