What Must I Prove to Win My Car Accident Lawsuit in California?
February 22, 2019
According to California’s Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), more than 23,000 traffic accidents that caused injury or death occurred in Orange County in 2016, and more than 15,000 occurred in Riverside County in that same year. In Santa Ana, 2,881 victims were injured or killed, and about 10 percent of the time alcohol was involved. These startling numbers suggest that individuals who drive in and around Orange County and the Inland Empire areas of California have a good chance of being involved in a car accident at some point in their lives. Most car accidents are preventable, especially those caused by careless drivers. Accidents caused by negligent drivers that lead to serious injury bring an incredible amount of physical, emotional, and financial stress to victims and their families. Victims who choose to seek damages in civil court must prove negligence to win their car accident lawsuits.
If you or a loved one has sustained an injury in a car accident, you might be eligible to recover damages related to your injuries. Contact the skilled personal injury attorneys at Aitken * Aitken * Cohn at (714)-434-1424 to schedule a free consultation, to discuss the details of your car accident, and to learn about the ways that we can help you.
Proving Negligence in a California Car Accident
Although some exceptions exist, California courts require that plaintiffs prove negligence in personal injury lawsuits, including car accident lawsuits. California is not a “no-fault” insurance state, so courts assign a percentage of fault to each party in personal injury cases. To recover compensation following a car accident, you must clearly establish all four elements of negligence; you must show that:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care. All motorists owe a reasonable duty of care to others who share the road, which includes following traffic regulations and not making reckless decisions, such as driving while distracted.
- The defendant breached his or her duty of care. In cases where the defendant violated traffic laws, whether by drinking and driving or speeding, and that violation led to your accident, the other driver has clearly breached his or her duty of care. Some cases may not involve an outrights traffic violation, but the defendant’s carelessness nonetheless may have led to the accident. For example, eating while driving is a distraction that might lead to an accident if the driver took his or her attention away from driving.
- The defendant’s breach of duty caused your injury. To prevail in a car accident lawsuit, you and your attorney must prove that the defendant’s breach of duty caused your injury. In many cases, this is the most difficult element of negligence to prove as well as the most contested element, especially if more than two vehicles were involved in the accident. Insurance companies will pass the blame around and try to prove that your injuries were caused by a preexisting condition or that they occurred elsewhere.
- You must have suffered damages because of the injury. A car accident may cause you multiple types of harm, including physical, emotional, and financial. In addition to medical treatment, you might have lost wages, long-term health costs, and more tangible damages. Your attorney will also offer evidence to support any type of non-economic loss that applies to your situation, such as pain and suffering, loss of consortium, or scarring and disfigurement.
Comparative Fault in California Car Accident Cases
Ensuring the best possible outcome for your car accident case in California hinges on your own level of liability. California is a pure comparative fault jurisdiction, sometimes called a comparative negligence state. Once a court determines that a defendant was negligent, the court will assign a portion of fault to each party in the lawsuit and will reduce the damages award by the percentage of fault assigned to the plaintiff. For example, if you sue another driver for $400,000 in damages, but the court finds that you are 25 percent responsible for the accident and your injuries, you may only collect 75 percent of the total damages award, or $300,000. Comparative fault allows you to win your car accident lawsuit even if you were partially responsible for the accident, but it also places the onus on you to prove that the defendant was 100 percent at fault if you wish to recover full compensation.
Liability in California Car Accident Cases Involving Defective Vehicles
Defective cars and car parts can cause accidents and injuries in many situations. Defective tires, malfunctioning airbags, and faulty brake pads are only a few examples of car part failures that can lead to severe injury or death. California, like many other states, does not require the plaintiff to prove negligence in these cases. When defective vehicles or car parts cause an accident, California law holds car companies and car part manufacturers strictly liable, which means negligence does not play a factor. You and your attorney will only need to prove that the defect caused your injury.
Get the Legal Help You Need After a California Car Accident
If you or a loved one has sustained an injury in a car accident in or near Orange County or Riverside County, you should retain an experienced attorney to guide you through the legal process. A skilled lawyer will investigate your accident to determine liability and build your case, handle all communications with insurance companies and other parties to the defense, and aggressively litigate your case in court if settlement proves unviable. Working with an attorney will give you time to focus on recovering from your injuries and returning to everyday life.
California has a short, compared to other states, two-year statute of limitations for you to take legal action if you suffer injuries in a car accident. And if you were involved in an automobile accident with a governmental entity (state, local or federal), the statute of limitations is six months from when the motor vehicle accident occurred. Don’t delay; call one of the seasoned car accident attorneys at Aitken * Aitken * Cohn at (714) 434-1424, or contact us online, to schedule a free consultation and to determine your next steps. In the event that you choose us to represent you, we handle personal injury cases on a contingent fee basis, only collecting attorney fees from compensation that we secure for you in a settlement or verdict in your favor.