Orange County Car Accident Lawyer
An Orange County car accident lawyer knows that auto crashes happen every day. Some of the most common factors include:
- Distracted drivers. Drivers that are texting, eating, applying makeup and reading are common causes of accidents.
- Drinking while driving. Even though there are strict laws that try to prohibit drunk driving, many drivers still get behind the wheel after a few drinks which delays their reaction times and ability to think clearly.
- Speeding. Many accidents are caused by unsafe drivers who are going over the legal speed limit.
- Bad road conditions. Whether it’s roads that are not maintained or the weather, the roads can be affected by bad road conditions.
Unfortunately, car accidents are a part of life. But what happens after an accident? What do you do? In our definitive car accident guide, the Orange County car accident attorneys at RMD Law will walk you through the ins and outs of the legal ramifications of a car accident.
To jump to a specific chapter, just click on the corresponding link:
Chapter 1: What Should You Do After A Car Accident?
Chapter 2: What are California’s Rules?
Chapter 3: How to Get an Orange County Accident Report
Chapter 4: How is Fault Determined?
Chapter 5: What if the Driver Doesn’t Have Insurance?
Chapter 6: How Can You Protect Yourself?
Chapter 7: What Happens if a Family Member Was Killed?
Chapter 8: What Damages are You Entitled To?
Chapter 9: Why Hire an Orange County Car Accident Lawyer?
Chapter 1: What Should You Do After A Car Accident?
1. Get the Police Involved
Often, the person who hit you will do their best to make sure you don’t call the police. They’ll give you their information and want to settle the situation without getting anyone else involved. Any Orange County car accident lawyer worth their salt will tell you that this is a bad idea. Once they leave the scene, they could give a completely different story to their insurance company than you give yours. Even if they’re honest, their insurance company will often do everything in its power to avoid paying the claim. It’s important to get an accurate, objective version of events, and the police are there for this reason.
With a police report, you have protection. Sometimes the police will arrive and tell you that they don’t do reports for “minor” accidents without injuries and they will do an “exchange of information” report only. You have every right to insist on a full report. If you’ve been hurt, any and all information about the accident will be of use to your doctor and insurance company. Politely but firmly insist on a police report. You must strike a delicate balance between respectfully asserting your rights, while not making the police angry with you (in fact, your demeanor and anything you say just might be reflected in their report. Always do your best to be calm and polite, no matter the situation.).
Once the police write their report, you’ll need to get a copy for your records. We’ll have more information on that later in this guide.
2. Take Lots of Photos
Everyone has a smartphone in their pockets, and this is the most powerful weapon at your disposal. No need for pen and paper. Grab that iPhone and start taking snaps. Here are the photos your Orange County car accident lawyer needs to maximize the value of your case:
- The accident scene
- The damage and license plates of every involved vehicle (not just your own car).
- If the airbags deployed, get photos of them.
- Photos of the insurance cards, vehicle registrations, and driver’s license of every driver. Ask for their cellphone numbers as well.
- If an ambulance comes to the scene, take a picture. Even photograph emergency personnel responding to the scene of the incident. These will be crucial to proving the seriousness of your claim down the road.
- Your visible injuries, including bruising and any bleeding.
Remember, when in doubt take a photo – “shoot first and ask questions later” should be your motto.
3. Seek Medical Attention
Your injuries may be more severe than you think. Many people do not get prompt medical care after an accident, and this results in lifelong injuries. Don’t be one of these people – you should get appropriate treatment the same day. This might include an emergency room for serious pain, a local urgent care, your primary care doctor, or a physical therapist or chiropractor. If in pain or in doubt, call an ambulance. These medical professionals will advise you what is wrong and how you can get better – fast. They will also document your claim so that there can be no dispute about your injuries later on.
4. Stay Quiet – Especially Online
When the insurance companies call (yours or theirs) and trust us, they WILL call, do not talk unless you have consulted with an Orange County car accident attorney first. Watch what you say and do on Facebook and Instagram.
This is a true story: One former client posted a photo of their wrecked car (complete with shattered windows and airbag deployment) and said “thank god we are OK” in the caption. That client had major surgery due to their back injuries later on. The defense used their photo as a basis to deny the claim, forcing a lawsuit. Everyone knows that “we are OK” is a figure of speech, but an insurance company’s job is to reduce the value of your claim. Don’t help them.
