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What Is Motor Vehicle Accident Law?

Traffic laws are a separate code section from other laws in most states. For instance, in California, the California Code contains all laws and regulations for the state, and the Vehicle Code covers everything from registration to penalties.

In a motor vehicle accident, state law determines if you or the other driver violated any regulations. This determines who is at fault in your accident, which affects your personal injury claim. A personal injury attorney needs to know both types of law before they can give you legal advice about your car accident and filing a claim.

Filing a Car Accident Claim

If you've been in a car crash, you may know the procedure: you and the other driver exchange insurance information, file claims with your insurance companies, and then wait for a settlement offer. How do you know if you're given a fair settlement? What if the other driver caused the accident? After an accident, you should consult a legal professional for more information.

Determining Fault

When the insurance adjuster reviews a claim, they try to determine fault. They are looking for which driver's carelessness or negligence was most responsible for the collision. That person is the at-fault driver. The at-fault driver's insurance must pay for the damage from the accident. If there is only one person at fault, the case is over. Unfortunately, things are seldom that easy.

In addition to vehicle codes, states have insurance codes. These laws regulate the determination of negligence and apportionment of fault in an accident. The degree of fault determines the percentage received in a settlement.

  • To prove negligence, a plaintiff must show four elements: a duty to act in a certain way, a breach of that duty, causation between the breach and the injuries, and actual harm done to the plaintiff.
  • If the plaintiff contributed in any way to the accident, this may reduce their recovery. Contributory negligence, or comparative negligence, varies by state. In some states, it may completely bar your recovery.
  • In cases where the at-fault driver is the employee of a third party, that party may be sued under the vicarious liability theory. This holds employers of drivers responsible for the actions of their employees. It may also hold someone liable for lending their car to a friend who gets into an accident.

Why You Need a Car Accident Lawyer

Right after an auto accident, the parties involved exchange insurance information. If the accident is serious enough, police may gather evidence and interview witnesses. Then, each party files an insurance claim. Each party's insurance company does its own investigation based on the police report your medical records and makes their own determination of fault. For instance, in a minor fender bender, the companies may decide the parties were equally at fault and pay accordingly.

You may need legal representation if any of these things happen:

  • The insurance company denies your claim: They may say you were at fault or that your insurance policy does not cover your property damage or medical bills. You'll need an attorney to help you appeal the denial.
  • The other driver filed a personal injury lawsuit against you: This can happen for various reasons, usually because their insurer does not cover all their medical expenses or because they did not have insurance.
  • There were other parties involved besides the driver: For instance, in a truck accident, you may need to sue the driver, the trucking company, and the shipping company.

Despite the public perception, personal injury cases are not about suing for a big windfall. You deserve compensation if you've been seriously hurt and need medical treatment that your insurance does not cover or will not pay. The courts have agreed that pain and suffering are real injuries that deserve repayment after an accident. To obtain this compensation, you need a car accident attorney.

Finding the Right Personal Injury Lawyer

After a serious accident, you have many legal options. Before Googling “car accident lawyer" and picking the first one at the top of the page, consider what you want from your attorney and what you'll need for your first meeting.

You'll need an experienced lawyer who has handled your type of personal injury claim. Many types of cases fall under “personal injury." You want one who has handled car accident victims, serious injuries, or wrongful death. You also want an attorney familiar with car accident laws in your state.

Before you arrive, ask about the attorney's fees. Most attorneys handle car accident cases on contingency. A contingency fee means the attorney receives no payment upfront and won't be paid until the case settles. However, you may still need to pay filing fees and court costs. Be sure to clarify this with the attorney before you sign anything.

You should also inquire about the statute of limitations in your state. The statute of limitations is the time you have to file a personal injury claim after an injury. Each state has its own statute. It can be as short as a year or as long as six years. Personal injury law statutes are strict, so you need to ask about this right away.

Get Legal Counsel for Your Motor Vehicle Accident

After an accident, you may have injuries, lost wages, or suffered property damage. You need help from an experienced auto accident attorney. Contact one who can give you advice about legal action on your case.

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