At-Fault or No-Fault Insurance? Understanding Car Accident Laws in California

Car Accident Laws

Understanding car accident laws and insurance law is important so that in the event of an accident you know your legal rights and obligations. It doesn’t matter how carefully you drive, there is always at risk of being in a collision due to the carelessness of another driver. In 2018 California residents were in 3,259 fatal crashes, and 1,607 of those involved more than one vehicle.

It is important to understand the difference between an at-fault or no-fault state. In a no-fault state, each driver is responsible for the cost of their own damages. In an at-fault state, the person responsible for the accident pays all damages.

Read on to learn about California’s at-fault insurance law and your rights and obligations following an accident.

Car Accident Laws on Reporting

When you are in a car accident in California, depending on its severity you will need to file reports with law enforcement, the California DMV, and your insurance company. The time frame for filing with each company is different.

Reporting an Accident to Law Enforcement

Laws governing the reporting of an accident are covered by the California Vehicle Code §§ 20000-20018. Those laws include the obligation to report an accident within 24 hours to law enforcement if anyone suffers injuries or death. This includes drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, passengers, or motorcyclists.

If you have law enforcement on the scene of your accident, their traffic report fulfills your need to file a written report.  Police reports are important in determining fault in an accident. Their report includes important information, including road conditions, skid mark observations, the position of vehicles, damage to vehicles, and weather conditions.

Reporting an Accident to California DMV

If you are in an accident you need to notify the California Department of Motor Vehicles within ten days if any of the following occur:

  • Property damage from the accident to vehicles or property exceeds $1,000
  • The accident causes the death of anyone
  • The accident causes injuries to anyone

For more information, you can obtain a copy of the Traffic Accident Report SR1 on the California DMV website.

Reporting to Your Car Insurance Company

There are no state laws obligating you to report an accident to your insurance company. That obligation is usually in your insurance policy contract.

If you fail to notify your insurance company they may deny coverage. For that reason, you should immediately report all automobile accidents to your insurance company, even if the law does not require a police report.

Information you need to gather at the time of the accident may be helpful to both your insurance company, including the name, telephone numbers, address, and driver’s license number of each driver.

The additional information you need to gather includes the license plate number and vehicle identification number (VIN) of each vehicle in the accident. Ask to see each driver’s vehicle registration, proof of insurance, and driver’s license to verify all information you receive is accurate. An excellent way to record this is by taking a photo of the documents with your cell phone.

Document damage to all vehicles and the accident scene by taking photographs. Make a note if anyone says they have injuries as a result of the accident, including their name. If anyone has injuries a report be made with the Department of Motor Vehicles, and a failure to report may result in your driver’s license being suspended.

Reporting to the Other Driver’s Insurance Company

If the other driver is at fault, you need to contact their insurance company to provide information about the accident. This includes a description of the accident. The agent should provide you with any additional steps you need to perform to complete your claim.

If you are in an accident where the other driver is at fault, it is important to retain an attorney. An insurance company dealing with a layperson will attempt to minimize their payouts on claims or deny claims by accusing you of fault. An experienced accident attorney will understand insurance coverage and insurance law to make sure you receive the payouts you deserve.

Insurance Company Coverage

California insurance law makes the driver who is at fault liable for damages they cause in an accident. This means if another driver is at fault, they have an obligation to pay your damages. If there are more than two vehicles in a collision, each driver is given a percentage of liability for the incident.

The California law requires that every driver have insurance to drive in the state and that the proof of insurance must be in the vehicle at all times. The state law requires you to exchange your insurance information and personal contact information with the other driver.

Insurance Requirements in Establishing Fault

To recover damages from the other driver’s insurance company you must prove they were at fault in the accident. Evidence insurance companies use in proving fault includes:

  • Photos of the accident scene
  • Video footage of the accident
  • Law enforcement’s accident report
  • Witness statements
  • Repair bills
  • Medical bills

If there is controversy over fault, your attorney may need to hire an accident reconstruction expert to provide a professional opinion on fault.

Minimum Insurance Requirements

California insurance law requires minimum insurance coverage of:

  • $15,000 for death or bodily injury to one person
  • $30,000 for death or bodily injury to two or more persons
  • $5,000 for property damage caused by the policy owner in an accident

Many drivers purchase policies that exceed these amounts. The reason for purchasing additional coverage is because once the insurance company pays out the policy limit you as the driver are personally liable for any overage.

Fair Claims Settlement Practices Regulations

The Fair Claims Settlement Practices Regulations sets forth the obligations of your insurance company, including:

  • Advise you of all provisions of your insurance policy
  • Acknowledge your claim, begin investigating, and provide instructions and forms within 15 days
  • Reply to any communication from you within 15 days
  • Accept or deny the claim within 40 days after they receive proof of claim
  • Cover the cost of reasonable towing expenses
  • Make a fair settlement offer including taxes, license, and transfer fees, plus reflect the value of a comparable vehicle
  • Pay the claim within 30 days of reaching settlement
  • Notify you if they will pursue subrogation, and if so it must include your deductible payment

Subrogation is a legal doctrine that allows insurance companies to pursue reimbursement from a third party that is at fault in an accident. If your insurance company does not seek subrogation, you can file a lawsuit against the at-fault party requesting reimbursement of your deductible.

Why You Need a Car Accident Attorney

Understanding the legal requirements and obligations of insurance companies and car accident laws is complicated. Insurance companies are out to make money, not pay claims. Sweet Lawyers has a 98% success rate in winning their clients the compensation they deserve.

At Sweet Lawyers, we offer a 100% free consultation. Contact us using our online form or call us toll-free at 1-800-674-7854 to get the compensation you deserve.

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