Chapter 2: What are California’s Rules?
You’ve been hurt in a motor vehicle accident in Orange County, and it was the other driver’s fault. What do you do now? There’s a lot to understand, think about, and act on, but one thing to remember is that California is a tort or “fault” state when it comes to auto insurance.
You might have heard these terms before, but if you’ve never had to deal with an accident claim, you might not have given them much thought. What do they mean?
Basics of the “Fault” Insurance System
About one quarter of US states have adopted what is known as a “no-fault” insurance system (California is not one of them). In these states, a system is in place to make sure that most car accident injury claims are handled without the need for lawsuits. The idea behind these systems was to take the burden of these suits out of the courts, to save time and money. No-fault systems also make sure that those with serious injuries receive appropriate compensation.
The rest of the states (including California) rely on a system that, by default, does nothing when someone is injured in a crash. If a victim wants to recover damages for his or her injuries—medical expenses, lost wages and income, rehabilitation costs, and so on—he or she needs to file a civil lawsuit (a tort) against the person who caused the accident.
As of right now, only 12 states and provinces are no-fault insurance locales. Those states are Florida, Michigan, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Minnesota, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Puerto Rico. In these states, PIP (personal injury protection) is mandatory. We’ll cover PIP in more detail in Chapter 6.
In a “fault” car insurance state such as California, the not-at-fault driver can sue the at-fault driver for medical expenses and other damages. When suing a third party in an at-fault state, the plaintiff has little to no restrictions. While most people agree that an at-fault system is the better system, some people do not necessarily view it as a good thing. In a fault state, the injured party must prove that the other party was liable for his or her injuries before the insurance company will pay up. In a no-fault state, the injured party’s insurance company is required to pay regardless of fault. In a no-fault state, the injured party can claim medical bills, the cost of rehabilitation, and lost wages. He or she cannot, however, sue the other driver for pain and suffering, inconvenience, or emotional distress.
There are many restrictions that come with both, but because California is a fault state, we are going to focus on the process for collecting compensation in the Golden State.
Recovery Options in Fault States
Though insured individuals are guaranteed recovery in a no-fault state, they do not have as many options for recovery as their fault insurance state counterparts. In a fault insurance state, you have three different options when it comes to recovering compensation for your injuries:
- File a claim with your own insurance company;
- File a claim through the insurance company of the at-fault driver; or
- File a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver.
Though recovery for lost income, pain and suffering, and other non-economic damages is possible in no-fault states, it is more difficult to recover those types of damages from an insurance company. Unfortunately, many insurance companies are more concerned with their bottom lines than anything else and often try to get claimants to settle for significantly less than their claims are actually worth.
California Car Insurance Requirements
California requires all drivers to carry a minimum amount of liability coverage. This minimum is not the same as the minimum required by lenders, who often require borrowers to carry a minimum amount of collision coverage as well. The minimum coverage California motorists are required to carry is as follows:
- $15,000 for injury or death of a person who is not at fault;
- $30,000 for injury or death of two or more people who are not at fault; and
- $5,000 property damage coverage.
(California Insurance Code §11580.1b)
Not everybody can afford full coverage, which is why the state offers the Government-Sponsored Car Insurance Program for Low-Income Families. This program (CLCA) provides the following type of coverage to eligible persons:
- $10,000 for bodily injury or death per person;
- $20,000 for total bodily injury or death when multiple people are hurt in an accident; and
- $3,000 for property damage.
Thanks to the CLCA, there is no reason that individuals should not carry auto insurance.
While California is not a no-fault state, there is still a state requirement that every driver have liability insurance. A driver needs $15,000/$30,000 coverage for death and bodily injury (the separate numbers are for a single victim and multiple victims). A driver also must have at least $5,000 in property damage coverage.
These are minimums, and a driver can carry much more insurance than this. But drivers must meet the minimums: If a driver is caught without insurance, he or she will be fined at least $100 (and it could be more). If lack of insurance is discovered at the scene of an accident, the penalties will be much stiffer: A driver could have his or her vehicle impounded and license suspended with much higher fines.
Alternatives to Car Insurance in California
Again, insurance is necessary not just to protect yourself, but to protect other motorists in the event that you are negligent in your actions. To ensure that everyone is protected, the state allows car insurance alternatives for those who do not wish to purchase a standard policy. Some alternative options are:
- Pay a $35,000 cash deposit with the DMV;
- Obtain a self-insurance certificate from the DMV; or
- Get a $35,000 surety bond from an entity that is licensed to issue these types of bonds in California.
