If you have been injured or have suffered property damage in a car accident, you probably have a number of questions. Who will pay to repair your vehicle? Can you seek compensation for the expenses you incurred at the emergency room or at a hospital for treatment you sought for injuries sustained in the car accident? Are you entitled to seek compensation for lost income or earnings as a result of workdays missed as you recovered from your injuries?
The answers to these questions lie in whom you would hold responsible for the accident. Would you sue the driver personally or his or her insurance company? In many cases, injured victims simply file a claim with the other party's insurance company and negotiate from that point. However, if you are getting ready to file a personal injury lawsuit seeking compensation for your losses, there are several parties who could be named in your lawsuit.
The First Step: Determining Liability
The first step when you set out to file a car accident claim is to determine who was at fault for the car accident. It is possible to get this information from the police report that was filed by the law enforcement officer who responded to the scene. This report could be filed with the local police department, the county sheriff's office or the California Highway Patrol, depending on where the accident occurred.
Often, the police report or incident report will have the investigating officer's remarks and observations including his or her determination of who was at fault for the accident. For example, if you were struck by a driver who made an illegal U-turn, having that on the incident report is particularly useful when you want to file a claim. That is strong evidence to show that the other party acted in a careless or negligent manner, which brings us to the important topic of negligence.
Negligence in a car accident claim refers to a careless, reckless or illegal act on the part of a driver that caused or contributed to the crash and the resulting injuries. In such cases, the at-fault driver who was negligent could be deemed financially responsible. However, there are a number of instances where more than one driver may have been at fault. In such cases, the percentage of fault assigned to you could determine the amount of compensation you receive.
In some cases where the other driver leaves the scene, it may be a little more complicated to seek and obtain compensation. However, in California, if you have uninsured motorist coverage, you may be able to seek compensation through your own insurance company for your injuries and damages even if the other driver left the scene or if the other driver is uninsured or underinsured.
Negotiating with the Insurance Company
This is the part where you figure out if the other driver has insurance coverage that is sufficient to cover your injuries and damages. California is an "at-fault state," which means each insurance company pays for the damages sustained according to the degree of fault of each party. The motorist who caused the accident is responsible for the damages caused to the injured party or parties. His or her insurance company will pay the injured victim. However, if the injured person does not agree with the payout, he or she has the option of filing a lawsuit and seeking compensation for the damages sustained.
Filing a Lawsuit Against the Driver
If you have filed a claim for monetary compensation to the insurance company, but have not received just compensation, your next step may be to file a negligence lawsuit against the driver. Under California law, you have a legal right to sue the at-fault driver for personal injuries sustained in a car accident. This includes existing injuries that were exacerbated by the crash. If the driver was on the job at the time, you may be able to sue the driver's employer as well. For example, if the driver was a city employee who was on the job or a person who was performing a delivery service, you may be able to sue to the driver's employer in addition to suing the driver.
Suing a Governmental Agency
There are also cases where negligence on the part of a governmental agency can cause or contribute to a car accident. For example, when a car accident is caused by poor signage, lack of lighting or faulty roadway design or maintenance, the governmental agency responsible for maintaining the roadway can be held financially responsible as well. Please remember, the process of suing a governmental agency such as a city, county or state entity is different from suing an individual. California Government Code Section 911.2 requires that a personal injury claim against a governmental agency be filed within 180 days of the incident.
What Actions Can You Take?
If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident in Orange County, there are a number of steps you can take to protect your legal rights. First, make sure you get a copy of the police report or incident report. This is typically available with the law enforcement agency that responded to the car accident.
It is also important that you get prompt medical attention, treatment and care for your injuries. This not only helps put you on the road to recovery, but also documents the fact that you sought treatment and care soon after your accident. Try to obtain as much evidence as possible from the scene of the crash including photos, videos, information for the other parties involved, contact information for anyone who may have witnessed the crash, etc.
How Can a Car Accident Attorney Help?
Insurance companies are going to take advantage of anything they can to make sure victims receive as little compensation as possible. When they know a plaintiff does not have an attorney, they have all the leverage.
If you have sustained injuries in a car accident, it is crucial that you contact an experienced Orange County car accident lawyer who can help analyze all aspects of your case and help you secure maximum compensation for your losses including medical expenses, lost income, cost of hospitalization, rehabilitative treatment, permanent injuries, disabilities and past and future pain and suffering.
Contact Timothy J Ryan and Associates at 714-898-4444 for a no-cost, no-obligation consultation and case evaluation. If you don't win, you don't pay.