You're driving up the 405 in stop-and-go traffic, when you hear music blaring from the car behind to you. You look in your rearview mirror and notice a guy driving a Corolla eating a hamburger and checking himself out in the his side mirror. As traffic picks up, you start to pick up speed, but have to slow quickly as the Jeep ahead of you screeches to a stop. That's when it happens: Corolla Guy SLAMS into you, your seatbelt fails to lock up, and you hit your head hard on the windshield, seeing stars. The force carries your car forward, and it crunches into the Jeep.
In a city of almost four million people where the automobile is the primary means of transportation, accidents are bound to happen. Laws and procedures for car accidents vary from state to state and from city to city. If you've been involved in an accident in L.A., this helpful guide will answer some of your questions about what to do after a car accident in Los Angeles.
First Steps After an L.A. Car Accident
If you're involved in a car accident in L.A., you should always stop to check if anyone has been injured in the accident. California law states that if you're involved in an accident in which someone has been injured or killed, you must immediately stop at the scene, exchange information and give reasonable assistance to anyone injured, and report the accident to either CHP or LAPD within 24 hours.
Although not necessarily required by law, there are other steps you should take after a car accident in order to ensure your safety and the safety of others and preserve evidence that may be important down the line. Review FindLaw's Motor Vehicle Accidents: First Steps (PDF). Print a copy, and keep it in your vehicle in case of an accident.
Liability in An L.A. Car Accident
As in the Corolla Guy hypothetical above, most car accidents occur because of the negligence of a driver. Negligence occurs when someone who has a duty to act with reasonable care fails to do so and causes harm to another person. A negligent person must pay for the harm he causes to another person to the extent that he is liable for the person's losses. Each state has its own laws to determine liability.
California uses a system of pure comparative negligence to determine liability in negligence actions. Under this system, each person who is at fault for an accident or injury is liable for his or her portion of the fault. For example, if Dan runs a red light and hits Jenny as she's changing lanes without using her blinker, a court may find that Dan is 80% at fault and Jenny is 20% at fault. Dan will be liable for 80% of Jenny's losses resulting from the car accident, including any expenses from injuries or property damage that occurred because of the accident. Conversely, Jenny will be liable for 20% of any of Dan's losses resulting from the accident.
Because fault for car accidents in California is based on the law of negligence, a person who fails to use ordinary care when driving may be found to be at fault for an accident. This may mean ignoring traffic laws and signals, inattentive driving, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and even failure to properly maintain a vehicle.
Sometimes proving fault for an accident is easy, while other times it's more complicated. Whether it's an insurance claims adjuster or a judge, the person determining fault for an accident will use the evidence available to him to make the decision. Evidence may include statements from witnesses, police reports, photographs of the scene and damage to vehicles, medical records and more.
Your L.A. Car Accident Claim
People who register their cars in California are required to have car insurance, so if you're in a car accident in L.A., chances are you'll be dealing with an insurer. After you put in a car insurance claim with the appropriate insurance company, a claims adjuster will determine fault in the accident. If a person admitted fault to the insurance company, the claims adjuster will factor that statement in.
The insurance company will then either deny your claim or offer a settlement based on the insurance policy and the fault of the parties involved. FindLaw's article Insurance Claims After an Accident: The Basics can give you more information about the claims process. If you're dissatisfied with the way the insurer has handled your claim, consider filing a complaint with the California Department of Insurance.
If you've tried to settle a dispute over your losses with the person responsible or with an insurance company, and you think that it's time to file a lawsuit, it may be a good idea to meet with an attorney about your case. If you're planning on filing a claim without the help of an attorney, or if you want more information about local courthouse resources, visit our Los Angeles Courthouses page.
Get Legal Help with Your Car Accident in Los Angeles
Getting into a fender bender on the 405 or anywhere else can be a huge hassle. While you may try to settle a dispute informally, that doesn't always work out. Your best bet is to learn more about your rights and ability to collect damages from the party at fault. A good first step in this process is to speak with a qualified personal injury attorney in California.