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California Car Accident Compensation Laws

California is known for a lot of things. Great sports, perfect weather, movie stars, and breathtaking scenery are the perks of the Golden State. Traffic is the other side of the coin, and if you live or visit the major cities in California, you better be prepared to stare at tail lights. Plus, with all those cars packing the roads, accidents are a very common occurrence, which makes familiarity with California car accident compensation laws an unfortunate necessity for many drivers.

'At Fault' and 'Pure Comparative Negligence' Rules Apply

California, like many other states, has an "at fault" (also referred to as a "tort") system for insurance claims -- a driver seeking compensation must show fault on the part of the other driver if he wants his claim to be successful.

A related point, should your case go beyond an insurance claim to full legal proceedings, is that California is a "pure comparative negligence" jurisdiction. If your case goes to trial, the judge or jury will calculate percentages of fault for each driver, and reduce each driver's liability accordingly. For example, if a driver suffers $10,000 in damages, but is found to be 10 percent at fault, his recovery will be limited to 90% of his damages -- here, $9,000.

Below, you'll find a table breaking down important aspects of California's car accident compensation laws, including time limits, limits on damages, and more.

Statute of Limitations

• 2 years for personal injury lawsuits (Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. § 335.1)

• 3 years for property damage lawsuits (Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. § 338).

• 6 months for claims involving a government agency (Cal. Gov’t Code § 911.2)

Limits on Damages

No non-economic damages for uninsured drivers (Prop. 213, codified at Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. § 3333.4)

Other Limits

Medical Malpractice non-economic damages limited to $250,000 (Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. § 3332)

Types of Damages

Car accident damages are often categorized as economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages include repair or replacement of the damaged cars, past and future medical expenses, lost income, and other out-of-pocket expenses. Non-economic damages cover things like pain, emotional distress, and disability or disfigurement.

Examples of damages that result from car accidents include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Medical Expenses
  • Rental cars
  • Lost wages
  • Loss of affection or companionship

Limits on Damages

Unlike many other states, California does not have a cap on damages in personal injury or car accident cases generally. However, there are a few traps that can limit or eliminate your compensation for a car accident.

The first, and often most strict limit, is the time limit (Statute of Limitations) for filing a legal case. In California, you have two years for personal (bodily) injury claims and three years for property claims. That time period is drastically shortened, however, if a government party (for example, a police cruiser) is involved -- you'd then have only six months to file.

There is also a unique limit for California car accidents involving a driver with no insurance or proof of financial responsibility. In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 213, which states that, regardless of who is at fault in the accident, if a driver does not have insurance, they cannot recover non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering or emotional distress. Economic damages, such as lost wages or damage to one's car, are still available if fault can be shown.

Finally, for serious personal injuries that lead to hospital stays, a cap on medical malpractice damages could affect your livelihood as well. Should your car accident injury turn into something more severe due to the fault of a medical professional, your non-economic damages would be limited to $250,000.

Have Specific Questions About California Car Accident Compensation Laws? Ask a Lawyer

As you can see, the limits on damages in car accident claims in California are few and only affect a narrow subset of claimants. This is good for drivers who are seriously injured and need larger awards to cover their expenses, but it also makes predicting the value of your claim very difficult unless you deal with car accidents regularly. Talk to a personal injury attorney in California to learn the strength of your claim and the amount of compensation available for your case.

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