If you are involved in an accident in California with someone who does not have insurance, they may have one of the above forms of protection, which could be used to cover the cost of your injuries and damages.
What to Do When Insurance is Not Enough
Unfortunately, insurance coverage is often not enough to cover the cost of damages. Some accidents may result in debilitating and life-altering injuries that require extensive, ongoing medical attention. In these instances, it is best to consult with an Orange County car accident lawyer regarding your options. Some options you may have include:
- Using your own coverage;
- Turning to personal injury protection;
- Health insurance.
If you do not have personal injury protection, and if your health insurance coverage is not enough to cover the cost of your physical and emotional damages, you may be able to pursue a personal injury claim against the liable party. If you are successful, the responsible party may be forced to pay for the remaining damages out of pocket. Unfortunately, depending on his or her financial situation, pursuing a third-party claim may be fruitless. However, a skilled attorney can use his or her investigative skills to uncover any hidden assets or assets that may be used to pay for your medical expenses and other costs.
Should You Sue?
Nothing will happen unless you take action. If you want to get compensation for the damages you’ve suffered, you’ll have to sue. An experienced Orange County car accident lawyer can help you settle your case out of court and avoid the hassle and stress of the courtroom.
Your injuries might be much more serious, however, and getting compensated for their true value may require a legal action. That’s where an experienced Orange County car accident lawyer comes in. They’ll gather evidence, send demand letter, and follow through on legal filings and paperwork that needs to be made to make sure that your claim succeeds.
Chapter 3: How to Get an Orange County Accident Report
If available, a police report is often the foundation of a successful negligence case. Police officers still command special respect among certain people. So, car crash eyewitnesses normally come forward to officers. Moreover, most officers are very experienced when it comes to working accident scenes. They know how to piece together the evidence into a complete picture. Finally, the reporting officer often issues a citation to one driver, and to one driver only.
But there are some significant drawbacks. Today’s police officers also inspire contempt and fear among many people. So, many witnesses may not voluntarily come forward. Furthermore, even a highly-experienced officer is not a professional accident reconstructionist.
Perhaps most importantly, in many cases, the police report is incomplete. If the victim was too injured to give a statement, the police report only contains one side of the story. First responders are not on the scene to gather evidence for a potential lawsuit. So, they seldom perform follow-up investigations.
For individuals, obtaining a police report is a time-consuming and cumbersome process. The report may be unavailable for up to two weeks or even longer, even up to 6-8 months in the event of death or serious injury.
Different agencies have different rules. Some sheriff’s office records may be legally protected and unavailable without a subpoena. Furthermore, if you go to the wrong agency, you hit a dead end. You must start the process all over with another agency, and then another one, and then another one, until you find the right one.
For a car accident lawyer, the process is usually much easier. Furthermore, at RMD Law, we do not charge upfront legal fees in these matters. So, the request process is essentially free of charge. Basically, we jump through any legal or procedural hoops so you can spend your valuable time doing something else.
An Orange County Car Accident Lawyer Can Help
As mentioned earlier, the police report is only a starting point, especially in serious injury crashes. At these scenes, first responders are often too busy securing the area and tending to injured victims to spend lots of time writing reports. This lack of information is a big problem for victim/plaintiffs. They have the burden of proof, and that means they need evidence. To obtain it, an attorney will often partner with private investigators in areas like:
- Additional Witnesses: For various reasons, some people do not feel comfortable talking to police officers. If an investigator or attorney approaches them informally, they are much more willing to talk. Furthermore, many people don’t come forward because they only saw part of the accident. Their testimony is important as well, and a lawyer or an investigator can find them.
- Surveillance Video: Unless the accident was a high profile case or a hit-and-run, officers seldom review nearby surveillance video. Even if they take this step, they usually only look at cameras which were at the scene. A camera a few blocks down the road often yields vital information.
- Electronic Evidence: One such example are the Electronic Logging Devices which most commercial vehicles have. ELDs automatically record the driver’s service hours. So, these gadgets are very useful in fatigued driving cases. Even if the driver technically complied with the law, many people are naturally sleepy at certain times. The ELD has this information as well.
