If you get into a car accident in California, a comparative negligence system determines the liability of each driver. What this means is that the amount of compensation you can receive from another driver’s insurance company depends on the amount that each of you are deemed at fault for the accident.
California uses what’s known as a pure comparative negligence system, which means that a driver is able to get compensation for their damages from an accident regardless of their own degree of fault. Here is an example that illustrates how this works at two different levels of fault:
Let’s say that a driver named Tom is going through an intersection at a green light when a car coming the opposite direction makes a left turn in front of him, even though cars making a left turn are supposed to yield to oncoming traffic. Tom hits the side of the other driver’s car. The driver who made the left turn instead of yielding would typically be considered 100 percent at fault, which would allow Tom to recover all of his damages from that driver’s insurance company. However, Tom was speeding, driving at 50 miles per hour even though the speed limit was 35. Because of this, the insurance adjusters decide that he is 25 percent at fault for the accident and the other driver is 75 percent at fault. If Tom has damages that add up to 10,000 dollars, he can recover 7,500 dollars from the other driver’s insurance company.
The other driver is also able to make a claim on this accident, because Tom does share some of the fault. Since Tom is 25 percent at fault, the other driver can recover compensation for 25 percent of his damages through Tom’s insurance company. If he also had damages totaling 10,000 dollars, then he can get 2,500 dollars.
The other type of comparative negligence is modified comparative negligence. This is when you can only receive compensation for your damages if you’re only at fault for a certain percentage of the accident or less. For example, some states only allow you to recover damages if you are determined to be 50 percent or less at fault, meaning the other driver was equally or more responsible for the accident than you were. In the hypothetical situation presented above, only Tom would be able to recover damages if the two drivers lived in a state that uses a modified comparative negligence system.
Remember that for a driver’s negligent behavior to affect an accident claim, that behavior must have caused the accident in some way. If someone rear ends you while you were stopped at a red light using your cell phone, the fact that you were behaving negligently by using your phone while operating a vehicle doesn’t matter in regards to the accident claim. You can’t be assigned any fault for that, because using your phone in no way contributed to the other driver hitting your car.
While it’s always critical that you handle your accident claim properly, it’s particularly important in California and any other states that use a pure comparative negligence system, as any negligence on your part lowers the amount that you can recover and could result in the other driver recovering damages from your insurance company. You could end up getting less money than you deserve and paying more for your insurance policy every month, just because you were assigned a small amount of negligence.
To give your accident claim the best chance of success, you should avoid talking to the other driver’s insurance adjuster at all. Any time that you do so, the adjuster has the opportunity to gather evidence that they can use against you to weaken your claim and assign you some percentage of the fault.
For the best results, you should hire a lawyer to represent you as soon as possible after a car accident. Your lawyer will know all about pure comparative negligence and can advise you on how to proceed to minimize your liability for the accident. They can also speak to the other insurance adjuster for you, so you avoid the possibility of incriminating yourself.
A car accident is something that nobody wants to experience. They disrupt our routine at minimum, cause sever trauma at a maximum, but in a moment of crisis, it’s rare that we stop and think about the financial repercussions until our insurance possibly takes a hit. Determining who is at fault in a car accident can be nearly as stressful as the accident itself, and at the end of the day, nobody wants to be the reason the accident occurred.
While it may be as possible as answering the simple question of who hit whom, depending on your state, the law can be rather vague when it comes to determining the driver at fault. In most cases, the faulty party can be proven via evidence. Even if the person at fault will not admit to it, the case can be proven via eyewitness accounts and damage to the car. Evidence presented for a person at fault does not necessarily need to be indisputable, and it doesn’t need to be proven beyond reasonable doubt. For instance, if a driver rear-ends another driver, they are at fault. If multiple cars are involved, the driver of the last car in the sequence is the one who will take the ultimate fall, though any cars caught in the middle may have their own share of blame for the accident.
Otherwise, state laws tend to vary when it comes to accidents that occur outside of a rear-end context. Car accidents tend to be contextual, meaning that the time of day, traffic pattern, and lane position all play a part at which driver is at fault. For instance, if a driver is making a left turn and is hit by a car going the opposite way, but straight, it would be necessary to look at traffic lights. If the turning driver made the turn while a green arrow was present, then the straight driver would be at fault. If the light was only green, and the turning driver was given no exclusive indication to go, then they may be at fault for failing to give the straight driver the right of way.
Photographic evidence can assist greatly when it’s time to determine who is the faulty party in a car accident. While emotions tend to run high during accidents and the immediate aftermath, being able to take a picture of the damage of both cars can help figure out not only the extent of the damage, but the type. In addition, be sure to take photographs of the surrounding street and scenery. This could assist law enforcement and insurance companies in deciding which party is at fault.
Of course, sometimes, determining who was at fault in the accident isn’t so tricky. If one driver decides to change lanes without checking their blind spot and hits another, the first driver is rather obviously at fault, and thus will possibly have to face an insurance premium increase. If the driver does not have insurance, that means that they’re probably acting in defiance of their state’s laws. They’ll have to foot the bill for the damages out of pocket, and will more than likely have to deal with any repercussions from law enforcement for violating their traffic laws. In addition, accidents don’t only affect the person who was hit. If the accident is sever, even the person at fault will have to pay for potentially extensive damages on their own car, leading to a depleting savings account and even more panic. In cases such as this, it may be beneficial to speak to a lawyer regarding your options. Even in a financial crisis, we may be able to help you.
If you are in an accident and need assistance determining who is at fault, the most important thing to do is to stay calm. Car accidents are tense situations, and it isn’t advisable to mount that tension. Stay calm as best you can, collect your thoughts, and be sure to respect the other party. This can keep the situation from escalating and allow the two (or more) parties to have an intelligent, productive discussion.