Petrov Personal Injury Lawyers | September 5, 2023 | Car Accident
California requires all car owners to buy liability insurance. In a crash, negligence law determines which party bears the liability for the resulting damages. According to the terms of the at-fault driver’s insurance policy, the insurer steps in and covers those liabilities up to the policy limits.
After a minor car accident, the at-fault driver’s liability insurance will probably cover all the losses the injured victims suffered. But after a serious accident, the at-fault driver might face many physical, legal, and financial consequences from their actions.
Injuries From an Accident
If you cause an accident, you may suffer serious injuries. The injuries could range from bruises and abrasions to catastrophic injuries, brain injuries or spinal cord injuries. Some common injuries you could suffer in a car accident include:
- Broken bones
- Soft tissue injuries, such as muscle or ligament sprains
- Whiplash injuries to the neck
- Seat belt injuries
- Herniated discs
Many of these injuries will likely heal with no long-term consequences. But some injuries, like ruptured ligaments and herniated discs, could cause chronic pain, weakness, and other disabilities for the rest of your life. As a result, you might require expensive medical treatment and physical therapy. You might also suffer significant income losses from your inability to work.
What Happens if I’m at Fault in a Car Accident and I’m Injured?
If you bear the fault for an accident, you cannot pursue an injury claim against anyone else. You might have an insurance claim under your auto insurance policy if you bought Med-Pay coverage. This coverage pays your medical expenses up to the policy limit.
Legal Liability for an Accident
In addition to suffering injuries, you might incur legal liability for the accident you cause. You could face two types of legal matters after a car accident.
Liability for Crimes and Infractions
You may have a legal liability to the state when a police officer has probable cause to believe you violated a criminal or noncriminal traffic law. If you caused an accident by running a red light, you violated California’s vehicle code that requires all drivers to stop when facing a steady red signal. The police officer who investigates your crash can write a traffic ticket.
Different violations get treated differently by the court system. Minor violations, called infractions, might expose you to a fine, but you will not face any jail time. Examples of infractions include speeding and failing to yield at a stop sign.
More severe violations might qualify as crimes. Hit-and-run or reckless driving could expose you to fines and jail time.
In both cases, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) can add points to your driving record. The number of points added will depend on the violation. The DMV can suspend the license of a driver who accumulates too many points.
The other form of liability you could face is civil liability. This type of liability happens when your intentional or negligent actions harm someone else. Not every car accident involves liability. Some accidents happen despite everyone acting with reasonable care. For example, flood waters could push one car into another car. In this case, neither driver bears the fault.
But in most cases, at least one of the drivers acted negligently or intentionally in causing the collision by:
- Violating traffic laws
- Failing to follow customs, like slowing down on a curve
- Doing something legal but unreasonably dangerous, like combing your hair while driving
If the law determines that you bear the fault for an accident, you become liable for any losses you cause, including:
- Damage to any vehicles or property
- Medical expenses and wage losses for victims’ injuries
- Pain, mental anguish, and disability losses due to harm caused to victims
If you do not have auto insurance or these losses exceed your policy limits, you will be personally liable for paying for these losses. In other words, you may need to withdraw your savings and sell assets, like your home or vehicle, to pay any damage award against you.
How Liability Insurance Works
California requires two forms of liability insurance. Bodily injury liability (BIL) coverage pays for injuries you cause. Property damage liability (PDL) coverage pays for property damage resulting from your accident. These coverages only pay third parties that you harm. They do not pay your losses due to injuries or property damage.
This type of insurance steps in to pay any liabilities you incur within the scope of the policy. Auto insurance covers any liabilities you incur while negligently operating the insured vehicle. It does not cover any liabilities for intentional car crashes.
Your liability insurer will not just pay your liabilities. It will also provide a defense lawyer to try to minimize your liability to the accident victims. Some defenses an insurance lawyer might raise include:
- The accident did not cause the victim’s injuries
- The victim’s treatment was not necessitated by their injuries
- The victim contributed to the cause of their injuries
The last defense is the most important. When you are at fault for a car accident, you can argue that the victim was also at fault. If you can pin some of the fault on the accident victim, you may reduce your liability.
California uses a system called “pure comparative negligence” to allocate blame. For instance, if it is determined that the other driver was 40% responsible for the crash, their damages award can be reduced by 40%.
The Role of the Injury Lawyer
After your accident, you should consult an injury lawyer to assess your potential legal exposure. If the other driver or their insurer accuses you of being at fault for causing the accident, you should verify your legal risk with an experienced car accident lawyer. You might have defenses that can reduce your liability or even shift it to the other driver.
Contact the North County Car Accident Lawyers at Petrov Personal Injury Lawyers for Help Today
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