Surveillance video and electronic evidence is very hard to challenge in court and it’s scientifically more reliable than eyewitness testimony. Plus, sophisticated Orange County jurors often respond well to a case that has lots of technical bells and whistles.
Evidence and California Insurance Company Defenses
While your Orange County car accident attorney will work hard for you, the insurance company has lawyers working hard as well. But these attorneys are committed to minimum compensation for victims. Many times, they look to legal defenses like:
- Contributory Negligence: If at all possible, the insurance company will shift the blame for the accident onto the victim. For example, a lawyer might admit that the tortfeasor was speeding but argue that the victim’s illegal turn really caused the car crash.
- Sudden Emergency: In pedestrian accident cases, insurance companies almost always argue that the victim “darted out into traffic.” That makes it sound like the tortfeasor had no way to avoid the crash.
- Assumption of the Risk: In passenger injury cases, lawyers usually argue that the passengers should have known better than to get in a car with a reckless driver and therefore the tortfeasor is not legally responsible.
Evidence is the best way to beat these arguments. For example, if the insurance company tried to use the contributory negligence defense, an Orange County car accident lawyer can use evidence to show that the tortfeasor wasn’t just speeding a little, but that the tortfeasor barrelled through the intersection at a high speed.
Chapter 4: How is Fault Determined?
On a high level, fault is easy to determine. Human error causes about 95 percent of the car crashes in Orange County. But a negligence case goes deeper than just general fault. In order for victim/plaintiffs to obtain fair compensation for their damages, they must establish the tortfeasor’s (negligent driver’s) level of responsibility for what happened.
This compensation normally includes money for both economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, like emotional distress. In some cases, additional punitive damages are available. There must be clear and convincing evidence that the tortfeasor ignored a known risk and recklessly endanger the safety and/or property of other people.
Citations Issued at the Scene
If the reporting officer gives one driver a ticket, this basically constitutes a presumption of negligence. Other evidence from the scene, or perhaps the picture that an accident reconstructionist draws, may point to a different conclusion. However, in many cases, this presumption is difficult to overcome.
California has a very strong negligence per se rule. In most cases, if a tortfeasor receives a citation at the scene, that individual is presumed liable for damages as a matter of law. This doctrine applies if all the following elements are present:
- Safety Law Violation: At the crash scene, first responders often issue citations for things like speeding or failure to maintain a proper lookout. In some cases, traffic infractions like these constitute an additional presumption of negligence.
- Protected Class: The victim must be among the people which the law was designed to protect. This element is present in most cases. The Vehicle Code was designed to protect anyone on the road, including motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, and bystanders.
- Substantial Cause: The legal infraction need not be the wreck’s sole cause. Instead, it need only be a substantial cause. Even if other factors contributed to the wreck, the negligence per se rule may still apply.
If the tortfeasor received multiple citations, there is a very strong possibility of punitive damages. It’s one thing to speed; it’s quite another to speed through a red light. The same thing may apply if the citation points to behavioral negligence. For example, people who knowingly operate vehicles without valid insurance arguably represent a high risk to public safety.
How Do Witnesses Help Determine Fault in Orange County?
Despite persistent questions about the reliability of such evidence, eyewitnesses are usually the largest component in a fault determination. These credibility issues are easier to deal with in civil court because of the lower burden of proof. In criminal court, any credibility question may invalidate a witness’ testimony. But in a negligence case, that’s simply not true.
Nevertheless, it’s important to evaluate the credibility of the witnesses based on several factors. The jury will almost certainly go through this process. Some of these factors include:
- Interest in the Case: All witnesses are “interested” witnesses to some extent or they would not have agreed to testify. But the statements of an unconnected bystander almost always carry more weight with the jury than a party’s statements. That’s not because the victim or tortfeasor is lying but because they see things from their own perspectives.
- Background: We all have skeletons in our closets. But sometimes these skeletons are relevant to the way we perceive facts and sometimes they are not. A good Orange County car accident lawyer knows the difference and uses it to attack adverse witnesses and defend friendly ones.
- Perspective: One witness rarely sees the entire wreck from start to finish. Typically, an attorney must listen to several witnesses and piece their recollections together like a jigsaw puzzle.
Ultimately, the jury or other factfinder determines the credibility of witnesses. In other words, the jury also makes the ultimate determination of fault. Appeals courts almost never upset jury decisions in these matters, except in extreme cases.
