Articles Posted in Car Accidents

California highways were not necessarily designed to handle the amount of traffic they see each day. This is especially the case in and around Los Angeles, which is known for having some of the most congested highways in the country. Given the size of existing roads, government planning agencies often opt to open an additional lane of traffic and eliminate or greatly reduce the size of the road’s shoulder.

Over the years, however, the decreased size of road shoulders has resulted in hundreds of California car accidents involving police, paramedics, tow truck operators, and others whose job requires they spend time on the side of the highway. Most often, a distracted driver comes up on a stopped emergency vehicle without seeing that it is blocking the lane. The driver then collides with the stopped vehicle.

In response to these accidents, lawmakers have passed the California Move-Over Law, embodied in California Vehicle Code section 21809. Essentially, the law requires motorists who are approaching certain roadside vehicles to either move into an adjacent lane, if possible, or slow down to a “reasonable and prudent speed that is safe for existing weather, road, and vehicular or pedestrian traffic conditions.”

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a California car accident case involving the aggressive actions of a third party and how they can affect a defendant’s liability. Ultimately, the court concluded that the unpredictable actions of a third party precluded a finding of liability, and it affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s case.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff and his wife visited a taco truck that leased a parking lot from the defendant. When the plaintiff pulled into the parking lot, he noticed that it was very crowded and that there were no spaces to park. The plaintiff put the car in reverse and began to back out of the lot to find a parking spot elsewhere. However, as the plaintiff backed out, he collided with another vehicle.

The driver of the vehicle got out of the car and was visibly angry with the plaintiff. Despite the plaintiff’s apology, the other driver refused to exchange vehicle information with the plaintiff. Instead, the other driver got back in the car, put it in reverse, and sped out of the parking lot at a high rate of speed. In so doing, the other driver ran over the plaintiff and dragged him into the street, resulting in serious injuries.

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When an individual files a California personal injury claim, one of the most important issues is understanding which types of financial compensation the individual may able to recover, which can vary depending on the type of claim. One type of damages award an individual may be able to recover is called “compensatory” damages.

The purpose of compensatory damages is to justly compensate the plaintiff for the loss or injury sustained, and to restore the plaintiff to his or her previous position, insofar as it is possible. Compensatory damages can include any financial compensation for “loss” or “detriment.” A plaintiff must prove that the damages were caused by the defendant’s actions and show the extent of the harm caused. Even if a plaintiff is determined to be entitled to compensatory damages, a plaintiff still has a responsibility to mitigate his or her damages to the extent possible. That means that a plaintiff will not be compensated for damages that the plaintiff could have avoided through reasonable effort or expenditure.

Another type of damages is called “exemplary” or “punitive” damages. According to California law, punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant and to set an example for others. In California, a plaintiff can only recover punitive damages in a tort claim and only if the plaintiff suffers an actual injury. To recover punitive damages, a plaintiff must prove “by clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant is guilty of “oppression, fraud or malice.” The idea is that in those cases, since the defendants’ actions were so reprehensible, those defendants should be punished, and others may be deterred from engaging in similar conduct in the future.

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In California, most personal injury claims are a result of negligent conduct. California courts have defined negligence as conduct that fails to meet the standard established by law to protect others. The accident victim (the plaintiff) can sue a negligent person or entity (the defendant) for damages. To prove a negligence claim, a plaintiff must show that there was a duty to use due care, there was a breach of that duty, and the breach was the proximate cause of a resulting injury. The plaintiff has the burden to prove each of the elements in a negligence claim.

The first element is the existence of a duty. Generally, everyone must exercise reasonable care to avoid putting others at an unreasonable risk of harm. Whether there is a duty is a question of law that a court must decide. The plaintiff also has to show that the defendant breached the duty by failing to meet the standard of care under the circumstances. The plaintiff must also show that the defendant’s breach was the actual cause of the injury and the proximate cause of the injury. Finally, the plaintiff must show that he or she suffered an injury to person or property.

California now follows a system of pure comparative negligence. This means that after a jury assigns responsibility for an injury in a California car accident case, the plaintiff can still recover damages even if the plaintiff is partly at fault. And unlike in many jurisdictions, a plaintiff can still recover even if the plaintiff is found to be mostly at fault for the injury. The purpose of the pure comparative negligence system is to assign responsibility for injuries in proportion to each party’s negligence.

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Rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft have revolutionized the way we get from point A to point B, making it significantly easier for passengers to hail a ride. Indeed, by all accounts, passengers nationwide have adopted the new technology with open arms. By some estimates, rideshare drivers provided service to approximately 45 million passengers last year. What is more, that figure is expected to rise to over 70 million passengers by 2022.

It is not surprising, then, that the number of car accidents involving rideshare drivers has increased correspondingly. Making matters worse is the fact that rideshare companies do little to ensure that their drivers are “good drivers.” In most cases, all someone needs to qualify to be a rideshare driver is three years of driving experience, a clean driving record, and an insured vehicle.

While rideshare companies do not apply a rigorous selection criteria to their drivers, they do maintain significant insurance in the event of an accident. The two largest rideshare companies, Uber and Lyft, each maintain $1 million of insurance on behalf of their drivers. This insurance covers the driver from the moment they accept a passenger’s request for a ride until the passenger is dropped off. The policy will generally cover an injury to the driver or the passenger, as well as any third parties injured in an accident that was caused by the driver’s negligence.

