Suffering bad injuries in an accident can be a life-changing event. Not only could it have significant financial repercussions, but it could also take a toll on your physical and emotional well-being.
If you sustained serious injuries in an accident due to the negligence of another party, you might be entitled to compensation. But what if it was your fault? Are you still entitled to claim damages from the other party?
The answer to this question differs from state to state. However, in California, the short answer is:
California is an at-fault insurance and pure comparative fault state, and you can file a personal injury claim when an accident was your fault.
Read on to learn:
- What is an at-fault insurance state?
- Proving negligence
- The damages you might claim
- How comparative fault works in California
Personal Injury Claims: No-Fault vs At-Fault Insurance States
Whether you are in an at-fault or no-fault insurance state will determine if you can sue the other party for personal injuries when you are involved in a car accident and whether your insurance company or theirs pays for damages.
No-Fault Insurance States
In no-fault states, motorists must purchase personal injury protection (PIP) – minimum coverage limits differ from state to state.
Unlike at-fault states, you file your personal injury claim against your insurer and do not need to prove that the other party was at fault or negligent.
Personal injury protection typically covers economic damages, such as medical costs related to injuries sustained in an automotive accident, regardless of who caused the accident.
Although you typically cannot sue the other party for additional economic damages, you are, in principle, entitled to sue them for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, subject to state law limits.
Personal injury protection is usually expensive, and many believe it is redundant since most drivers already have health insurance.
The 12 states that have no-fault insurance laws are (in alphabetical order):
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
At-Fault Insurance States
Most states are at-fault insurance states.
To succeed in a personal injury claim for damages after an automotive accident in an at-fault state, such as California, you must prove that the other party was negligent to some degree.
Negligence is any act (or failure to act) by the defendant that results in a breach of their duty of care that could likely cause injuries to others.
It has four key elements, namely:
- Duty of care owed – The defendant owed you a duty of care.
- Duty of care breached – The defendant failed to fulfill their duty of care due to a careless act or failure to act.
- Causation – The defendant’s breach of duty was the proximate cause of the accident.
- Damages – You suffered damages as a result of the accident.
Proximate cause deals with foreseeability and establishing a link between a negligent act and the injury caused by that act. Your injury must have been a foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s conduct.
The Negligence Per Se Doctrine
Should the defendant be found guilty of a misdemeanor or felony in a criminal case, it improves your chances of winning a civil lawsuit based on the negligence per se doctrine.
Under this doctrine, a jury or judge will presume defendants are negligent if they violate a statute and, in doing so, injure someone it is there to protect.
You do not have to prove that the defendant owed you a duty of care and failed to fulfill this duty due to a careless act or failure to act.
However, you still have to prove that the defendant’s breach of duty was the proximate cause of the accident and that you suffered compensable losses due to the accident.
The Damages You Might Claim
You might be able to claim both economic and non-economic damages depending on the nature and extent of your injuries.
Under California law (California Civil Code § 1431.2 (b)(1) and (b)(2)):
- Economic damages are objectively verifiable monetary losses.
- Non-Economic damages are subjective, non-monetary losses.
“(b) (1) For purposes of this section, the term “economic damages” means objectively verifiable monetary losses including medical expenses, loss of earnings, burial costs, loss of use of property, costs of repair or replacement, costs of obtaining substitute domestic services, loss of employment and loss of business or employment opportunities.”
“(b) (2) For the purposes of this section, the term “non-economic damages” means subjective, non-monetary losses including, but not limited to, pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental suffering, emotional distress, loss of society and companionship, loss of consortium, injury to reputation and humiliation.”
Serious injuries include, but are not limited to:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Burn injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Loss of limb(s)
- Broken bones and fractures
- Back injuries
How Comparative Fault Works in California
Many people assume that if they are at fault for an accident, they are not entitled to receive compensation for damages in a personal injury claim.
It is true if you are 100% at fault. In some at-fault states, if you are more than 50% or 51% at fault, you cannot claim compensation for personal injuries from the other party – it’s called modified comparative fault doctrine.
A handful of states still follow the contributory negligence rule. Under this doctrine, even if the plaintiff was 1% responsible and the defendant 99% responsible for causing an accident, the plaintiff cannot recover damages.
The states that still follow the contributory negligence doctrine are Alabama, Washington D.C. (except for motor vehicle accidents involving pedestrians and bicycles), Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia.
However, California is a pure comparative fault state.
Under California’s comparative fault doctrine (sometimes called comparative negligence), a person injured in an accident can recover damages even if they are 99% at fault.
However, any damages you might recover will be reduced by your percentage of fault.
For example, a judge or jury may decide you are 90% responsible for causing an accident. If you suffered $100,000 in damages, you might still be entitled to receive $10,000 ($100,000 less 90%).
Statute of Limitations in California
The California statute of limitations for personal injury claims is two years, as per the California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 335.1., which states:
“Within two years: An action for assault, battery, or injury to, or for the death of, an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another.”
Note that in the case of a government entity, such as the City of Los Angeles, you only have six months to file a claim for damages. If you miss this deadline, you will not be able to pursue a personal injury lawsuit afterward.
Why Choose Cohen & Marzban Personal Injury Attorneys?
Personal injury claims can be complex. When you are claiming damages from a large insurance company with top-notch lawyers, you need to have a professional legal team on your side.
By hiring Cohen & Marzban to fight for you, you benefit from our extensive experience and expertise:
- We have over 45 years of experience in personal injury cases.
- Our attorneys know the ins and outs of personal injury claims.
- We don’t leave any stone unturned to get you the compensation you’re entitled to receive.
- We have already recovered $2,000,000,000+ in damages for clients!
- Our list of accolades includes winning The Litigator Award™ – an honor awarded to only the top 1% of trial attorneys in the United States.
All new clients receive a FREE consultation. If we agree to accept your case, we do not get paid unless you get paid!
Call us at (310) 464-2670 to schedule an appointment. Our phone lines are open 24/7.