Other Evidence In California Car Wreck Cases
Because of these credibility and reliability issues, it’s normally a mistake to base a fault determination entirely on witness statements. Moreover, the jury will probably expect electronic or other physical evidence in addition to witness testimony. Fortunately, such evidence is often available and it often contributes significantly to this process.
Most people do not know that their passenger car probably contains an Event Data Recorder. Just like a jet airplane’s “black box” collects mechanical information that crash investigators often use, the EDR captures and records statistics like:
- Steering angle,
- Acceleration rate,
- Vehicle speed, and
- Critical mechanical data.
Assuming the EDR is in good working order, it’s almost impossible to challenge the validity of this information in court. Moreover, the EDR is very specific. For example, a witness may say that a car was moving fast and turned at the last second. But the EDR data may reveal that the car was traveling 51.3mph and turned at an angle of 47.2 degrees exactly 0.6 seconds before impact.
There’s an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. When it comes to fault determination, more pictures are available than ever before. Surveillance cameras are everywhere. There might be a red-light camera at the intersection and several security cameras which capture street views. The images these cameras provide are nothing like those grainy 1980s convenience store black-and-white videos. Modern images are in high definition and very easy for the jury to see.
Chapter 5: What if the Driver Doesn’t Have Insurance?
Automobile accidents can cause devastating injuries that leave motorists bedridden for months. At RMD Law, we have seen broken bones, crushed limbs, traumatic brain injuries, and spinal cord injuries, among many others. These injuries can require hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical treatment, including ongoing care.
But what happens if the driver who caused the collision did not have insurance? Or what if they did have insurance but the policy amounts are not enough? This is where uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage comes in.
What is Uninsured/underinsured Motorist Coverage?
Imagine a common scenario. Angela strikes Tyler in an intersection after she races through a red light. As a result of the crash, Tyler suffers a broken neck and a traumatic brain injury, both of which keep him out of work for 6 months and require extensive rehabilitation. All told, Tyler’s injuries have required $100,000 in medical bills and have cost him another $40,000 in lost wages.
Like other California drivers, Angela carries bodily injury liability insurance (BI) to cover injuries she causes in crashes. However, her BI insurance provides only a maximum of $15,000 (which is the state minimum). That still leaves well over $125,000 in unpaid expenses because of the collision.
Or imagine Angela has no insurance. In that situation, Tyler must bear the entire costs of the crash—even though Angela is to blame.
However, if he has UM/UIM coverage, then Tyler can use his policy to pay for medical care and replace lost wages. This insurance steps in when the other driver has no coverage or an insufficient amount.
Is UM Coverage Required?
No. According to law, your insurer must offer you at least $15,000 per person and $30,000 per accident in UM coverage. However, you can always reject it—and, unfortunately, many California drivers do. This means they will not have extra insurance proceeds to tap if the driver who strikes them does not have BI insurance or does not have enough.
As you can see based on the example above, $15,000 does not really provide much coverage. Maybe $15,000 paid for meaningful medical care in the 1980s, but medical care has skyrocketed in cost. Today, that amount will barely cover the costs of inserting a plate or pin to keep a broken bone in place. If you do not want to gamble, then you should certainly purchase UM insurance.
Can You Get More than the $15,000 in UM Coverage Offered?
You can. Remember, $15,000 is just the minimum. Talk to the insurer who provides you with BI insurance and ask how much it would cost to get additional UM coverage. Purchase an amount that makes you feel comfortable. And remember, your premiums will not rise if you pursue a claim.
You should also consider getting medical pay benefits insurance. These benefits pay for reasonable and necessary medical expenses to you and your passengers in the event of a crash. You can usually purchase them in $1,000 increments.
Few drivers ever plan to rely on their automobile insurance coverage. Nevertheless, accidents can and do happen every day on California’s roads. And when they do, you will be relieved that you have sufficient insurance to cover injuries to yourself and your family.
Will My Rates Rise if I File a Claim?
Under pertinent provisions of California Insurance Code 1861.02 , the rates of premiums for auto insurance for policy holders in CA may only be determined by the following factors:
1) The “insured’s driving safety record”;
2) The “number of miles he or she drives annually”; and
3) The “number of years of driving experience the insured has had . . ..”
This is an exclusive list (see statutory construction “shall be determined” – legislatures that use the word “shall” do so in order to avoid ambiguity!). – Insurers may not use unlisted factors in order to increase insurance premiums.
