Auto Accidents

Recoverable Damages under California Law

Generally, an individual injured in a California automobile accident may bring a claim or lawsuit to recover the following:

  • Actual Damages (Expenses associated with property damage and medical costs)
  • Economic Damages (Lost wages and earning capacity)
  • Emotional and physical pain and suffering

California’s Insurance Coverage Law

The minimum coverage requirements for automobile insurance are regulated by the California’s Compulsory Financial Responsibility Law. This requires that individuals be financially responsible for their actions when owning and operating a motor vehicle in California. All drivers must show their ability to pay for damages or injury to others resulting from the ownership or operation of a motor vehicle.

The statutory minimum limits of liability insurance in California are as follows:

  • $15,000 for death or bodily injury of any one person, any one accident;
  • $30,000 for all persons in any one accident.
  • $5,000 for property damage in any one accident.

Comprehensive coverage (other than collision), uninsured motorist, medical payments and collision insurance are not required by law.

All California drivers and owners must have at least the statutory limits of minimum liability insurance or an approved alternative way to pay for injury or property damage they may cause.

Four ways to accomplish financial responsibility:

  1. Coverage by a motor vehicle or automobile liability insurance policy.
  2. A cash deposit of $35,000 with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
  3. A certificate of self-insurance issued by DMV to owners of fleets of more than 25 vehicles.
  4. A surety bond for $35,000 obtained from an insurance company licensed to do business in California.

Qualified drivers residing in the counties of Los Angeles and San Francisco are now able to purchase low cost, reduced limit, automobile liability coverage. The California Low Cost Automobile Insurance Program (CLCAIP) will satisfy the financial responsibility laws of the State of California.

Threshold for Liability

An individual who brings a claim or lawsuit against another driver for injuries sustained in an automobile accident, also known as a “claimant” or “plaintiff”, must prove that the other driver was negligent. Simply put, it must be proven that the other driver failed to use that degree of care in operating his or her vehicle which would be required of a reasonably prudent driver under similar circumstances. Whitford v Pacific Gas & Elec. Co., 289 P2d 278, 136 Cal.App.2d 697 (1955).

Also, it must be proven that the other driver’s negligence was the cause of the plaintiff’s damages and injuries. Clarke v Hoek, 174 C.A.3d 208 (1985); Peter W. v San Francisco Unified School District, 60 C.A.3d 814 (1976).

The cause which must be proven, “proximate cause” or “legal cause”, requires the claimant/plaintiff to demonstrate (1) the defendant’s negligence contributed to the plaintiff’s injury. Sagadin v Ripper, 175 C.A.3d 1141, 221 C.R. 675 (1985), Gordon v Havasu Palms, 93 C.A.4th 244, 112 C.R.2d 816 (2001); and (2) there is no foreseeable, independent intervening act causing the plaintiff’s injury. Mitchell v Gonzales, 54 C.3d 1041, 1 C.R.2d 913, 819 P.2d 872 (Negligence must be substantial factor in causing injuries).

Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence is negligence on the part of the plaintiff that contributes to his or her injury. California has adopted a “pure form” system of comparative negligence. Accordingly, if a plaintiff is even slightly at fault in creating the injury, damages will be reduced in proportion to his or her fault. Li v Yellow Cab Co., 13 C.3d 804, 119 C.R. 858, 532 P.2d 1226 (1975).

Common Actions Held to Be Negligent Under California Driving Law

The list below is by no means inclusive of all types of actions deemed negligent, but rather is representative of matters frequently encountered. Keep in mind that a jury determines whether a driver has acted negligently and whether the negligent act proximately caused the plaintiff’s injury.

Driving at Excessive Speeds
Driving in excess of the lawful speed limit is negligent. (Veh.C. 22350, et seq).; Hardin v San Jose City Lines, 41 C.2d 432, 260 P.2d 63 (1953).
Circumstances may make travel at speed less than maximum rate negligent. Scott v Texaco, Inc., 48 Cal.Rptr.785, 239 Cal.App.2d 431 (1966).
Road signs which create a special speed zone is a factor in considering whether a driver acted negligently. Wilding v Norton, 319 P.2d 440, 156 Cal.App.2d 374 (1957).

Failure To Keep A Proper Lookout A driver must keep a proper lookout for other persons or vehicles on the road and must keep his or her vehicle under such control so as to be able to avoid a collision. Leeper v Nelson, 293 P.2d 111, 139 Cal.App.2d 65 (1956); Lutz v Schendel, 345 P.2d 488, 175 Cal.App.2d 140 (1959).

Failure To Yield Right Of Way – (Veh.C. 21800, et seq.)

Intersections (Veh.C. 21800(a)-(e), Saterlee v Orange Glenn School Dist. 29 C.2d 581, 177 P.2d 279 (1947);

Left turns (Veh.C. 21801) Sesler v Ghumman, 219 C.A.3d 218, 268 C.R. 70 (1990);

Yield Right Of Way Signs (Veh.C.21803);
U-Turns (VehC. 22105)

Defects in Vehicles The owner or operator of a motor vehicle is under a duty to properly maintain his or her vehicle and to reasonably inspect the vehicle for defects in order to prevent an increase in the chances of inflicting injuries on others by its use. Yamaha Motor Corp. v Paseman, 268 Cal.Rptr. 514, 219 Cal.App. 958 (1990); Dyer v Superior Court, 65 Cal.Rptr.2d 85, 56 Cal.App.4th 61 (1997).

Reckless Acts Or Willful Conduct An operator of a motor vehicle has engaged in willful misconduct when he or she has done something, or fails to do something, with the knowledge that injury to another will be the probable result. Ingram v Bob Jaffe Co., 239 P.2d 132, 139 Cal.App2d 193 (1956).

Driving On The Wrong Side Of Road (Veh.C. 21650); Altomare v Hunt, 101 C.A.2d 10, 224 P.2d 904 (1950).

Turning From The Wrong Lane (Veh.C. 22107)

Failure To Use And/Or Maintain Brakes – (Veh.C. 26450, et seq.) Maloney v Rath, 69 C.2d 442, 71 C.R. 897, 445 P.2d 513 (1968).

Failure to Use And/Or Maintain Headlights – (Veh.C. 24400, et seq.) Matlock v Farmers Mercantile Co., 258 C.A.2d 362, 65 C.R. 723 (1968).

Failure To Give Proper Signals – (Veh.C. 22107-22111) Pittman v Boiven, 249 C.A.2d 207, 57 C.R. 319 (1967).

Failure To Maintain A Safe Distance From Other Vehicles – (Veh.C. 21703) Pittman v Boiven, 249 C.A.2d 207, 57 C.R. 319 (1967).

Driving Under The Influence Of Liquor Or Drug – (C.C. 3333.4(a)(1))

For over 24 years we have been helping injured people receive reasonable compensation for injuries caused by defective products, auto and trucking accidents, and unsafe conditions on property. We only take cases we believe are reasonable and where there is insurance to pay the claim. IF you have been injured as a result of another’s negligence or reckless conduct and need legal help we would be happy to talk with you.

Call Toll Free 1-888-227-2771 Arnold Law Firm