After the frenzy of activity surrounding a car accident, when your brain is in a flight or fight mode to survive, you’re able to sit back and think. Without notice, your life changed and not for the better. Another driver broke the rules, and you are paying the price. You’re hurt, your car is damaged and you’re not able to work. The most common question people ask is what happens now.
David Azizi has heard that question many times in his 24 years of practice. He understands your feelings of frustration, and after reviewing the specifics of your case, he can help you initiate a plan of action to recoup your losses. There are variables since each case is different, but the goal of recovering financial loss due to the accident is the same.
At the accident scene, there are times when fault is easy to spot. For instance, a wrong-way driver who crosses over into your lane and hit your vehicle head-on. Other times, it is not so clear cut, and proving negligence on the at-fault driver takes effort. The accidents that usually involve an at-fault driver are:
- Most rear-end accidents: The qualifier ‘most’ is used here since, despite the overwhelming odds that the driver to the rear is at fault, there are times this is not necessarily the case. For instance, on occasion, the lead vehicle may have faulty brake lights that do not give warning that the driver is slowing down or stopping. This can lessen the degree of negligence of the driver to the rear. So, why lessen rather than exonerate? A driver should always keep adequate distance between their vehicle and the one in front of them to accommodate any sudden changes. The speed the rear car is moving at is also critical here. An experienced lawyer can use these factors to mitigate fault. The bottom line is that the driver to the rear causes most rear-end accidents. However, there are times when misconduct can be challenged. For more on comparative negligence, see below.
- Left-turn accidents: A driver turning left at an intersection is usually at-fault for an accident. However, there are times the fault may be mitigated, such as when the vehicle that is not turning was speeding or passed through a red light or stop sign.
Ways to Prove Fault
No matter how the accident happens, it is still necessary to prove fault. Remember, neither the insurance adjuster or the court was at the accident site, so the onus is on the not-at-fault driver to prove his or her case. There are several ways an attorney can do this:
- Site inspection: Providing that the lawyer was retained shortly after the accident occurred, it is essential to visit the crash site. While police have already cleared the scene, there are remaining ways to “see” what happened. In fact, you’d be surprised at the items that are left behind, such as debris on the road, roadway marks such as skid marks, damaged barriers. For example, the lack of skid marks in an accident where one vehicle hits another can mean that the driver never applied their breaks. This often happens when the negligent driver is drunk or falls asleep.
- Police reports: When an accident occurs, particularly one with injuries, the police will come. The officer in charge will file a police report. You or your attorney can ask for a copy of the report. This is useful because the police personnel will note if the at-fault driver broke the law and caused the accident, and in many cases, he or she will issue a citation. On other occasions, the notation may say the driver was negligent without going into specifics. Either way, this report would be instrumental in proving fault.
- Vehicle codes: Your attorney will have a thorough knowledge of the California vehicle codes. These are also called the rules of the road. The not-at-fault driver can use the vehicle codes to prove fault in an accident.
Unveiling At-Fault Parties
An experienced lawyer will look at the case in its totality. This means that there may be more than one responsible party. Some possibilities are:
- The other driver: The most common reason the accident happened is the negligence of another driver. For instance, driver error such as distracted driving or drunk driving may be the cause of the crash.
- Faulty roadway conditions: Property owners or government agencies in charge of the road may be responsible. This frequently happens when foliage or other impediments to seeing roadway signs obscures the driver’s view. Roadway debris can also be a factor.
- Negligent mechanics: If brakes or other automotive parts fail, leading to an accident, it may be possible to place fault on the mechanic. This takes detailed inspection of the vehicle and the site and is best handled by an auto accident attorney.
- Failure to use proper signage: Municipalities may be negligent if signage is not used to warn of dangerous conditions. For example, the absence of a sign telling drivers to slow down ahead of a sharp curve may be considered negligent.
Deductibles If a Driver Is Not-at-Fault
This depends on whether the damage related to the accident is paid for by your insurance carrier or that of the at-fault driver. If you are not at fault for the accident, you can choose which one to go with. The downside of using the negligent driver’s insurance is that it is usually a slower process. On the other hand, using your insurer will often involve paying a deductible.
A deductible is frequently part of collision, comprehensive and uninsured driver coverage. Although you may be required to pay the deductible, depending on your insurance carrier, the company will turn to the at-fault driver’s insurance to recover their payment and your deductible. An attorney will work to make sure your out-of-pocket payments are covered.
Comparative Fault in California
Comparative fault in California means that more than one driver can be taken to task for causing an accident. Take our earlier example of a rear-end accident. Let’s say that the vehicle in the lead had broken brake lights. A driver must make sure their vehicle is working properly before driving. The rear driver was too close to the lead vehicle when they stopped to avoid a rear-end collision.
Although the rear driver had no warning, he or she should stay a proper distance from the lead vehicle and proceed at a prudent speed. Since the car was too close, the driver would also be considered partially at fault. The driver in the lead then might be regarded as 40 percent at fault and the rear driver 60 percent at fault. This means the lead driver can still collect 60 percent of their damages under the principle of comparative fault.
Not All Car Accidents Are Alike
There are five factors that can affect your compensation after an accident.
