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Experienced Southern California Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Attorneys Answer Frequently Asked Questions About Car Accidents and Other Injuries in Los Angeles and Orange County

As attorneys who work closely with injury victims and help them get compensation after an accident caused by another negligent party, we know that accident victims are often anxious or unsure about their claim for compensation. How long do they have to file a claim? What if the driver was uninsured or can’t be found? What if the accident victim was partly at fault?

We know this is a difficult and stressful time in your life, and we work to make sure you are as comfortable as can be with the process of seeking compensation from the party responsible for your injuries. Below, we’ve compiled answers to some of these frequently asked questions, but if you have other questions of your own, please don’t hesitate to give us a call at Machtinger Law. There is no charge for your call, and we only charge a fee if we take your case and are successful in recovering compensation on your behalf. Our experienced personal injury law firm takes on cases involving serious injury, catastrophic injury, or wrongful death throughout Southern California, including Los Angeles and Orange County. Call 310-943-9300 for immediate assistance.

If I was partly to blame for a car accident, does that mean I don’t have a case against the other driver?

No. Even if you are apportioned some of the fault in the accident, you can still get compensation from another negligent driver for their portion of fault. For example, if you were looking at your phone as you entered an intersection and got hit by a driver coming from the other direction who ran a red light, you might both be considered partly to blame. If the other driver is 70% to blame, then you can recover 70% of your damages, which include past and future medical treatment, past and future lost earnings, and compensation for your pain and suffering. Even if they are 30% at fault and you are 70% to blame, you could still recover 30% of your damages to hold them accountable for their role in causing the crash.

Their insurance company might tell you the accident was partially, mostly, or entirely your fault to get you to give up on your claim or accept a low settlement offer. You don’t have to accept their version of events. At Machtinger Law, we thoroughly investigate the facts of the case and won’t let you get railroaded into accepting more of the blame for the accident than belongs to you. If we can’t see eye to eye with the insurance company, our experienced litigation team will be ready to take the case to court and let a jury decide who was at fault.

How long do I have to file a claim or lawsuit after a car accident or other injury?

The deadline for filing a lawsuit is called the statute of limitations. Typically, the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit for a car accident or other personal injury in California is two years from the date of the accident. However, there are different reasons why this period might be longer or shorter in certain circumstances. For instance, in the case of medical malpractice or injury due to asbestos exposure, the deadline is one year from the date of discovery of the injury. The limitations period can also be put on hold if the victim is a minor or while the negligent party is in prison or outside the state.

Importantly, if your claim is against a city, county, or state government entity, you only have six months to bring your claim. If you were in a car accident with a government employee or government vehicle, if you were injured in a slip and fall on government property, or if a government entity was responsible for your injury in another way such as due to a defective roadway, you’ll need to act swiftly by contacting an experienced injury lawyer who will make sure to submit your claim to the appropriate agency in a timely manner.

What if I wasn’t wearing my seat belt when I got into a crash? Can I still sue the other driver who hit me?

Seat belts reduce injuries and save lives, and you are required by law to use them, so you should make it a habit of always wearing your seat belt any time you get into the car, even for a short trip to the corner store. That said, if a negligent driver hit you when you weren’t wearing your seat belt, they can still be liable for the accident. California’s comparative fault could come into play, and the amount of damages you recover could be reduced by how much your lack of a seat belt contributed to your injuries. California law is clear, however, that the failure to wear a seat belt does not by itself establish negligence as a matter of law. The other party would still have to prove that you were negligent and partly at fault to take advantage of California’s comparative negligence law.

What happens if the driver who hit me doesn’t have insurance?

California law requires all drivers to carry minimum amounts of liability insurance in case they cause an accident, but that law doesn’t stop over 16% of California motorists from driving without insurance. Although you could pursue a claim against the other driver directly, they might not have enough money or assets to settle with you or pay a judgment you get against them. Instead, it might be better to file a claim with your own insurance company if you have uninsured motorist (UM) coverage. UM coverage pays you if you get hit by a negligent driver who was uninsured.

