It can happen to anyone, at any time. You could be severely injured in a traffic collision because of another person’s negligent driving.

If this happens to you, you must take action to protect your health, your finances, and your future.

In the state of California, taking that action might mean filing a personal injury lawsuit with the help of an experienced Orange County personal injury attorney.

This is a general introduction to auto insurance laws in California – and how those laws may apply in personal injury cases – but for specific and personalized legal advice about any particular case, you should speak directly with a California personal injury lawyer.

The first thing to understand about the auto insurance laws in this state is that California is an automobile insurance “fault” state rather than a “no-fault” state.

Thus, in California, if you are injured in a traffic crash but you were not the at-fault driver – you were the other driver, a passenger, or a pedestrian – the law in our state gives you several options.

You may file an insurance claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance company and policy or you can file a personal injury lawsuit against the driver. Because California is a “fault state,” drivers must be deemed at fault for a collision before their insurance companies will pay any damages.

If you sustain only vehicle damage or other property damage in a Southern California traffic collision, you may want to file the damage claim on your own and negotiate directly and personally with the other driver’s insurance company.

However, if you’ve sustained any kind of physical, personal injury, take your case directly to an Orange County personal injury attorney.

Your health and future are too important to risk.

Don’t accept any settlement offer from an insurance company until you’ve consulted a personal injury lawyer, and don’t sign any insurance company documents – you could be signing away to your right to file a lawsuit.

WHAT CAR INSURANCE IS REQUIRED IN CALIFORNIA?

State law in California obligates vehicle owners to purchase liability coverage for every motor vehicle that operates in our state.

Liability insurance is intended to compensate motorists, passengers, and pedestrians for their vehicle and other property damages and for their personal injuries if a traffic accident happens.

The minimum liability coverages required by California law are:

– $5,000 for property damage
– $15,000 for the death or injury of one person
– $30,000 total for the deaths or injuries of more than one person in a single accident

These are the minimum liability coverage amounts required by California law. Drivers can and in most cases probably should have more coverage.

Understand that if you are sued by another party with a personal injury lawsuit, if that lawsuit prevails and the plaintiff is awarded an amount that is beyond the limits of your coverage, you’ll be held personally responsible for the balance of the damages.

Most California vehicle owners have automobile insurance that meets or surpasses the state’s minimum insurance requirements.

However, California law also allows a vehicle owner to choose from several other ways to comply with California’s financial responsibility statutes.

Rather than purchasing a conventional automobile insurance policy, a vehicle owner in California may instead choose to:

– make a $35,000 cash deposit with California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
– obtain a self-insurance certificate from the California DMV
– obtain a $35,000 surety bond

IS UNINSURED/UNDERINSURED COVERAGE REQUIRED FOR CALIFORNIA DRIVERS?

Too many Californians are injured each year by drivers with no auto insurance or only the legal minimum. When someone is injured on a California street or highway by a motorist who is simultaneously negligent and underinsured or uninsured, what happens to the injury victim’s rights?

Can that victim be compensated in some way for his or her medical expenses and lost wages, even if the other driver is broke and has no insurance?

California doesn’t make drivers purchase uninsured or underinsured motorist insurance, but drivers in this state should know about these options and understand the protection they offer.

Having uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage is a smart idea when you consider that one out of every seven motorists in California is driving with no automobile insurance coverage whatsoever.

Uninsured motorist insurance covers you in an accident with an at-fault and negligent driver who has no auto insurance at all. It’s usually futile to sue drivers who have no insurance because they usually have no money, so even winning a personal injury trial against an uninsured driver would likely not benefit you.

With uninsured motorist coverage, when the driver who injures you has no insurance, you can file an injury claim against your own auto insurer and policy.

“Underinsured” motorist coverage is also a good idea for drivers in California. If a negligent driver injures you in this state, but his or her auto insurance is inadequate to cover the full amount of compensation you need, underinsured motorist insurance lets you file a claim against your own insurer if your underinsured driver coverage exceeds the underinsured driver’s coverage limit.

IF YOU ARE INJURED BY NEGLIGENCE, WHAT ARE YOUR RIGHTS?

If you are injured by someone else’s negligent driving in California, whether or not that negligent motorist has auto insurance coverage, you are entitled under the law to complete reimbursement for all of your accident-related current and future medical expenses, your lost wages and any future lost earnings capacity, and all other accident and injury-related damages and losses.

However, to obtain the compensation that is rightfully yours if you are a negligence victim, you’ll have to prove first that the other driver was, in fact, negligent, and secondly, that the negligence was a direct cause of your injury or injuries.

You should consider the following suggestions before you proceed with any personal injury lawsuit:

– At the scene of an accident, seek medical attention at once, it’s your highest priority. An insurance company might allege that a failure to seek treatment means that you weren’t really hurt.

– Do not believe, speak with, or listen to any insurance adjuster before consulting your injury attorney, who is a trained, experienced negotiator.

In Orange County, Riverside County, or anywhere else in Southern California, if you are injured by a negligent driver, discuss your options with a personal injury lawyer as quickly as you can after you’ve had a medical examination, and put a trustworthy attorney on the case from the very beginning. It’s the best way to ensure that you’ll be treated right.

By: Chris Purcell

Attorney Chris Purcell is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara College of Law. He exclusively represents the victims of personal injury and wrongful death. Chris was part of the team that won California’s largest-ever wrongful death judgment – a $150 million verdict for a family devastated by a tragic trucking accident. In 2011, he received the Top Gun Award given by the Orange County Trial Lawyers Association.