- The Injuries incurred in the accident
- The insurance coverage you have
- The insurance coverage the at-fault driver has
- Medical care expenses
- Loss of income
Required and Optional Insurance in California
California requires liability coverage. This pays for damages and injuries you cause to others. It does not pay for injuries and damages to you or members of your family. The minimum mandatory coverage for bodily injury is $15,000 for injury or death for one person and up to $30,000 for the injury or death of more than one person.
Minimum liability limits for property damage are $5,000. This covers the property belonging to other people that you damaged.
Optional insurance includes that for uninsured or underinsured motorists. The insurance company must offer you this coverage, but you are not required to purchase it. It covers you when the other driver does not have ample insurance.
You can also purchase coverage for physical damage. This is called collision coverage. It covers you against damage to your vehicle caused by another vehicle or object. Comprehensive protects you from theft, fire and vandalism as well as storm and flood damage. This is usually required if you are leasing or have a loan on your vehicle.
Reporting the Accident
You must report your accident to the insurance company as soon as possible. If someone dies, is injured or if there is property damage over $1,000, you must also report the accident to the DMV. Your insurance agent or your attorney must complete the SR-21 form, which is the report of traffic accidents occurring in California.
Once you report your accident to the insurance company, a claims adjustor is assigned to your case. The adjuster’s job is to review the accident. He or she will look at your medical records, if any, vehicle damage and police and witness accounts. After acquiring all the necessary information, a settlement offer may be made.
This settlement offer is generally low. It is usually better not to accept the first offer if it is not adequate. If you have an attorney, he or she can advise you about this. Negotiations may end in a satisfactory offer. If not, if may be necessary to go to court to have it resolved.
How Much Will You Collect
This depends on the at-fault driver’s insurance policy. With so many drivers in California who are either underinsured or uninsured, being compensated for your loss can be difficult. Purchasing underinsured/uninsured coverage is one way to protect yourself.
If your own insurance policy allows for better coverage, it is possible to submit the claim to your own insurance company. The only downside is that you will be responsible for the deductible.
However, your insurance company will most likely use a process called subrogation. This means your insurance company will literally stand in your place, and make a claim against the other driver’s insurance company. Such a claim is weightier than a claim you, as the injured party, could file. In addition, the deductible you paid will most likely be refunded in part.
Medical Care Expenses and Lost Earnings After a Car Crash
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the cost of medical care after an accident as well as productivity loss was $80 billion in 2013, the last year for which data is available.
Using an injury severity score calculation, the medical care cost was divided into that required for low severity injuries to cataclysmic ones. The average range is shown below in 2010 dollars:
It stands to reason that the severity of injuries results in higher medical expenses and lost time from work.
Insurance company payments can cover the cost of necessary medical care; however, a delay can result in mounting bills. There are three ways to pay for medical care after a car accident before a case has been resolved. These are:
- Your own health insurance. If you choose this method and a lawsuit is filed against the at-fault driver or if insurance covers the expenses, the money must be paid back to your health insurer when you win.
- A separate, optional car insurance policy addition commonly called Med-Pay. See below for more information.
- When you need medical care and are unable to pay for it, health care providers may accept a medical lien.
Medical Pay Benefits in California
Since medical care is expensive, another way to cover reasonable and necessary care for you or passengers in your vehicle is by having “Med Pay” added to your insurance policy. This is not mandatory, and you must choose to have it. It will pay medical bills up to the coverage limit you have on your policy. Generally, the bills must be incurred within one year of the accident.
As noted in the table above, lost wages can have an enormous impact on the financial loss you suffer after a car accident. Lost wages incurred from an accident where you were not at fault and were injured can be covered by insurance when your policy covers this. You must provide adequate documentation along with your claim. This can include pay stubs or some other way of proving what you normally earn. Even contract workers can recover lost wages. Ask your attorney how to calculate and document this.
Rental Car Coverage
The insurance company will pay for a rental car. Since you can no longer rely on your vehicle, this loss of use” is compensable. You are entitled to compensation for the rental of a similar car for a reasonable amount of time.
What Happens When My Car Is Totaled?
In such cases, you will be paid for the market value of your car. If you are still paying off your car loan, you might owe more than the fair market value of your car. Gap insurance solves this problem. Let’s say you owe $20,000 on a vehicle currently worth $15,000 at fair market value. The insurer will pay your loan company the fair market value of the car, but you are responsible for the remainder of the loan.
Gap insurance will pay the difference between the two, so you are not left trying to pay off the remainder of the loan on your wrecked car while you are trying to get a new one.
David Azizi: A Car Accident Attorney Who Fights for Your Rights
Knowing what to do after a car accident is important. Having someone in your corner who will review your situation and make sure your rights are protected is essential. David Azizi has practiced personal injury law in California since 1998 and has been successful in 98 percent of his cases.
Car accidents are never as simple as it might seem. With today’s overwhelming amount of coverage issues, you might feel as if you are caught in a web of details. David will review your case, at no cost to you, and provide a plan to recover the financial loss you have suffered. If necessary, David will take your case to court. Give us a call at (800) 991-5292 to get started.