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California Car Accident Laws

When California drivers climb behind the wheel of their car each day, chances are that they never consider the possibility that they will be involved in a California car accident. While this is understandable given that �car accidents� are by definition unexpected events, the more you understand about California car accident laws the better position you are in to protect your rights and preserve your car accident claim. There are many types of laws that impact car accident claims including insurance laws, motor vehicle traffic laws, right of way laws, liability laws and others. The more you understand the way these California car accident laws operate when you are involved in a collision, the better your chance of avoiding making crucial mistakes that may jeopardize your rights or undermine the value of your California car accident claim.

We have provided an overview of California car accident laws that may impact your rights and compensation if you are involved in an auto collision in California. While we have provided an overview of some of the laws that may be relevant to those involved in a California car accident, the best way to obtain more detailed information or answers to other questions is to speak to an experienced California car accident lawyer.

California Car Accident Law — Insurance Laws

Minimum Insurance Requirements

The minimum California insurance liability coverage under state law is referred to as the 15/30/5 requirement. This means that drivers must have the following minimum liability coverage:

  • Bodily Injury/Death Coverage: Licensed drivers in California must carry a minimum of $15,000 in bodily injury coverage for a single individual accident victim to cover a personal injury or wrongful death claim.
  • Aggregate Injury Coverage: The minimum liability coverage for personal injury claims or wrongful death claims involving multiple vehicle occupants injured in a collision is $30,000.
  • Property Damage: The minimum coverage for property damage, such as vehicle damage to another driver�s vehicle is $5,000.

Uninsured Motorists/Underinsured Motorists (UM/UIM) Coverage

While UM/UIM coverage is optional under California law, the value of such coverage can hardly be overstated. California is among the states with the highest percentage of uninsured drivers. It has been estimated that as many as 25 percent of drivers in California have no insurance. When you are involved in an accident with an uninsured motorist that has no assets against which a judgment can be enforced (e.g. a family home with equity), your UM coverage can provide compensation for your injuries and loss. Typically, you are entitled to the same amount of UM/UIM insurance as you have in liability insurance, but the minimum is $30,000 for each person who suffers bodily injury/wrongful death and $60,000 if there are multiple injury victims.

If you purchase comprehensive coverage in California, you will be presumed to have purchased UM/UIM coverage. The only way you can waive the right to UM/UIM coverage is by executing a written waiver of your rights to this coverage, which you should never do. If you are injured in a collision with an uninsured driver in California or a driver that flees the scene of the accident and cannot be identified (e.g. hit and run), UM coverage may cover most of the types of damages that you are unable to recover in a personal injury claim against an uninsured driver including:

  • Medical and rehabilitative expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Future disability (i.e. future lost income)
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Diminished enjoyment of life

Underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage is similar to UM coverage except it applies when the at-fault driver has insurance but the coverage is insufficient to cover your losses. If you are involved in a serious car accident in California, you may suffer catastrophic injuries including spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain damage, amputation of limbs and similar permanent life-altering injuries. California car accident law related to minimum insurance liability coverage is woefully inadequate if you suffer serious injury in a collision. Limits of $15,000 and $30,000 will hardly put a dent in your medical bills let alone cover lost income and non-tangible damages like pain and suffering. Further, if there are multiple injury victims, the cumulative limit of $30,000 may be exhausted before any of your damages are covered. Underinsured motorist coverage is designed to fill this void so that you are compensated for such losses.

Another important aspect of UM/UIM coverage is the broad scope of its reach. If you have UM/UIM coverage, you may be able to seek compensation for injuries suffered in a collision involving any of your vehicles and even injuries suffered as a pedestrian or bicyclist. It may also cover all of household family members and even occupants in a vehicle that you are driving. The bottom line is that UM/UIM coverage is essential when driving in California.

California Car Accidents — Liability Laws


The general principle that governs California car accident law is the law of negligence. Negligence essentially refers to a driver�s failure to exercise reasonable care to avoid injuring other motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians. This may constitute failure to abide by traffic laws embodied in the California Vehicle Code or other forms of careless or inattentive driving. We have highlighted some common California legal principles that are relevant to many California car accidents.

  • Negligence Per Se: This is an important concept because it may apply to any California car accident involving a violation of a California traffic safety law. The legal doctrine of negligence per se basically provides that when someone violates a public safety law and that violation causes injury to a party that the law is designed to protect, the violation provides a legal basis for recovering damages. This means that when someone is injured by a drunk driver or a driver that runs a stoplight, the driver committing the violation of law generally will be liable provided their violation caused the injuries suffered by the accident victim.
  • Comparative Negligence: California car accident law follows the doctrine of �pure comparative negligence.� This is a defense often used by insurance companies to reduce the liability of their insured. The comparative negligence doctrine attributes fault between parties in in a personal injury case and reduces the recovery of a personal injury plaintiff based on the victim�s percentage of fault. If the judge or jury determines that you the plaintiff in a California car accident lawsuit was seventy percent at fault and suffered $100,000 in damages, for example, the plaintiff would only receive $30,000.

While these are important California car accident laws, they are intended to be illustrative rather than exhaustive. The best way to learn more about your rights when you are involved in a motor vehicle accident in California is to speak to a California car accident attorney who can review and discuss the pertinent California car accident laws with you. If you understand the applicable laws that govern your situation, it will make it easier to understand your rights and remedies so you should contact a knowledgeable California car accident lawyer today!

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