Because California is so heavily populated and an important business hub, the state has an enormous number of commercial and non-commercial drivers. A large sum of drivers on the road means a higher risk of serious accidents. An auto accident attorney in California can be your guide if you are involved in a serious crash.
Legal actions do not blame anyone for these crashes. Instead, legal actions hold tortfeasors (negligent parties) responsible for their mistakes. Suppose you are seriously hurt in a crash with a commercial or non-commercial vehicle. In that case, you need money to pay accident-related bills and move on with your life. Making an injury claim is about getting this compensation. Your accident attorney will help you determine whether you have a potential claim.
Recently, the Federal Motor Carrier Administration announced changes to some important safety rules in the wake of the pandemic. Initially, policymakers said these changes were temporary. However, it now appears the changes are permanent.
Non-commercial motorists are also feeling the effects of the pandemic but in a different way. During pandemic lockdowns, many drivers developed dangerous habits, and these effects seem permanent as well.
The Golden State is home to some of the world's busiest seaports. Frequently, huge dock cranes load large cargo bins directly onto large flatbed semi-trucks, which then move out across the country.
Many parts of California, such as SoCal, are densely populated over wide areas. Additionally, because many of California’s roads were designed and built in the late 20th century, they can’t handle today’s higher traffic volume or the size and speed of modern cars and trucks. As a result of all these factors, the Golden State has one of the highest vehicle fatality rates in the country.
California also has one of the highest numbers of lawyers per capita of any state in the country. So, victims have choices when picking an auto accident attorney in California. As you meet with lawyers, focus on their experience. Your attorney should have practice and trial experience. Dedication and accessibility are essential as well. Injury law should not be a sideshow, and your lawyer should be available to meet with you.
We talked about changes to truck driver safety rules above. Many of these rolled-back rules involve hours of service (HOS). For example, these rules include daily and weekly driving limits to keep drowsy truckers off the road. At least, that’s the way things are supposed to work.
An accident attorney in California steps into the gap when the law fails to protect people. The ordinary negligence principle may be a lawyer’s best legal tool. The basics of an ordinary negligence claim are the same everywhere. But specific laws differ in California, as follows:
- Duty: Legal responsibility is the first part of an ordinary negligence claim. Most non-commercial drivers have a duty of reasonable care. They must always follow the formal and informal rules of the road. Commercial drivers in California, such as ride-booking drivers and bus drivers, normally have a higher duty of care. These drivers must go the extra mile to avoid wrecks.
- Breach: A breach is a violation of a legal duty. Most, but not all, driving errors are a breach of duty. For instance, if Sally is sipping a cup of coffee while she’s behind the wheel, that’s technically distracted driving. But most jurors would probably give her a pass. Their attitude is usually not the same if Sally is sipping coffee and eating a bagel while driving.
- Cause: This element of cause consists of two things. First, an auto accident attorney in California must prove factual cause. That’s a direct link between breach and damage. Additionally, victims/plaintiffs must prove legal cause, which is foreseeable. For example, if Sally hits Lisa and a doctor makes a medical mistake during surgery, Sally could not have foreseen that injury.
- Damage: In most states, the victim must suffer a tangible personal or property injury. However, California is one of the few states that allow negligent infliction of emotional distress, a slightly different kind of claim. In addition, California does not have a no-fault insurance law. So, all car crash victims can bring legal claims, even if the wreck was a fender-bender.
State laws vary on the elements of an ordinary negligence claim. They also differ regarding insurance company defenses, particularly comparative fault and the seat belt defense.
Comparative fault, or contributory negligence, basically shifts the blame for an accident from the tortfeasor to the victim. In the above example, if Lisa was speeding while Sally was distracted, the comparative fault defense might come into play. In these cases, jurors must divide fault on a percentage basis, such as 50-50, based on the proof presented.
California is a pure comparative fault state. Even if the tortfeasor is only one percent responsible for the wreck, the victim receives a proportional share of damages. As one might expect, insurance company lobbyists fight such laws. So, only California, New York, Florida, and a few other places are pure comparative fault states.
The seat belt defense states that victims who aren’t wearing seat belts are legally responsible for their damages. Every state other than New Hampshire has a seat belt law. But the civil impact of these laws varies.
