Understand Auto Accident Lawsuits in California

Damage After Car Crash - Law Offices of Davis AziziWhen a negligent party has injured you, you have the right to file a lawsuit to reclaim the financial damages the injury caused. California Code 1714 describes the responsibility individuals have toward one another and the injuries they inflict on others due to lack of care. This is the basis for a personal injury lawsuit in the state. This law applies to everyone who resides in California. Let’s take a look at who can file a lawsuit and against whom a lawsuit is lodged, the time limits for filing and variations depending on the type of lawsuit that is involved.

How to File a Lawsuit

To file a lawsuit in California, you must be a person of “standing.” This means you are directly affected by the accident. In personal injury cases, you would need to have suffered injuries and financial loss. Say, for instance, you were hit walking across the street by a motor vehicle while using the crosswalk and you were injured. You would have the right to sue the person driving the vehicle for the financial damages emanating from the incident.

There are a few other requirements the individual must meet:
Lawsuits in California

  • Be a legal entity: To sue another party, you must be a legal entity. This means that you are:
    • A person
    • Corporation
    • Legal partnership
    • Non-profit
    • Group of citizens, acceptable to the court
    • Government
    • Members of a class action
  • Possess legal capacity: This means that in order to sue the person/entity, you must be at least 18 years of age and not have a legitimate disability such as being mentally incompetent. Those who do not meet these standards must have a guardian, parent, executor or trustee step in and file the lawsuit in their stead. The guardian for the lawsuit is called the guardian ad litem.

Who Is the Defendant in an Auto Accident Lawsuit?

The defendant in a lawsuit is the person or entity that acted negligently and caused the accident injuries. In a car accident, it is the person who was driving, and in some cases, the owner of the vehicle if the two are different. Contrary to what many believe, it is not the person’s insurance company since the insurer did not cause the accident. However, the insurance company pays for the damages. Since manufacturing defects sometimes cause accidents, your lawsuit may be against the company that made the car and any other company involved in supplying defective parts.

What Is the Role of the Insurance Company?

Let’s say that you are involved in a car accident, and you decide to sue the other driver for your damages. The driver, assuming he or she has insurance, will present the lawsuit to their insurance company. The insurance company will either use their lawyers or hire an outside law firm to deal with the defendant’s insurer. The defendant’s insurance company lawyers will then respond to the lawsuit, handle the discovery process and deal with the court proceedings. Sometimes, a car accident lawyer will go to the insurance company before filing the lawsuit, and present all the facts about the case to them as they would in the lawsuit.

The insurance company may settle the case before the matter is taken to court. If the insurance company responds as it should, the plaintiff who was injured in the accident may receive a fair settlement. Settling also expedites the timeline since court-based lawsuits can be protracted.

What If the Insurance Company Does Not Offer a Fair Settlement?

Many times, the insurance company refuses to offer a fair settlement despite negotiations with your attorney. At this point, your car accident lawyer will most likely recommend that you file a lawsuit in civil court, bringing your case before a jury. Your lawyer will present the facts to the jury, show them reasons why the driver was negligent and use expert witnesses to describe the extent of your injuries. He or she will ask the jury to award you the compensation you deserve for pain and suffering, lost wages, medical care and other accident-related costs. In more egregious cases, the lawyer will also ask for punitive damages, meant to punish the negligent driver.

Time Limits to File a Lawsuit in California

There are limits to the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit before the court will no longer hear it. In California, the majority of personal injury lawsuits must be filed two years from the time the accident happened or from the time you became aware of the injury. Some lawsuits, however, have different limits. These involve claims made against a government agency. This includes problems such as poor road maintenance, lack of pruning back foliage that hides traffic signs and accidents with government vehicles.

When an accident is due to the negligence of a government agency, the injured party or plaintiff must file an administrative claim against the government agency within six months. The government has 45 days to respond. If the agency/entity denies the claim within that period, you have six months from the time you received the denial to file a lawsuit. If no claim rejection is received, you have two years to file a lawsuit from the time the accident occurred.

Establishing Liability in Auto Crash Cases

Before filing a lawsuit in a personal injury, it is necessary to establish liability. If another driver was wholly responsible for the accident due to negligent behavior, it is possible to use supporting evidence to show the court why he or she is responsible and how much the injury has cost the plaintiff. However, California is a comparative fault state.

This means if both (or many) drivers were responsible for the accident, they will share in the responsibility and the damages. For instance, let’s say that driver A caused 60 percent of the accident. However, driver B contributed 40 percent of the negligence. This means that driver A will only be able to receive 40 percent of the damages he or she incurred, while driver B will be able to collect 60 percent of theirs. The jury decides the percentages and amounts.

Common Problems When Filing a Lawsuit

Although your car accident attorney will know how to resolve these issues, here are a few problems that you might have if you decide to file the lawsuit yourself and what needs to be done:

  • To present the lawsuit, you must have the person’s full legal name and their address. However, if that person has moved, you will need to track them down:
    • Send a letter to the person’s last known address. Put return service requested – do not put forward on the envelope. If the person moved and gave a forwarding address to the post office, the envelope will be returned to you with the person’s new address.
    • When the person owns property, it is possible to find out his or her address by using the tax office. The tax assessor will have this information on the tax rolls. It might take a little time to ferret this out, but it is possible.
    • Reverse phone numbers: Depending on the case, you might be able to get the person’s address if you know his or her phone number.
  • Suing a business: If you are lodging a lawsuit against the driver of a vehicle and a business for whom he or she works, you need to know more about the business. This happens when a driver is hit by someone driving a company car on work time or a truck owned by a company. It can also happen when accidents occur on a public vehicle or in a taxi. When one person owns the business, called a sole proprietorship, you file the lawsuit against the owner, no matter if the business bears his or her name. If the business is a corporation, then you use the name of the corporation since the owners are shielded in this type of business entity. A partnership such as an LLP is sued in the same way as that for a corporation.