The above discussed regs stems from CA Proposition 103, which the voters passed in the late 1980s. California residents’ premiums may not be increased unless they have excessive moving violations or are deemed 51 percent or more at fault in an incident.
This protection extends to filing an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim when you are involved in a crash with another driver who has no insurance or a small policy. It also applies when an insurance company argues that you are partially at fault for the incident. The bottom line is that if you were not “principally at fault” and you sustained bodily harm, filing a claim either with your own insurance carrier or through the provider of the at fault party is your legal right.
Can I “Stack” Coverage?
Certain states allow you to “stack” insurance policies to maximize your coverage. For example, you could have multiple UM/UIM policies under one or more providers, and then file claims under each policy in the event of an accident so you’re able to recover the highest amount of damages possible. However, California does not allow insurance policy stacking (see the chart here). It’s important to purchase a single policy that will protect you as much as possible.
Chapter 6: How Can You Protect Yourself?
California does not require PIP (personal injury protection) insurance, also called medical payments coverage, or “med-pay.” However, motorists might be interested in purchasing it anyway. Consider the following factors when deciding whether to purchase medical payments coverage.
What is PIP or Med-Pay?
Most people know what liability insurance is. If you get in an accident, the driver who is responsible for the collision will have insurance that pays for medical care for other people. For example:
Michael rear ends Annie at an intersection, causing Annie to slam against her driving wheel and suffer multiple broken bones as well as a concussion. Because Michael is at fault for the collision, Annie can file a claim with Michael’s insurer. His bodily injury liability insurance (BI) will pay for Annie’s medical bills and replace any lost wages.
What happens, though, if Michael is injured in the same collision? Because he is at fault for the crash, he cannot make a claim with Annie’s insurer. He also cannot make a claim with his own liability insurance, which only covers injuries to other drivers.
This is where med-pay benefits come in. These benefits will pay for Michael’s medical care, regardless of who was at fault. In no-fault insurance states like Florida, these benefits are called PIP. In California, they are called med-pay.
Should I Purchase Med-Pay?
As stated above, med-pay insurance is not required in California. However, it can provide vital coverage in the event of an accident. Med-pay also covers injuries to your passengers as well, so it affords extra protection. You should contact your insurance carrier to check how much more it will cost to get med-pay insurance benefits.
What Does Med-Pay Cover?
Your medical payments benefits will cover medical care that is:
● For injuries sustained in the accident
Med-pay benefits typically do not cover so-called experimental treatment or treatment for an injury that you had before you got into the car crash. You should read your policy closely to understand what medical treatment will be covered. For example, acupuncture or massage might not be covered, since some policies do not consider it necessary (even if they are often helpful).
Should I Make a Claim with My Med-Pay Insurer?
Many injured motorists worry that making a claim for med-pay benefits will cause their insurance rates to increase. However, California law prohibits an insurer from increasing your rates for filing a claim if the accident was not your fault.
Conversely, if you were at fault, then making a claim could result in an increase to your premiums. In this situation, you might want to reconsider filing unless you have major injuries that you cannot afford to treat on your own.
Chapter 7: What Happens if a Family Member Was Killed?
According to the National Safety Council, the number of deaths that occur on California roadways is on the incline. From 2015 to 2016, the number rose by 13 percent, which is more than double the national rate. Sadly, this increase is not a huge surprise. The 405, which has been dubbed “the busiest freeway in the nation,” sees an average of 379,000 vehicles each day. That is just one freeway in a state with dozens.
That said, though the number of drivers on California roadways certainly contributes to the rising death rates, the issue cannot be placed solely on population. California drivers have known to be aggressive, erratic, and just plain negligent. For most, such behavior is irritating but not harmful. For others, however, such behavior can be deadly. When negligent, aggressive, or reckless driving leads to the death of another person, the negligent party may find him or herself the defendant of a wrongful death lawsuit.
Causes of Wrongful Death Auto Accidents
A wrongful death auto accident can stem from any number of seemingly innocent actions. For instance, a teenaged driver may take out his or her cell phone to call Mom or Dad for directions and, because he is not looking at the road, run into a pedestrian. A person who is late for work may be driving just a little too fast and, when she goes to switch lanes, sideswipe an oncoming vehicle because she forgot to check her blind spot. Defendants in wrongful death cases are typically not criminals—they’re just people who made a mistake. Some common causes of wrongful death car accidents include:
● Distracted driving;
● Texting while driving;
● Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
● Driving while tired;
● Poor or invisible signage;
● Poorly built or poorly maintained roadways;
● Lack of warning for a road hazard;
● Vehicle defects;
● Overloaded trucks;
● Inexperienced driving; and
● Reckless driving.