In California, juries may consider seat belt non-use as part of the contributory negligence defense. If Lisa wasn’t wearing her seat belt, the jury must consider this when assessing the damages.
This same rule usually applies if the victim was riding a motorcycle or bicycle while not wearing a helmet.
Negligence Per Se
The duty of care sets the standard of care in an ordinary negligence claim. Sometimes, a traffic law sets the standard of care. If that’s the case, there might be no need to prove the other elements of a negligence claim. This rule usually applies if:
- A driver violated a safety law, and
- The violation substantially caused an injury.
In some states, not including California, negligence “per se” is only a presumption of negligence. In both kinds of negligence cases, victims/plaintiffs must introduce additional evidence to obtain maximum compensation for their serious injuries.
This compensation typically includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and non-economic losses, such as pain and suffering. In some extreme cases, additional punitive damages might also be available.
Negligence per se only applies if the police issue citations. However, many responders do not issue crash citations. They view car wrecks as civil disputes, and they don’t want to take sides.
Traffic laws vary in different states and even in different counties, cities, or neighborhoods. Cell phone laws are a good example. California has a hands-free law. It is usually illegal to hold and use a cell phone while driving, even while stopped in traffic. Young drivers (under 18) cannot use any device while driving, even a hands-free speakerphone.
Like other negligence laws, victim compensation laws vary in different states. Damage caps might be the best example. Many states limit the amount of compensation that victims may receive in court. Some people may remember the “jackpot justice” and “lawsuit lotto” slogans of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Large corporations, primarily insurance companies, were behind these campaigns.
California is different. There are no compensatory (economic and non-economic losses) or punitive damage caps in the Golden State. In most cases, the jury alone decides how much compensation an injured victim deserves.
The collateral source rule is another victim-friendly damages law in California. Assume Lisa’s medical bills were $50,000. Her accident attorney in California negotiated with her doctor and lowered the bill to $40,000. For claims purposes, her medical bills were $50,000. Sally should not receive a financial windfall because Lisa’s lawyer is a good negotiator.
On a related note, in negligent entrustment cases, California courts use a variation of the family purpose principle. Negligent entrustment is a third-party liability theory in negligence cases. For example, owners could be responsible for car wreck damages if they knowingly allow an incompetent driver to use their car or truck, and that driver causes a wreck. The most common scenario is a teen borrowing a parent’s car. Proving negligent entrustment is easier in these situations.
California also has a vicarious liability law. According to the California Vehicle Code, motor vehicle owners are liable for damages if the tortfeasor had express or implied permission to use the vehicle.
Section 17150 applies in similar situations, such as a friend using a friend’s car. Rental car and truck cases work a bit differently because of the federal Graves Amendment.
Not all of California’s laws are victim-friendly. For instance, the Golden State does not have a dram shop law. In other states, such laws hold saloons, bars, and other commercial alcohol providers liable for damages in some car wreck cases.
Major cities also have their own laws concerning traffic crashes and damages. All these regulations make it even more sensible to consult an accident attorney in California.
In 2015, Mayor Eric Garcetti rolled out his Vision Zero plan. This program would end traffic deaths by 2025, or so officials claimed. Unfortunately, this vision is not the reality. Traffic deaths are up 19% since 2019. Car wrecks in the City of Angels are not just a safety issue. They are also a social justice issue since many of the victims are women and minorities.
The ordinary negligence laws in California’s largest city largely mirror the state laws outlined above. However, California accident attorneys must adjust to some informal differences in Los Angeles, mainly in the way courts handle these claims.
Most Los Angeles County courts have early mediation laws. As soon as a party files a legal claim, the judge issues a mediation order. During these negotiations, a mediator encourages both sides to find common ground and settle their disputes out of court.
Early mediation is a controversial topic. Advocates say this process speeds cases through the system. Opponents say that, since little evidence is available at this point, early mediation is a waste of time.
Negligence Per Se
Los Angeles has a lot of city ordinances and local traffic rules. Most of them mirror state laws. However, some special rules apply at Van Nuys International Airport and LAX, such as speed limits and traffic patterns.
We outlined the victim-friendly laws in California above. Primarily because of these laws, the American Tort Reform Foundation, an insurance company advocacy group, recently put California atop its list of judicial hellholes in the United States. Throughout California, especially in Los Angeles, juries usually return higher-than-average verdicts, especially in serious injury and wrongful death claims.