UM coverage generally comes paired with underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. If the driver who hit you only had the minimum amount of required coverage or not enough coverage, and your damages exceed their policy limits, your UIM coverage can kick in and help make up the difference.

Insurance companies are required to offer UM/UIM coverage when you purchase your liability policy. Hopefully, you did not opt-out of this coverage; it is a relatively cheap addition to your policy and well worth it considering the odds that the at-fault driver could be uninsured. We recommend you purchase the most UM/UIM coverage you can.

If you have a UM/UIM claim, don’t make the mistake of trying to settle the claim on your own because you are dealing with your own insurance company instead of the other driver’s. Any time you make an insurance claim, the insurance company becomes your adversary and will try to adjust your claim downward and pay as little as they can, even if it is “your” company you are dealing with. We can negotiate on your behalf and even take the insurer to arbitration or court if they refuse to honor their obligations or offer only a lowball settlement amount.

What if the driver who hit me flees the scene before I can get their information?

Fleeing the scene of an accident is especially dangerous because it leaves behind an injured crash victim who could potentially need emergency medical care, and precious moments are wasted if the other driver doesn’t stop and call 9-1-1. Sadly, hit-and-run accidents are on the rise in California and nationwide. California law requires drivers to stop and render aid, which could include calling for an ambulance, and exchange insurance information after any accident.

We can work with the police and private investigators to try and locate the hit-and-run driver and hold them accountable for the full measure of the harm they have caused. Punitive damages might be appropriate in these situations as well. If the driver cannot be found, you can make a claim under your uninsured motorist (UM) coverage. UM insurance treats an unidentified driver as an uninsured driver so long as there was contact with your vehicle. You might have to provide additional information to prove how the accident occurred and that another driver was at fault. We can help you present a solid claim and get the full amount of UM coverage due to you.

Can a bar be held liable for overserving a customer who causes a drunk driving accident?

This is called “dram shop liability,” and it is recognized in many states, but not in California. In the past, some California courts had imposed dram shop liability, but the California legislature wrote a law specifically against those cases and making it clear it’s the drinking of alcohol by the customer, not the furnishing of alcohol by a third party, that is the proximate (legal) cause of a drunk driving car accident.

This same California law also relieves social hosts of liability for drunk driving accidents caused by guests who were served alcohol at the party and later caused a crash. However, the law does provide two situations where someone can be held liable for furnishing alcohol to another: If a parent, guardian, or another adult knowingly furnishes alcoholic beverages at their residence to a person they know or should know to be under 21 years of age, the furnishing of the alcoholic beverage may be found to be the proximate cause of resulting injuries or death. And if a bar or restaurant serves alcohol to an obviously-intoxicated minor, it can be held responsible for resulting injuries or death.

What are punitive damages?

“Damages” refers to the money a negligent party can be ordered to pay you after causing you injury. Most of the damages you receive are “compensatory damages,” meant to compensate you for your losses and harm such as medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are meant not to compensate you for your losses but instead to punish the wrongdoer for their actions and set an example to others. Punitive damages are only available in limited cases where the plaintiff can prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant was guilty of oppression, fraud or malice. In a personal injury case, this might mean proving the defendant acted with a willful and conscious disregard for the rights and safety of others, such as by drag racing or driving at a very high speed, choosing to drive while extremely intoxicated, or purposely doing something extremely dangerous like driving on the wrong side of the road or with eyes closed for thrill-seeking. In the premises liability context, punitive damages might be appropriate for a landowner who purposely sets out a dangerous hazard to deter or injure trespassers or who willfully disregards a known danger on the premises and does nothing to fix it or warn the public about it.

Punitive damages are harder to prove than compensatory damages; they are subject to a higher evidentiary standard. However, a punitive damages award can be very high, depending on the nature of the conduct and whether the defendant is a wealthy corporation or individual. If your case merits punitive damages, we will put in the extra time and effort it takes to maximize the justice and compensation you receive.

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