Wrongful death cases often involve individuals, but every once in a while, the defendant named in a suit is a government entity or company. When government entities or organizations are involved, it is not uncommon for the claim to name one or more defendants.
Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death?
Family members of the person who was killed can sue for wrongful death in Orange County. This includes:
● Domestic partners
● Anyone financially depended on the deceased
● Grandchildren, if their parents are also deceased
● anyone who was entitled to the deceased’s property under the law of intestate succession
In addition, the estate of the deceased can sue the at-fault party to recover likely earnings they would have had if they would have lived the rest of their lives. This is covered under California Code of Civil Procedure 377.30. It is a different cause of action but is frequently filed alongside a wrongful death lawsuit.
Verdicts and Settlements in Wrongful Death Auto Accident Cases
The verdicts and settlements awarded in wrongful death auto accident cases vary greatly and are dependent upon a number of factors. Some such factors include the age of the victim at the time of death, the health of the victim at the time of death, and the victim’s earning capacity. Additionally, the decision maker will consider the circumstances surrounding the victim’s death and how greatly it impacted the family members. For instance, in 2009, a little girl was forced to watch her family burn to death after a horrific accident on a Southern California freeway. She and her older brother were the only survivors of the incident. Her brother committed suicide on their mother’s birthday, right before the trial began. She was awarded $150 million in damages.
Every wrongful death case is unique, as no one victim is the same. For this reason, it is difficult to calculate a potential settlement.
Chapter 8: What Damages are You Entitled To?
In a negligence case, damages are designed to put the victim/plaintiffs in the position they were in prior to the car crash. But the judge obviously does not have a time machine. Furthermore, it does the victim/plaintiff very little good to put the tortfeasors (negligent drivers) in jail or otherwise punish them. That leaves money damages. Money cannot possibly compensate for a wrongful death or another serious loss. But money does make these losses much easier to bear.
Many states have procedural obstacles which make it difficult for victim/plaintiffs to obtain fair compensation in all cases. But California is a tort state. So, almost all victims can receive two, and perhaps three, kinds of damages in an Orange County car accident case.
What About My Losses?
Medical bills are usually the largest component of a victim/plaintiff’s economic damages. Emergency care and hospitalization can easily cost more than $100,000 in a serious injury case. This figure does not include other medical bills, such as additional corrective surgery, follow-up doctor visits, and physical rehabilitation.
Most Orange County families cannot possibly pay these expenses out of pocket. Furthermore, many health insurance companies do not pay for injury-related expenses, for various liability reasons. As a result, many victims must get the care they can afford as opposed to the care they really need.
Additionally, many people do not know where to go after a motor vehicle accident. They may know that the family doctor or closest hospital is not the best health resource, but they have no idea how to find a reputable car crash doctor in Orange County.
An Orange County car accident lawyer takes care of both these problems. Accident lawyers routinely work with accident doctors. These professionals know how to diagnose and treat unusual injuries, like whiplash. So, victims know that they are getting the best available professional care.
An Orange County car accident lawyer usually arranges for victims to receive this care at no upfront cost. A lawyer’s letter of protection promises medical providers that they will be paid when the case is settled or otherwise resolved.
Lost wages are often significant as well. Further complicating matters, many victims do not miss a week or two then come back at 100 percent. Most people have good days and bad days, sometimes for months or years. The Family Medical Leave Act and other federal laws give accident victims important protections in these cases. In most cases, employers cannot fire workers because they miss work for medical reasons, even if their FMLA or other leave time expires. Sometimes, an attorney needs to stand up for individual rights in these cases. An Orange County car accident lawyer at RMD Law can either fight for you in these situations or give you a referral to another qualified attorney.
Finally, there’s lost property. This part of the claim usually settles rather quickly. But it’s not just a matter of paying repair bills. Remember that damages restore the victim and they don’t just pay expenses. A family car is more than just another vehicle, and the damages award should reflect that reality. Moreover, while the family car is being repaired or replaced, an attorney can usually arrange for alternative transportation, again at no upfront cost.