Probably because of its large naval base and proximity to Mexico, this part of SoCal sees even more tourists than Los Angeles. The increased traffic and increased number of motorists trying to find their way around town have resulted in an even higher bump in the number of traffic deaths since 2019.
San Diego has grown faster than almost any other city in California during recent decades. As a result, the roadway and healthcare infrastructures have not kept up. These factors increase the chances of a crash and usually increase the severity of injuries. The closest trauma center might not be nearby, and seconds count after a serious injury crash.
The ordinary negligence laws in San Diego are much the same as they are in other parts of SoCal. However, unlike Los Angeles County, most San Diego County courts do not have an early mediation requirement.
Negligence Per Se
San Diego was one of the first cities to pass a no-pedestrians-on-freeways law. If a tortfeasor is traveling over 55 mph at the time of impact, the pedestrian fatality rate is about 90 percent. Despite this city law, which is only valid in the San Diego city limits, a California accident attorney or personal injury lawyer can still win high compensation in court. However, these cases are more complex than other pedestrian accident claims.
Because of the naval base, juries in San Diego County tend to be more diverse than juries in other parts of SoCal. That diversity may have a positive or negative impact on an injury claim. So, many area lawyers test their cases on focus groups.
Since 2014, more than 20,000 people have been killed or seriously injured in San Francisco car crashes. That number is higher than the population of Noe Valley and other neighborhoods in the City by the Bay. San Francisco is known for its narrow streets and steep hills. While these features make the area scenic, they also hinder driver vision. This factor partially explains the high number of fatal wrecks. But it doesn’t excuse negligence in court.
San Francisco courts are more willing to use technology than other courts in the state. Service of process is a good example. This issue often arises in injury cases when a tortfeasor is from out of state. Some Bay Area courts allow service by Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms. These special rules also apply in other kinds of civil cases, such as divorce and family law cases.
Negligence Per Se
The San Francisco Code has an entire section devoted to ride-booking operators. Uber drivers, Lyft drivers, and others must comply with special licensing and other rules. Violation of these rules usually does not trigger the negligence per se rule since these infractions don’t generally cause wrecks. But because they indicate driver negligence, such violations could affect damages.
These laws and rules in San Francisco are pretty much the same as they are in other parts of the state.
Bakersfield is the largest non-coastal city in the state. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most dangerous cities for motorists. Roughly 40 people a year die in traffic wrecks in Bakersfield. Largely because most of these crashes occur on surface streets, many of these victims are pedestrians. However, the freeways are not very safe either. Bakersfield is in the High Desert. This area of the state has straight freeways, which can cause drowsy driving, and high speed limits.
The state's ordinary negligence rules usually apply in Bakersfield. However, victims often have an advantage in Bakersfield courts, since many auto insurers do not have a large corporate presence in this part of the state.
Negligence Per Se
The Bakersfield City Council has passed special laws regarding interstate truck routes and walker activity. This action probably stemmed from the high number of large trucks that pass through this area and the high number of pedestrian wrecks.
People in the High Desert tend to be long-term residents. Not many people move to Bakersfield. Most California auto attorneys agree that long-term residents are usually conservative jurors. That jury makeup could affect the value of a claim during out-of-court settlement talks.
Like many other cities in the country, San Jose launched a Vision Zero campaign in 2015. Also, like most other such efforts, San Jose’s program has failed. Traffic deaths in San Jose have gone up almost every year since Vision Zero began.
San Jose is just south of San Francisco. Therefore, many of the special San Francisco court rules discussed above also apply in San Jose. However, San Jose courts generally adhere to California norms.
Negligence Per Se
Like Bakersfield, and for similar reasons, San Jose has special rules for walkers and long-haul truckers.
Given the victim-friendly nature of these laws, it’s somewhat surprising that some cities haven’t bypassed them, at least informally. But for the most part, that’s not the case. That’s certainly not the case in San Jose.
Finding an Auto Accident Attorney in California
Typically within a few hours of a wreck, most insurance companies put together a team of skilled lawyers to defend their financial interests. For that reason, victims need a team of their own to even the odds. An experienced and tenacious auto accident attorney in California should be at the head of that team.
If you or a loved one have been hurt in a car wreck in the Golden State, reach out to an auto accident attorney to discover your legal options.