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As auto-pilot technology advances and becomes more prevalent, drivers will begin to see more cars on the road using the technology. In fact, each year, more auto manufacturers are introducing models that have auto-pilot technology. While auto-pilot technology certainly has the potential to revolutionize the way we drive, it also presents certain obvious dangers to motorists and pedestrians.

The introduction of auto-pilot technology also is going to create legal issues in California personal injury cases that have not previously been handled by the courts. For example, who is liable when a motorist is involved in an accident and claims that he was using auto-pilot technology at the time? Lawmakers have attempted to enact some legislation to handle specific situations as they arise, but, as is often the case with developing technology, the courts will be tasked with handling many of these situations as they arise.

The governing principle of establishing liability in a California car accident case is whether or not a party was negligent. Thus, if a motorist engages a vehicle’s auto-pilot feature, falls asleep, and then is involved in an accident that could have otherwise been prevented, it seems likely that the motorist could be liable for the accident. However, suppose an attentive motorist engages auto-pilot and, despite his best efforts, is unable to disengage the feature or otherwise avoid the accident. The bottom line is that liability in California auto-pilot crashes will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

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Of all of the types of California car accidents, hit-and-run accidents routinely generate the most questions among accident victims. To start, fleeing the scene after being involved in a car accident is against the law. Depending on certain circumstances, a hit-and-run accident can be graded either as a misdemeanor or as a felony. However, regardless of the grading, a criminal prosecution likely will not result in any victims of a hit-and-run accident being provided with compensation for their injuries.

To receive compensation for injuries sustained in a California hit-and-run accident, a motorist may file a claim with the hit-and-run driver’s insurance policy, if he was located by authorities. However, if the driver was not located, an injured motorist can file a claim with their own insurance policy under the underinsured/uninsured motorist clause. It is important for motorists to read their insurance policy closely because there are strict time limits imposed by the policy language that, if ignored, may result in the insurance company denying a claim.

Another important point for California accident victims to understand is that insurance companies routinely deny coverage or offer reduced compensation to accident victims in hopes of settling the case for as little compensation as possible. In these situations, it is imperative that an accident victim consult with a dedicated California personal injury attorney to discuss their case and devise a plan of action to ensure that they receive the compensation they are entitled to obtain.

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When someone is injured in a California car accident, the initial focus is on recovering from the physical and emotional injuries caused by the accident. However, once those heal, the financial stress of the accident begins to set in. Often, an accident victim has missed work and has mounting medical expenses that must be paid.

In the vast majority of car accident cases, one of the parties involved has car insurance that can provide compensation for a victim’s injuries. Indeed, under California law, all motorists are required to carry a certain amount of liability insurance to cover the costs of an injury that the driver causes. This mandatory coverage, however, does not necessarily cover the costs incurred by the insured if the at-fault driver does not have insurance. For that type of protection, uninsured motorist protection must be purchased.

Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Protection

As noted above, the bare-bones insurance requirement in California does not mandate that a driver insures against an accident caused by an underinsured or uninsured motorist. However, all insurance companies are required to offer this type of insurance. Uninsured motorist insurance protects drivers and passengers in the event that the at-fault driver does not have insurance coverage or has inadequate coverage limits to fully compensate an accident victim for their injuries.

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Each year, over 3,000 people die in California car accidents. While there are many potential causes of car accidents, certain causes routinely appear near the top of the list each year:  aggressive driving and intoxicated driving.

Of course, all motorists are required to drive in a safe manner and remain free from the intoxicating effects of drugs or alcohol. However, in reality, tens of thousands of California motorists engage in this prohibited conduct each day, putting everyone with whom they share the road at risk of being involved in a serious or fatal traffic accident.

When a motorist causes an accident due to intoxicated or aggressive driving, anyone injured as a result may be able to pursue a claim of compensation through a California personal injury lawsuit. These cases generally require that an accident victim establish that the other driver engaged in a negligent act that resulted in the accident victim’s injuries. In many cases involving intoxicated or aggressive driving, the fact that the other driver violated one or more traffic laws leading up to the accident can help an accident victim establish the other driver’s negligence.

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As of January 1, 2018, California residents will be able to purchase marijuana for recreational use. This means that it will no longer be against state law for Californians to have a small amount of marijuana in their possession for personal use. Of course, marijuana remains heavily regulated by the government.

It is undisputed, however, that marijuana has an effect on the motor skills of those who use it. Under California Vehicle Code section 23152, it is against the law for anyone “who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle.” This includes marijuana. Of course, it may not be easy to determine if a driver is under the influence of marijuana because the indicators of intoxication are not necessarily as readily identifiable as alcohol intoxication.

Marijuana, like alcohol, remains in a driver’s system for some time after ingestion, and it can continue to affect the motor skills of a driver for many hours after consumption. Unlike alcohol, however, there is no convenient method for a driver to determine if they are still under the effects of marijuana. Thus, uninitiated consumers of marijuana may find themselves getting behind the wheel of a car when they are still under the drug’s influence, creating a serious risk of causing a California drugged driving accident.

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