Can I Sue for Emotional Distress or Pain and Suffering After a Car Accident?
As mentioned earlier, California is a tort state. So, accident compensation includes a full range of noneconomic losses, including:
- Loss of consortium (companionship),
- Pain and suffering,
- Loss of enjoyment in life, and
- Emotional distress.
In some cases, even victims who do not suffer physical injuries are eligible for noneconomic damages. In certain situations, courts expand the zone of danger rule. For example, if a parent is in a car accident with an injured child, the parent may be eligible for noneconomic damages even if s/he was physically unhurt.
Properly calculating the amount of noneconomic damages is a combination of science and art. First, the science component. Some attorneys use a per diem calculation, such as $100 per day of recovery. Others multiply the economic losses by a factor of two, three, four, or whatever.
Now, for the artistic element. To arrive at a reasonable figure for noneconomic losses, an attorney must consider a number of factors, including:
- The likely composition of a jury,
- Strength of the victim/plaintiff’s evidence,
- Any insurance company defenses, and
- The judge’s record in Orange County car accident cases.
This step is very important. An attorney must accurately determine the case’s settlement value. Most negligence claims settle out of court. Without an accurate value, the attorney may unfairly hold out for too much money or give away the case for less than it’s worth.
Are Punitive Damages a Possibility?
As the name implies, punitive damages are designed to punish the tortfeasor for wrongful or reckless conduct. They’re also designed to deter future wrongdoing.
Orange County juries routinely award significant punitive damages in medical malpractice, defective product, and other such cases. But most motor vehicle accidents in California are unintentional acts, so punitive damages are somewhat rare. However, they may be available in extreme cases. One example might be a tortfeasor who drives at three times the legal limit or a long-haul truck driver who literally falls asleep at the wheel.
Punitive damages are available if the victim/plaintiff presents clear and convincing evidence that they are proper under the circumstances. A damages cap may apply in some situations.
Chapter 9: Why Hire an Orange County Car Accident Lawyer?
If your vehicle wreck was especially serious, it’s in your best interest to contact a lawyer who can help you get the compensation you deserve for all of the damages you’ve suffered.
An Orange County Car Accident Attorney Will Investigate and Prove Your Case
One of the most difficult steps in any injury claim is gathering evidence and proving your case. Without proof, you won’t be able to win your case. No insurance company or court will award you damages unless you can show that you deserve them.
You likely need an attorney to investigate and prove your claim if you want a shot at getting the fair compensation you need for your losses after a car crash.
A Lawyer Can Sort Through the Legalese
Filing an injury claim for a car accident is a legal process. There are laws that govern this process with many rules for filing paperwork, time frames, and other legal issues that are best left to a professional.
We Take Care of the Paperwork
No one likes doing paperwork, and car accident claim paperwork is the worst. If you don’t complete everything perfectly, your claim is likely to be denied.
You need to receive a settlement for your auto wreck injuries, so you need to be able to trust a professional to help you complete the paperwork. An Orange County car accident lawyer will do everything possible to make sure you get your money sooner rather than later.
Lawyers Deal With The Insurance Companies
Dealing with insurers is a tedious process, but someone has to do it. That someone doesn’t have to be you. Your attorney understands how to deal with insurance companies and knows what an unfair settlement looks like. You can avoid the headache and hassle of dealing with auto insurance by working with a lawyer.
A Lawyer Will Fight For You in Court
Most motor vehicle accident cases will not need to be taken to trial, but some claims must be fought in the courtroom. Your car accident lawyer will work to make sure that you get the compensation you deserve to pay for all of your car accident damages and injuries.
An Orange County Car Accident Lawyer Brings You Peace of Mind
Car injury claims are complicated and stressful, and dealing with this on your own after being seriously injured in a car accident isn’t a good move. You should be concentrating on your recovery, not tracking down witnesses and going toe-to-toe with insurance companies.
Work With an Experienced Orange County Personal Injury Car Accident Attorney
If you were injured in a car accident in Orange County, reach out to the experienced personal injury attorneys at RMD Law. Even if the other party’s insurance company agrees to pay you, chances are that they want to pay you far less than what your claim is actually worth. A skilled Orange County car accident lawyer can assess the value of your claim, negotiate with the insurance companies on your behalf, and ensure that you walk away with the compensation you need to recover in comfort. Call our law firm today to schedule your free initial consultation.